Between the pile of new technical information and the intense ride experience, there is so much to talk about for the new 2016 KTM four stroke range of xc-f models, it is a bit overwhelming. So first out of the box for us will the be all new 350. With the 450 and 250 siblings, we have at already seen a hint of the new bikes in the Dungey and Musquin race bikes. But the 350 remained completely under wraps until this week’s press introduction.
I have chosen the 350 first because I consider it the one model with the broadest appeal. It may be the most improved too. All the bikes are drastically improved, so perhaps it is the one most improved for me. I have always been a 350 fan. The original 2011 350xc-f was a bike I really liked. I raced it for a season with lots of success.
In 2013 when the 350xc-f got a boost in peak horsepower, it also lost some on the bottom end. In my view it lost some of the all around appeal. Most 350 riders were better off with the xcw/exc models because they were easier to ride and had much better trail manners. Now that the 350 is again all new, it might take some work to figure out the hierarchy for each of the different versions. The new motor is a marvel of performance. Most noticeable the sheer bark that it has right off the bottom end. Frankly, it feels like a 450. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in this story.
KTM did not set out just to improve a few key points. They set out to improve the entire bike, the entire xc-f/sx-f line for that matter. The motors, frame, subframe and nearly every single part that bolts to each is all new. Basically the only carry over parts are the forks, wheels and brakes. Even details like pegs, air filter, grips, shift lever and brake pedal are clean slate designs.
The 250 and 350 now share the same motor platform. As with everything else, it is lighter, more compact and boasts higher performance. Much of the weight has been moved higher and farther back for mass centralization. The connecting rod is 6mm shorter. All motor and electronic specs are the same between SX and XC models with the exception of transmissions. The motocrossers are 5 speed and the cross country models 6 speed.
The new motor revs to 14,000 rpm. It has numerous changes to strengthen parts and reduce friction losses. The 350 dimensions are 88 x 57.5 mm with a 14:1 compression ratio. The two smaller bikes get a traditional style coil spring (CCS) clutch instead of the DDS system. The CCS is an all new design. KTM claims this gives better feel for the small motors. A smaller Brembo clutch master cylinder provides a lighter lever pull.
All models now have launch control and 3 ignition maps via a bar mounted switch. Our test XC models did not include the bar mounted switch, but apparently it can be added. The launch control works by limiting revs for just 7 seconds once engaged.
The throttle body is a new Keihin 44mm unit with a no linkage pull design. It has a new injector position and separate adjustments for idle and cold start circuits. It is 100g lighter than the old unit.
Tiny Lithium-Ion batteries power the bikes. The compact SX unit is only 1.1 lbs. The XC battery is slightly larger with more cold cranking power. The XC models also have a larger battery tray that will accommodate a traditional YTX4 -lbs battery. The wiring harness has been simplified.
Also completely redesigned are the radiators for more cooling power and better overall flow. Both intake and exhaust flow have been addressed. The beefy plastic louvers have been redesigned to add structural rigidity as well as debris protection. They are bolted in place, no more lost louvers.
The exhaust header incorporates a piggy back resonator canister. This is intended to improve power and reduce sound. The silencer has been shortened and claims to produce better bottom end.
The frame design and concept are quite new. It is lighter and more compact with more specific flex characteristics. Torsional rigidity is increased by 20%, while longitudinal stiffness has been decreased by 30%. Those are some very big numbers. Head stays are now a bigger design and mount farther out on the frame for vibration control. The subframe and swingarm are both lighter.
The shock and linkage are all new. The linkage leverage ratios have changed enough to allow much lighter springs, 48n/m vs 57n/m. The shock is shorter overall but has 10mm more travel.
The 48mm WP 4CS forks are perhaps one of few things that remain the same in appearance. But more R&D attention has been paid to the damping settings. Spring rates are lighter for all the models this year. New machined triple clamps now include rubber bar mounts.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable changes is the airbox and filter mounting system. Two external pins mount the air filter. One slides into the hole in the back and one clips into a tab in the front. It is virtually impossible to mount the filter wrong and it only takes seconds to install.
The overall ergonomics have been changed. The subframe and seat are lower, as well as pegs and bars. The new pegs also sit slightly more rearward. The overall rider position is similar, just lower.
Other XC specifics are typical KTM; 2.25 gallon (8.5l) clear tank, 18″ rear wheel, handguards, sidestand, Giant rims, Dunlop At81 tires. As for weight, at a claimed claimed 227 lbs, it is pretty darn light, about 7 lbs lighter than last years model and near dead even with a 300xc-w.
Me And The XC’s
My past experience with the XC four strokes has been a bit up and down. Our 2014 450xc-f had a wonderful motor and some nice handling characteristics. But it was too aggressive and too stiff to really be an every-man’s bike. It was a race bike and that meant putting up with some stiffness and vibration.
My dream bike was the same style of motor, just tame it down a bit and give it xc-w ride quality. I really liked our original 2011 350xc-f too. But as I said, the model became too aggressive for my taste in 2013.
Today we are looking at a very different KTM company. They are building Supercross winning race bikes. Now we get to see those factory replica machines arrive in the showroom. There is no doubt that Ryan Dungey has displayed a new level of comfort on his Race Edition 450sx-f this season. You can see it in his riding style.
Consider me a skeptic. How is building a Supercross championship bike going to help me and the average enduro rider? Surely it has to be violently fast and incredibly stiff. Suffice it to say that I went into this test with some reservations.
What Does It Really Mean?
Holy crap this bike is fast! That was my first and prevailing thought. It is not fast for a 350, just plain fast! Not only is it fast, but it comes on very strong right off the bottom. The supplied dyno chart shows the torque curve similar to the old model, but coming in a full 1,000 rpm lower all the way up to 7,000, then carrying on stronger all the way to the limit.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you accidentally climbed aboard a 450 (not the new 63 horse xc-f, but maybe some other 450). Perhaps most striking is how little clutch the 350 needs, basically it can be ridden hard with very little clutch encouragement. The power spread is so wide that shifting was seldom needed on our test course. The entire loop could be ridden in third gear. Just ride it like a 450.
Once I could calm down from my excitement about the motor, I could focus on the chassis. The xc-f is incredibly plush. I would say that it felt like an xc-w, but that would actually be selling it a bit short. This is a changed bike, not for any single obvious reason, but changed as a whole.
The forks are super smooth. They may even be a bit soft for western use. The 4CS finally seems to really be showing its mettle as an offroad choice. The front tire tracks very well and every hit seems to get gobbled up without unnecessary movement or reaction. More than that, there seems to be a fundamental change in the way the KTM steers.
One of the reasons I have long been a fan of the open chamber fork is for the ability to use the brake to compress and preload the front end to aid turning and grip. The older closed chamber design wouldn’t do that for me as well. Now the entire concept seems to have gone away. On this bike it is no longer necessary to weight the front end to encourage it to stick or turn. The front tire will now track and stick more or less on its own, no extra work required.
This is really a fairly new concept for me as a long time KTM rider. My confidence in the front end is much higher. Less effort is required to turn and carve through the woods. It also means that the chassis stays more balanced and the entire bike rolls smoother.
Out back, the shock is much the same story. The new linkage and shock seem very smooth and predicable. I consistently felt like I had better feedback and almost no negative action. Our trail went over one particular stump, as the line got rutted out, the stump started to look more and more like a kicker, but the rear always tracked smooth over it. I may be ready to be a full linkage convert.
As for unique feedback from the new frame, that is a bit more difficult to pin point. The claim of 30% less longitudinal rigidity seems like a big number. Obviously the intent is for the frame to absorb some of the impact that comes through the suspension. The overall plush feel is in some part directly due to the frame changes.
Our test loop began to develop one rutted line so I started to run in alternate lines in the grass. The new frame seems to lay over much easier and with excellent control. The front finds traction, even off line. Purposely jumping out of the rut was easy too. In or out of the rut seemed to make little difference, it was all good.
One rutted corner got very deep and rough. I started to rail the side of the rut to keep a smooth line. This is something that has always been difficult for me to do, but I could hit it lap after lap without getting messed up. Frankly my ride time didn’t let me get near the limits of the new bike, I was just building up to it.
In two days of riding, my wrists never started to ache. That is unheard of for me without my favorite bars. The entire package is so smooth that it easily matches a full enduro bike for comfort. The new rubber mounted bar mounts contribute to this, yet are firm enough that you don’t actually feel any movement from them.
There was very little to find criticism with during our two day test. All of the bikes seemed just a bit stall prone when it came time to start messing around and taking photos. It did not happen much on the test loop, just when we started making trail or trying to be stunt riders. By the second day, stalling seemed less pronounced as the motors got a few more hours on them. A flywheel weight may still be on my to do list though.
The 350sx-f Motocroser
With 3 all new bikes to test in the xc-f line, I had not intended to spend any time on the sx versions. Plus the Ironman motocross track was well beyond my comfort zone. But then I realized I should at least get a quick comparison ride on each while I had the opportunity. For the 350’s, I could tell almost no difference in the two models. Transmission differences were negligible on our 2nd/3rd gear loop. The 350 had enough power to not care too much about being in the correct gear.
The forks are two spring rates stiffer (4.8 vs 4.4n/m) and that was a bit noticeable. But for harder charging riders, the sx forks may actually be better. They were still plusher than expected. The shock spring is the same (48n/m) and that seemed to give the sx a slight out of balance feel, front end high. I suspect that the moto magazines are going to knock the SX suspension for being too soft on the track.
It would be fair to say that the two models have never been closer together. For the rider looking for a moto/ gran prix only bike, the sx-f may be the choice. The stock Dunlop mx32 tires worked especially well.
Whenever I am writing bike reviews I always think of reading the famous long time Brit Editor Alan Cathcart. It always seemed that the latest bike he tested was also the greatest. I consciously try to stay clear of that impression. But I just can’t here. Just a few minutes on the 350 and I knew it was the next bike for me. I am anxious to ride it out west to see what impressions hold up and what new things I learn.
When I think back on my criticisms of the 2014 450xc-f, KTM has addressed almost everything on this bike. I must have been somewhat on target. The motor fun factor is off the chart. Exercising a bit of throttle control will now become part of the 350 experience.The goal to make a bike that feels like a 450 motor in a 250 chassis has never been closer to reality. Not too big, not too small, it is just right.
Stay tuned as I bring you news of the other two models. The 250 is very impressive and the 450 is just…., well it is a lot of something, maybe too much for me.
2016 KTM 350xc-f Specifications
|Engine Type||Single Cylinder, 4-stroke|
|Bore / Stroke||88 mm / 57.5 mm|
|Starter / Battery||Electric starter / Lithium Ion 12V, 3 Ah|
|Carburetor/Fuel Management||Keihin EFI, throttle body 44mm|
|Control||4 V / DOHC with finger followers|
|Lubrication||Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps|
|Gear Ratios||15:31, 16:25, 20:25, 22:23, 25:22, 26:20|
|Clutch||Wet multi-disc DDS-cluch, Brembo hydraulics|
|Frame||Central double-cradle-type 25CrMo4|
|Handlebar||Neken, Aluminum 28/22 mm|
|Front Suspension||WP USD 4CS Closed Cartridge|
|Rear Suspension||WP 5018 DCC Monoshock with linkage|
|Suspension Travel Front/Rear||300 mm / 11.81 in; 300 mm / 11.81 in|
|Front/Rear Brakes||Disc brakes Ø 260 mm / 10.24 in; 220 mm / 8.66 in|
|Front/Rear Rims||1.60 x 21 ; 2.15 x 18|
|Front/Rear Tires||80/100-21; 110/100-18 Dunlop Geomax AT81|
|Chain||X Ring 5/8 x 1/4 in|
|Steering Head Angle||26.1°|
|Triple Clamp Offset||22 mm|
|Wheel Base||1,485 ± 10 mm / 58.46 ± 0.4 in|
|Ground Clearance||370 mm / 14.57 in|
|Seat Height||992 mm / 39.6 in|
|Tank Capacity, Approx.||8.5 L / 2.25 gal|
|Weight Without Fuel, Approx.||102.9 kg / 226.9 lb|