Best Dual Sport Bikes / FMF Project
I know many of you think that I already have some sort of dream job. I am going to spend the rest of this paragraph trying to convince you that there is actual work involved with what I do. I get up at 6 am every single morning so that I can sit down with my coffee, get caught up on email and check all the moto websites. Hopefully I get something interesting posted each day. I have to discipline myself to this regime. That way I don’t get distracted by shiny objects in the shop that absorb the rest of my day. There are plenty of mundane tasks that go along with what I do. Often it is small things, like editing photos and video, which are the challenge. They are all things that distract me from riding more.
Okay, so we are all on board now with the idea that I have a challenging job. That should make the rest of this story a little easier to swallow. On the days that I get to go do something really cool, I actually deserve it as a reward for all my hard work and dedication. It isn’t just because I am just some lucky slob who gets to do way too much fun stuff, right?
The call came from FMF’s Danny LaPorte. Of motorcycle heroes, Danny has been a lifelong favorite for the simple reason that he was the first pro motocrosser that I ever saw race. There was not much for big time racing growing up in Oregon. However, one spring we went to Boise for the annual “Spring Opener”. This was in 1980 and Danny was racing a Suzuki RM400. Also at this race was the very first Yamaha YZ465 that I ever saw. If you were around at the time, you can remember what a big deal that was! It was ridden by a local northwest pro, but I am afraid I do not remember his name.
Danny was easily the fastest rider in the race, but the track had a huge uphill section, each lap the Yamaha would sail past Danny on the climb. It would take Danny a good part of the track to get back to the lead. This went on for much of the moto, but Danny finally made the gap large enough to hold off the 465 and take the win. It was a very memorable day for an impressionable kid like me.
Okay, back to our story. Danny is on the phone saying that he has some cool FMF modified KTM dual sport bikes and wants to go riding. “Let’s go to Baja and have some fun for a few days”. How do you reply to a call like that? You had me at “cool”. Here is the real kicker, we get to call it work too!
FMF has been working with Dave Simon of “Best Dual Sport Bikes” to put together a package of options for the new KTM 350 and 500exc models. This is not so much a kitchen sink idea, but a more focused bang for the buck concept, how to get the best performance for the smallest amount of work and money.
When I look back at some of my first testing of the 2011 KTM 350xcf , I realize it took me some adjustment period to feel at home on the new bike and smaller frame. The payoff with these new bikes is a far better handling chassis than the predecessors. I am still a little tall for it, but I have learned how to make it work for me. This trip has just reinforced my love for the 350 KTM’s.
While the project 350 has a number of nice goodies on it, the heart of the project was power. After spending most of a season racing the 350xcf, the street legal exc feels a tad muted. The stock lean fuel mapping and exhaust take some of the zing out of the mid size motor. The good news is that the street legal model needs only a little help to get into fighting trim. The exc already has better torque characteristics than the racier xcf, so we don’t want to lose anything there.
To get more pizzazz out of the 350, Best Dual Sport Bikes does a little special tinkering to the fuel injection throttle body. Dave calls this his “magic mod”. Beyond that, I don’t really know much about what secret mojo it entails. The end result is a richer fuel mixture throughout the throttle range. This is particularly obvious around 3500 rpms, correcting the distinct lean spot on the exc.
This modification is paired with the FMF full exhaust system, the powerbomb header and newest version of the Q4 silencer. This package keeps the exhaust note down to a reasonable 96db or less. When you purchase the exhaust system from Best Dual Sport Bikes, they give you a little addition of their own to the package. All of their FMF exhaust systems come with a ceramic coated header as well as a money back guarantee.
The ceramic coating increases exhaust velocity by keeping gases hotter longer. In turn, this improves the scavenging for a more efficient extraction of the gasses. Additionally, as the ceramic is on the inside of the header, it is not subject to the scratching and wear typically associated with this coating.
Danny and I met up in Tecate early on a Sunday morning to get started on what I hoped would be great day of riding. While I had the opportunity to test a wide variety of the 2012 model KTM’s, my time on the dual sport bikes has been limited. I have just a couple of days on both the 350 and 500 and those were close to home.
Considering that I was riding with a former world motocross champion and Baja 1000 winner, I wanted to make sure that we rode all the best stuff. My trail philosophy is that I want to go where the road leads me. I don’t stick to some set ride plan. Often when I show someone some new obscure piece of trail, they ask me how I ever found it. Typically, my reply is that I was lost at the time.
With that in mind, I started the day off carrying an extra gallon of gas on my belt. I figured it would not take much time to be able to pour it into the bikes. One of my very first thoughts for these bikes was wondering if the modifications would adversely affect mileage.
As it turned out, I did not need to take such precautions. I knew that these new fuelies get good mileage, but wow! Over two days of challenging dual sport terrain, the 350exc averaged just over 50mpg. The 500exc that Danny was on, got just a tick under fifty. With the stock tank, average range for the bike is about 120 miles. For Tecate style riding, that is more than a full days worth.
Our first trail section was a little gem called “Roger’s Wash”. As the story goes, this rocky excuse for a trail was enough to convince Roger that he really did not want to become a Baja trail rider. Speaking of gems, this is the kind of place the little 350 shines.
After spending much of this season on a 500xcw, the 350 gave me a big ol’ silly grin riding up this rock strewn wash. I had missed the lightweight feel and responsive handling for those ultra tight sections. With the fuel injection mod and exhaust, the exc felt like the perfect trail bike. Throttle response was very crisp and accurate. I did stall a couple of times, but that was mostly from neglecting to downshift.
This trail is notorious for boiling bikes, but I never lost a drop. It took a while, but finally the cooling fan did come on. In the few sections where the trail opened up, that fan would shut off within a minute. Another test passed, who says KTM’s boil easily?
For our next section of trail, we hit one that snaked through the trees and sand washes for many miles, all second and third gear speeds. This is the kind of trail that puts you in the mood to race. Open the throttle up, try to hit the corners just right so as to not kill the momentum, then hammer the throttle down the next straight.
I typically ride bikes with much larger fuel tanks and a trail like this is where the extra girth really shows itself. With the stock tank on the 350, it practically feels like a motocrosser. Even the lightest of two strokes cannot make such a boast for long distance trail riding. They require far more fuel capacity.
Again, the power was near perfect. The 350 is no monster, but that also means that throttle control is not a very big concern. Just whack it wide open. It won’t buck or spin, all the power just works to push the bike forward without any wasted effort. Even riding with a twist happy style, I could not upset the fuel injection, just a clean and crisp action all the time.
Our route even included some outright bushwhacking. Heck it isn’t my bike, right? Other than some scratched plastic, the exc’s held great. We made it back across the border with no broken turn signals, subfenders or mirrors. Even the license plate holders were fine, regardless of how many times I bottomed the stock suspension.
The stock mirrors were replaced with the folding Doubletake units. I particularly like these, not only for their function, but because with the RAM mount system I can swap the mirror for my GPS in just seconds. This is great for dual sporting where I don’t necessarily need the mirror for off road use.
End of the Trail
Danny and I got two fantastic days of riding in. We covered some of my favorite mountain and valley trails along the way. On the second day, we were down the valley of the Calabasas with the temperature near 100 degrees. It was just to the point of becoming very uncomfortable, when a cloudburst opened and gave us a welcome downpour.
Thumbs up all around for the bikes and the work. Considering that the “magic mod” comes with a $100 price tag, it seems like plenty of bang for the buck. The FMF powerbomb exhaust is $385 for the ceramic coated header and $350 for the muffler.
The exhaust and FI mod probably contribute about 50/50 to the performance increase of the 350exc. Off hand, I would say the throttle body mod alone makes the bike perform very similar to the stock KTM 350xcw model. They tell me that on the dyno this is a net gain of about five horsepower. Our bike ran crisp everywhere. It was easy to start and did not suffer from any flame outs.
The Best Dual Sport Bikes website is a great resource of tips and knowledge. It is definitely worth spending a little time on. Along with the products and services that they offer, Dave Simon has put together an interesting range of do-it-yourself tutorials. I have spoken with Dave a few times and we have swapped tips and ideas. He brings a wide background of technical and engineering expertise to his work. I think his philosophy is that he wants to sell you those items that he can specialize in and then is happy to share all of the common source knowledge that he can.
From our last call, it sounds like Best Dual Sport Bikes has a few new modification choices on the horizon also. The 350exc that I tested was like a stage one performance package. We will be testing a stage two bike in the very near future and I can’t wait to see that.