By Tom Webb
I really needed a dual-sport machine. Yes, we get test bikes, but by the time we get them dialed in to our needs, they get tugged back to the factory because new models are en route. As with anything KTM, the demand is high, and KTM’s sales staff is screaming for sellable units for their dealers. So, I bought one. This is a tough pill to swallow for an editor who has gotten loaners for decades, yet I knew my plans included some good rides in Colorado, Idaho, and Mammoth in Southern California, and having a well-setup, plate-legal machine would be mandatory.
I have been testing and playing with different mods on this machine for several months. For my extra-large frame and caboose, getting the suspension dialed in was priority number one. Number two on the list was ergonomics. I needed a taller saddle to keep the bend out of my knees, which don’t flex like they used to. I get the bars up and forward and search for increased legroom. Third on the list was gearing. Stock, it’s way too tall for any serious trail work and needs some additional snap to the powerband, which is nice but fluffy. Fourth on the list was traction; the stock rubber was barely acceptable on fire roads. And finally, there’s the doodad factor—items I wanted to enhance my experience with the KTM 500EXC. Here goes:
Kreft modified the WP XPLOR fork, an Acerbis grab-it handle was fit for tugging and Decal Works dialed in the graphics.
SXS Burly hand guards, PHDS bar mounts, a Trail tech Voyager GPS and a modded Seat Concepts ‘tall’ comfort saddle handle the cockpit.
A Motoz Gummy Extreme Hybrid tire with Tubliss, Dirt Tricks sprocket, RK XSO RX-Ring Gold chain, Bullet Proof Designs chain guide stiffener and a TM Designworks guide highlight the drive system on the 500.
FMF’s Q, a Slavens enduro rear fender and SAR taillights paint the rear of the machine.
Kreft Moto, fore and aft
Getting your suspension done is an expensive pain in the derriere. You have to strip and ship your dampers off, hope that the suspension tuner is savvy and understands what you want to do in the dirt bike arena, and then wait two weeks to get it back. So, picking the right doctor is crucial. We have worked with Kreft Moto on several projects and have always come away stoked. Their methodology is based on suspension dynos, rider feedback and the physics involved with damping forces.
With my suspension setup, I need it sprung correctly, and I like to have some range of adjustability with the damping. Even with our 140-pound test rider, the 500EXC was soft. The XPLOR fork dove hard under braking, which affected cornering, and it was harsh on high-speed hits. At the same time the rear end tended to kick rollers and whoops, making the rear feel high. It was decent on regular trails, but got overwhelmed when the trails were hacked out and boney.
Kreft yanked out the proverbial stops starting with the fork. The valving is customized to the rider’s size and skill level. It uses “firm but plush” valving that increases low-to-mid compression and decreases high-speed compression damping. They install their Revalve Control, a patent-pending externally adjustable mid-valve with the adjuster at the top of the left fork. This is the brain that allows the rider to re-valve the damping with the clicker, and it affects low-, mid- and high-speed compression. Kreft installed its Plush Port pistons, which replace the stock base valve, and fit in a new low-speed compression adjuster (the bottom of the left fork leg) that lets you fine-tune low-speed compression damping. Finally, the fork legs are micro-finished for smoother action.
Out back, the shock also received serious attention. First, it was sprung stiffer for my tonnage and then valved for my riding, which is high desert mated to woods trails and technical terrain. They fit in a dished piston, which is better for aggressive riding. They reduced the high-speed compression, which helped square-edged bump absorption, and the rebound damping curve targeted controlling top-out motion without packing. Kreft also fit its brand-new secondary compression piston, which targets the dreaded PDS kick on whoops and rollers. The new Centrifuge XL oversized shock reservoir helps to reduce fade by 35 percent, and Kreft installed its new Premium shock body, which is Kashima-coated and drastically reduces friction. The final mod was adding the X-Trig shock preload adjuster, which is a brilliant product. An 8mm T-handle turns a worm-drive system that offers the maximum adjustment range with minimal effort.
TESTING THE BOINGERS
Okay, here’s the skinny. The Kreft suspension at the front end was flat stunning. The diving soft action was erased and replaced with balance, feel, control and improved cornering. Whereas hitting embedded rocks in third or fourth gear would about tear the bars out of your hands with the stock setup, with the new setup the impact was absorbed. You still felt it, but there was little deflection. Trail junk like roots and small embedded rocks were a menace. The firmer feel to the front has it riding higher, which helps the machine track and absorb, enhancing the control.
Out back, there were serious handling gains as well. The biggest win came in the whoops and rollers where you get that PDS kick. The rear feels like it rides lower (not wanting to top out), and this seemed to really help the balance of the machine. We noticed that it could absorb acceleration hack zones in the woods with less violence, which also helped with balance and control.
Here’s an interesting note: while we did adjust the Revalve Control when the trail got slow and nasty, we did not touch anything else, including the preload setting. It came set dead-on, which is our final word on the Kreft suspension. Like all suspension mods, it was expensive, but Kreft hit a home run with its XPLOR fork and XPLR shock modifications.
GEARING AND BARK