Okay, I finally have the testing finished on the xc-f. I actually spent far more time riding than I originally anticipated. Some of it was simply because KTM let me keep the bike longer, but much of it is also because I was on the fence as to just how much I liked the race version of the 350 versus the sibling enduro versions. Now that the 2014 KTM xc models have been announced with the 4CS fork, the biggest challenge I had with this bike has been addressed.
We have just about reached the end of the line for the 2013 models. This will probably be our last KTM for the season. Did we save the best for last? The 350XC-f is certainly the lightest and fastest of the off road 350’s, so the case for it is look very strong.
For 2013 the XC-f and SX-f got complete makeovers. The motor received the most attention. Inside it has a new lighter piston, rod and crank. There is a new throttle body for the fuel injection as well as revised mapping. The new motor boasts a whopping 13,400rpm redline! The kick starter has been removed. The new cases don’t even have a location for one.
The cylinder head has been beefed up to handle the higher rpms. The valve heads, seats and springs are all strengthened to handle the increased load. The throttle body size increases to 44mm and has a new design injector. The TPS is better protected from potential damage. Like all 2013 models, new fuel lines have a quick disconnect to allow easy access to the inline filter.
KTM also spent some time working on some of the less obvious parts. The wiring harness was given a once over to make it simpler and more durable. This included adding more water tight connections that had been prone to water intrusion from pressure washing.
On the chassis, the new SX-f style body work is part of the package for all XC models this year. The XC also gets the larger rear axle. Interestingly, the rear wheel is actually still the same. The spacers are the only difference. They are now Japanese style and no longer fit inside the bearings, thus allowing room for the larger axle. That means we continue to have over 20 years of interchangeability for all full size KTM rear wheels.
The exhaust system has a new muffler that is claimed to reduce noise. The HRS canister still rides on the head pipe. In testing, this 350 seems noticeably quieter than our long term 2011 350xc-f was.
Suspension remains more or less unchanged. The 48mm WP closed chamber fork is still up front and the linkage shock get new valving specs.
It only takes a few feet of riding to know that this bike is something unique. It is a very different animal than anything else we have tested this year. The sibling 450xc-f is the closest thing I can think of. This is a quick and aggressive bike.
It feels nearly 450 like in power. Not down low mind you, but from anywhere in the mid-range to the ridiculous redline, it pulls hard. The closer to the rev limiter, the happier it is. It was just a few years ago that leading 450’s made this kind of power.
Unlike the 450xc-f, this bike never has that sense of “too much”, even if it is too much of a good thing. The 450 wants you to always remember that a fist full of throttle at the wrong time can be very bad. That is not likely to happen on the 350.
Same goes with the chassis, anything the 450 can do, the 350 will probably do better. It has a light, slice and dice attitude, but without any obvious instability. Interestingly, the KTM published weight of 237lbs is actually one pound heavier than the xc-w version listed at 236lbs. But I have to assume this is not correct. The xc-f easily feels 10lbs lighter in every riding situation.
How potent is it? I offered to let fellow competitor Paul Krause race it. As it turned out, his new 350xc-f had just arrived. He raced it in nearly bone stock condition at the Vikings National Hare & Hound. He had a fantastic start. At the end of the bomb run he was 3rd overall behind Kurt Caselli and Ivan Ramirez. Paul lost a few positions over the course of the day, but finished 7th overall. It was his best national finish in years. Needless to say, Paul is a full convert to the 350 concept.
I have my own race story to relate, but the outcome is not nearly as good. I raced the 350 at the So Cal National Hare & Hound two weeks earlier and had a terrible day. I later realized I was coming down with a cold, so my body wasn’t at its best.
I only had a little time to prepare for the race. I thought I had a reasonable set up on the bike, but had not ridden at race speeds. I knew the fork set up was a little off, but I figured it would be fine at speed.
But I was completely wrong. I could not get comfortable with the fork at all. It was harsh and deflected easily. I took a couple of clicks out of the compression while riding, but it did not make any obvious difference.
I ended up crashing twice that day. The first time I hit a rock on a two track road in the dust. I did a big low side fall at about 35mph. Fortunately, I was just a little scraped up and got back going quick. I broke the stop off the rear brake pedal in the fall, it still worked okay, but was way out of position.
It was obvious to me that suspension set up is somewhat more critical on this bike than on the EXC model. Of course there are almost no chassis parts that are the same between the bikes. The EXC has the open chamber fork, PDS shock and is overall less rigid in frame and swingarm. Every bit of trail trash is transmitted right to the bars and pegs on the XC-f.
The motor is very good in race conditions. It is fast and likes to rev. But it also gives up a significant amount of bottom end to the enduro models. I was able to compensate for some of this by installing the map switch and running it in the mild position.
The weight difference seems greater than the numbers say between xc-f and the sibling 350’s. It feels very light. The weight reduction in some of the engine mass must be the difference. It will accelerate, turn and brake with far more accuracy. It always feels light on the wheels.
But it comes with a small price tag also. Like the 450xc-f, this is another bike that always requires your attention. Let the revs fall too far and it is dead in the water. The chassis is always doing a little dance, giving it a mild harsh feel. But contrast, the EXC seems to just plow its way through things, seemingly unaware of most small trail imperfections.
Back to my race story, even after the crash, I was moving along and doing okay. It would be a long day and I expected to make up some ground by the third loop. But I did not have any real feel for the fork. Some of this can be attributed to not having a heavy enough spring in the rear. I think I also had an issue with my mousse being too small for the tire I was using, so the tire rolled around too much. For a combination of reasons, I was not entirely comfortable.
On the second loop I had another crash. I was dropping down into a sand wash at a slight angle, something that we do a dozen times in any race. When my front wheel came down, it just washed away. I went down pretty good and smashed my thigh between the bar and tank. Not only did it hurt, but it gave me something like a Charlie horse.
Even once I could get up and going again, I could not move my leg or stand up well. Fortunately it was nothing more than an ugly bruise for a couple of weeks. But I called it quits for the day. Not sure I can ever remember doing that in a desert race for anything other than a mechanical problem.
So my race did not go so well. But in retrospect, the only fault I can find with the bike was that I struggled with the Closed Cartridge fork. This is a common theme for me. Only about half the time am I really comfortable on CC equipped bikes I have tested and owned. To me, they often feel inconsistent, particularly off road. But I have to admit that between myself and our other test riders, it was a split decision, some of the riders were quite happy with the CC fork.
In contrast, I have a great feel for the latest versions of the open chamber fork. I always feel like I know exactly how it is going to act in any situation. Even if it is not perfect, I am prepared for it. The fork on the 2013 350exc is one of the best ones I have ever ridden on. The newer Husaberg 4CS fork is a close second.
So is it the best? If I was setting out to buy a pure race bike, any color or displacement, this would be right at the top. Yes, I would need to sort out a few things, but the performance potential is huge. As for the fork, we now know that the 2014 models will have the new 4CS unit and that would clinch the deal for me. This bike is for those who love the feel of power, it delivers it NOW. It loves to rail the tight line around a corner. The accuracy and feel are fantastic.
So it is best, right? Well, that is where the water gets a bit muddy. Most of our testing was side by side with the trusty 2013 350exc, the bike that just keeps showing off. We have over 100 hours on it now. It is always just a tick slower at race pace. But it is easier to ride. It has better torque characteristics and that means that in many riding situations it is just as fast as anything.
For example, when riding on the track, the EXC can carry a taller gear through the tightest corners and exit with less clutch work. The softer chassis and fork clamps move around with a character all their own. Drifting both wheels into a corner under hard braking is easy and smooth.
The PDS shock is still my choice for all trail riding. For racing, it becomes more of a 50/50 proposition between it and the linkage. The PDS has far better feel and is a more comfy ride. The linkage is what you want underneath you when you hit a square edge road crossing way too hard.
So where does that leave us? If track riding, cross country racing and pure race feel are your bag, the KTM 350xcf a winner. But if you want to spend more time with your new bike out on your favorite trails, the XCW or EXC models are both more versatile and easier to ride. Plus, either could be made full race ready with an exhaust, FI mapping and some stiffer springs.
We end in a split decision. Two of our test riders loved the 350xc-f. Both are very talented riders and race in the same class as myself. As for me, during our last day of testing at the local vet moto track, I was just as happy to ride the 350exc. I was a bit slower on it, but I could ride much longer without getting tired.
|Design||1-cylinder 4-stroke engine, water-cooled|
|Displacement||349.7 cm³ (21.34 cu in)|
|Bore||88 mm (3.46 in)|
|Stroke||57.5 mm (2.264 in)|
|Starting aid||Electric starter|
|Gearbox||6-gear, claw shifted|
|Engine lubrication||Pressure circulation lubrication with two Eaton pumps|
|Cooling||Water cooling, permanent circulation of coolant by water pump|
|Clutch||Multidisc clutch in oil bath/hydraulically activated|
|Ignition||Contactless controlled fully electronic ignition with digital ignition adjustment|
|Frame||Central tube frame made of chrome molybdenum steel tubing|
|Fork||WP Suspension Up Side Down 4860 MXMA CC|
|Shock absorber||WP Suspension 5018 BAVP DCC|
|Suspension travel Front||300 mm (11.81 in)|
|Suspension travel Rear||317 mm (12.48 in)|
|Brake system||Disc brakes, brake calipers on floating bearings|
|Brake discs – diameter Front||260 mm (10.24 in)|
|Brake discs – diameter Rear||220 mm (8.66 in)|
|Chain||5/8 x 1/4″|
|Steering head angle||63.5°|
|Wheelbase||1,495±10 mm (58.86±0.39 in)|
|Ground clearance, unloaded||376 mm (14.8 in)|
|Seat height, unloaded||992 mm (39.06 in)|
|Total fuel tank capacity, approx.||9 l (2.4 US gal)
Super unleaded (ROZ 95/RON 95/PON 91)
|Weight without fuel, approx.||107.8 kg (237.7 lb.)|