The 2-Stroke Fan’s Spoilers
by Gary Franks with input from Detmar Ruhfus, Dave Estment, Laird Adam and Andy Fulton
We recently got to experience riding KTM’s new 250 EXC-F and 350 EXC-F in the mountains near Clarens at the Michelin Mountain Madalas event. I had ridden the bikes previously at the launch but the real test is in riding bikes in the actual terrain and environment you would typically ride.
As you already know these bikes are basically new from the ground up – new chassis, new engines, new suspension front and back, new bodywork … even the footpegs are new. Everything was redesigned with 3 objectives as the goal – Lighter; Faster; Easier to Ride. Have they achieved these objectives?
We can go into great detail about the intricacies of the changes/ improvements like the more compact engine and redesigned/ repositioned exhaust which bring rotating masses and weight closer to the bike’s centre of gravity, or the much more sophisticated Keihin engine management system which improves throttle response and power output (you can read all about all that here), but the important thing is how the new bikes feel compared with the previous models.
Although the outgoing 2016 models were already impressive bikes, the 2017 models are just in another dimension. The only thing we could come up with that was not an improvement was we preferred the previous frame being orange. Absolutely everything else looks and performs noticeably better. To me the measure of any bike is how quickly you can feel at one with it, how well it allows you to ride and how confident it makes you feel. Here the new models score extremely well.
Those who know me will know I have always been more a two stroke fan when it comes to enduro but what stood out for me in first riding these four strokes last year was how easy they were to ride in technical terrain. I could stay standing all the way up very tricky rocky and rutted climbs for example. In Clarens this again proved to be the case and with the 250F especially I loved that feeling of oneness with the bike and the confidence it gave me. An indication of this is that after riding a complete lap of the fairly technical route where only once I felt like I could have used a bit more traction at the back, I discovered the back tyre pressure was at 2 Bars.
The 350F has what must be the sweetest motor on earth with 48 hp and torque for days. It’s very responsive and powerful to the point of being a bit intimidating for smaller riders or those used to riding 200’s or 250F’s. Larger, more advanced riders cannot ride this bike without wanting one – before they get off the bike they have schemed out several plans of selling their bike/ their wife’s car/ their kid’s education fund etc to order one. I really enjoyed it and could quite easily be seduced into falling for her … if it weren’t for how the 250F just brings out the best in me.
KTM shed 2,5 kg’s off this model and I just love the lighter handling and feel of the smaller bike. Although there is only 1 kg difference in physical weight, the 250 feels markedly lighter and more agile by direct comparison. The motor produces excellent torque and 40 hp with a bike this light is more than enough punch for me. It loves to go where I love to go – into the more technical areas where the smooth engine response and sharp handling leave very few reasons to hang onto that 2 stroke love affair.
There are so many aspects of these 2017 model KTM’s to enjoy, for example when doing the air filter you appreciate how easy it is – it can go in either way up and is a cinch to seat properly.
KTM and WP were very clever with the new chassis and suspension partnership. The previous WP open cartridge fork and PDS shock was so successful for so many years, so WP lightened and improved those designs while KTM did the same with the new chassis to provide a more comfortable but more controlled and stable ride. The new suspension and frame work so well together that I noticed Darryl Curtis hasn’t bothered to fit his very expensive cone valve forks and trax shock on his 2017 300 yet because as he says, “I haven’t felt it necessary”.
All of us who rode the new bikes in Clarens felt they had made the ride even more fun and enjoyable and it was extremely difficult to hand both bikes back to KTM SA afterwards. I want one!