Better Late Than Never….
We are sort of bringing up the tail end of the pack this season. 2015 KTM enduro announcements will be just days away and we are finally getting a few of the 2014 models to ride. I can’t complain too much I guess. It is probably even my own fault. You see, the pool of bikes available to the press is a small one.
First up is always the big magazines. Not only are they the most important, but due to the long lead times for print, they need a head start to make it to market. Then come the other media outlets, including web and non-moto specific. Bikes usually go to those who scream the loudest next (not me). Then about the end of the season, I get the call.
In some ways it is a bit annoying. But as I said, sort of my own fault too, I guess I should be more of a squeaky wheel. I should also ride less. What does that mean? Let me explain. Our 500exc has already been to at least 3 different press assignments. It is still looking reasonably clean and fresh. When I get done with it, it won’t be suitable for anyone else to use. I ride the bikes way too hard for them to get handed off to the next magazine.
I sort of put myself at the back of the bus in that respect. But there is good news too. Since no one else is waiting to get this particular bike when I am done, I will ignore all phone calls from KTM and hopefully they will forget about my 500 and just let me keep it for another 100 hours. This bike has probably been in the press fleet for 9 months. In two weeks I will double the number of hours on it.
When Enough Just Isn’t
I have really been anxious to get this bike. The waiting has been hard. My reasoning is thus. If we make the assumption that the KTM 450xcw is perhaps the best all around enduro bike, what do you do if you simply want a bit more? Nobody “needs” more, but as always there are those who just want a bit more. So the choices for something a little extra are; 450xcf or 500exc.
Having just completed the long term test for the 450xcf, the 500exc is the bike that we really want to know for comparisons sake. For me, I want to know if the 500 will fill a few of the shortcomings I had with the racier xcf model. Once we added the flywheel weight to the xcf motor, the fun factor was off the chart. But track bred design elements left us lacking a few niceties for the trail.
Starting Off Stock
For the initial 20 hours of testing, we have ridden the 5-Honey in showroom stock condition. It still has all the smog equipment, EPA legal fuel map and exhaust. The gearing gets a slight change from stock, to a more rational 14/48. The once removable noise suppressor is now welded inside the exhaust tip. The stock tank nets 100 miles of dual sport riding pretty regularly. I did have to ditch the seat for my own wider/flatter favorite.
Up To Speed
For those in the know, the ’14 version of the 500 is not far removed from the original 2012 version, when it was introduced as the xcw. But here is a quick refresher look at the spec sheet.
|Design||1-cylinder 4-stroke engine, water-cooled|
|Displacement||510.4 cm³ (31.147 cu in)|
|Bore||95 mm (3.74 in)|
|Stroke||72 mm (2.83 in)|
|Starter||Electric starter/kick starter|
|Engine lubrication||Pressure circulation lubrication with two rotary pumps|
|Cooling||Water, permanent circulation of coolant by water pump|
|Clutch||DDS 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 PA|
|Shock absorber||WP Suspension PDS 5018 DCC|
|Suspension travel Front||300 mm (11.81 in)|
|Suspension travel Rear||335 mm (13.19 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||1,482±10 mm (58.35±0.39 in)|
|Ground clearance unloaded||345 mm (13.58 in)|
|Seat height unloaded||970 mm (38.19 in)|
|Total fuel tank capacity, approx.||8.5 l (2.25 US gal)
Super unleaded (ROZ 95/RON 95/PON 91)
|Weight without fuel, approx.||111.5 kg (245.8 lb.)|
A quick trip to my mildly accurate scales shows the exc at about 254lbs with two gallons of fuel in the tank. That makes it pretty close to the factory claimed no fuel weight. By comparison, our 2006 525exc with full Sicass racing dual sport kit, similarly equipped, hits the scales at 262lbs. The real world riding difference feels greater between the two. What I found really surprising, was that once we trail equipped the 2014 450xcf, it actually out weighed the 500 street legal model by a couple of pounds!
The Great Hope
We had a 500xcw for an extended test in 2012. There were a number of things I really liked about the bike, particularly the big power. But I found it to be a bit of a struggle in the tight stuff. The power came on a bit slow and then seemed a little too much. It needed constant small throttle adjustments to keep it on track.
The other obvious goal was to see if it would really fill all the gaps left by the 450xcf and if it is really a better all around bike than the 450xcw. As it is the only choice for a big bore, street legal, KTM, we want it to be the best of the lot.
No matter how you look at it, the 500 puts out a respectable amount of power. But then if we all wanted sheer power, we would ride KX500’s or something. It is all about how it makes the power. Is it there when you need it, in just the right flavor and temperature?
The first thing that comes to attention is the noise suppressor. It significantly changes the power character. The motor is soft feeling (for a 500) and doesn’t really want to rev. On top of that, keeping all those exhaust gasses inside the muffler quickly raises the heat. The stock cooling fan runs almost constantly. Sorry, this thing has to go.
With the suppressor in place it is hard to get much of a gauge of how the exc fuel map works on its own. The first change will be to fix the exhaust and get back out for more riding. But I can say that we had no stalling or other temperamental issues arise. It will just be a matter of how good the throttle response of the stock map is. That will require more test time.
It took about an hour for the rear tire to catch the subfender and rip the license plate off. Fortunately, I just picked it back up, no damage done. The best fix is to remove the license plate light, mount the license plate on a stiff backer and bolt the bottom holes of the plate in the top holes of the subfender. Then cut off the bottom of the subfender. With this modification, there will be no more problems. I prefer this over the popular swap for the xcw subfender because it lets you keep the big exc tail light.
The traditional KTM pairing of the PDS shock with the 48mm open chamber fork always works well. It needs stiffer springs for my 200lb frame. But with a bit of extra preload in the rear it still does just fine for trail riding. Out of the box, I consider it better than the 4CS fork on the xcf models. I will go to 46mm springs in the front and 7.6 for the PDS rear. I don’t see any need to go stiffer.
The DOT legal Maxxis tires had some mileage on them when we got the bike. They now have another 400 miles and are getting well worn. I will probably get one more trip out of the rear and a couple from the front. They are a decent choice for the job they have to do. I know they don’t work all that well in the wet, but in the dry they are suitable.
For 2014 the enduro models get a new larger headlight. It now uses a standard H4 style 35/35 watt bulb. It is a bit better than the old version. It could use some more power for serious night riding. It should be able to accept a stronger 55 watt bulb with no problem. I think I am going to try a simple HID conversion kit. The stock stator has plenty of power, so it should be an easy job.
As it turned out, during out testing we hooked up with another group of riders. One rider also had a new ’14 500exc with the Euro exc map installed and the exhaust tip modified. I got a short chance to ride the bikes back to back. There was a huge difference in the power and delivery. The modified bike was much faster and revved quicker and longer.
The modified bike also had a tendency to spin the rear wheel at the slightest provocation. Off the bottom, it was actually more aggressive than our trail modified 450xcf. The xcf had better traction and control in some situations. While it feels far lighter, the motor is still a far stretch from the other bike we had along, the 525exc. The 500 is still no match down low for the smooth 525 tractor. The xcf motor was actually a bit closer to being the super sweet big bore dream bike. The 500 does not vibrate as much as the xcf did, but it is not quite as smooth as our high mileage 525 either.
For dislikes, there is not too much to bring up. The stock seat certainly won’t cut it for me. The ignition key location has been moved but it is harder to reach and seems more vulnerable. I don’t see any benefit from the move. I don’t care much for the 2014 handguards, the previous style were stronger and offered more protection.
As for the street equipment; the lights are decent. The turn signals are pretty durable, but the incandescent bulbs don’t put out much power and the lenses fill with dust. They are way over due for an LED update. The front turn signals now mount to the headlight mask instead of the top clamp, it is a bit cleaner that way. The subfender needs to be chopped, but that is just a given with any DOT legal set up.
“I am a current owner of a 2009 KTM 250 XCFW and really like the light weight and all around handling of the bike. Historically I have not been a big fan of “big bore” four stroke bikes and was not expecting much new, but as soon as I saddled the 500 EXC I felt instantly comfortable and the smooth lightweight power of the bike was simply amazing. This bike rides, feels and behaves like a small bore bike but with the full power that a 500cc machine should have. The fact that it has fuel injection and is street legal out of crate adds to an amazing package.” – Jim Walker B rider
Straight out of the box 500exc isn’t quite ready to go to the head of the class. When I say class, I mean all enduro bikes, not just dual sports. There is a very good bike in there and it will just take a couple of mods to get down to it. The exhaust will have to be fixed. Then we will look at where to go from there.
To be honest, we are really splitting hairs here. The exc is light, agile, powerful, quiet and has a license plate! That is going to be more than enough for most riders. It is a very nice riding partner. The stock spec meets most of our trail bike wish list. The six speed transmission and comfy suspension help it top the xcf for practicality. But the flywheel modified xcf power delivery was a bit better and dished out plenty of big wide grins.
Next up will be the addition of the 13 litre tank, LED light and some mousses so I can go out and work on getting seriously lost with the five-honey.
Finally, I have to laugh at myself and say that sometimes I make a terrible journalist. As I sat down to work on this story I realized that I didn’t make any effort to take good photos for this test. The first rule of motorcycle testing to make sure you have great photos. It is the only part that you can’t fake. Oh well, the riding got in the way of the photo shoot, so you get one KTM stock photo and a few snapshots of my ride.