These days, the most potent off-road 250 four-strokes are from Europe. Husky and KTM have embraced them as a new format and a new style of racing, not as entry- level hardware. Both the new KTM XC-F and the Husqvarna TXC250 are based on full-fledged motocross racers. They are imported as closed-course competition bikes, just like motocross machines. Once we had the new KTM in hand, we found it only natural to compare it to Husky’s version of the same thing.
UNDER THE HOODS
As we pointed out in the KTM 250XC-F test, that bike is closer to a full motocross bike than anything else the company has ever offered for off-road. It has a full motocross motor but with wider ratios (although both are six-speeds), softer suspension, handguards, a bigger tank and an 18-inch rear wheel. The Husky follows pretty much the same plan. It has the same items setting it apart from the Husky TC250 motocross bike, with several other differences. First, the Husky motocross bike is kickstart only, whereas the Husky TXC has an electric starter and a kickstarter. The TXC and the TC also have different pipes and different EFI mapping. Finally, the Husky motocross bike is a five-speed, whereas the TXC is a six-speed. The ratios themselves are the same, apart from the extra gear on top.
In case you missed the Husky test in our January issue, it was the most-changed bike in Husky’s line for 2013. It got a new head with cam followers, along with Keihin fuel injection. The fork and shock are KYB units. This is the bike that Husky used to win several E1 World Enduro championships in the hands of Antoine Meo and Juha Salminen.
MORE DIFFERENT THAN ALIKE
In broad terms, the Husky and KTM sound like they could be twins. They’re both competition off-road bikes with six-speeds, electric starters and based on motocross bikes. But, they have completely different feels. The KTM is all about racing. The horsepower output alone makes that much clear. It’s much faster on top. In fact, it forces a whole new definition of the word “top.” The KTM sets new rev standards, not only for off-road bikes, but single-cylinder motorcycles of any kind. It revs out to 14,000 rpm and does most of its best work above the 10,000 rpm mark. The Husky, on the other hand, isn’t much of a revver. By 11,000 rpm, it has packed its bags and gone home. But way down around 6000 rpm, it’s stronger than the KTM.
Clearly, there are altered perceptions here. In the old days, 6000 rpm wasn’t really considered low end. But for a 250F, that’s the root cellar. The two different powerbands mean you ride the two bikes differently. The Husky is happy to poke along at any speed, whereas the KTM seems to always send urgent messages to go faster. To be fair, if you [do] ride the KTM at a casual speed nothing bad will happen, but it seems like a crime to leave so much performance on the table.
THE EFFORT FACTOR
It isn’t just the KTM motor that asks for more effort. The suspension makes the same demands. It’s stiffer than the Husky’s and works better when you hit things harder. The TXC has soft suspension to match its soft, cushy powerband. It’s very comfortable at a medium speed, and when you pick up the pace, it gets gradually less accommodating. The same rocks that are non-factors at slower speeds make the front end deflect at race pace. The one environment where the Husky feels more eager to romp and stomp is in smooth, tight, twisty turns. Despite being slightly heavier, the Husky is easier to turn. It settles into corners like a 125.
Where do the two bikes fit in the bigger picture? If you throw bikes like the Honda CRF250X and the Yamaha WR250F into the mix, even the Husky seems like a hot-blooded racer. It’s faster, lighter and stiffer than either of the Japanese bikes. The KTM is just another step faster, lighter and stiffer.
STUFF TO WORK ON
Any off-road bike is the sum of its parts: The KTM has incredible brakes, whereas the Husky’s are merely good. All the KTM’s plastic items are more durable, from the handguards to the tank shrouds. The Husky also has more vulnerable radiator hoses and oil lines. On the Husky side of the ledger, it has a better clutch feel with a lighter pull, a bigger gas filler, and is very easy to work on. The Husky has a kickstarter to back up the button. You also have to factor in the price. The Husky retails for $7599, while the KTM is $8499.
In the end, the two bikes are really aimed in different directions. If you’re a racer who rides the trail, it’s tough to beat the KTM; you just can’t say no to that big of a power gap. If you’re a trail rider who occasionally races, the Husky is a sweet deal. The bike you choose says more about you than it does about the bike.