The much awaited Freeride has finally made it to our shores. It did not take much saddle time to see that KTM is forging ahead with an all new concept. Designed from scratch, the Freeride chassis only shares components with the sister 350 and Electric models. The motor comes from the 250xcw, but with numerous changes. Built from the ground as an entirely new enduro concept. It shows plenty of innovation and will probably find a niche with a wide variety of riders.
Due credit should be given to the fact that KTM did not in any way invent this niche. Gas Gas was doing it over a decade ago with the Pampera model. For that matter, the Bultaco Alpina was much the same kind of idea. But that was in a different age too. Sadly, the Gas Gas was a great concept plagued by poor execution. If anything, the Pampera demonstrated just how hard it was to get this concept executed properly. The temptation was to just use an off the shelf mix of trials and enduro parts. With no trials parts in inventory, KTM was forced to work from scratch and all for the better.
We will likely debate the exact nature of the Freeride for some time. Is it an enduro bike or trials bike? Is it for hardcore extreme riders or off road newbies? It is not a trials bike, but it might play one on TV. It is an entry level enduro bike with the capability to break boundaries on all fronts. In our day of testing it found praise from both the novice level off roaders and the pro trials riders.
While it performs well over a wide range of terrain and riding, it is still a kind of cross over model and sharply focused on weight reduction. A fair number of compromises are required to meet those goals.
The heart of the Freeride is the two stroke motor based upon the traditional 250 xc-w design. It is electric start only, the kickstarter has been removed. You can see by the photos, the way the motor sits in the frame, there is no provision to add a kickstart. The basic nature of the power has been completely changed by removing the powervalve. Torque is the name of the game and high revs are discarded. Cylinder head and piston design are all new. Overall engine weight is reduced by 4.4 lbs.
Following the theme of low end power via torque, the 250 gets a smallish 28mm Keihin PWK carb. Premix ratio is reduced to 80:1 and fuel consumption is significantly decreased. We witnessed this during the ride day. By sunset, some of the bikes still showed nearly half a tank remaining and no bikes were filled at any point during the day. It would still be a guess to estimate fuel range, but I am going to venture 50-60 miles with the stock tank. There are two ignition curves available. The 250 is delivered with the standard curve and then the option is a softer curve for better traction.
The six speed transmission has shorter gear ratios than the 250xcw model from 1st to 5th. 6th is an extra tall 26:20. Unlike other full size KTM models, the Freeride uses a traditional coil spring clutch. There are no dampners on the steel basket. Springs are a softer design for the Freeride. The radiator is a one piece unit and tucks behind the frame downtube. A fan is standard and features a new more reliable thermostat.
One of the more obvious characteristics of the 250 is the unique expansion chamber. The small shape is strong on torque and throttle response, but clearly not designed for high rpm’s. It tucks in close to the frame and is nice and quiet. The silencer does not have a spark arrestor, but I hear FMF will be working on one shortly.
Access to the fuel tank and air filter comes by flipping the lever and raising the seat. It hinges in the front. The clear fuel tank is easy to read and holds 1.9 gallons of fuel. The air filter is a simple cartridge design. It is housed in a plastic canister that press fits into the intake. It should stay clean and be easy to change. It appears to be very well protected from water infiltration also.
There is a small storage compartment under the seat. The battery is located below this, outside of the traditional airbox area. The Freeride comes stock with a small lithium battery to save space and weight. It is claimed to be more durable also.
The frame is one of the other visually interesting features, steel perimeter with a bolt on aluminum composite in the rear. The rear part of the subframe is a lightweight plastic composite. In true trials fashion there is a large amount of steering lock and a high 15″ of ground clearance. The swingarm is very close in design to that of the 85sx. It weighs just 7 lbs. Everything on the Freeride is about 3/4 size compared to a full size bike.
Up front the WP 43mm UDS forks have 250mm (9.8″) of travel. They look like an open chamber design, but KTM says they are a closed chamber hybrid, incorporating some of the design of the 4CS system. The PDS shock has 260mm (10.2″) of travel. The forks are bolted to machined clamps with a 20mm offset. They have the standard 4 position bar mounts.
The footpegs mounts are bolted to the frame. They are an eccentric that can be reversed to change the peg position. KTM offers an optional bracket kit that will move the pegs back 50mm for a more trials feel. The brake pedal is again 3/4 size and can take a bit of time to get used to. The entire brake and hydraulic clutch package is by Formula. The smaller calipers are radially mounted. Again, clutch and front brake levers are slightly smaller.
Maxxis supplies the new OEM TrialMaxx tires. They are super soft and feature a more open tread pattern to shed mud. Silver wheels and hubs are by Giant. They are a design unique to the Freeride and appear lighter (perhaps not as robust) than full size bike wheels.
Other details include the nice Trail Tech odometer with all the functions you expect. Graphics are molded in to the plastic. All the body work is very slim. Seat height is 36″, but seems lower due to the overall narrow nature of the seat and frame. Small lights are standard. Claimed no fuel weight is 208 lbs.
The biggest question is, just how do we classify this thing? It is an entry level enduro bike plain and simple. It is not a trials bike. It is not really a competition bike. Yes, it will do far more than any entry level bike has a right too. Just don’t expect it to be everything to every body.
A push of the E-start brings the very quiet two stroke to life. At a distance it almost sounds like a four stroke. It is certainly a very unique note. Pulling in the clutch you note that it is a tad stiffer than the new DDS style clutches. Not bad, but the ultra light DDS spoils you for everything else. Shift into gear, may as well start in 2nd while you are at it because first is too low for much, and ease away.
There is no surge of power anywhere. It is just a nice chug that feels deceptively mild. The first thing to remember is to approach every challenge one gear too high. There is no sense revving the 250 much. All of the sweetness is down low in the revs. It became a sort of game to see just how far I could let the motor bog down before it would stall. Yes, it will stall, but way lower than you would expect.
As I said, everything about the Freeride is 3/4 size. So it is understandable that it almost feels like a bicycle at times. It is amazingly easy to maneuver and feel confident on. Our group for the day had a wide mix of skill levels. It only took a short while before the novice and intermediate riders were starting to feel their oats. That is to say, riding at the next level. The bike alone elevated these riders to a new plateau.
Now I have much more to talk about. But that one point- bike elevates rider, means that the Freeride has hit the mark dead center. Anything else it does is purely icing on the cake.
But let’s get back to my impressions. The throttle response is deliberate and very predictable. It does not do anything fast. There is certainly no hit in the powerband. But with such torque, it does not really need to. Still, it is important to remember that the 250 is not a high horsepower bike. Get too lazy on an approach and at some point you will simply run out of power.
The same idea goes with the clutch. For the most part, very little clutch is needed. But wait too late to get on the power and you will find slipping clutch to be of little help. The clutch hooks up so strong that the revs drop and bog down. The more experienced trials riders commented that this trait means you can not ride in the same manner as a trials bike, it takes some technique of its own.
The brake systems are quite a bit smaller than normal to keep the weight down. Both front and rear do a reasonable job, but they are not in the same league with the Brembo units that we are so familiar with. It is not so much a matter of power, but of feel. The front lever feel is a little bit inconsistent. Lever and rear pedal are small in size and that challenged some riders.
The suspension is fairly basic. Both ends work good as long as they are not pushed too hard. Adding compression to the fork was a help. But again these are not competition level components. The steep steering geometry encourages a moderate pace once the terrain opens up. I did not encounter any instability, but we did not see any high speeds either. The Freeride would probably not be the choice for extended fire roads or dual sport use.
For expert level terrain, there is more of a learning curve to figure out the correct gear and rpm levels. All of our pro riders had it figured out in short order. But it was just a bit more difficult for me. It was not until the end of the day that I found a hill climb that I could clear better on the Freeride than I could on the KTM 350xcw that we had along.
For that matter, I never quite got to the point where I felt the Freeride was just the right bike for me. It was a quick hit with the novice riders. Of course the pro riders could make it do all kinds of amazing things too. But I fell to the middle ground. I had a ton of fun on it. But I wasn’t gaining much over riding a 200 or 250 enduro. I was certainly giving up quite a bit also; power, suspension, brakes and high speed handling.
Frankly I am just too far down the road to be learning new trials tricks too. But if I did want to start spending my time doing wheelies, stoppies and bounding over every big boulder in sight, yes, the Freeride would be a fun choice.
Here is another example of my point. As you can see in the photos and video, our test rider was able to make the Freeride look amazing. The big “splat” in the video was quite impressive. But he also commented on just how tricky that move was, because it was hard to keep enough rpm’s on the take off. As it turns out, he had never ridden a 350xcw either. So as we traded off, he got his first miles on a 350. He quickly fell in love. Once up to speed, he did the same splat multiple times on the 350 and felt it was much easier. With the added power and better suspension, he could do almost anything on it that he could do with the Freeride.
Of course, we are now talking about riding the Freeride at a level many times beyond its intended mark. So perhaps this is not so much a criticism, as a statement of how much it is capable of doing in the correct hands.
I suspect the question on your mind is this – how do I choose between the Freeride and an enduro bike? Yes, that is a tough call. For a novice rider, or any rider challenged by the weight and size of a traditional bike who wants to ride gnarly terrain or tough single track, the argument for the Freeride is very strong. But for the rest of us it is not quite so clear.
One of the most striking points about the Freeride is just how much it feels like a complete, integrated concept. There are no exceptional high or low points, it is all built to the same level. It is built to a spec that is way beyond anything else in the entry level market. It is everything the entry level rider needs and much more. So just because it is not a race bike, it is still a real piece of work. It is amazing to feel what 30 lbs of weight reduction does to a bike.
Our testing was only one day. But it was not surprising to see the last of the riders coming back only after the sun was well down. Both novice and pro riders spent the day pushing their own personal limits on the Freeride. Yet there was not a single broken part in the group of 10 bikes. No sheared off footpegs, not even any broken levers. just lots of scratched plastic. Everyone seemed to stay upright pretty well.
Forgive my lack of political correctness here, but these things are going to be gobbled up by old guys in Idaho and Colorado who want to show up their riding buddies on mountain single track. My buddies in Hawaii are also going to want them. If your favorite day of riding means never getting out of third gear, you are going to be a Freeride candidate. It probably won’t be my own choice, but if I could spend more time in the mountains, I would certainly give it serious consideration.
|Design||1-cylinder 2-stroke engine|
|Starting aid||Electric starter|
|Transmission||6 gear, claw shifted|
|Engine lubrication||Mixture oil lubrication|
|Secondary gear ratio||14:46 (12:46)|
|Cooling||Liquid cooling system|
|Clutch||Wet multi-disc clutch CSS / Formula Hydraulik|
|Ignition system||Contactless, controlled, fully electronic ignition system with digital ignition timing adjustment, type Kokusan|
|Frame||Perimeter steel-aluminium composite frame|
|Fork||WP Suspension4357 MXMA|
|Shock absorber||WP Suspension 4618 PDS DCC|
|Suspension travel Front||250 mm|
|Suspension travel Rear||280 mm|
|Brake system front||Disc brake with radially mounted four-piston brake caliper|
|Brake system rear||Disc brake with radially mounted dual-piston brake caliper|
|Brake discs – diameter front||260 mm|
|Brake discs – diameter rear||210 mm|
|Chain||5/8 x 1/4” X‑Ring|
|Steering head angle||67°|
|Ground clearance (unloaded)||380 mm|
|Seat height (unloaded)||915 mm|
|Total fuel tank capacity approx.||7 l
Unleaded premium fuel (95 octane), mixed with 2-stroke engine oil (1:80)
|Weight without fuel approx.||92.5 kg|