MXA’S 90-SECOND TEST: 2014 KTM 250SXF FOUR-STROKE
The Austrians have unleashed the most powerful production 250 four-stroke ever made. At 42.89 horsepower, the 2014 KTM 250SXF wallops the competition on the dyno. With awesome brakes, clutch, ergonomics, handling and starting, one would think that the 250SXF would rule the class.
The 2014 KTM 250SXF is a befuddling bike for many riders. Slower riders will be tricked into believing that the bike is snail-slow, while Pro level riders adore the high-end power that the engine produces. As is, it’s a few problem areas short of being the ultimate race machine.
Handling. We love the 250SXF handling characteristics once the suspension is tuned and balanced.
Preprogrammed maps. KTM includes three base map settings, with the option of programming in eight custom maps. Map 1 is for hardpack, and Map 2 (our favorite) adds more hit in soft terrain. You need an optional KTM switch to activate them
Brakes. The front brake is even stronger for 2014 and good enough to stop John Force’s dragster.
Electric start. We love the button. It makes starting a cinch, which is a must-have in race situations if you cough it.
Clutch. The hydraulic clutch is muy perfecto! It’s as smooth as greased snot.
Sound. You won’t need to sweat sound testing with the stock 250SXF exhaust, as it’s well below the AMA and FIM sound limits.
Weight. At one time the lightest 250 four-stroke, the KTM 250SXF is now the heaviest. The bike feels heavy in flight and when putting it on a bike stand.
Suspension. KTM has spec’ed the 250SXF with harsh forks yet again. Lowering the oil height is a band-aid fix to a bigger problem. As for the shock, it hops and deflects. The WP units need work.
Engine. It’s oh-so-good on the dyno but those numbers don’t translate to the track. It has a linear powerband that makes more power the higher it revs. That means that to get max power you have to rev it to its max rev. If you shift before 13,200 rpm, you are not getting all it has to offer. Maximize the power by feathering the clutch and refusing to shift. We like our power more in the mid-and-up pocket—not at dog whistle rpm.
Gearing. The stock gearing combination might work for high-speed European tracks, but it’s too tall for most U.S. tracks. Add a tooth to close the gap between second and third gear.
WHAT DID WE CHANGE?
Here is the short list of things the MXA wrecking crew changed on the 2014 KTM 250SXF.
(1) We geared the 250SXF down by adding one tooth to the rear sprocket (two teeth on tight, Supercross-style tracks).
(2) We lowered the oil height until the mid-stroke harshness was gone. Even so, it’s best to have the WP forks revalved for your tastes.
(3) We added an aftermarket exhaust pipe to help focus the powerband and make it more manageable for less-skilled riders.
(4) We changed the map settings (found under the seat). We preferred Map 2, which advanced ignition timing and provided more hit in soft terrain.
(5) We watched the spoke and rear sprocket bolt tightness like a hawk.
(6) We bent the shift lever in a bench press to raise the tip to make it easier to get a boot under it.
WHAT DO WE THINK?
The KTM 250SXF is a confused beast. The suspension is harsh and unforgiving and the powerband is too linear. Amazing brakes, decent handling, clean aesthetics and an awesome clutch can’t make up for the two glaring issues. The 250SXF can be a winner, but not without making a serious investment.