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Well we continue the march through the ’12 KTM line and this time it is the venerable 450 enduro model. Why so much KTM on Enduro360 you ask? Because it is the only thing I can get right now. Try as I may, other brands seem very scarce to me right now.
When I say venerable, I am talking as much about the class as the bike. When it comes to off road dirt bikes, 450’s are king. Anything smaller could leave you wanting more and most bigger bikes bring a larger feel that out-weighs the difference on the scales. 450s are the “it” bike of the generation. As a manufacturer, if you don’t have a great 450, then you are just another face in the crowd.
KTM practically invented the class. They certainly dominated it for many years. Heck a brand new 2007 450xc would probably fair well in a class shootout today. It was the best bike then and the competition has not advanced much in the meanwhile. Yet, KTM did struggle for a couple of years also. Not to dwell on the 2008 and newer models, but when KTM wouldn’t race their own xc-w off road line up, that was more telling than anything else.
So would it be a surprise to anyone if they came out swinging with a vengeance in 2012? Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably already know that this is a completely new machine. Here is a quick review of the specs:
Those of course those are just the highlights. For a full review, take a look at:
The very first impression of the new bike is the size. It is small. It appears compact and very purposeful. As with all KTM’s it looks completely ready to go. Start looking around for things that need to be changed or added and not much comes to mind. Handguards, bars, grips and even the tires are all up to the task. A plastic skid plate from the Hard Equipment catalog is about the only thing missing.
Like all the EFI bikes, it fires up quickly. The exhaust note is nice and quiet. When I headed out to the local enduro the 450 went through sound test at 88db. That is probably not an absolutely accurate measurement, never the less the bike is very quiet.
The first mile of riding is an experience of absorbing all the initial impressions. The throttle pull on the EFI bikes is ultra light. It might take a couple of rides to become accustomed to. The hydraulic clutch pull is equally light. The transmission shifts smoothly. One of my testers complained of a little vibration, but it wasn’t really noticeable to me. The whole bike feels narrow and light.
The immediate reaction to the motor is all positive. I think of it as having a chameleon personality. Whatever the task, it seems suited to the occasion. It is just as happy to plunk along on the trail as it is in full race mode. It will chug along, but it will also rev and make power all the way to rev limiter. Engine response is quick with the fuel injection. There is great connection between the throttle and the rear wheel.
Once I was ready to really unleash the motor some, I ran into a different snag. As I have mentioned before, the 2012 suspension settings are just way too soft for me. The fork is a particular challenge. I had a couple of scary moments out in the desert on it right off. On certain low speed impacts, such as a G-out, it can quickly blow through the travel. Yet, as I was dead set on racing the 450, I went to work to see if I could improve the set up with just some basic adjustments.
Initially I went stiffer on all the settings, adding preload and compression to the open chamber fork. I only made moderate progress. Next, I added 10mm to the oil height and that made a huge change. Now the bottoming resistance was suitable for moderate racing. Overall it was a compromise set up that did make the bike a little harsh on high speed hits, but safe enough to race. Obviously stiffer springs are the long-term solution.
In the rear, I had to add a couple of turns of preload to the shock to get it rideable for my 200lb weight. Along with adding compression, I also had to slow down the rebound to account for the extra preload tension on the spring. Again, I now had a set up that I could race. I knew the ride height and balance were still a little off. The extra rebound dampening would cause the shock to pack up in some situations, but it didn’t hamper me very much.
To complete my race preparations I added my two personal preference items; the Flexx bars and Fastway steering
stabilizer. The only other addition was the Bullet Proof Designs chain guide protector. The mounting tabs for the current swingarm are fragile and benefit from the added bracing. If you look close, you will find this part on the factory off-road race bikes.
The next race on the schedule was the District 37 Training Wheels enduro. I had been riding the 350xc-f for the first part of the season, so it was going to be interesting to see how the bikes compared in race conditions. Would I be faster or slower?
As it turned out, I finished the day just right where I normally do, just a bit behind the “real” fast guys. The results had me at 7th overall. A good day and the bike was a joy to ride. Next time out at the RHR enduro I came in 5th overall. Had I not burned a check I could have been looking at finishing a couple of spots better.
In race conditions, it is thumbs up all around. The added torque of the 450 makes some of the more difficult sections easier to ride. It isn’t really any faster than the 350XC-F, but does so with less work. The 350XC-F still gets the nod for razor like handling. It practically encourages recklessness, as it never gets completely out of control. Overall, they are almost a wash, each having strong points. I probably have to go with the 450 for the simple reason that it is less tiring to ride.
Keep in mind that I am talking about racing the 450xc-w in stock condition, putting out under 90 decibels. I suspect that with some very mild tuning, there is far more performance waiting to come out of the single cam motor. This IS the Dungey motor. I hear that development on factory SX bike has it up over 60 horsepower.
About this point in my testing, the little bell started going off in my brain. If you follow my blog much, you know what a fan I am of the RFS bikes. I know some will argue, but they have been such great all purpose motorcycles, that I have clung to them. Every time I test a new bike I have one basic premise, will this be the one? Is this going to be the bike that makes me forget about the aging KTM’s in my garage? It sounds like a simple enough goal. Yet one bike is too racy, one is too heavy, one will not hold enough fuel and the list goes on. You can understand the logic. Why leave a good bike for one that isn’t clearly better on all accounts?
The scorecard for the 2012 450xc-w is looking very strong.
As you can see, there are not many things left on the wish list. For longer range riding, I would probably want a tank and a better seat. As with any KTM, you know there will be plenty of aftermarket support for the model. KTM’s entire full size bike line will be based around this new motor, SX-F, XC-F, XC-W and EXC, so I figure they have lots of confidence in it. Let’s hope it earns a reputation for quality to match the RFS predecessors.
There are a couple of other topics that I would like to talk about:
EFI Fuel Mapping- the stock ECU has a fixed program. That is to say, the box is locked and does not have access to the three programs like the XC-F models do. This is to meet new regulations for green sticker bikes. There will be plenty of aftermarket ways to use alternate fuel mapping. In my experience so far, I have ridden the 350, 450 and 500. All of these bikes run very well in the stock mode. For most riders I do not see much reason to change the mapping.
Fuel Injection Issues – There is lots of talk online about fuel injection problems, presumably arising from clogged filters or injectors. Year to date I have logged close to 80 hours on KTM FI bikes. I have had no problems with fuel delivery, or anything else for that matter. My riding was spread over four different bikes, with the 2011 350XC-F racking up the most hours.
So there you have it. As for testing so far, I have to give the 2012 KTM 450XC-W top marks. I suspect everyone else in the class is going to be playing catch up for the next couple of years.
Additional Reading: 2012 KTM 450XC-W Owner’s Manual