For 2015 the KTM enduro line up, including 450xcw and 450exc, remain relatively unchanged. As solid performers since the 2012 introduction, there is not much in need of changing. With the Austrians making a big push with the once again revived Husqvarna line, off road KTMs sit on the back burner for another year.
It all means little to me. I am super excited to have this bike. The 450xcw is next in line as part of my quest for “the one”. The one perfect enduro bike. It has been 3 years since I have had some extended ride time on the 450. It is so much the standard of the industry, we have focused on the more intriguing 350 and 500 models. As well as the racier XCFs. There have been some great bikes roll through the Enduro360 garage. But in the end they all left me wondering again just how each stack up to the standard 450. Now it is time to come full circle and answer that question. Is the 450xcw the one, the best of the lot?
There are a few things new to talk about for ’15. The orange frame jumps right out. The new enduro models follow the graphic design of the factory race bikes for the first time in a number of years. With more white in the graphics, the bikes look svelte and lively. Looks are just skin deep, but these work for me.
Black is back too. The Giant wheels have a matte finish. While beautiful when new, they sadly wont keep the look long. Pits and scratches are already starting to show on our bike. Black Neken bars are part of the package also. The handguards are made of a new material this year to make them stronger, design stays the same. Dunlop AT81 tires are now standard on all KTM enduro models.
KTM has updated the odometer to a new unit that incorporates the warning lights for EFI and low fuel. There are no more stand alone lights on the xcw. The exc models still have separate turn signal lights. Supposedly, the new unit contains all the features of the previous model. But as of yet I cannot figure out the functions such as trip1, trip2, clock and lap timer. It only uses two buttons for all the functions, so it is bound to be a more complicated routine.
Our test model came with the KTM hard equipment plastic skid plate. We have broken a number of these in past testing. The design has been updated to include two reinforcing ridges in the plastic. Time will tell how durable this one is. It fits nice and is easy to remove for oil changes, but does not give much coverage on the ignition side cover.
Suspension remains unchanged again this year with the WP 48mm open chamber fork and PDS shock. These parts are old friends to me, so I am happy with them. I am setting this bike up to race the Baja Rally, so I sent the suspension straight out to Moto Lab for stiffer springs and a bit of massaging for desert race speeds. I will have a follow up review on the suspension soon.
If you follow my writings you know that, even though I have not had a 450xcw to test lately, I still hold it as the standard to measure everything against. I am lucky to have a few friends with 450’s so I do get a chance to ride one regularly. But I was a bit concerned when this one arrived. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. After thousands of miles on 350 and 500 enduro models, as well as the 450xcf bike, would I still find the 450xcw so good?
Second to that thought was my choice to race the upcoming Baja Rally. As you recall last year, I rode my oldest 525exc and did much better than expected. There was little to complain about with the big torque motor and stable chassis. I have now acquired two very fresh 525’s and they would seem like a good choice for the rally. But it is hard to justify leaving a brand new bike at home to race an old one. So I am going to go with the 450.
It is lighter and that feel does show itself any time the terrains gets technical. I love technical terrain, the nastier the better. That is what I am hoping for this year and choosing the 450 do it on. This bike still gives up a bit of torque to the 525, but it revs so much freer, it makes up for it in many scenarios.
So is the 450xcw the best of the new motors? Here is a quick recap of the other models:
Keep in mind, some of the characteristics I am talking about are very subtle, but never the less very important. The 500 always feels just a little bit challenging when trying to ride fast on tight trails. Without the opportunity to ride something else for comparison, it would be easy to assume it was just the rider at fault. So with all this in mind, we set off for the first ride. Having just logged 85 hours on the 500exc it was all fresh in my mind. For fun we brought the newest of the 525’s along for some comparison too.
It took about 30 seconds for me to be convinced that the 450xcw was everything I had held it up to be. The motor is noticeably better on a number of fronts. First and foremost is this: it simply goes where you tell it to without any fuss. It moves forward faster than the 500. No wheel spin, no tendency to get off line, just launches forward. If you want to steer with the rear wheel, it will drift out with perfect control. If you want to lift the front wheel, just hit the throttle and it will do so without any unnecessary spin in the rear.
These are only small differences, but the overall effect seems magnified. Everything about the 450 seems lighter and easier than on the 500. In many ways it likes the same style of riding that suits the 350, hard charging and aggressive, rather than the careful approach that works best for the 500. It won’t match the 350 for agility, but the extra torque requires far fewer shifts. Speaking of which, it revs so well, that it typically requires fewer shifts than the 500.
So, is it the best of the motors? In stock condition, there is no real debate for me. It lacks a bit of the 500 chug factor, but that doesn’t bother me compared to the gains. The 450 as a whole is easier to ride than its big brother. Our modified 2014 450xcf was faster and had a wonderful character. But I think the addition of a free flowing exhaust can gain us similar power and we still have the versatility of the six speed transmission.
As the chassis on all the xcw and exc models are basically the same, there is not much to take into consideration for comparisons sake. But the 450xcf, with linkage and 4CS fork was quite different. I can ride both, but I confess to liking the open chamber fork and PDS shock best for trails. The consistent feel of the open chamber works for me. I also like the ability to use the front brake to compress the fork to quicken the steering geometry for cornering. I have never been able to get comfortable on the other WP forks for this technique. For the shock, as I have said before, it is just a toss up, both suspension systems have their strong points.
Sadly, our 450 does not come with a license plate. The best four stroke off road bike KTM sells, the 450exc, is not available in the US. Nevertheless we are off to a good start. Now it is time to turn it into a full race bike. Normally that would not require too much work. But for a rally bike there is lots to take into consideration. With the added navigation equipment and long days of racing, comfort and durability are paramount. Stay tuned as we bring you the full build project. We will be trying out some new parts, as well as time tested ones.