HIDDEN SECRETS OF THE 2021-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION & HUSQVARNA FC450 ROCKSTAR EDITION
Q: WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR A SPECIAL RUN OF FACTORY REPLICAS COME FROM ORIGINALLY?
A: The impetus for the first of the KTM Factory Editions came from Roger DeCoster. Roger had promised Ryan Dungey that if he switched from Suzuki to KTM for 2012 he would deliver him a fuel-injected 450SXF. Luckily for Roger, in 2011 KTM had built a fuel-injected KTM 450XCF enduro bike as a test engine. Roger convinced KTM to take the enduro engine, revise the running gear, add a five-speed tranny and put the whole kit and kaboodle in a new motocross frame for the 2012 debut of Ryan Dungey. The challenge was to build 400 of these unique bikes to meet the AMA homologation rules in time for the 2012 Supercross opener. KTM, DeCoster and Dungey squeaked in with enough production models to be AMA legal. Dungey’s 2012 race bike was the precursor to the fuel-injected 2013 KTM 450SXF. Consumers could buy the “Dungey replica” six months before the 2013 production bike was in the showrooms. It was a smash hit and sales success, even if limited to 400 units.
Since then, KTM has produced Factory Editions every year, and these bikes have been considered a bellwether of what next year’s production bike would be like. The problem, of course, is that KTM didn’t plan on making drastic R&D changes every year. Thus, there were years where there was nothing “factory” about the Factory Editions, save for bolt-on aftermarket parts, new mapping, frame color and special graphics.
Here is a quick timeline of the Factory Editions from 2012 to 2021.
2012. The idea of a special run of next year’s bike for this year was revolutionary in 2012, and KTM was able to give Ryan Dungey a vastly improved race bike over what he would have had to race without the 2012-1/2 Factory Edition. The other people who benefited were consumers who could get the fuel-injected 2013 KTM 450SXF six months before the 2013s were released.
2013. KTM cast new cases to get rid of the kick-starter.
2014. No mechanical changes to the running gear, but the 4CS fork was unveiled on the 2014 Factory Edition.
2015. For the 2015-1/2 Factory Edition, KTM got a 23mm-shorter, 23mm-narrower and 4-pound-lighter engine. The chromoly frame was 20 percent stiffer in torsion and 30 percent more flexible longitudinally. Overall weight was reduced to 226.2 pounds (without gas).
2016. No mechanical changes over the 2016 production bike, but the production model would get AER air forks (and lose another 3.5 pounds).
2017. No mechanical changes. The only significant upgrade to the 2017 KTM Factory Edition was a lighter and more powerful SkyRich battery that helped edge the bike’s weight down to 222 pounds.
2018. The 2018-1/2 Factory Edition frame was 10 percent stiffer torsionally and slightly softer longitudinally. On the engine, the cylinder head was 15mm lower, resulting in 15mm-lower camshafts, shorter cam towers and short but stout valve stems. Additionally, the radiators were lowered 12mm while the fuel tank was narrower in the transition area. The transmission was built by Pankl. All the electronics were moved to a tray above the airbox. The swingarm was 5mm longer, and the fuel lines, inside the gas tank, were straightened to eliminate kinking. Finally, the exhaust pipe was shortened and a slip-fit was put in the mid-pipe. Plus, the first Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition was introduced with all of the 2018 KTM Factory Edition upgrades but with changes to the color scheme, plastic and graphics.
2019. On the 2019 Factory and Rockstar Editions, the engine had its coated top-end rod bushing changed to a bronze bushing. The CP piston was reinforced with a bridge-box structure under the dome, and the piston was cammed to lessen side thrust against the cylinder wall. The previous anodized triple clamps were exchanged for split triple clamps (much like the Xtrig clamp).
2020. No mechanical changes to the Factory or Rockstar Editions.
As you can see, the years for big changes to Factory Editions were 2012, 2015 and 2018. The 2021 KTM Factory Edition and Husqvarna Rockstar Edition will not be joining the list of big-change years. However, the yet to be released 2022-1/2 Factory Edition will join 2012, 2015 an 2018 on bike worth owning list.
Q: WHAT DO THEY COST?
A: The 2021-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition has an MSRP of $11,399, while the 2021-1/2 KTM 450SFX Factory Edition lists for $11,299. In simple math, that is $1100 more dear than the production-based 2021 KTM 450SXF or Husqvarna FC450.
Q: WHAT DO YOU GET FOR THE EXTRA $1100 ON THE FACTORY & ROCKSTAR EDITIONS?
A: Suffice it to say that there is nothing especially unique about this year’s run of special editions; however, they do come with a long list of aftermarket products, the most groundbreaking of which is the Connectivity Unit, which allows the engine’s power characteristics to be changed on your smart phone via a Bluetooth connection to a booster ECU under the handlebar pad, which explains why it is so large.
The value added by the 14 add-ons is approximately $3300 on the open market. The big money goes to the Factory wheels ($925), Factory split triple clamps ($624), slip-on mufflers ($650) and Connectivity Unit ($250). No matter how you slice it, the Factory and Rockstar Editions are a good buy for a rider looking for an exotic “one-and-done” race bike, but not so much for a do-it-yourselfer who wants to handpick his wheels, triple clamps, mufflers, seats, graphics, plastic color or clutch covers.
Here are the aftermarket parts on the 2021-1/2 Factory Edition and Rockstar Edition.
(1) Red Bull KTM Factory graphics (KTM)/Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory graphics (Husky).
(2) Handlebar-mounted KTM/Husky Connectivity Unit allows mapping changes via Bluetooth.
(3) Blue Selle Dalla Valle seat cover (KTM)/black Guts seat cover (Husky).
(4) Factory split triple clamps (orange anodized KTM/blue anodized Husky).
(5) KTM Factory wheels (orange anodized KTM/blue anodized Husky).
(6) Akrapovic slip-on muffler (KTM)/FMF slip-on muffler (Husky).
(7) Hinson clutch cover (KTM)/Rekluse clutch cover (Husky), but not a Hinson or Rekluse clutch behind the covers.
(8) Orange rear sprocket (KTM)/blue rear sprocket (Husky).
(9) Orange frame (KTM)/black frame (Husky).
(10) ODI soft, grey Lock-on grips.
(11) Semi-floating front brake rotor.
(12) Front brake disc guard.
(13) Factory holeshot device.
(14) Composite skid plate.
Q: WHAT ARE THE PERFORMANCE CHANGES BETWEEN THE SPECIAL EDITIONS AND THE 2021 PRODUCTION BIKES?
A: You will be surprised to discover that the only actual performance parts on the Rockstar and Factory Edition engine packages are the slip-on mufflers—and one of them isn’t as good as the other. Apart from the lighter mufflers, the 2021-1/2 KTM Factory Edition and Husqvarna Rockstar Edition have the exact same engines, chassis, airbox, swingarm and suspension.
And when we say exact same suspension, we mean it—with one exception. Unlike the 2021 production Husqvarna FC450, the 2021-1/2 Rockstar Edition is spec’ed with KTM valving in both the forks and shock. This is no sweat for the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, because these are the same forks that are on the 2021 450SXF production bike; however, it is a big deal on the Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition, because instead of getting Husky’s 10mm shorter forks, longer shock pull rods, revised bell crank and taller shock cap (to limit shock shaft travel), the 2021-1/2 Rockstar Edition gets the KTM forks, KTM shock and KTM linkage. That’s a shame for the Husky Rockstar Edition, since most MXA test riders prefer the 2021 Husqvarna’s lower seat height, lower center of gravity and ability for short riders to touch the ground on the starting line over the taller KTM 450SXF setup.
We asked KTM why the Husqvarna Rockstar Edition comes with KTM suspension instead of the Husky production bike’s suspension. They kind of shrugged and then suggested that because the 800 units had to be built back in November of 2020, in order to meet the AMA homologation rules, it was easier to source 800 sets of KTM suspension and skip the need to change to the Husqvarna shock linkage.
Q: WHICH 2021-1/2 BIKE WAS FASTER, THE FACTORY EDITION OR THE ROCKSTAR EDITION?
A: There is not a lot of difference in the way the KTM 450SXF and Husqvarna FC450 run as production bikes or the way they run as Factory Editions or Rockstar Editions. The KTM 450SXF Factory Edition has sharper throttle response, is livelier through the midrange, and all-in-all felt much quicker from gear to gear. Meanwhile, the Husky FC450 Rockstar Edition has a gentler powerband that is so well modulated that there are no abrupt hits anywhere on the curve. Best of all, the Husqvarna didn’t give up any peak horsepower to make it happen. The FC450 ranks second in most peak power—only .07 horsepower less than the class-leading YZ450F, while the KTM ranks third, only 0.17 behind the FC450. If you can feel that minuscule power difference, fill out an application to be an MXA test rider immediately.
Why is the FC450 Rockstar Edition so much mellower and easier to ride than the KTM Factory Edition? For the same reason that the production 2021 FC450 is better modulated than the 2021 450SXF—the choked-off Husqvarna airbox. Motorcycle engines are air pumps that suck air into the combustion chamber and blow it out the exhaust pipe. More air equals more power; someday Husqvarna’s engineers will realize this.
Which leads us to the blowing-it-out-of-the-exhaust-pipe part of the equation. Once we realized that the different muffler brands on both bikes had restrictors in them, we decided to investigate deeper. The FMF muffler on the Husqvarna had a USFS service-legal spark arrestor near the tip, while the Akrapovic on the KTM did not have a legal spark arrestor, but it did have a complex wire cylinder in the muffler that blocked off exhaust flow. We were drawn to the mufflers because the KTM’s Akrapovic canister was turning brown from excessive heat right where the wire cylinder was blocking exhaust flow. The Akrapovic decals melted in the heat.
That gave us the idea to test the mufflers separately. We sent test riders out to do laps on the Husqvarna FC450 with both the FMF and Akrapovic mufflers fitted. The FMF muffler was vastly better than the Akrapovic muffler. In the past, we found that even the stock KTM muffler performed better than the Akrapovic muffler on previous Factory Editions.
Q: HOW DID THE CONNECTIVITY UNIT WORK?
A: We loved it. Once we downloaded the app and sync’ed our phones to the two bikes, we were thrilled with how easy it was to change the performance of the FC450 and 450SXF. Unlike the Yamaha WiFi Power Tuner, which requires you to download percentages of fuel and degrees of ignition advance in 16 different boxes to build a new map, the Connectivity Unit allows you to tune throttle response, engine braking, traction control and launch control by using your finger to slide the icons across the screen, swiping from left to right to move from mellow throttle response to aggressive throttle response, less traction control to maximum traction control, minimal decompression braking to maximum engine braking, and no launch control to lots of launch control. It will even show you a dyno curve of what the changes look like compared to the stock dyno curve.
We set aside two full days at two different tracks to test just the Connectivity Unit and came away impressed. We started by moving the slider all the way left and then all the way right on each adjustable engine characteristic to get a full understanding of the range of adjustment. Then, each test rider made his own separate adjustments. There is one caveat: to change the Traction Control setting, you must put the stock map switch into the its traction control (TC) setting.
We don’t think that this is an AMA Pro tuning device, because ECU geniuses like Twisted Development can produce much more advanced settings for AMA National or Supercross engines. The Yamaha Power Tuner lets you design your own unique maps—if you have the knowhow or select from the special maps that the Yamaha test riders built (we run TP-3 on our YZ450F). But, for the average racer, the Connectivity Unit does offer a quicker and easier-to-use way to make the engine snappier or mellower.
Q: IS THE 2021-1/2 FACTORY EDITION BETTER THAN THE ROCKSTAR EDITION?
A: Originally, we felt that we could do a shootout between these 2021-1/2 special editions, but given that the only major changes are in the looks, colors, add-ons and air boxes, we realized that from a performance point of view, they have not changed much compared to the 2021 production models they are based on. We do think that the suspension setup on the Husqvarna FC450 Rockstar Edition would have been better if they had not swapped out the excellent lowered fork, shock, link arm and bell crank of the production FC450 for KTM parts. But, by using the same KTM-spec’ed forks and shock, the suspension variable between the two becomes a non-factor in the Factory Edition versus Rockstar Edition shootout scenario.
The actual differences remain virtually the same as delineated in MXA’s 450 shootout in last month’s April 2021 issue—minus the FC450’s lowered suspension’s positive effects on cornering, ergonomics and plushness.
Q: WHAT IS OUR BEST FRIENDLY ADVICE?
A: We are going to tell you exactly what we tell our friends and test riders when they ask if they should buy a Factory Edition or Rockstar Edition. Our basic answer, in years when the Austrian firm isn’t introducing a new engine or frame design, is “No.” We heartily recommended the 2012, 2015 and 2018 Factory Editions, and we will, most likely, be very positive about the 2022-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition and 2022-1/2 Husqvarna FC450 Factory Edition. Why? Because we guesstimate that KTM and Husky will be introducing totally new 450cc models in 2023. No matter what happens in the future, be forewarned that buying the “big model-change years” gives you next year’s bike almost six months before the production version appears in the showrooms. Buying Factory or Rockstar Editions in the off years means that you are buying the current model jazzed up with anodized parts (albeit very good parts).
The other caveat we tell our friends, and we consider MXA readers to be our friends, is that since Factory and Rockstar Editions have to have their parts ordered and collected at the factory as early as October so that the 800 special editions can roll down the assembly line in November and be in the showrooms by January, that leaves the R&D departments at KTM and Husqvarna several months of extra testing time to make upgrades to the suspension and electronics before the production bikes have to come down the assembly line. As a result, the suspension and mapping on the later-arriving production bikes is often significantly better than on the earlier-arriving Rockstar or Factory Edition.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: It may seem that we have kicked a lot of dirt in the face of 2021-1/2 special editions, but that doesn’t mean that the two special editions aren’t worthy of your consideration. They carry with them a lot of status, not just because of the $11,000-plus price tag, but because of their unique looks and the cachet of mimicking the factory race team bikes. In the looks department, the KTM Factory Edition carries the orange motif throughout the design and is embellished by the Red Bull logo on the radiator shrouds. At the same time, the Husqvarna Rockstar Edition breaks perceived barriers with a wild black and yellow color palette that is jarringly broken by the faux pas of an incongruous white front fender—or is that the banana-peel rear fender? For many KTM buyers, the exclusivity of the orange frame is worth the price. And, of course, there is always the attraction of having a bike that not every Joe Blow at the track can afford (plus, it goes nicely with the $4000 worth of custom cabinetry inside your Sprinter).
What is worth the price? (1) Bluetooth-controlled Connectivity Unit mapping device. Yes, it’s ugly, but it’s beautiful in an electronic way. (2) The Power Parts Factory split triple clamps. They feed enough forgiveness into the front end that KTM and Husqvarna upped the recommended air pressure from 10.7 bar to 10.9 bar. (3) The Power Parts Factory wheels. They aren’t lighter than the stock wheels, but the hubs are stronger, as are the D.I.D DirtStar rims.
What do we really think? If you lust after a 2021-1/2 Factory or Rockstar Edition, by all means track one of the 400 down and enjoy yourself. It’s a good bike, sprinkled with lots of high-quality anodized parts, all of which serve a purpose. But, under the graphics, color schemes and bling lies a more-than-worthy 2021 production model that performs just as well and costs a lot less.
However, It should be noted that the 2022-1/2 KTM Factory Edition and Husqvarna Special will be an early version of the all-new 2023 KTM and Husky models, which should include new engines, frames and set-up specs. So, if you missed the chance to get one of the 2021-1/2 Austrian specials, you haven’t missed out on the big changes that will come later this year.