RIDING THE KTM 500EXC DUAL-SPORT: THE WRAP

RIDING THE KTM 500EXC DUAL-SPORT

The KTM 500EXC is the poster child of today’s serious dual-sport bikes. Since 2007, KTM has been making dual-sport bikes that were very similar to its full-time dirt bikes, but over the years, both the regulations and KTM’s adherence to them have become tighter. For a rundown of the best used dual-sport bikes and KTM’s EXC line, click here. The 2020 500EXC got a pretty serious makeover. Most of the changes can be traced back to the 2019 KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition. That was when the motocross version got a revised frame and a new head. The 2020 dual-sport version gets those changes and others.

MSRP for the KTM 500EXC is $11,399.

One obvious change is the fact that the case on the left side of the motor no longer has a plugged-up hole where the kickstarter used to be. The kickstarter itself has been gone for a number of years, but KTM did offer a kit to retrofit one if you really didn’t trust the electric starter. Now, that’s gone. The basic layout of the motor is still the same. It’s still a single overhead cam design with a six-speed gearbox. The dual-sport version is, of course, super quiet and complies with emissions regulations in all 50 states. The EFI system is supposed to be tamper proof, but it seems that garage tuners have taken that challenge seriously, and we have heard of a variety of ways to deal with that if you feel the need, ranging from piggyback modifiers like the one from JD Jetting, to brown market Euro black boxes. One of the most interesting of the restrictions is the reed valve in the air boot. This is mainly a measure to reduce intake noise. Riders often remove them with somewhat dubious results.

RJ Wageman got a little dual-sport fix after the first few rounds of West-Coast Supercross .

In truth, the bike runs amazingly well in stock form. It’s super clean without any popping, backfiring or any of that nonsense. It almost never coughs and dies. It isn’t especially powerful, though. The newly offered dirt version of the bike (the 500XC-W) is more powerful in the middle and down low. And the 450XC-F closed-course race bike is far, far more powerful. If you’re a big hill-climber, I can understand that the dual-sport bike might not be enough. But for normal trail riding, I love it.  If someone on a 450 race bike like the XC-W or a Honda RX is trying to keep up with the KTM dual-sport 500 on a tight trail, he’s going to stall it, boil over and curse like Richard Nixon. The 500EXC is excellent on tight trails and extreme obstacles.

We installed STI Tech 2 DOT knobbies on the KTM 500EXC.

Part of that is due to the weight. On our scale, the bike is 244 pounds without fuel. There are a few points I would like to make here, though. The stock tires are not usable in real dirt; they were chosen for the noise test. They are also very light. We replaced the stock Conti TKCs with STI Tech 2s, which are DOT-approved knobbies. A set of Tech 2s (or pretty much any knobbies) is 5 pounds heavier. I also have to offer an apology here. In the Husqvarna FE501S story, I reported that the bike weighed 240 without fuel. I have since reweighed that bike and came out with 248. I don’t know how that happened, but sometimes I can be a goof. Look for a full test of the 2020 KTM 500EXC in the June, 2020 print edition of Dirt Bike magazine, with a dual-sport comparison coming afterward.

KTM KEIHIN 2-STROKE

Jay Clark always has a fun project or two in his garage. This is a 2019 KTM 300XC that was featured in Two-Stroke Tuesday this week. He dressed it up to look like a XC-W, mostly because he wanted a more trail-oriented bike, but wanted to side-step fuel-injection. The 2019 300XC was the last of the carbureted off-road two-strokes from KTM. The interesting part was that he wanted a Keihin, not a Mikuni carb. As Keihin is getting out of the carburetor business, KTM found it necessary to refit all its two-strokes with Mikunis a few years ago.

Since Tuesday, we have spent a little time on the bike and we love it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on the TPI wagon and think it’s the path forward in the two-stroke world. But carbureted bikes still have a little more fun factor at this point. You can read about the bike in the June, 2020 print edition of Dirt Bike.

DAYTONA!

Daytona is here and we have a tied points battle in the 450 Supercross wars. Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen have won seven of the nine races so far with Cooper Webb and Justin Barcia lurking and waiting. It’s one of the best seasons ever. Travis Fant is there covering the action at Daytona, then he will be off to the GNCC on Sunday. You can read all the Supercross results from qualifying through the main events by clicking here.

CLASSIC DeCOSTER

Back in the ’90s, Roger DeCoster and I worked together to produce a monthly column in Dirt Bike. This one was from June, 1993, when Roger dealt with the topic of Belgium’s success in GP competition. Today, Belgium is still an international powerhouse in FIM world championship, although France has moved up in the pecking order. Still, Roger’s observations are interesting.

DeCoster
Why Belgium?
By Roger DeCoster

There’s no question that America is in the spotlight of world motocross attention these days. The Motocross des Nations has made that clear over the past 13 years. The only country to even challenge the U.S., year after year, is Belgium.
Why Belgium?
In World-Championship competition, Belgium has won 33 of the 85 possible world titles since the series was formed. That’s about 40%–not bad for a place the size of Maryland with a population of the greater Los Angeles area.
Why Belgium?
In all the world, only four riders have earned five or more World Championships. Joel Robert won six, while Georges Jobe, Eric Geboers and I have earned five apiece. All for Belgium.
Why Belgium?
Over the years, many people have asked me how this little country (where I happened to be born) could produce so many champions. I have also discovered that people in the U.S. tend to know very little about my home country. In my rac ing years, there were many times when I tried to call home from some part of the U.S., and the operator would ask “Belgium? What country is that in?” Some people have even asked what it was like to live in a communist country.
For the record , Belgium is located between France, Germany, the Netherlands and the North Sea, and is governed by a democratic parliament with a figurehead monarch (much like the U.K.). Belgium just happens to produce a lot of motocrossers. Good ones. In the U.S., the same type of phenome­non happened around El Cajon, California. That one city produced Marty Smith, Broc Glover, Rick Johnson, Ron Lechien and Mike Craig. I think this is somewhat natural. When several good riders are grouped together, the riders around them tend to get better. In the case of Belgium, part of it has to be attributed to geographic location. Belgium is centrally located, so it’ s logical for top riders from more distant countries to base themselves there. There has always been an abundance of practice tracks, so through the early ’80s I believe that almost all the major international champions spent some time in the country. On a practice day I could run into Heikki Mikkola, Ake Jonsson, Brad Lackey, Graham Noyce or just about any­one. The Swedes, the Finns, the British, the Americans, they all used to stay in Belgium. Danny LaPorte and Brad Lackey were my neighbors when they earned their world titles. When Donny Schmit won his 125 Championship, he lived near Sylvain Geboers (his team manager). Today, this trend has been reduced somewhat because there is a downward  cycle in the quality and attendance at most local Belgian events, but Belgium continues to produce champions.
The fact that all these top riders lived in a very concentrated area (probably within a 40-mile radius of one another) gave the promoters in Belgium easy access to the top riders, so there were a lot of what we called international events where the competition was tougher even than at a GP. International events were non-point-paying events where, per FIM rules, riders from at least three different countries were present. In  fact, most of the time there were riders from eight countries or more. There were more of these races in Belgium than in any other country, and they took place every weekend when there was a break in the GP schedule. With the best riders from all three classes on the line, the level of racing in Belgium was very high.
So spectators are treated to the best rid­ers and the best racing in the world. It’s no wonder that many young men grew up with motocross stars as their heroes. The Belgian press gives much more attention to motocross than the American press does here. In the U.S., the specialized press might cover MX races, but the general press is only interested in basketball, football and that boring thing called baseball. In Belgium, a motocross star stands on more equal footing with stars from other sports. As a result, motocross has a better chance of gaining the attention of an athletically inclined young person.
For example,  I got interested that way. When I was about 14 years old, I went with some other kids to a nearby international   race. There, Rene Baeten, Bill Nilsson and other stars of the era who I had read about were present. The racing, the sounds–everything appealed to me. I was so impressed by what I saw that I needed to go again. A few weeks later, when the Belgian GP at Namur was to take place, I knew I had to see it. I could not find a ride with anyone, so I rode my bicycle 50 miles each way. I witnessed Baeten winning the GP over Nilsson. The following week, Baeten won the championship in Luxembourg. After that, I dreamed about how it would be if I could only try this.
Being a fan in Belgium is serious busi­ness, too. It’s not unusual for top racers to develop a cult-like group of fans who follow him from one event to another, in much the same fashion that soccer fans follow a team all over Europe. It isn’t un­usual for a rider from another country, like Mikkola or Lackey, to be followed by a group of hardcore fans from Belgium. The government certainly doesn’t stand in the way of such activity. Belgium is a very free county. The police aren’t oppressive at all–I can’t recall ever receiving a speeding ticket there. Certainly, no one is likely to get handcuffed and thrown in jail for driving too fast. Knowing most motocrossers, I can see that this would make Belgium an appealing place. Other reasons are difficult to pin down. I could speculate that motocross is a tough, rugged sport, and that life in Belgium has, at times, been tough and rugged. This might be stretching the point a little, though. In the end, it’s very hard to say why a given person becomes a champion in the first place. It’s even harder to say why a given place produces champions.

WORLD MOTOCROSS CHAMPIONS FROM BELGIUM

500
1958 Rene Baeten 
1971 RogerDeCoster 
1972 Roger DeCoster 
1973 Roger DeCoster 
1975 Roger DeCoster 
1976 Roger DeCoster 
1980 Andre Malherbe
1981 Andre Malherbe
1984 Andre Malherbe
1987 Georges Jobe
1988 Eric Geboers
1990 Eric Geboers
1991 Georges Jobe
1992 Georges Jobe
1995 Joel Smets
1997 Joel Smets
1998 Joel Smets
2000 Joel Smets
2001 Stefan Everts
2002 Stefan Everts
MXGP
2003 Stefan Everts
2004 Stefan Everts
2005 Stefan Everts
2006 Stefan Everts
2007 Steve Ramon
MX3
2003 Joel Smets
2005 Sven Breugelmans
2005 Sven Breugelmans

250
1964 Joel Robert 
1968 Joel Robert 
1969 Joel Robert  
1970 Joel Robert 
1971 Joel Robert 
1972 Joel Robert
1975 Harry Everts
1980 GeorgesJobe
1983 Georges Jobe
1987 Eric Geboers
1995 Stefan Everts
1996 Stefan Everts
1997 Stefan Everts
MX2
2003 Steve Ramon

125
1975 Gaston Rahier 
1976 Gaston Rahier 
1977 Gaston Rahier 
1979 Harry Everts 
1980 Harry Everts
1981 Harry Everts
1982 Eric Geboers
1983 Eric Geboers
1991 Stefan Everts

See you next week,

–Ron Lawson

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