I pulled the 2007 bike out to ride last week. It has been sitting since last October when I let someone else ride it on a Baja trip. I can’t actually quite remember the last time I really rode it, maybe once last summer. As you might imagine, it needed a quick carb clean and some general love to make it ready for a day at the track.
Of the bikes that I own, ride and talk about, this ‘07 450xc is often in the background of some photo, perhaps with a model hanging on it, but you seldom hear me talk about it. You might have wondered why, well it is the “one”, you know, the one I never ride because I am trying to keep it fresh. They don’t make these anymore, perhaps you heard? At about 120 hours it is practically brand new.
As I was prepping the 450, I couldn’t help but ponder the question of how time will treat these bikes. When the 450xc model came out in 2006 it was the hottest thing on the market. Anyone who knew a live body over at KTM North America was on the phone trying to get one. It wasn’t about the money; there were simply none to be had anywhere. The line forms to the rear.
As has been touted with many bikes before and since, this was the motocross refugee in plain clothes. The XC model had all the latest features, short stroke motor, new (2005) frame design, as well as the best suspension and chassis parts from KTM. It was nearly identical to the SX model except for titanium valves, ignition, charging system and 18” rear wheel.
By the time 2007 rolled around, KTM was already well on the way to shelving the RFS bikes, at just the point where they had hit their zenith. The 450xc topped every magazine test and shootout. Ironically, its biggest competition came from the Honda CRF450x, as yet unchanged today. But alas the RFS would get no time to reign as all-around champion.
2008 brought the new generation frame, a serious improvement. It also saw the new off road motor debut in the single cam 450/530 form. You won’t hear me say many good things about those years of 2008-2011. I had a short relationship with one that ended poorly. The motor was hardly a step forward. It was smoother, more refined feeling. But it lacked reliability and saw no outright power or weight advantage.
It makes me wonder at what might have been. The 2008 chassis improvements could have easily been applied to the RFS bikes. What a bike that might have been. It could have been the package to make everyone stand and take note, the best of everything KTM enduro.
But that is all in the past. The 2008-2011 bikes will fade away quickly. But they will probably take with them some of the glimmer that rightly belonged to the last of the RFS models too. Ten years from now, it will probably be far out shined by the long lived Honda CRF450x.
But there is no need to dwell too much on the past. The current generation of KTM’s are setting the bar so high that the Japanese don’t want to come play anymore. Hopefully it will open up enough room for the smaller European bike companies to see some real growth.
As for my own bike, it is just about the best of everything there was for this bike. It has some very good suspension on it. Inside there is a cam to liven it up on top just a bit and it has a newer SX-f muffler for track use.
The 450xc will hold its own as an all-purpose trail bike for many seasons yet. But I figured it would be interesting to see just how it would stand up next to the 350exc at the track. I have come to love the 350 for how forgiving it is. It is hard to do anything really wrong on the bike. Accordingly my riding style has become a bit less precise. I ride looser and a bit faster because of it.
It took two trips to the track to get much ride time in on the 450. I found a number of little things that needed attention. I could live with them on the trail, but on the track it is a different thing. Everything needs to be correct.
I must have garage gremlins. Seriously, how else does all this stuff happen? The suspension on the 450 was terrible. I knew a fork service was well overdue, so I did an oil change. But it was still difficult to ride. The fork felt bad. Now I always say, on a RFS bike, if the fork feels bad, the shock is most likely the culprit.
After a few laps of holding on for dear life at the track, I head back to the van. Time to grab a screwdriver and check all the clicker positions. The high speed adjuster on the shock was almost all the way open. The low speed was completely closed! The gremlins have been at it in the garage while I was sleeping.
But it’s all easy to fix. The fork feels miraculously better. Now it is time to get in the grove and put down some real laps on the old bike. I am feeling pretty good. The extra torque of the 450 is a nice change from the 350.
All in all the old bike is okay. But there is one silly little rounded jump on the track that is giving me fits. It isn’t even a jump, it us just an overgrown speed bump in the middle of a short straight. Every time I hit it, the rear kicks. I have to get my weight back and make sure I am on the throttle hard to keep the rear down. It is much easier if I just let off and slow down a little.
After about five laps I feel a little winded, time for a quick break and then a spin on the 350. After a few laps on the 350 I can really feel the difference. I am about the same speed on both bikes. But the 350 takes far less of my concentration and control. The first five laps are about the same speed. But instead of starting to feel winded, I can do another five without even working, or having my lap times suffer.
The differences are just a number of little things combined. The 2013 fork valving is better than any previous aftermarket suspension work that I have had. The PDS shock is so far beyond the old bikes that there is no real comparison. Together they make the tires hug the ground under hard braking and in corners. The stiffer frame means there a fewer unhappy moments if things get out of shape. By comparison the old bike seems to be dancing around all the time.
There are no surprises here. These are all things that I have known. It is just interesting to get out to the track and feel the back to back differences. I have had a couple of opportunities to do similar swaps while out trail riding lately. On the trail the differences are not nearly as pronounced. The big old RFS bike has its moments of glory. The torque of the motor is nice and the bigger frame is more comfortable for long days.
At some point I am going to have to quit calling the 2007 a race bike. It does not get raced much anymore, only once in late 2011 and not at all in 2012. But I will continue to hang on to it as a backup and sometimes play bike. As for race bikes, there might be a 350 in my near future that will inherit that title.
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