We have spent a lot of time talking about 350 KTM’s here at Enduro360 over the last season. I have been fortunate enough to have the XC-F version at my disposal for much of the 2011 race season. Riding District 37 enduro series I have had some of my best and most consistent race results ever on that bike.
Even so, the bike that has generated the most Google searches is the 350 EXC. The nagging questions on everyone’s mind are: “Is it going to be so detuned that I will be disappointed” and “should I buy the XCW version or get the EXC”.
My time with the dual sport 350 was very limited so I set out to make the most of it. In the 48 hours it was in my possession I racked up 410 miles on it. Picking it up at KTM HQ in Temecula I rode straight out to Anza Borrego to start testing. With its highway legal status, I was able to explore many places I seldom go and I now have found a couple of cool routes that I have never ridden before. Such is the state of things that license plates open up completely new realms of riding opportunities.
So let’s skip ahead to get the heart of the matter. There will be plenty of time to dissect the details later.
New era for dual sports- If I can make no other point it is this: forget everything you know about street legal dirt bikes. The days of having to unsmog, power up and declutter are gone. Everything leading up to model year 2012 was nothing more than a band aid, a patch to make bikes compliant with fed and state regulations. That is all changed.
For 2012 all emissions equipment is required to be tamper proof. KTM took this as a mandate to make the bikes run properly right out of the box. I say they have been successful in this attempt. Regardless of the chat room buzz, this is one great running motorcycle just the way it is delivered.
Does it really run that well? The 350EXC runs amazingly good. It is far better than I could have imagined. Having spent the season racing the XCF version I can tell you that these two bikes are not that far apart from each other in practical terms, especially considering that the EXC runs much taller gearing and a quieter exhaust.
At no time did I feel like the 350 was lacking motor. Part of this is due to the fuel injection. The power delivery is so crisp that it makes the motor feel more versatile. This is particularly obvious down low, where EXC is happy to chug along in a tall gear without any hesitation or bucking.
The EXC actually has better torque characteristics that the XCF, making it a more enjoyable trail bike. It is not as explosive, instead delivering linear power output while still having enough revs on top to make it very fast.
How does it handle? This chassis feels very much the same as all contemporary KTM models. How they can be both super agile and stable at the same time is somewhat of a mystery to me, they just are. I love how they can be just as happy plunking along as they can be at full race pace.
This version of the KTM chassis will dirt track down fire roads like no other orange bike has since the debut of PDS frames. Smooth controlled slides are effortless on the 350 and this extends to the overall handling. The bike always feels controlled and easy to handle. So thumbs up all around on the chassis.
I am a little baffled by the direction KTM has chosen in suspension settings for all the 2012 off road models. The spring rates are very soft and definitely not race ready. KTM claims this is intentional to differentiate the race models from the trail bikes. With a 6.9 spring on the PDS shock and 42 n/m fork springs, the little EXC requires careful handling in fast conditions.
Having said that, I really did not let the suspension slow me down too much. Other than one section of whooped out sand road, I made good time on the bike. With the soft springs, the bike sits so low in the stroke that it creates a harsh ride. I know the basic components are good, but I suspect the majority of buyers will ditch both front and rear springs. As for the valving, I didn’t get much feel one way or another because of how far off the spring rates were for my 200lb frame.
How is the street equipment? KTM has made some real progress in the quality of the lighting parts. The turn signals have flexible stocks and look like they will last. The switches are easy to use. The indicator lights are very bright, particularly the flash and high beam indicator.
The new LED taillight is very bright, thank you. The headlight is still a problem of form over function. The low beam is decent, it does not shine very far but the beam pattern is good. The high beam is almost useless. It shines directly on the fender and then casts a giant shadow out directly in front of the bike. I had to ride home in the dark one evening and found I could only use the low beam, as the high was just so uneven.
There is a low fuel light on the dash and it comes on at exactly 100 miles. Over the course of my riding, the fuel mileage on the KTM was a consistent 50 mpg, regardless of conditions. At 110 miles, it took 2.1gallons to fill the 2.25-gallon tank. Any bike with a comfortable stock range of 100 miles is fantastic.
Emissions Equipment- I have found that there is a considerable amount of confusion regarding just what is what on the EXC models, so let me explain as best as I can.
The ECU’s on the EXC and XCW models are different from each other and both are locked. That means that the three programs inside cannot be accessed. The part number for both models is the same, but the programming for each is different (same hardware, different software).
It is expected that the X1 dealer tool will be able to unlock the box and access the three programs. This will be a dealer only function and will probably require the dealer to submit the vehicle VIN to KTM before the process can take place. This is the “CYA” process for the manufacturer. As of right now, none of this is in place yet.
There is a charcoal canister and fresh air pump, each located under the tank. Removing these might cause a poor running condition as they are designed to work together. For example, the gas tank breather hose is on a vacuum to recover fumes. These fumes are fed into the air intake and on to the cylinder. Removing the hoses that route this will cause a lean running condition.
The exhaust is the same unit as on the XCW models. It has the small noise baffle in the back of it. The baffle will probably fall out on its own if not removed. With the exception of the ECU, none of the emissions equipment effects power output. So there is no reason to assume that it needs to be removed.
Misc Components- nice light clutch pull, Metzler Six Days tires work decent, all the usual top shelf KTM stuff, new black wheels and spokes made by Giant.
The Ride Experience- So I hit the road to do about 50 miles of tarmac out to the desert. The stock gearing is a tallish 14/45. I am sure this is to help meet sound requirements. We made a change to 13/48 for the initial test. This worked fine with the stock chain length. As soon as I hit the road, it was obvious that this was a little low for street riding.
Now the first thing I am sure most will say it that no one really expects the little EXC to be much of a street bike. The thing is, it is an absolute blast on a winding road. The chassis, motor and brakes make a potent package for hustling down any twisty two lane.
Most of San Diego County is dotted with just such roads. The steep grade on hwy 78 east of Julian is so tight that it is tedious on a large bike. The 350 feels like a bicycle on such roads and sails through the corners with little to no effort. Turn in is super light and the brakes only need the lightest touch to scrub off speed.
The light spring rates make for a supple road ride and at no point does the bike feel skittish, it is solid and planted. There is not much vibration. So with the proper gearing it is a fun partner for the road. I switched to 14/48, which worked very well, giving a smooth 60mph cruising speed and max somewhere north of 90 miles per hour.
Once on the dirt the real fun begins. The challenge of the mid displacement class is to try to get the performance of a 450 with handling like a 250. For the most part the 350 does that.
The small motor does need to spin a little higher and it seems happiest that way. Shifting is a little more frequent to accomplish this, but the tranny is smooth and with little engine braking it is easy to row back and forth between the gears without upsetting the chassis.
The only place that the motor gets you in trouble is in situations where a quick throttle blip is needed to lift the front wheel. Because the motor is happy chugging along in a tall gear, a downshift is needed to loft the front end over obstacles. As long as you can remember that, things are fine, otherwise a twist of the throttle brings a sluggish reaction.
As for the 250 like handling, the 350 is close on that account also. It always feels light. Clearly the EXC model has gained some weight over the other models, but I am hard pressed to see much handling difference.
Overall, this just feels about the same as all the new generation KTM models. The 450XCW I am currently testing certainly has more bark, but they are not miles apart from each other.
XCW or EXC- I briefly rode the 2012 350XCW at the press introduction in Wyoming a couple of months ago. From that quick ride, I think that the two models are very close to each other. The ECU and lighting are the biggest differences. The suspension settings are the same. If having a license plate is high on your wish list, you don’t have to make much of a sacrifice to get it.
The Austrians have raised the bar across the board with these new models. I am running out of creative ways to talk about them. I am not sure what new words I am going to come up with to describe the 450XCW, maybe I will just talk about my race results on it.
If I have left anything out, just shoot me a comment. Thanks, Chilly
PS: sorry, I can’t really give comparisons to the Husky 310TCX and Beta 350RR or RS yet. I only have brief rides on each. I hope that we will get those rides soon. I also expect that we will be getting some big duallies before long, the 2012 Husqvarna TE511 and 2012 KTM 500 exc.