Tuesday
Aug162011

KTM 350SXF is this ultimate MX/Trail bike?

Here I am again; when I retired I never dreamed my passion for motorcycles would turn into this ongoing hunt for the ultimate off road bike. It’s a good thing my wife still works; hopefully I’ll find the ultimate bike before she retires and my income is severally cut.

But in the meantime I’ve been wondering if a bike like the 350 could be a great do it all bike. I started by looking at the new 350XCF but at over $9000 I chocked, new SXF’s are selling for around $8000 OTD. I thought maybe the SXF could work, but if I’m going to tinker (Spend money on it) did I really want to buy a new one, so I started looking on eBay and Craigslist for a used one all over the country. What I noticed was most of the used bikes for sale had fairly low hours and my guess was most were owned by guys who bought them for woods/trail riding and they just didn’t work for them. I was able to buy one with less than twenty hours on for a great price and locally on top of it.

I started practicing on motocross tracks this year, haven’t done that in twenty plus years, I’m enjoying it but I don’t enjoy riding my 300 XC-W on an MX track, it’s set up for Cross Country/Enduro/Trail riding.  Some magazines have anointed the 350 as the best MX bike for 2011. They talk about things like lighter weight, or at least a lighter feel, a 250cc four stroke kind of handling/feel. They aren’t supposed to tire you out like a 450 does, they’re supposed to have 450 like power on the top end, but supposedly require an aggressive riding style in order to get the most out of it, etc., etc. well I wanted to find out.

My first few rides were on an MX track and with the stock gearing 14/50 I felt I had to be real aggressive (Lots of RPM’s) if I wanted power that
resembled a 450. The bike definitely felt light, didn’t pull my arms off, and didn’t wear me out as much as the 450 RMZ I had. To me most bikes when ridden in the upper RPM range tend feel as though the suspension isn’t working as well, not so on the KTM. I thought the suspension worked well
on an MX track, I believe the 350 is all I could want in an MX bike.

As you know from my other articles I’m a Rekluse fan so for me the next step was to install one. Unfortunately Rekluse does not offer their Core Clutch for this model. The Core Clutch is the $400 version of the $899 version, so I had to pony up for the $899 version. I also sent the suspension to Factory Connection; they do all of KTM’s off road teams suspension and I’ve had three other bikes with their suspension, and it works for me. I also ordered an Enduro Engineering tall seat, I’m over six foot and the older I get the harder it is to make that transition from sitting to standing and the tall seat definitely helps. In the meantime while waiting for all these new parts I find out my new/used bike fell into a KTM motor recall category, a possible transmission bearing problem, bummer, the good news is KTM will handle it at no cost. There’s a couple of ways of looking at the motor recall, I chose, I get to have somebody look at the motor and put in a new set of rings all for the price of the rings way of looking at it. (Turns out there was no pending problem with my bearing either)

I had to wait weeks and weeks for the suspension (Parts back ordered) and even more time for the Rekluse, it’s either been difficult for them to get parts as well, or it has become a very popular item for this bike. Turns out installing the New Core EXP is easier than installing a Z-Pro Start which I’ve done numerous times.

Finally all the parts arrived and installed now it’s time to see if it all works as well as I’ve hoped. I know the bike works well on an MX course, but will it work as a serious trail bike. l also changed the gearing to a 13/51 I believe the bike still has enough top end for all but the fastest fire roads or open desert. The motor has more than enough low end to pull it around and the 13/51 gearing should be low enough for 1st gear grunt work. Actually my first real trail ride was the week before I got the Rekluse; I went up to Foresthill and put about two and half hours on it.

After changing the handle bar location a few times, adjusting the new suspension settings a few times and learning a little bit about how the bike wants to be ridden I began to enjoy ridding it and by the time I finished I was really enjoying it. The problems I experienced were it required a lot of clutch work and an aggressive style to keep it from stalling in those real tight sections.  (Remember I’m spoiled with Rekluse on my 300) And it was very easy to lock up the rear wheel and stall the motor especially going downhill, not a recipe for having fun. A couple of things that stood out on my first trail ride were, the handling is as expected, great, the bike goes and stays were you point it, it’s a bit twitchy but stable or maybe what I should say is it is flick able and light feeling. The power down low is good, just a flick of the clutch will really get things going. (Remember if it had more low end it probably would be a 450 had and would begin pulling your arms off which it doesn’t do) The four strokes seem to me to have a more planted feel than the two stroke like when going through a rock garden and up steep hills.

My second and third outings with the Rekluse installed were to Mammoth Bar an OHV area with a sand MX track and trails with a lot of up and down hills and to Georgetown a forest full of trails. I’ve made a lot of adjustments to the clutch (I’m becoming an expert) to get the right amount of engine braking (From the factory it has very little engine braking, no doubt set up for the MX track) and I continued to tweak the suspension. But I felt so comfortable and confident I took the bike to Chalk Bluff another OHV area above Nevada City which is all about tight, tight trails, 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear stuff. I would not want to use this bike for trail riding; especially at Chalk Bluff without the Rekluse. But with the Rekluse there’s very little clutch work to do, no stalling no killing the motor if you should lock up the rear wheel. Just bend it around corners and gas it, it’s just magic. And when the trail does open up and has some flow to it the bike just rails. Again, it goes where you point it and stays there, lean it over and it doesn’t want to stand up. The bike can be ridden comfortably at any speed but it does prefer to be ridden aggressively and the faster you go the more stable it is. If you want 450cc torque you’ll have to ride a 450, but if you’re ok with having more torque than a 250cc two or four stroke this bike will provide it. The power is linear, no big hit, as the RPM’s build so does the power. Just leave it in a gear and wind up it to the next corner, in this sense it’s like riding a two stroke.

Bottom line for me, this is the excellent do it all bike I was hoping to get, is it the ultimate do it all bike, of course not, there is only the ultimate do it all bike for you, and this is just the current one for me.

Doug 21J

The following is a list of things I’ve added for my comfort and the bikes protection.

Works Connection Skid plate, I liked the look and it has a rubber mounted system to help dampen noise associated with aluminum skid plates. It works, it’s quite.

Rear brake rotor guard
Scotts steering damper
Enduro Engineering tall seat
Factory Connection suspension
Rekluse Core EXP auto clutch
Evans Waterless or Zip-Ty radiator coolant, this raises the boil temperature and eliminates KTM boil over’s.

Things I might add, larger gas tank, (Although the fuel millage has been great) and a side stand.

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