I think many of you already know that I am currently testing and racing a 2012 KTM 500xc-w. I promise the report on that is coming soon. I am testing some new parts and set up options on it, so be patient. In the meanwhile, the opportunity came up to ride the EXC, the street legal version of the same bike, so I jumped at it and am ready to share that experience.
As I had already tested both the 500 and 450 already, I wondered if I would find much new to talk about here. As it turns out, I have lots of new thoughts and insight. My problem is more one of having to get my thoughts all in order so I can pass them on.
Let’s start with a quick recap. The all new 2012 500 has the latest single cam motor, fuel injection, PDS rear suspension, 48mm WP open chamber forks and an all new frame. The wheel and controls are standard KTM components, but beyond that, it is mostly an all-new platform.
A look at the spec sheet shows that the EXC and XC-W are practically the same bikes. The dual sport EXC just comes with all the required equipment to make it street legal; lights, switch gear, mirrors and additional emissions equipment. The fuel injection map is also slightly different. That means that it is leaner at a couple of specific rpm ranges.
So does that mean that the EXC is a detuned version of the XC-W? Well yes and no, technically it is a little leaner and that should equate to less power. Yet in real world riding, I cannot tell any significant difference between the two bikes. Riding them back to back, they feel like the exact same motorcycle. KTM has really done their homework on this one.
If we consider the role of the EXC as ranging from dual sport to serious trail bike, it is almost suited to the role better than the XC-W. The suspension settings are the same on both bikes. The great thing about the EXC is that it feels completely at home on the tarmac. The suspension gives a super smooth ride. In the dirt, it feels just as at home for anything short of full race pace. It suits my weight better than the 350EXC that I previously tested.
I am always critical about the fact that I think a dual sport bike should feel at home on the street. I don’t want it to feel like a race track refuge. The 500 hits the mark amazingly well. I was struck by the fact that there is not driveline lash. It shifts smooth. The clutch engagement is equally smooth. There is none of the chain slap that can be so common on short stroke motors. It is just a nice enjoyable ride.
The 500 motor makes street time something to enjoy rather than dread. In the stock configuration, it runs very well. The throttle response is particularly good. Factor in the super light clutch and throttle pull and it makes most other bikes feel brutish by comparison.
The motor runs like a really well tuned 450. That is to say, that because of the emissions and exhaust, it does not really pump out true big bore power. Equally, it has no “plugged up” feel either. It just runs very nice. It also has the handling personality of a 450, nice and light.
The wide range of power that the motor churns out does highlight what I find as one of the few shortcomings of the EXC. The gear ratios of the six-speed transmission are much shorter than necessary. With 14/48 gearing, the 500 hits sixth gear quickly on the road. When I tested the 350EXC, this was not so obvious because the close ratios helped keep the little bike right in the sweet spot of the rev range. The bigger 500 could easily pull much wider gearing.
Let’s get the rest of the nit picking out of the way now too. I would like to see a better headlight. The KTM odometer could use some updating for street use. It has many functions but is difficult of use any of them while riding. For a dual sport bike, I would really like to see a heat shield for the exhaust header.
Have I ever mentioned that KTM seats are uncomfortable? I have my own Seat Concepts set up that I mount to all the orange bikes, love it. That is about it for complaints. I did not break anything on the bike. The lights, turn signals and license plate mount all held up fine to my abuse.
So may as well come out and say it. I love this bike. Riding down the road I was thinking, “if I could only own one motorcycle, this is what I would want it to be like”. It makes you want to go out and ride. It feels like a package, not a collection of components. The R&D work that KTM does in the states really pays off.
In showroom stock condition it runs just fine and is super versatile. Take off the lights and it is every bit as off road worthy as the XC-W. Do some suspension work and add an exhaust and it could be a full race bike. If you want to go a different direction, add a tank and some kind of cool fairing and it could be the ultimate lightweight, rally replica, ADV bike. Are you listening KTM?
I almost feel a little embarrassed gushing about this bike. But, it is pretty damn good. KTM has raised the bar in a way that is going to have everyone else on their heels playing catch up for a while. Dual purpose has always equated to compromise. A bike is either better suited to the street or dirt, it cannot possibly be equal at both. Nevertheless, here it is in living color.