MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2023-1/2 KTM 450 SXF FACTORY EDITION (PLUS VIDEO)
Q: WHERE & WHEN DID THE “FACTORY EDITION” IDEA COME FROM?
A: You can thank Roger DeCoster. When Roger left Suzuki for KTM, he told Ryan Dungey to stay at Team Suzuki for another year. Why wait? Because in 2011, KTM did not have a fuel-injected 450SXF motocross bike. They only had a fuel-injected KTM 450XCF enduro bike. For 2012, Roger convinced Austria to revise the enduro engine, add a five-speed transmission, and put the all-new 450SXF engine in an improved motocross chassis in time for the start of the 2012 Supercross season.
Sounds simple enough, but to race the new fuel-injected 450SX in the 2012 AMA Supercross series, the bike had to meet the AMA homologation rules, which meant that KTM had to build 400 production-line versions before it could legally race it. Squeezed by timing and the AMA rulebook, KTM was forced to make one works bike and 399 exact copies (stamped with “2012” production numbers). Dungey’s 2012 race bike was the precursor to the production fuel-injected 2013 KTM 450SXF. Since consumers could buy the “Ryan 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.
The speed with which the 400 units flew off the showroom floors convinced KTM to produce a 2013-1/2 Factory Edition (and they have continued to produce a 1/2-year model for the last 11 years). The bikes were often 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 when there was nothing “factory” about the Factory Editions, save for bolt-on aftermarket parts, new mapping, frame color and special graphics. And this is true of the 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition.
Q: WHAT IS THE TIMELINE OF THE FACTORY EDITIONS?
A: From the fertile mind of Roger Decoster to today’s showrooms, the KTM Factory Editions have seen some ups and downs. Here is the timeline from 2012-1/2 to 2023-1/2.
2012-1/2. 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.
2013-1/2. KTM cast new cases to get rid of the kick-starter.
2014-1/2. No mechanical changes to the running gear, but the 4CS fork was unveiled on the 2014 Factory Edition.
2015-1/2. 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).
2016-1/2. There were no mechanical changes over the 2016 production bike, but the production model would get AER air forks (and lose another 3.5 pounds).
2017-1/2. No mechanical changes. The only significant upgrade to the 2017-1/2 KTM Factory Edition was a lighter and more powerful SkyRich battery that helped edge the bike’s weight down to 222 pounds.
2018-1/2. The 2018-1/2 Factory Edition frame was stiffer torsionally and slightly softer longitudinally. The cylinder head was 15mm lower. Additionally, the radiators were lowered 12mm while the fuel tank was narrower in the transition area. 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.
2019-1/2. On the 2019-1/2 Factory Edition, 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).
2020-1/2. No mechanical changes to the 2020-1/2 Factory Editions. The historical timeline of Factory Editions reveals that the years with significant model changes up to this point in time were 2012, 2015 and 2018.
2021-1/2. Apart from the lighter Akrapovic slip-on muffler, the 2021-1/2 KTM Factory Edition had the exact same engine, chassis, airbox, swingarm and suspension as the 2020 production model. As an add-on, the 2021-1/2 KTM 450SXF came with the Connectivity Unit. It was less than effective and disappeared from the scene very quickly (and has never returned). The 2021-1/2 Factory Edition was a precursor to the 2022 KTM 450SXF.
2022-1/2. KTM changed virtually everything on the 2022-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, including the hydro-formed frame, engine position, compression ratio (increased from 13.75 to 14.1), injection-molded aluminum/polymide subframe, stiffer die-cast aluminum swingarm, downsized rear axle, Hydro-Stop bottoming cones and all-new bodywork. As a result of the 2023 KTM 450SXF production model, the timeline of most significant KTM 450SXF Factory Editions grew to encompass 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2022.
2023-1/2. After the massive updates to the 2022-1/2 KTM Factory Edition, it would be unrealistic to expect the 2023-1/2 Factory Edition to be totally renovated. Thus, this year’s Factory Edition received no mechanical changes to the running gear, but there was the addition of an Akrapovic slip-on muffler and some subtle fork and shock valving updates. The 2023-1/2 Factory Edition is a precursor of the 2024 KTM 450SXF production model (minus the glitz).
Q: WHAT IS THE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE (MSRP)?
A: The 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition’s retails for price is $12,099, which is $400 more expensive than the 2022-1/2 Factory Edition. When you compare the 450SXF Factory Edition to the $12,199 Husqvarna Rockstar Edition, $12,399 Honda CRF450WE (Works Edition) or $12,699 Kawasaki KX450SR (Special Racer), you will discover that not only is the KTM 450SXF Factory Edition less expensive, but the Honda CRF450WE and Kawasaki KX450R are not next year’s bikes. They are spiffed-up versions of the 2023 production models, which explains why they do not get the “2023-1/2” sobriquet.
Q: WHAT DID KTM CHANGE ON THE 2023-1/2 450SXF FACTORY EDITION?
A: If you are asking about significant mechanical changes, we can only point to fork and shock valving updates (which we will get to later); however, if you are asking about component updates, the added-value list is 15 items long. It includes 1. Orange frame, 2. Factory racing seat, 3. PowerParts Factory wheels, 4. Akrapovic slip-on muffler, 5. Semi-floating front brake rotor, 6. PowerParts Factory front brake disc guard, 7. PowerParts Factory carbon racing skid plate, 8. PowerParts Factory racing adjustable offset (20/22mm) triple clamps, 9. PowerParts Factory holeshot device, 10. ODI lock-on grip set, 11. Hinson clutch cover, 12. Vented airbox cover, 13. Orange-anodized rear sprocket, 14. Gold chain, and 15. Red Bull KTM Racing graphics.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION RUN ON THE TRACK?
A: There is one caveat to how well the 2023-1/2 KTM Factory Edition runs—and that is that there is no difference between the 2023-1/2 Factory Edition powerplant and the stock 2023 KTM 450SXF engine. The 2023-1/2 KTM Factory Edition and 2023 KTM 450SXF powerbands are much improved from low to mid. MXA always criticized the pre-2023 KTM 450SXF engine for being down on power as it worked its way towards its impressive mid-to-top spread. It was too mellow! No more. The new 2023 engine accelerates much harder out of corners and keeps on pulling into the top-end.
The best thing about the 2023 version of the KTM 450SXF engine is that the power, from top to bottom, is delivered in one, long, churning locomotive style of power; it builds at an unbelievably progressive rate from 5000 rpm to its peak at 9400 rpm. You have two choices of how to utilize the KTM’s massive horsepower: (1) You can play gun-and-run by quickly shifting your way through the transmission every time the rpm reaches peak power, or (2) just put it in third gear and let the horsepower do its work at an easily managed 9000 rpm.
What contributed to the large difference between the 2023-1/2 Factory Edition and 2023 production model power improvements?
First, the new mapping options offer two distinct power profiles. For over six years, MXA has complained that the difference between Map 1 and Map 1 was not significant enough. We wanted KTM to replace the existing Map 2 with a livelier, snappier and more responsive ECU setting, and to reconfigure a point/counterpoint Map 2 that was more manageable and mellower. And that is exactly what they did. We do admit that originally most MXA test riders felt that Map 2 was scary fast. But, after switching back and forth between the two maps, they stuck with Map 2 but geared the bike taller by running 13/50 gearing instead of the stock 13/51. For Vet riders, the best setup was Map 1.
Second, we are fully aware that the Austrian giant uses airbox design, defined by how much air is allowed into the airbox, as a way of delineating the power characteristics of the KTM 450SXF, Husqvarna FC450 and GasGas MC450F. And, in light of this, we weren’t surprised that on the 2023 KTM 450SXF version, all the air coming into the airbox was routed through two large open vents on each side of the airbox. The two air vents are designed to look like handholds. They are positioned above and behind the air filter and even have a V-shaped dome under the seat base to help redirect the air in a downward direction. All in all, it is a vastly improved airbox in terms of volume and air ingress and contributes greatly to the improved throttle response. Not surprisingly, KTM’s optional, slotted airbox cover can flow even more air into the intake tract.
Q: HOW DOES THE 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION RUN ON THE DYNO?
A: When it comes to dyno numbers, the KTM 450SXF and 450SXF Factory Edition are the kings of the hill from mid on up. The KTM 450SXF breaks the 59-horsepower barrier at 9000 rpm (and it should be noted that the Honda CRF450, Kawasaki KX450 and Suzuki RM-Z450 never exceed 57 horsepower). In fact, at 59.94 horsepower, the KTM 450SXF comes only 0.06 horsepower short of the 60-horsepower mark.
Q: WHAT’S NEW ON THE 2023-1/2 FACTORY EDITION FORKS AND SHOCK?
A: WP reworked the forks and shock for the 2023-1/2 Factory Edition with the goal of increasing comfort and adjustability at both ends. Both the shock and fork valving are different from that of the 2023 production KTM 450SXF, but the changes are limited to specific segments of the stroke where WP felt they could make the suspension less finicky with respect to setup changes.
Forks. WP says they made “minor refinements” to the compression shim stack to make the mid-valve damping feel more fluid and comfortable. They did not touch the rebound side of the fork’s damping, nor are there any alterations to the suggested air pressure or clicker settings. The rider should be willing to fine-tune the feel by making clicker adjustment based on track conditions.
Shock. The WP technicians, with the help of KTM’s American R&D crew, developed new high-speed compression damping settings because they felt that the 2023 settings had too big a gap per adjustment. The goal was to get the high-speed compression dial to make smaller adjustments per dial movement. How much smaller? Each incremental change was reduced by 50 percent. This gave the rider the ability to fine-tune the compression changes in smaller increments. On last year’s shock, it was easy to go too far with each adjustment. On the 2023-1/2 Factory Edition, it is easier to find a better setting. The high-speed compression damping is controlled by a spring pressing on the shim stack. WP didn’t change the adjuster or the spring but instead went from 15 shims to 23 shims to offer a more delineated range of adjustment. Given that few riders utilize the high-speed compression adjuster, or fully understand its function, this shock change only comes into play if you turn the high-speed compression dial. The recommended setting is 1-1/2 turns out.
Q: HOW DID THE 2023-1/2 450SXF FACTORY EDITION HANDLE?
A: There is an elephant in the room when it comes to the 2022-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition as it rolls out of the showroom. It is very rigid, and that applies to both the frame and the forks. This is not a deal breaker, but the frame does need to be broken in. Unlike the forks, which break in relatively quickly, KTM’s chromoly chassis doesn’t take a set until sometime between 8 and 10 hours of ride time. Why? KTM engineers went to great lengths to make the frame stronger and more rigid, especially in the head tube area. The added rigidity was a nod to Pro riders but exacerbated life for the first 10 hours of break-in time for Vets and Novices.
The big difference is that the 2023 frame has ultra-strong, forged-steel brackets on top of the frame’s backbone (behind the head tube), and, no surprise, forged brackets on the down tube (below the head tube). Worse yet, there are forged motor mounts (without steel or aluminum brackets between the engine of the frame). Make no mistake about it, the combined strength of the forged pieces makes the frame more durable and stronger, but because of them, this frame needs a lot of break-in time. Our frame got closer to its natural resilience with every hour of saddle time. It was perfect at the 10-hour mark. The chassis will feel better every time you ride it.
Apart from the break-in issues, we like the way the 2022-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition feels in motion. Yes, it is heavier, especially at the front wheel, but depending on track conditions, this isn’t a deal-breaker. The new bodywork is ergonomically shaped to work with the human body. The width of the tank, shrouds and side panels makes it easier to grip the bike with your knees. The airbox is larger, easier to access and works best with the optional vented airbox cover. The footpegs look like they stick out farther, but they are actually mounted in-board farther to make more room for your boots to hug the frame.
One tech aspect that is often overlooked is that KTM’s engineers borrowed the anti-chain torque theories of fellow Austrian Horst Leitner and Norwegian Eyvind Boyesen, who discovered decades ago that rear-end squat (the tendency of the rear suspension to drop under acceleration) was a byproduct of the bike’s chain line (as determined by the angle the chain follows from the rear sprocket to the countershaft sprocket). Changing the chain line, by either raising the swingarm pivot on the frame or lowering the countershaft sprocket on the engine, greatly reduces squat. KTM had squat issues, most evident in consecutive whoops, but by rotating the engine 2 degrees backwards, KTM lowered the countershaft sprocket by 3mm, which lessened squat under acceleration by reducing chain torque. You can feel the improvement in rear-wheel traction.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Chain slack. The Factory Edition chain needs 65-70mm of slack (we measure 65mm with four fingers at the back of the swingarm buffer pad). It looks too loose at 65mm, but that is the best setting.
(2) Buffer pad. Where the chain bends downward onto the countershaft sprocket, it eats through the swingarm buffer pad. Watch it closely, because after it eats through the buffer it starts eating through the swingarm.
(3) Washing the bike. The giant air vents below the seat are hard to seal off when you pressure-wash your bike. We run Twin Air’s plastic airbox covers to avoid getting water in the engine.
(4) Seat height. Motocross bikes keep getting taller, and that is true of the 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF. It is skyscraper tall. If you don’t have long legs and your boots aren’t touching the ground, look into riding a Husky.
(5) Weight. We can’t blame you for thinking that the KTM 450SXF is light, but it is actually over 5 pounds heavier than it was in 2022. It is still lighter than any Japanese-built 450 but not anywhere near as light as the 2023 GasGas MC450F.
(6) Start/stop button. We don’t like the electric-start and kill-button combo. First, the buttons are low-profile and can’t easily be activated with a gloved finger. Second, we never stopped trying to find the kill button on the left side of the bars. Third, be careful not to get the switch wet when washing the bike; it can short out the whole ECU.
(7) Break-in. It’s a shame to take your brand-new bike for its first ride and have it beat you to death. Take our word for it, it will go from horrid to wonderful, but it takes 10 hours.
(8) Checklist. Check the bolts on the rear sprocket, shift lever, shock linkage, head stays, front motor mount and swingarm pivot at regular intervals.
(9) Frame guards. The two problems with the stock KTM frame guards are that the thickness of the plastic pushes your feet outward (if you remove them, you will be surprised by how much narrower the bike feels at your boots), and the frame guards also stop you from easily checking the tightness of your swingarm pivot bolt (which has been known to come loose).
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Map 2. A great map. It is smoother off the bottom with reduced engine braking and a linear style of power that takes off in the middle and goes until the blood rushes out of your brain.
(2) Air filter. No air filter is easier to put in a bike than the 2023-1/2 KTM Factory Edition.
(3) Airbox cover. It has a handle molded into the upper front corner that makes it easier to get the cover off sans tools.
(4) No tools clickers. You can adjust the WP shock and forks without ever using a tool. Low-speed compression, high-speed compression, shock rebound, fork rebound, and fork compression are all adjusted by hand.
(5) Vented airbox cover. The bike comes with an optional vented airbox cover that improves throttle response.
(6) Anti-squat chain line. All credit goes to ATK’s anti-chain torque experiments and the Boyesen Link.
(7) Brembo brakes. Lost all your fingers except one in a chain saw accident? You can still be a “late braker” with one finger on the Factory Edition’s powerful Brembo brakes.
(8) Idiot light. In 2022, the FI diagnostic’s LED light fell out of its holder constantly. On the Factory Edition, the idiot light has been moved to the hour meter.
(9) Fork guards. New fork guards wrap farther around the exposed forks legs to cut down on chrome dings.
(10) Brembo hydraulic clutch. We like the “pop” feel of the Brembo master cylinder.
(11) Cross-three spokes. The more spokes that an individual spoke crosses over on the way from the hub to the rim, the stronger and more forgiving the wheel. The Factory Edition front wheel is laced cross-three.
(12) Quick Shift. Quick Shift momentarily interrupts the ignition when a sensor on the shift drum signals the ECU that an upshift is about to happen. Killing the spark relieves pressure on the gearbox to allow faster clutch-less shifting. Quick Shift is only active on upshifts. On long starts, Quick Shift is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But, on the racetrack, it can cause issues with half-throttle shifts.
(13) Wider front fender. Functionally, all a front fender does is knock down roost flinging off the front tire. For this task, wider is better. The Factory Edition front fender is 1 inch wider on the front half of the fender, while four 1-inch winglets on each side of the rear half of the fender widen the rear fender without cutting down on air flow to the radiators. This design concept cuts down on dirt, mud, and water spray being thrown up towards the rider by the front wheel.
(14) Adjustable offset. The Factory Edition triple clamps can be changed from 22mm offset to 20mm offset. We never change it, but it is an option.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: To the MXA wrecking crew, the 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition is a hard sell. We do believe that the added value of all the bolt-on products (triple clamps, wheels, carbon skid plate, Akropovic slip-on, Factory racing seat, etc.) will more than offset the $1200 up-charge; however, what if we didn’t want those parts, but instead wanted Ride Engineering triple clamps, a Pro Circuit pipe, Dubya wheels, a Guts wing seat, etc.? When friends ask if they should buy a 2023-1/2 Factory Edition, we tell them to wait a few months and buy the 2024 KTM 450SXF production bike. With the money they save, they can build a race bike with the pipe, wheels, triple clamps and graphics they want.
MXA’S 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION SETUP SPECS
This is how we set up our 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition suspension for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.
WP AER FORK SETTINGS
There is a learning curve to getting the most out of the WP XACT air forks. The KTM WP XACT air fork has one Schrader valve to put air in or take air out. The right fork leg is strictly damping, and the left leg is air only. KTM has a sticker on the air leg to guide you to the recommended air pressure. It is a very good starting point, but it’s just a suggestion, not an iron-clad law. MXA has test riders who run as much as 165 psi and test riders who run as low as 135 psi. The 2023 forks have the potential to be great. For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup for an average rider on the 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition:
Spring rate: 158 psi (Expert), 152 psi (Intermediate), 145 psi (Vet), 138 psi (Novice)
Compression: 14 clicks out (12 clicks out)
Rebound: 15 clicks out (18 clicks out)
Fork-leg height: Third line
Notes: The 2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition comes with rubber rings on each leg to allow the rider to see how much travel he is getting at a given pressure, but the orange rings wear out and slide down by themselves after a couple of hours. The forks need five hours of break-in time before they smooth out and work to their fullest.
WP SHOCK SETTINGS
Most MXA test riders liked the overall feel of the WP rear shock, especially after KTM lowered the shock spring rate in 2017 from 48 N/mm to 45 N/mm. WP did make some technical changes to the 2023-1/2 450SXF Factory Edition shock to make high-speed compression damping less finicky. We run the low-speed compression on 15 clicks out, the high-speed compression 1-1/2 turns out, the rebound on 15 clicks out and set the sag at 105mm. For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2023 KTM 450SXF:
Spring rate: 45 N/mm (for 175 and up pounds), 42 N/mm (for riders under 175 pounds)
Race sag: 105mm
Hi-compression: 1-1/2 turns out
Lo-compression: 15 clicks out
Rebound: 15 clicks outNotes: When we have doubts about the shock’s compression, we focus on changing the high-speed compression, not the low-speed. We also choose to run the Pro Circuit 2023 KTM shock linkage. Unlike the stock linkage, which starts out stiff and gets softer as it goes through its travel, the Pro Circuit link starts out soft and gets stiffer as it nears the end of the shock’s stroke.
2023-1/2 KTM 450SXF FACTORY EDITION VIDEO