A hotter than normal fall has left me with less off road riding time then I would like. I want to be out riding, but it has just been too damn hot for long days of it. But cooler temps are here and I am hitting the trail more. In the meanwhile, I have been spending more days at the motocross track because I can go early in the morning and get a few hours knocked out.
As for MX riding, I have never had a bike that encouraged me to go to the track more than the new 350xcf. The new bike is pretty amazing. It is very light feeling. The power is awesome. It is strong off the bottom and revs out as far as you would wish. Only in the tightest corners is much clutch work needed.
The handing is the real star. This new chassis is so easy to ride it makes me feel like a hero. On almost every point; traction, turning, suspension, feedback, it is all a nice jump forward for KTM. We have spent quite a bit of time riding back to back with a new 2015 350xcf for comparison and the differences are fairly significant.
One of the most obvious points is the general feel at both wheels. The feedback for turning and limits of traction seems much better on the new model. The same goes for suspension. The shock is wonderful. The fork is a nice move forward and feels particularly at home on the track.
My local vet track has a decent size down hill jump. It isn’t huge, but landing is always harsh if you jump too far. I usually try to find a little bump to pre-jump it and keep the bike low. With the xcf I can sail right off of it with no concern for the landing because it cushions the impact so well.
Every test rider who rides the 350 enjoys it. Both novice and expert riders find something it does well for them. The power delivery is smooth but strong. This is the first 350 that has given me a scare once or twice from inadvertently grabbing a handful of throttle at the wrong time. It has that much power.
It is a true hero track machine (oh I said that already). It lets me push my own limits. Even when things get very out of shape, the 350 just collects itself, points straight and keeps going. It is also very smooth. There is little vibration or harsh feel. I can put on more laps with less effort.
All of this has me wondering how it will translate to an enduro environment. It seems promising, but you never really know. Now that I have about 600 miles on the KTM, I think I have a pretty good idea where it stands as an offroad model.
Most of the strong points transfer over pretty well. It is how amazing how light the 350 feels. In some ways it almost feels lighter than similar two strokes. At 240 lbs full of fuel, you can understand why. It is within just a few pounds of a typical 2T enduro.
The motor is nice, but shows a few weak spots offroad. In general the 350 has enough torque that shifting can be kept to a minimum. Of course as an xcf, it has that constant race bike feel. At any moment it is ready for a twist of the throttle to jump into full race mode, lots of fun on tap.
Our bike was fairly stall prone right out of the box. But once we hit about 10 hours that calmed down. But this is no extreme enduro motor. On single track, stalls are still common and a vigilant clutch hand is needed to avoid such. It is still much better than the previous 350xcf and this is only an issue on true single track.
On difficult terrain, such as loose climbs, the power takes some work to keep in check. Even with the most delicate touch, the rear wheel still wants to churn the ground. It isn’t quite a match for an xcw, 350 or 300, in those conditions. But anywhere above first gear, it is hard to find much fault in the xcf.
If you recall, the xcf now has the coil clutch instead of the DDS. If there is any real difference in them, I can’t really tell. It works fine.
The new shock is just as good offroad as it is for moto. I really have not done anything but make small adjustments to the clickers.
The 4CS fork is good in the open terrain. I think it would be stiff enough for me to race without making any spring changes. Once we get to single track or especially rocky terrain, the fork is a little too harsh for my taste.
Opening up the clickers seems to only have a minor benefit. As I noted previously on 4CS testing, going more than two clicks softer than stock on the compression seems to cause the fork to pack and feel harsh. My settings: stock for the smooth moto track, one click stiffer on the rough track and one click softer for enduro.
Overall the settings are pretty good for the intended use; moto, desert and GP.
I have to hand it to KTM, I think they have really done the homework on the frame. I would have never dreamed that building a better Supercross frame would be of benefit to me too. But this bike is definitely a smoother ride all the way around. There is less vibration and less harsh feel coming through the bars. The suspension is part of the reason, but the frame is contributing also.
For testing so far, I have left the 350 bone stock, no added seat or bars, none of my personal preference items. I use this as a yard stick to see how I feel after a 4 day Baja trip. My hands and elbows are a little stiff, but not bad. My butt is a bit sore, but not bad either. The new seat is longer and more comfy than before. But I think the foam is breaking down a bit already. So I will be ready for something a bit more substantial.
As on our last xcf, I have wired the Baja Designs S2 LED light directly to the battery. It works fine on the stock charging system. I accidentally left the light on for 45 minutes at lunch the other day and the bike still fired right up. With no back up kickstarter, this could be a real concern. I have never had a battery issue, but I might consider carrying the ultra tiny 3 amp sxf Lithium battery as a spare if I was going somewhere remote.
The stock 14/50 gearing on the six speed is just about right. Any taller and it would struggle in tight terrain. It will still cruise at 55 without too much effort. If you ride in tighter terrain, a 13 tooth countershaft may be the call. I have gotten as much as 90 miles range from the stock two gallon tank. The ODI bolt on grips are working well and showing no wear yet.
The 350xcf has really hit the mark for its intended use. Considering there is hardly a single part that carries over from any previous KTM, it still just feels like a KTM. It is everything you would expect it to be. For all but the very slowest and most technical terrain, it is a hoot to ride.
That point leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. For as good as it is, how good will the 2017 xcw version be? Next year will get all the same updates except perhaps for suspension. (I have already seen a version of it out testing with a PDS shock and open chamber fork in full exc kit.)
If you are not really in the market for a new bike, don’t ride this one. It makes everything else seem dated.