We now have our first official 2024 motocross bike in the garage. It’s the KTM 450SX-F and we already love it. That’s a little odd because this is an unchanged bike for 2024, and we didn’t especially love it last year. Not at first, anyway. It was new at that time–very new. The frame had different flex characteristics and the motor was relocated with a lower output shaft in order to provide an anti-squat characteristic. The motor–which didn’t look that different–had significant differences in the head and throttle body. A new map switch on the left side of the bar had dedicated buttons for the aggressive and mild maps, as well as traction control and Quickshift. The shock was completely new, while the fork was still a WP Xact air fork with new valving. Along the way, the bike gained weight–around 6 pounds.
The problem was that we were big fans of the previous version. The new frame felt stiffer and we had a hard time getting past that. We thought it was a concession to the Cooper Webbs of the world for Supercross. Then it came out that Cooper Webb wasn’t a big fan, either. Now, we have a very different perspective. In our 2023 450 Shootout, we had the 2023 GasGas MC450F, which had the old frame that we thought we loved so much. It was flexy and squatty compared to the new KTM. It turned out that we had to come to terms with the new rigidity and learn to use it. We also learned to give the bike some time. Both the frame and the fork needed break-in before feeling comfortable. Cooper Webb obviously came to terms with the new chassis as well, but at that level, his issues were more or less irrelevant to the rest of us. It was interesting that when Tony Cairoli came to America, he was forced to use the frame because of the AMA’s production rule. He was shocked at how flexy it was compared to his European works frame. To each his own.
In that same shootout, the KTM was the king of the dyno, with 59.94 horsepower at 9360 rpm. What really sets the KTM apart isn’t the peak output as much as the smooth, controllable nature of the power delivery. The build-up is linear and the peak comes fairly early. You don’t have to rev it, but you do have to respect it. The 450SX-F has excellent low-end torque, so you can short shift and keep it clear of the crazy zone if you like, but it isn’t stall-proof. If you brake hard or yank open the throttle at low rpm, you run the risk of stalling out.
KTM gives you two maps that can be selected on the left side of the handlebar. The white map is smoother and the green map revs a little more freely. The same control cluster gives you the option of traction control, which some riders find useful. Most are indifferent to it. And then there’s the Quickshift on/off button, which interrupts the ignition when you shift. This can be very useful, but you have to be on top of your game. If you have a clear run to the end of the straight, it allows clean up-shifts at full throttle. In the real world, you don’t often find conditions where you want that. Most of the time, your front wheel is coming up or you’re struggling for traction. Full throttle, as it turns out, isn’t attained that often on a 60-horsepower motorcycle.
The KTM still ranks on top of the charts when it comes to cornering. It’s super easy to initiate a turn and once established, it holds a level, even attitude throughout the corner. It’s still a very light motorcycle; 229 pounds without fuel. That might be heavier than the old version, but it’s lighter than anything else in the 450 class. The KTM still uses the WP Xact air fork on its motocross models. It is an excellent fork in many regards including adjustability and light weight. In terms of outright performance, however, there are more comfortable units on the market. The KTM delivers some feedback to rider’s hands on square-edge bumps that’s hard to eliminate through normal fork tuning. It’s interesting that KTM’s XC cross-country models now have a coil-spring version of the Xact fork. Our initial testing with those forks in an off-road environment has been encouraging. We can’t wait to try one set up for motocross; we understand it performs like the air fork equipped with the WP drop-in spring kit, which has become very popular. We have a lot of testing to do and we are just getting started. The full test will appear in the October, 2023 print edition of Dirt Bike.
RETRO STAR YAMAHAS AT WASHOUGAL
Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA kicking-off of a year-long celebration of the YZ and its 50 years of production. Commemorating the occasion on track this weekend, the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team will be sporting a special throwback livery from the ’90s era at the Pro Motocross Washougal National. The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory MXGP and MX2 Teams will also be donning the 1993 purple and white colorway at the MXGP of Flanders in Lommel, Belgium, as part of the global celebration of the iconic off-road model line.
OLD BIKE CORNER
We have a couple of older bikes in the DB studio right now. This one is particularly close to my heart because I’m old and I raced the hell out of this particular machine. It’s a 1980 RM250, which has to be considered the end of an era. It was the last truly competitive air-cooled, Japanese two-shocker. Next year came the single-shock Full-Floater and then liquid-cooling came to the 250 in 1982. Interestingly enough, Suzuki was the only one that actually had a good single-shock design in 1981 and it got them in big trouble. Don Richardson was the inventor and he successfully sued for patent infringement and breach of contract. The 1980 two-shock RM250 actually had much better suspension than any of the single shocks system from Kawasaki (in 1980), Honda (1981) and Yamaha (which had evolved continuously since 1975). This particular bike is owned by Mark Dooley of DG Performance. It turns out that DG doesn’t make a pipe for this particular model.
Another older bike that will appear in Dirt Bike is this 1995 Yamaha YZ250 owned by Rick Doughty of Vintage Iron. There wasn’t anything especially memorable about the 1995 YZ, but it did win the Dirt Bike Shootout that year (which was written by Roger DeCoster). We think he might have been a little mad at Honda in 1995, but that’s another story. The reason Doughty’s bike is special is because it presents what we think is a great restoration project. You can still get a lot of parts for bikes of this vintage and it’s the newest bike allowed to race in the “Revo” class. The story will be called “Restore It” and it will be in the October 2023 issue.
The “RDx5” image on the cover of the January 1995 issue of Dirt Bike was created before Photoshop was used in publishing. It was set up at El Mirage dry lake. A twin-lens reflex camera was set up on a tripod and Roger DeCoster changed clothes five times while I shot the five images. The images were merged at our film stripping house Valley Color. The image was used to illustrate our 250 Shootout that year, which was written by RD. The Yamaha YZ250 was the winner.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
The Road 2 Recovery Foundation (R2R), the official charity of the Pro Motocross Championship, is excited to announce the second wave of the historic Brian Barnes Moto Museum Collection Auction, which is slated to begin at 9 a.m. PDT / 12 p.m. EDT this Saturday, July 22, at MXLocker.com. This unprecedented auction will be held concurrently with Round 8 of the 2023 Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, the MotoSport.com Washougal National, where the majority of the items listed hold historical significance linked to the storied history of iconic Washougal MX Park and come with confirmed race-worn provenance. With over 110 unique items, including some extremely rare autographed jerseys with verified authenticity and added commentary directly from the riders to the ever-popular “buy it now” items, this auction demands attention. To ensure enthusiasts have ample time to study the extensive inventory, MXLocker.com is offering an early access “preview only,” beginning Friday, July 21. This will allow bidders the opportunity to create or update their MXLocker account, familiarize themselves with the listed items, and plan their bidding strategy.