KTM Motorcycle tests
There will be 400 of these bikes made (in two batches of 200). This is not the 2013 KTM 450SXF, but it must have stay in a Holiday Inn Express.
There is an inherent “Hope Gene” in every person that believes that things will get better, that tomorrow is a better day, that good things come to those who wait and that this year’s new model is better than last year’s new model. And so it goes with motocross bikes. Even when we have positive proof that a bike hasn’t gotten better—people still run out and buy that bike...because it must be better...it just must be.
We ride the 2012 KTM “Ryan Dungey Replica.” This is just an impression of what it's like to ride the homologation version of the production bike.
Take the 2009 Honda CRF450 as an example. It was not as good as the 2008 CRF450 (or the 2007 CRF450 for that matter). The 2009 CRF450 had a mellow engine, useless clutch and weird handling. In 2010 Honda didn’t make any significant changes—it was still a mellow bike with a bad clutch and strange handling. But, people said, “Oh the 2010 Honda is much improved over the 2009." It wasn’t, but they wanted it to be...and they are still saying the same thing in 2012—even though the engine is still weak, clutch pitiful and handling odd. It is still not as good as the 2008 Honda CRF450. No shame in that—the 2008 CRF450 was awesome.
Which leads the MXA wrecking crew to the 2012 KTM 450SXF “Factory Edition” (FE). With a normal bike, MXA’s testing takes place over a long period of time (until we are satisfied that we know all there is to know), but with the KTM 450SXF FE we thought that every KTM fan would like to see a quick impression of the 2012 KTM “Ryan Dungey Replica.” This is just an impression...and although it has more facts in it than most full-blown magazine tests—don’t think that this is anywhere as detailed as MXA's official test, but you aren’t paying for this one.
The die-cast FE engine is 4-1/2 pounds lighter than the old sand-cast engine.
2012 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION IMPRESSION
First, some disclaimers:
(1) This isn’t a 2013 KTM 450SXF, but it a fairly accurate look into KTM's crystal ball. The 2013 model will not have an orange frame, Red Bull graphics or several other special parts that the “Factory Edition” comes with—but it might have better stuff.
(2) This is a procedural machine. It was designed and built to comply with the AMA homologation rule (under this rule KTM must have 200 of these bikes available by March 1, 2012, and 200 more by June 1, 2012). If they don’t meet this number, Ryan Dungey will be disqualified from every race he was in. Thus, KTM is selling these bikes to make Dungey’s bike legal.
The frame is totally new (because it has to wrap around the smaller die-cast engine).
(3) This is not going to be a big production run. KTM must have 400 units—they will most likely build 430 units. None will go to Europe, Australia and Asia. All of them will come to the USA. The extra 30 will be used for testing, press, development and the race team...and until the 400 units are accounted for KTM can only use 8 of the production run for the race team.
(4) The 2013 production 450SXF will not have an orange frame (it will be either black or possibly silver, gun metal or some other color—but definitely not orange).
AND NOW FOR WHAT WE THOUGHT
While Tom Moen works on our stock KTM 450SXF bike, Jody, Dennis, John Basher and John Minert pretend to be busy. We used the stocker to compare to the "Factory Edition"—and we enjoyed the liquid sunshine.
First and foremost in the information train is that the MXA wrecking crew only rode this bike for one day. We had Dennis Stapleton, John Minert, Jody Weisel and Scott Williams spin laps—and they could do as many laps as the wanted. But, it started to rain midway through the day—so part of the testing was ruined by very unique weather conditions (although we kept riding). We didn’t have a second day because all of us were hopping on a plane for Indianapolis the next morning. This was a one-shot deal
We brought a box-stock 2012 KTM 450SXF along with us to compare back-to-back with the 450SXF “Factory Edition.” This was a valuable tool in helping us understand the differences between the two bikes.
SO WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
The handlebars are now special Renthal FatBars that use
the TwinWall 996 bend. They are taller than the previous Renthal 672
MXA has covered the inside of Ryan Dungey’s bike very thoroughly in the past couple months, so we will brush over the technical stuff as quickly as possible, but here is a quick rundown of the differences.
(1) Weight. The die-cast FE engine is 4-1/2 pounds lighter than the old sand-cast engine. But some of that weight savings is lost in the transition from the old 450SXF's Keihin FCR carb and the new bikes Keihin EFI (including a heavier magneto, throttle body, fuel pump and larger gas tank to house the fuel pump while still keeping the same basic amount of fuel on board). We didn't weigh the 450 Factory Edition, but KTM says that it weighs 238 pounds (which would be about five pounds lighter that the 2243 pound 2012 KTM 450SXF carbureted bike). If it does weigh 238, and we won't know until we weigh it on MXA's foolproof scale, that means that they saved weight somewhere else on the chassis.
(2) Frame. The frame is totally new (because it has to wrap around the smaller die-cast engine). However, the frame geometry is identical to the old 450SXF frame.
(3) Drive train. Instead of the previous, dual cam, finger follower drive train, the “Factory Edition” gets one cam and a pair of forked rocker arms (powering titanium Del West valves). Not only is this system simpler and lighter, but it reduces reciprocating mass.
(4) Fuel injection. KTM uses a Keihin 44mm throttle body that is actually stepped from 42mm to 44mm. The spray nozzle is located on the bottom of the throttle body venturi because KTM feels that the fuel velocity is at its highest in that portion of the intake tract (higher velocity equals better misting). The old choke knob is now a hot start button and there is a new idle adjuster screw on the back of the throttle body.
The 450SXF “Factory Edition” gets a new swingarm. It has a
taller profile in the back half of the cast, one-piece, aluminum
swingarm. Why? To make room for the new 25mm rear axle and wider axle
(5) Chassis. The 450SXF “Factory Edition” gets a new swingarm. It has a taller profile in the back half of the cast, one-piece, aluminum swingarm. Why? To make room for the new 25mm rear axle and wider axle blocks. The previous axle was 20mm. The triple clamps of the “Factory Edition” have a new lower clamp that is stronger, yet designed to tune in the flex. Additionally, the new I-beam front fender mounts with two bolts in the bottom of the triple clamp and two bolts in the front of the triple clamp. The handlebars are now special Renthal FatBars that use the TwinWall 996 bend, but are called Renthal 827 bars. They are taller than the previous Renthal 672 bars.
The shock comes with the same 5.7 kg/mm spring rate as last year, but the damping is vastly improved.
(6) Suspension. Although the forks and shock come with the same spring rates as the older model, the damping has been increased to hold the forks higher in their stroke and lessen the tendency of the forks and shock to move too quickly through the midstroke. The forks have decals on them that say "Cone Valve," but they might as well say "Sugar Free" because they aren't KTM's special "Cone Valve" forks, but instead are the normal 48mm WP forks that have graced KTM's for several years. The "Cone Valves" decals are on the "Factory Edition" because they are on Ryan Dungey's bike.
The threads are internal on the “Factory Edition”
cap—which means that the threads aren’t on the outer edge of the gas
cap, but are on the one-way air valve in the center of the gas cap.
(7) Gas cap. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and, finally, KTM will return to a thread-on cap. As an added plus, the threads are internal on the “Factory Edition” cap—which means that the threads aren’t on the outer edge of the gas cap, but are on the one-way air valve in the center of the gas cap. We don’t know what the advantage is—but we know that a threaded cap is much better than the locking cap they have been using for the last few years.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO RIDE?
Our best comparison is to tell you how the 450SXF “Factory Edition” differs from the 2012 carbureted 450SXF.
KTM uses Keihin 44mm throttle body that is actually stepped from 42mm to 44mm.
Powerband: There is no comparison between the two engines—and that is not meant as a slam against the carbureted engine. Because of the benefits of fuel injection, higher compression and reduced rotating mass in the top-end, the “Factory Edition” rev quicker, feels lighter and is more responsive off the bottom. We had some gear ratio questions that we will need more time to analyze (and it is possible that the first batch of 540SXF-FE's from Europe came with the wrong rear sprocket–we would expect a 52-tooth rear, but our test bike had a 50).
The carbureted engine is more like a tractor, it churns and pulls and grinds out its wide powerband. It has a very broad feel, but is never snappy or light feeling.
Most MXA test riders liked the lighter feel because it was quicker at jumping on top of a gear and had less decompression braking. The old engine has its charms in that it is remarkably broad and just seems to keep on pulling, while the EFI engine snaps to attention and goes through the power quicker.
For faster riders the new engine is better. For slower riders, the old engine is easier to ride because it doesn’t require much in the way of shifting.
The “Factory Edition” suspension is significantly firmer and this pays big dividends.
Handling: There are only two factors that play into the difference in the handling between the carbed-equipped 450SXF and the EFI-equipped 450SXF—rotating mass and stiff suspension. Both of these factors made the “Factory Edition” feel lighter and more aggressive (even if it wasn’t much lighter and didn’t actually have any frame geometry advantages). Both bikes corner like they are on rails and were stable at speed—but the “Factory Edition” felt about ten pounds lighter.
Brakes. Great brakes...and much better than any Japanese brakes, but the “Factory Edition’s” brakes were no better than the identical 450SXF ‘s brakes—because they are the same.
The front stays higher in its stroke over small and
medium size bumps, which leaves more usable travel for any big stuff
that follows the little stuff.
Suspension. Stiffer is better. The previous KTM 450SXF isn’t undersprung, but it is seriously under damped. It lacks enough midstroke compression damping on both the shock and forks—which results in the front end diving under a load and the rear end kaboinging through consecutive bumps. The “Factory Edition” suspension is significantly firmer and this pays big dividends—the front stays higher in its stroke over small and medium size bumps, which leaves more usable travel for any big stuff that follows the little stuff. We hope that KTM is willing to make the same commitment to stiffer suspension when it comes time to spec the 2013 450SXF.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Thanks to the homologation rule and the input from Roger
DeCoster and Ryan Dungey—the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition gets a leg up on
the typical development cycle.
We are happy about the homologation rule—although the date should be changed to January 1 of the racing season instead of the idiotic March 1/June 1 dates that make no sense. Why are we so happy about the AMA rule? Because we hate all-new ground-up motorcycle designs. First-year bikes have a track record for being flawed. We find it hard to recommend that people lay their hard-earned cash down on bikes that haven’t been fully developed (and most first-year models have teething problems). Thanks to the homologation rule and the input from Roger DeCoster and Ryan Dungey—the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition gets a leg up on the typical development cycle. We hope, as we said in the very first paragraph, that the 2013 production 450SXF is a better bike—because of the fact that the “Factory Edition” bike has been developed in the crucible of professional racing (in front of the public’s eyes).
The proof is in the pudding—and the pudding is the 2013 KTM 450SXF production bike–not the "Factory Edition."
Is this a better bike than the model that came before? Yes, not because its fuel-injected, but because it has less reciprocating mass in the engine, stiffer suspension, snappier power and a gas cap that you don't need to be a safe cracker to break into. All of this could have been achieved with the Keihin FCR carb (and been lighter to boot)—but then you wouldn't have bought it.
All that said, MXA doesn’t take the 2012 KTM 450SXF “Factory Edition” very seriously. We know that sounds like blasphemy, but bear with us. This bike was designed and built to meet a rule. Only 400 of these bikes will see the light of day...and given that there are almost 400 KTM dealers that means that the "Factory Edition" isn't going to set the world on fire. Plus, with a $9595 price tag—this is a rich guy’s bike. It’s for the guy who just has to have the newest thing. It is a status bike...but a simple look at the calendar would reveal that that status will only last until the 2013 models come out. All that said, 400 bikes in today's market place is a healthy number for one bike (hard to believe that back in the late 1970s the manufacturers were selling 1,000,000 dirt bikes a year and now 400 units of one model is a decent number).
We wish KTM well with the “Factory Edition” (although they will sell them all, with or without us), but the proof is in the pudding—and the pudding is the 2013 KTM 450SXF production bike. That’s the bike that will get all of our attention, but until it shows up the "Factory Edition" is a good starting point to get a handle on the future.