MXA RETRO TEST: WE RIDE MIKE ALESSI’S 2007 KTM 450SXF

We get misty-eyed sometimes thinking about past bikes we loved and those that should remain forgotten. We take you on a trip down memory lane with bike tests that got filed away and disregarded in the MXA archives. We reminisce on a piece of moto history that has been resurrected. Here is our test of Mike Alessi’s factory 2007 KTM 450SXF.

It may seem like it has been a long road for Mike Alessi. His professional career has been filled with peaks and valleys. Several unfortunate decisions have made Mike’s name synonymous with contention and controversy. In his short career, Mike has won races, been a serious threat for several championships and been mired in turmoil (think back to the 2005 Glen Helen National and the infamous “Believe the Hype” T-shirts).

IT MAY SEEM LIKE IT HAS BEEN A LONG ROAD FOR MIKE ALESSI. HIS PROFESSIONAL CAREER HAS BEEN FILLED WITH PEAKS AND VALLEYS.

But, let’s put Mike Alessi’s battle for respect on the back-burner and focus on an entity that has been struggling to be accepted much longer than Mike—KTM. The Austrian manufacturer has a great history in the sport, dating back to Penton. Yet, the brand hasn’t been able to connect with American motocrossers in the same way they have with enduro, cross-country, GNCC and WORCS racers.

Often criticized for being too Euro, too offbeat, too orange and too link-less, KTM was on to something with Mike Alessi. Both KTM and Mike Alessi were looking for approval. It was only natural for them to join forces. KTM invested heavily in Mike and was totally committed to his move to the 450 class. It was a bold move to bank everything on a rookie 450 rider, especially one who came with an erratic history, family issues and a minimalist physique (for a 450 rider). While it was true that Mike came with baggage, so did KTM. In lots of ways, this marriage of misfits should have been a disaster. But, it wasn’t! Mike Alessi rode himself into being a contender for the AMA 450 National Championship, finishing second overall.

WHAT PARTS ARE WORKS? KTM’s list of unavailable parts is about de rigueur for a National bike. Mike’s 450SXF’s most noticeable works pieces are the massive 52mm WP forks and the equally massive WP PDS shock. When you add in the top-end niceties, titanium subframe, oversized radiators, Ti radiator catch tank and Talon hubs, you have a solid machine.

WHAT PARTS ARE PRODUCTION? When KTM’s marketing men say that “Mike Alessi’s bike is pretty much a dialed-in stock bike,” they aren’t lying. We were surprised to discover that the majority of parts on Alessi’s KTM were production save for the suspension. While the running gear was straight off the production line, it was obvious that most of KTM’s R&D time was spent working on the engine to fine-tune the powerband to Mike’s liking. KTM ported the head, added a heavier flywheel, beefed up the crankshaft (which will be production for 2008) and lightened the counterbalancer (another 2008 stock part). The focus was on porting the head and changing the cam timing.

WORKS BIKES MAY HAVE EXOTIC PARTS, BUT WE ARE ALWAYS MORE IMPRESSED BY THE FINISHING TOUCHES ON THE BIKE.

WHAT PARTS CAN YOU BUY ON ALESSI’S 450SXF? Mike’s bike has a Hinson clutch basket, Met-Tec titanium bolts, Cycra vented front number plate, CV4 heat tape, Renthal handlebars, One Industries graphics, KTM Hard Equipment rubber-mounted triple clamps, Twin Air filter, Regina chain, Excel A60 rims, Brembo brake pads, SDG seat cover and FMF Factory 4.1 exhaust system.

WHAT IS THE TRICKEST PART ON ALESSI’S BIKE? The WP dropout shock, but more on that later.

TEST RIDE: HANG ON AND PRAY. After looking at the assortment of grip donuts that were crammed on the handlebars of Mike’s bike, the MXA test crew was a little concerned about what Mike was protecting himself from. It turns out that Mike has small, tender hands and runs two grip donuts to provide more cushion and take up room.

Mike’s KTM 450SXF used huge 52mm forks.

HOW FAST IS IT? Mike Alessi’s KTM 450SXF engine ran like a cheetah on the African plain (with a tailwind). KTM’s 450SXF engine hauled the mail! It was truly an eye-watering experience that more than made up for the four-speed tranny. In fact, the power profile worked so well with the four-speed gearbox that we can’t say that we ever felt the need for another gear on top or any breaks between the four cogs. Sweet.

To say that we were more than a little shocked at Alessi’s engine would be a severe understatement. The KTM 450SXF engine blew our expectations out of the water. You could lug it, ride a gear high or rev it without fear. Best of all, the engine profile didn’t yield scary power output, jerk our shoulders out of place or blow us off the saddle. Instead, it produced a generous amount of power that started at idle and kept right on going until the cows came home. There was never a hesitation, hiccup or bog. All the MXA test riders had to do was point it and stomp on the gas pedal. It was fast, but more than that it was as fast at 5000 rpm as it was at 11,000 rpm. The Austrians aren’t suffering from a horsepower gap. 

HOW WERE THE ERGONOMICS? Mike Alessi might tower over little people, but he isn’t Shaquille O’Neal by any stretch of the imagination. Most MXA test riders are taller than Mike’s 5 feet, 7 inches, and after discovering that Alessi had his seat foam cut to lower the saddle height, we were in fear that we’d be eating kneecap sandwiches. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The KTM cockpit was tight, but all of the MXA test riders were still comfortable.

One of Mike’s quirks is that he changes bar bends more often than Lindsay Lohan changes rehab centers. In the course of the 2004 AMA 450 Nationals, Mike ran four different bar bends. By Glen Helen, he had settled on Renthal’s 994 bend, which doesn’t have a whole lot of sweep. Another Alessi peccadillo is that Mike alternates grip patterns (often between motos). Mike will switch from a full-waffle to half-waffle to Kevlar to dual-compound to standard at the drop of a hat. He doesn’t have a favorite. The final twist to Mike’s handlebar ergonomics is that he runs two grip donuts on his clutch side and one on his throttle side. After a lap around the track, we didn’t notice the grip donuts. 

HOW DID THE DROPOUT SHOCK WORK? At the Red Bud National, Mike Alessi made it known that he had acquired a special works shock from GP racer David Philippaerts’ 450SXF. Mike insisted that the shock made all the difference in the world. Truth be told, the shock didn’t actually come from Philippaerts. It had been around the KTM race team for months and had been used by Martin Davalos as far back as the Las Vegas Supercross. It was called a “dropout shock.” What exactly is a dropout shock? To the human eye, it looks like a floating bottom shock clevis, but internally the system is designed to speed up the rebound in order to settle faster and allow the rear tire to maintain better contact with the ground. It’s designed to work in small chop and braking bumps while compressing fully and allowing the spring to take the brunt of the impact over jumps and large hits. Did it work? Yes, in a sense. Test riders came back from riding Alessi’s bike complaining that the rear end made a loud clanking sound through moderate braking bumps—that was the dropout shock’s moving clevis. 

For a little guy, Mike’s rear suspension is incredibly stiff.

Mike’s powerplant was extremely powerful for his small physique.

HOW WERE THE WP 52MM FORKS? The WP forks were monsters. At 52mm, they didn’t offer very much flexibility, especially in braking bumps. They were, however, very stable and predictable at speed. The harder the test riders twisted the throttle, the better the WP forks worked at soaking up the bumps. In the cool department, the 52mm forks rank high, especially with the aluminum tubes. But, anyone with less than Pro speed wouldn’t be able to find any benefits in using such huge forks.

DOES MIKE RUN THE ELECTRIC STARTER? Yes. The only compromise is that Mike’s race bike uses a smaller and lighter Ni-Cad-style battery pack. Team KTM has an even smaller battery in the works, but they are reluctant to use it because it is only good for three starts.

HOW WAS THE HYDRAULIC CLUTCH? Alessi’s Magura unit worked well (stiffer clutch springs were installed to provide a stronger hook-up). Mike’s clutch lever engaged very far out on the bar than—been well-used is amazing.which took time to get used to. Mike prefers this setup because he hardly ever uses the clutch, instead riding a gear high and lugging the powerful engine. If he needs a bit of clutch, then he can quickly access it with just a touch of his finger.

VERDICT: WHAT DO WE THINK? Mike Alessi’s KTM 450SXF had several factory parts that aided his quest for the 450 National title (he came up 16 points short) and an engine that would be the envy of almost any factory rider. Unfortunately for KTM, who had joined forces with Mike Alessi in a crusade for respectability, Mike is moving to Team Suzuki. No fear; his bike will not go to waste. How do we know? An hour after we got off Alessi’s steed, it was already in the hands of MDK/KTM rider Nick Wey.

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