MXA MOTOCROSS RACE TEST: 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION

WE TEST KTM 450The gear: Jersey: Troy Lee Designs SE Air Steamline, Pants: Troy Lee Designs GP Mono, Helmet: 6D ATR-1, Goggles: EKS Brand Scatter X, Boots: Gaerne SG12.

Q: WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION?

A: This is the 2019 KTM 450SXF, which is why it is often called a “2018-1/2” model when it officially goes on the books as a 2018. The 2019 KTM 450SXF will not have the Red Bull graphics, pleated seat cover, front brake rotor guard, Hinson clutch cover, plastic skid plate or orange accoutrements, but you also won’t be paying the $1000 upcharge when the true-to-life 2019 bikes come out in a few months.

Q: IS THE 2018 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION BETTER THAN THE 2018 PRODUCTION 450SXF?

A: Yes. Given that Roger DeCoster is solely responsible for the existence of the Factory Edition model line, each year he asks for changes that he believes will benefit his factory team riders. For the 2018-1/2 Factory Edition, Roger asked for three things:

(1) Stiffer frame. The 2018-1/2 Factory Edition frame is 10 percent stiffer torsionally and slightly softer longitudinally. This change makes the frame more accurate for Supercross by lessening twisting. The added rigidity comes from a thicker cross brace on the down tube, which not only increases frame rigidity but improves the strength of the head tube area.

(2) Rotating mass. Roger wanted to bring the weight down—not down in terms of pounds, but down in terms of rotating mass. Thus, the cylinder head is 15mm lower. Paradoxically, the engine itself is not 15mm lower in the frame. How can that be? KTM’s engineers lowered the camshaft 15mm lower in the cylinder head, which translated into shorter cam towers and valve stems. Lowering the camshaft, rocker arm and valves reduced the gyroscopic effects of their rotating mass on the chassis.

(3) Ergonomics. Roger wanted a lower center of gravity and slimmer ergonomics. Thus, the radiators were lowered 12mm while the fuel tank was redesigned to be narrower in the transition, with a low-boy extension on the left side.This will be the 2019 KTM 450SXF. At first glance it doesn’t look a lot different from the 2018 model, but there are subtle changes to virtually every part of the Factory Edition.

Q: IF ROGER ONLY WANTED THREE CHANGES, WHO WERE THE REST OF THE MODS FOR?

A: Once Roger got what he wanted, there were two other groups that the engineers listened to—local racers (consumers) and the KTM sales department. Their requests were not mutually exclusive, but they did differ in scope. Here is a breakdown of the mods made for local racers.

Over the last five years, KTM has been super responsive to the complaints, wants and needs of its customers. The KTM factory riders are only bound by AMA rules to run the stock engine castings and frame, but local racers must start with the complete production bike, thus they care about the list of changes.

(1) Bottom end. The engine castings on the 450SXF Factory Edition engine are identical to the 2018 production bike’s, but inside is a Pankl transmission. The gear ratios are unchanged, but the Formula 1 supplier upgraded the materials and design.

(2) Battery compartment. KTM put the electronic components into a large battery tray to make them more accessible. The new tray holds the Haijiu battery, diagnostic plug, master relay, ECU black box, fuel pump relay and voltage regulator. The condenser is tucked in next to the battery tray. These changes make it easier to troubleshoot electrical problems.

(3) Fuel pump. There have been issues in the past with the fuel pump hoses kinking inside the fuel tank. To solve this problem, the fuel pump and fuel pick-up point on the Factory Edition (and 2019 models) have been moved so that the internal fuel lines run in a straight line. The fuel pump is now located in the low-boy extension on the left side of the tank, while the electrical connector for the fuel pick-up has been moved to the right rear corner of the fuel tank.

(4) Exhaust. The Factory Edition’s exhaust is shorter, with a larger resonance chamber and shorter muffler; but, most significant, KTM added a slip-fit in the mid-pipe to allow the pipe to be removed without having to take the shock off the bike.

The long awaited slip-fit.

(5) Maps. The push-button ECU maps have been changed on the Factory Edition. The stock map (#1) is slightly mellower, while the aggressive map (#2) is slightly more aggressive. The goal was to have a bigger difference between the two maps.

(6) Intake tract. There is a new airboot between the filter and throttle body that features a new venturi shape. The Keihin 44mm throttle body breathes into a reshaped combustion chamber. Cam timing has been changed for more bottom-end power.

(7) Swingarm. The Factory Edition swingarm is 5mm longer than last year’s, and the axle slots are 5mm longer. Note that when the axle is slid all th way forward it is no farther forward than it was last year—the added length only makes the wheelbase longer.

(8) Subframe. The aluminum tube subframe is 40mm longer. This helps reinforce the rear fender and support the seat across a wider range.

(9) Suspension. Factory Edition owners will find a new two-stage base valve, a spacer in the rebound (balance) side of the air chamber that reduces air volume by 50 percent, softened compression valving, two-stage rebound damping and lower recommended air pressure settings (152 psi) on the WP AER air forks. The Neken triple clamps are 5mm wider (from front to rear), which makes them 5 percent stiffer. The WP shock features a pressure-balanced design to keep internal pressures consistent, while the compression damping has been increased at low-speed, slightly increased at mid-stroke, and significantly increased at high-speed.

The bling will not be on the 2019 model, so ignore the orange triple clamps, Red Bull graphics, pleated seat, anodized rear sprocket, skid plate, Hinson clutch cover and front disc guard.

Q: WHAT CHANGES DID THE KTM SALES DEPARTMENT ASK FOR?

A: It should come as no surprise that shutting down the KTM assembly lines to produce a special run of 400 Factory Editions is an expensive proposition, made all the more dear by the addition of 400 Husqvarna Rockstar Editions, which meant that there would be no time to make the KTM 250SXF Factory Edition this year. Given the added production costs and the need to make the Factory Edition worth the extra money, some of the changes are of the bling, fluff and “we gotta add something” variety. Here’s the sales department’s list.

(1) Clutch cover. The 2018-1/2 Factory Edition comes with a CNC-machined Hinson clutch cover. Be forewarned that there is nothing Hinson behind the cover; it is just for looks.

(2) Orange. The fork guards, triple clamps and rear sprocket are orange on the Factory Edition. They are not different from the non-orange 2018 stock parts, though.

(3) Red Bull graphics. Every Factory Edition gets the same Red Bull graphics that the factory team runs. The graphics let other KTM owners know that you have a Factory Edition. Red Bull does not allow KTM to sell the Red Bull plastic to anyone but a registered Factory Edition owner.

(4) Seat. The pleated, blue Selle Dalla Valle seat cover adds more race-team panache, but it does pull some riders’ pants down when sliding fore and aft.

(5) Brakes. Factory Editions come with a front disc guard to protect the 260mm Galfer rotors. The special touch on the front rotor is that it is now a floating design to help it self center.

(6) Wheels. Unlike the production 450SXF, which is equipped with unlabeled Takasago Excel rims, the 2018-1/2 Factory Edition comes with D.I.D DirtStar rims.

(7) Skid plate. The added-value skid plate is rubber-mounted and made from plastic that is reinforced with carbon fiber.

(8) Exhaust. Previous 450SXF Factory Editions came with Akrapovic exhaust systems or, at the very least, Akrapovic slip-on mufflers. This year, the Factory Edition doesn’t get any aftermarket exhaust parts; however, since the 2018-1/2 stock exhaust is completely redesigned with a smaller muffler, shorter mid-pipe and larger resonance chamber, we don’t think anyone will miss last year’s Akrapovic muffler.

(9) Holeshot device. Every Factory Edition comes with a holeshot device.

(10) Price. The 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition retails for $10,599. Someone has to pay for the overtime at the factory and the added bling. That someone is you.

The exhaust now comes with a slip-fit, the tranny is by Pankl and the cylinder head has the rotating mass lowered 15mm.

Q: HOW DOES THE 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION RUN?

A: On the dyno, the Factory Edition pumped out comparable horsepower and foot-pounds of torque to the 2018. These are respectable numbers, but the big news is how the engine feels. It doesn’t exactly bark off the bottom; instead, it has a controllable power delivery that is much improved. It is cleaner off the bottom, picks up quicker (with less delay), and gets to the meat of the powerband sooner. We have always felt that the KTM 450SXF could use more oomph at low speeds—and that is what it got.

The KTM 450SXF Factory Edition has the kind of powerband that can be used by everyone from Novices to AMA Pros. Regardless of skill level, there is something for everyone. It is mellow in the hands of a neophyte, hooked up and flying for an Intermediate, and amazingly fast in the hands of a talented Expert. This is the perfect engine for a rider who likes to carry lots of speed into corners, scrub it off with hard braking, and roll the power on about 10 feet sooner than any other racer.

The KTM 450SXF’s power delivery has one addition that RM-Zs, CRFs, KXFs and YZFs lack—it is a “time-release pill.” The Factory Edition doesn’t make all of its power now; it saves some for later and then a little more for when the competition signs off. It’s not unusual to see a KTM 450SXF rider rail out of a turn and go up a long straight without upshifting. The KTM has a very broad powerband. This style of timed delivery makes the KTM 450SXF feel like it revs 2000 rpm farther than its competition. But, it doesn’t rev higher; it revs longer.

The 2019 KTMs will come with MX3S tires, but most likely Excel rims, not DID DirtStar rims, like the Factory Edition.

Q: HOW GOOD ARE THE KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION FORKS?

A: If we know one thing about WP AER air forks, it is how to set them up for any rider, regardless of his weight, speed or skill level. Step one is to find your personal air pressure setting. You achieve this by putting a zip-tie on one fork leg and then going out to do a couple laps. When you come back in, look at the zip-tie and make these judgments:

(1) If the zip-tie has been pushed down to the bottom of the fork leg, you need to add air pressure in 2-pound increments.

(2) If the zip-tie is 4 inches above the bottom of the fork leg, you need to remove air pressure in 2-pound increments.

The top triple clamp is beefier than the 2018 clamp. You can see the added width in front of the hour meter.

(3) Once you find the air pressure that has the zip-tie stopping about 1-1/2 inches short of bottoming, write down that air pressure setting. That is the proper air pressure for you. We use the 1-1/2 inches of unused fork travel as a fail safe just in case we get a sudden burst of talent and over-jump the big double (or under-jump it and case the face).

(4) The final step is to go out on the track with the compression and rebound clickers set on the stock 15 clicks out. At this point, you should do a lap and then stop. Analyze what the forks felt like and increase or decrease the number of clicks until you are satisfied with the overall feel of the forks. This can be done in a series of single-lap tests. From this point on, use the compression clicker to control the travel. Don’t be afraid to use the clicker to its fullest. We’ve known former AMA National riders who ran the compression clicker all the way out.

Q: HOW GOOD IS THE FACTORY EDITION’S KTM 450SXF SHOCK?

A: This is the best WP shock that we have ever ridden with. It doesn’t feel wallowy, nor does it want to G-out in tough situations. We set the race sag at 105mm. We went in on the high-speed compression and rebound, but, all in all, we were rightfully impressed by this rear shock. When changing the shock’s settings, be very careful to keep an eye on front-to-rear balance.

Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?

A: The hate list:

(1) Sprocket/spokes. Watch the sprocket bolts and spokes closely. They loosen up constantly.

(2) Lock-on grips. Although we like the feel and ease of use of the ODI lock-on grips, we have two quibbles. First, since the clutch-side grip is mounted on a sleeve that slips on and off the bar by removing a small Torx bolt, the actual rubber thickness of the grip is reduced by the thickness of the plastic sleeve. If you have hand issues, switch to regular glue-on grips. Their rubber is twice as thick. Even better, the Neken SFH bars and grips are four-times thicker. Second, the ODI grips are held on a Torx bolt that you most likely don’t have a wrench. Without the proper Torx wrench the clutch-side grip isn’t coming off.

(3) Front brake hose. Be very careful when hooking tie-downs onto your handlebars that they don’t crimp the L-bend tube coming out of the front brake’s master cylinder Always use soft straps.

(4) Airbox. Even though we always focus on the Husqvarna’s plastic airbox when complaining about restricted airflow, the KTM airbox could also use more air to the Twin Air filter. Break out the Makita and have at it.

Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?

A: The like list:

(1) Weight. We aren’t going to complain about the 222-pound Factory Edition not losing any weight. It is still the lightest 450 on the track, by as much as 19 pounds. Plus, the 2019 production 450SXF might well come in under 222 pounds once the Factory Edition’s seat cover, disc guard, holeshot device and skid plate are set aside.

(2) Brakes. Motocross is all about starting and stopping. The KTM starts with the best of them and stops twice as well.

(3) Air filter. Are you tired of wrestling with big air filters in small openings? KTM has solved the problem with an easy-to-open side-mounted airbox cover and an air filter cage that has opposing prongs that plug into the side of the airbox cavity. No mess. No fuss. No mistakes.

(4) Hydraulic clutch. KTM has the strongest, longest-lasting and most predictable clutch on the track. It has no peers. The Hinson clutch cover is a nice touch.

(5) Shifting. The Pankl gear set is an amazing addition to a bike that is already the best shifting bike on the track. Pankl is an F1 supplier, and the Factory Edition transmission is stronger, more durable and buttery smooth.

(6) Skid plate. A skid plate is always a plus.

(7) Seat bolt. Although it looks like the KTM has two seat bolts, you only have to remove the left bolt to remove the seat.

There is no Akrapovic muffler this year, but that’s because KTM has a great stock exhaust and muffler combo.

Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

A: The conundrum around the release of a 2018-1/2 Factory Edition is perplexing. Because KTM only makes 400 Factory Editions (the minimum number needed to meet the AMA homologation rule), they will be in short supply. The early bird gets the worm. On the other hand, the 2019 KTM 450SXF is only a couple months away and, in many ways, it could be one generation better, assuming KTM’s R&D department learns from the Factory Edition and applies those lessons to the 2019 production bike. What to do? Do you want next year’s bike now? No worries, mate. Even if you don’t get the first Factory Edition in your town, the 2019 model is coming.

MXA’S KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION SETUP SPECS

This is how we set up our 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.

AER FORK SETTINGS
The majority of MXA test riders ignore the recommended air pressure numbers. They are not well suited to the majority of KTM owners. We have had test riders of similar speeds vary their air pressure by as much as 15 pounds and both be happy with the way the forks perform. This is achieved with clicker settings. Most Vet riders tend to run lower pressures than fast riders, often as low as 130 psi. There is no harm in a low air-pressure setting as long as the front end doesn’t drop too deeply into its stroke (which makes the front-end geometry steeper). For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 152 psi (Expert), 145 (Intermediate), 138 psi (Vet)
Compression: 25 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Rebound: 17 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: Third line
Notes: If we feel that the forks are harsh in the middle but tend to ride high when we increase the air pressure, we lower the oil height in the damping leg by 10 to 20mm to eliminate a harsh spot in the travel. Additionally, pay attention to extreme temperature changes. You may have to change the AER’s air pressure as it gets hotter later in the day. We bleed the outer chambers constantly.

WP SHOCK SETTINGS
If you are heavier than 180 pounds, you might want to run the 2016 KTM 450SXF’s 48 N/m spring. Overall, this is a very good shock. Although we do make clicker adjustments, we rarely stray very far away from the stock 15 clicks on compression. It can be dialed in with only a few clicker changes. As a rule of thumb, most MXA test riders leave the low-speed compression on the stock setting and focus on the high-speed dial to make the changes. We do run additional rebound damping. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2018-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition (stock specs are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 45 N/m
Race sag: 105mm (110mm)
Hi-compression: 1-3/4 turns out (2 turns out)
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 10 clicks out (15 clicks out)
Notes: We turned the high-speed compression damping in a 1/4 turn to lessen G-outs and run more rebound than the recommended setting. Additionally, we set the sag at 105mm instead of the WP-recommended 110mm.

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