2016 KTM 450 XC-F
A Beast Of A Motor In A Lightweight Bike's Clothing
- Tons of torque.
- Serious light weight on the scale.
- Ready to race at outdoor MX or GP style events without any modification.
- Five-speed close ratio transmission is a little limiting.
- Stalls easier than most bikes.
- Might just be too powerful for a lot of off-road riding.
- This is KTM's powerhouse off-road racer.
The big question: What is it? Off-road, trail, GP, track or? What we can deduce from the get-go is the 2016 KTM 450 XC is a full race bike. This machine is just that, a machine. It has loads of torque, hauls the mail, is light, nimble and seemed to meld into most riders that we tossed onto the bike. Yes it has an 18ʺ rear wheel and slightly more plush suspension compared to the full motocross bike but don’t be fooled, the XC-F has its roots firmly planted in what was first introduced as the 2015 450SX Factory Edition. Yes KTM says the XC is a closed course off-road bike but after riding this creation, we refer to it as more like motocross-light. But for who and what is this bike really for?
- All new for 2016.
- Based right off the SX motocross bike and not delayed at all.
- KTM puts just enough off-road but not enough to neuter it one bit.
If anyone was drooling at the specs on the ’15 KTM Factory Edition, you might start to salivate all over the ’16 XC as well. Why you ask? It’s because the platform for this ride was taken directly from the ’15 Factory Edition or what is now the standard 2016 450 SX. Compared to the ’15 XC-F, this new ride is light, light & light. The engine is now slimmer, lighter, and more compact, with a reworked 44mm throttle body and Keihin Energy Management System. The cylinder head configuration has been revised, optimized porting and utilizes a shorter timing chain. The cylinder is 6mm shorter, the connecting rod is shorter as well. The piston is lighter yet the they wedged in 10% more crank inertia to put the power to the ground. The 5-speed close-ratio tranny is more compact with special coatings on several of the gears and shift forks. The DDS (dampened diaphragm steel) clutch has a lighter basket and reworked inner hub and pressure plate for better oil flow. And the XC gets the same Flow Design Header with a resonator as the SX model.
The chassis holds true to its chromoly roots yet is now lighter with more torsional rigidity although less stiff lengthwise for a claimed better overall feel. Aluminum subframe, lighter swingarm, lighter “No Dirt” footpegs, rubber-mounted CNC machined triple clamps, and ODI lock-on grips top off part of the package. The WP 4CS fork has been updated with off-road settings to complement the new chassis, as was the WP shock out back. Most every part of the chassis is identical to the SX aside from the kickstand bracket.
Other features include Galfer Wave rotors, 18ʺ rear wheel, new airbox with easy no-tool filter changes, new bodywork, 2.25-gallon fuel tank, off-road hand guards and a side stand come stock. The XC has a stronger Li-Ion battery but no wires for lights. In short KTM thought about every little way they could make this bike, along with the SX and soon the XC-W and EXC bikes the best they could but refining pieces part by part. Sometimes shaving ounces. Sometimes making a piece work just a little better. And in large, getting the package dialed in for its intended purpose.
- Yes, this bike has power but the torque that oozes out is what is impressive.
- The smooth but potent power that KTM is known for.
- A light flywheel means closed throttle stalling is common.
Every aspect of this XC power package is 100% identical to the SX except for the lack of the two-position ignition switch which is available through KTM hardparts. From the air filter to the tip of the exhaust right out the countershaft sprocket is identical. KTM did not feel the need to alter anything from SX to XC and on most accounts we can agree.
The first advice we might offer up is to always keep a finger on the clutch when riding the ’16 XC-F. This bike is a torque machine and wants to hook up and go. Front tires might last longer because they will be floating off the ground most of the time if you are not careful. Throttle control is the key to manage the KTM’s robust grunt. The engine does not hit and spin, it hooks up and wants to go. There are 60 horsepowers sitting inside of this engine someplace and you can feel them even if it boggles the imagination where they are all hiding. In addition to the torque, the engine still likes to rev and uses that rev effectively. Where some 450s tend to get through the top power a little too quickly or not want to go there at all, the KTM mill could care less. Yes, the pull flattens out slightly up top in the over-rev but it can go there without objecting. The motor is not just motocross inspired, it is motocross race!
The FI is pretty spot-on and the bike fires right up with electric-only starting. The XC-F uses a larger battery to help with dead-engine starts. No kickstarter for less weight, no options for even having one. Having the idle set properly plays a large role in how resistant the bike is to stalling and the feel of compression braking on deceleration. In tighter slower work it has a tendency to stall easier than most. Combined with a taller first gear, just like any motocross bike, and a very light flywheel feeling, zero throttle cough stalls are common if you are not tidy on the clutch. Once the throttle is cracked open stalling will not happen since the XC-F has so much torque--but then it may also need a lot of clutch work to keep from going too fast for the conditions, even in first gear.
The five-speed transmission is close ratio and also may or may not be the right tool for the job. On a motocross track it is perfect. For most GP or GNCC style racing you don’t need to go the 91 mph the bike will top out at on the rev limiter with stock gearing. Yes, this is a full 15 MPH slower than the 350 XC-F we tested a month ago. But if you get into tight technical trails or want to cruise (with a lower engine RPM than screaming) at 70 MPH across the desert you will need to change the final drive to accommodate either one or the other. There is plenty of power to do both but not through the stock transmission ratios. We’ve never hated a six-speed gearbox in off-road bikes but maybe even a wider ratio spread in this XC-F would be better at everything but the track.
The clutch takes abuse but will also heat the engine pretty quick with all that power, although you’ll get a lot of radiator steam before the clutch fades. Shifting is excellent and really gets better with time and a few oil changes. And be aware that inside the standard ECU lies the potential for mapping changes. There is a soft and aggressive map pre-programmed (as well as launch control) but you’ll need the switcher to activate them. We played with this accessory and it is pretty amazing especially the aggressive map when traction is optimal.
In standard form, the XC-F is one of the fastest off-road bikes we have ever ridden-- notable in how strongly it accelerates and how quickly it moves along. Once moving there isn’t really anything, even motocross only bikes (which it basically is) that will keep up on a shuffle through the gears. The pick-up with just the throttle is amazing with a drive-ability that is not found in this power level. It has the smoothness of a Honda CRF and the aggression of the Yamaha YZF. This is where a fuel-injected four-stroke is taking advantage of all the technology inside of the ECU. The really funny trait of this KTM is that it gets very good fuel mileage. Strange things happen when you can't open the throttle and half-speed is plenty.
- A stiff but acceptable race inspired setup that handles motocross easily.
- Way better than a motocross bike off-road, but not comfortable like a single-track bike.
- The WP 4CS fork is much better but you need to understand how the clickers work.
In history KTM has been fighting an uphill battle in the suspension game. Going to a rear linkage on the motocross and XC bikes took some of the heat off the WP shocks both literally and figuratively but the shock’s performance did improve at the same time. The linkage ratios have been refined and the chassis changes helped as well. But the fork, specifically the WP 4CS, has been a tough one. A closed chamber fork, the 4CS works a bit different than a conventional cartridge fork, especially the adjusters. Confusion with this and standard setups that got stiff or spiky in the initial or mid-stroke did not help. But one thing is certain, for 2016 the fork is hugely improved from the get-go.
For starters the XC-F is set up as a race bike and that means a very stiff off-road bike. It does not have much in the way of small bump compliance when compared to an XC-W or E-XC and even compared to many other brand’s off-road race bikes. The KTM holds itself up in the stroke and lets the rider feel the ground and all of its imperfection. It breaks and moves easier than an SX would and then feels as if it has less high-speed compression and rebound damping, especially in the fork. This setup works when you are racing or pushing the bike and it gives the rider a lot of confidence to hit things that would send an XC-W flying in all directions. The bottoming resistance is incredible for an off-road bike and it even works well on a jump infested motocross track.
The clicker and ride height setup isn’t as critical as on some bikes but it does make a difference if you are sensitive. We ran the ride height between 103-108mm of rider sag and were always happy in this range. We also played a lot with the clickers depending on what we were riding on a given day. On the motocross track, standard settings and up to five additional clicks of low-speed compression on the rear shock really gave the bike a more planted feel and had it using less stroke on the jump faces. We left the fork alone on the track except for 1-2 clicks of tuning for comfort in a direction that seems counter intuitive.
The fork’s adjusters seem to work more on the mid-speed damping and more like ride-height control than a fork’s typical adjustment. That means to soften the bump feel we stiffened both compression and rebound damping by the same amount, which yielded a softer feeling. To make the fork act stiffer, backing off on the compression and rebound had an effect. Additionally, stiffening of either the compression or especially the rebound side would control the ride height feeling of the bike as if you were raising or lowering the forks in the clamps.
Off-road we ran what KTM calls the sport setting on the fork which is 12-13 clicks out from full stiff on compression and rebound or roughly 5 clicks stiffer than standard. On the shock we ran about 5 clicks lighter on the compression. These numbers were taken from where we were happiest on the MX track and it really gave the bike a much nicer overall feel. For the most part the fork has lost the spike it previously had and seemed to gain a little bottoming resistance. The ride is firm but for most conditions it is just this side of being too stiff as to cause the front end to deflect.
We did experience an issue with the rear shock, both on a bike at the introduction and with this test bike where the shock’s piston ring band seized and caused the bike to act like the rebound adjuster was locked all the way in. The issue occurred both times within the first hours when the shock got very hot on a cold day (or was run across a stream in cold water.) Our test bike’s shock was rebuilt with a new ring band with a little less tolerance and has been fine ever since. This is the kind of incident that would be covered under warranty. We inquired about this being an issue and according to KTM it has not been.
Chassis - Handling
- The light weight of the bike can get overcome by the excessive horsepower.
- Nothing this powerful acts this light.
- A very well balanced package. Bikes like this can get wicked, this KTM is not.
If there was ever a light off-road 450, the XC-F sets new standards. At 245-pounds with a full 2.2-gallon tank, it puts the bike right at 232 pounds without fuel. This is just three pounds heavier than the 350 XC-F on the scale. And it feels this light any time you move it around. But any time you propel the 450 around with the throttle--that light feeling gets replaced with the weight of power. This is mostly a good thing, as long as you are pointed where you want to go. The sensation stays pretty light for the most part but when you get the engine revving it does pick up inertial weight and really gains stability at the same time.
This is where, depending on the rider and the conditions, the 450 power can become too much. As fun as having too much can be, it can be an issue if you are trying to go fast. On the motocross track this was never a problem until the track became really rough or the rider became tired. Off-road, the tighter the conditions or the smaller and lighter the rider, the more a KTM 350 starts becoming a logical choice.
This 450 has a neutral handling character meaning it will track the front wheel or slide willingly and transition between sliding or tracking very easily. All it takes is a little rider weight transfer and the bike responds. Being very thin and roomy helps this out a lot. This KTM and it’s flat layout makes it simple to move around on. The footpegs have grip and there are plenty of places on the side of the bike to bite in with knees and ankles, yet things to get caught up on. We don’t even have any complaints about the seat. The gas tank may be a little wider than the SX but none of our riders complained. Especially when they had 1/4 tank left and guys on motocross bikes were bone dry. One hour GP races are not an issue and 50 miles on the tank under most conditions isn't a problem. Sometimes the sticky push-button cap is, especially on a cold day with frozen fingers.
The chassis has a very minimal amount of vibration for such a light machine and the rubber-mounted upper bar mount seems to really help. The bar mount can be rotated to give a more roomy rider position too. The KTM’s clutch and front brake levers are easily adjustable for engagement position without tools and they stay tight feeling and new for a long time in our experience. The ODI clamp on grip and throttle tube add another level of quality onto the over-sized tapered bar.
We had a KTM Hardparts skidplate mounted on the bike for all of the testing to protect the frame rails and the cases as we can get abusive in our testing process. It did its job so well we feel the bike should come with one of these standard. The handguards are just stiff enough to be worthwhile too. The kickstand is there when you need it and it never gets in the way. Out back the 18-inch rear wheel takes some of the sting and stiffness out of the ride as well but you can also feel it bounce a little but when compared to a 19" on the track. The standard Dunlop AT81s are great for wear but they do not really help the bump feel in our experience and we know of some tire choices that could really aid the off-road bump compliance. On the track a different tread pattern would help in another way but the tires are doing their job of being an all-around choice. The O-ring chain that wears well, bonus. We never had to even put a spoke wrench on the wheels either.
If there are any gripes with the bike we’d start with the fuel line coming out of the tank and how vulnerable is seems swinging in the wind waiting for a branch to grab it. Also the exhaust note is very barky and loud when you crack the throttle. It is acceptable for MX track use, but just. Off-road we recommend you get something quieter which is mandated for most that need a spark arrestor since this muffler is not labeled as one even if there is a baffle inside. We lost a brake pedal spring during testing and this really amplified the stalling problem if you want to see how small things cause bigger problems.
Working on the bike is simple. The new air filter is pretty much idiot proof but then again we are dirt bike riders so maybe someone can screw it up. The click-in design is brilliant and has little chance of mis-indexing. Changing the oil, cleaning the screens and replacing the filters is simple. We expect the durability of the motor to be very high as has been the case with all the KTMs we have spent a long time with.
If there was one way of summing up the character of this KTM is to say that the throttle determines how this bike handles. Be smooth and the it is controlled and light. Get too aggressive and it feels like it gains weight and starts to take control. Heavier riders who need the power and the torque can get away the extra the 450 XC-F offers but for sure but the chassis, no matter how good it is, is controlled by the motor.
- Can you suppress your need for power?
- May not be as versatile as some of the other KTM XCs but we can't say we didn't love it.
- Could be the best motocross bike for a bigger group of riders that are willing to admit it.
The KTM 450XC-F is a hard bike to hate. In fact we really like it. But there are a few things you must consider to make sure it's the right choice. For trail riding it's a monster. Though the suspension is softer than a motocross bike and the bike is light, the motor is still 100% moto which makes it feel like a bull in a china shop compared to a ride like a KTM XC-W. But when you take a 450 SX off-road the XC-F feels buttery in comparison. For races where you rarely get above third gear, you’ll fight the power more than you’ll ever use it. If you can get the throttle more than half-way open in the bottom three gears without spinning profusely or looping out, you might be a hero or weight 300-pounds. And for fast Western racing where you can use the power we see a little re-gearing in the future to give the XC-F more legs on top and some needed spread in the gearbox.
At $9999.00 we've tapped pretty hard on the ten-grand door with a dirt bike. But the performance you get is insane and the added versatility of this bike can help justify the price. KTM not only established this competition off-road racing market they have owned it the whole time. Now with Yamaha taking a serious poke at this segment last year in the 250F class and in 2016 in both two-stroke and soon with the YZ450FX, plus brands like Beta and Husqvarna trying to stake a claim, there are buyers out there and competition to be had on the sales floor too.
Where the 450 XC-F really shines is as a motocross bike for an average rider, better than the straight-up motocross offerings from other brands as well. It is a bike that that can still do all of the above mentioned off-road riding with a small asterisk next to each discipline. As a do-all XC bike, DBT feels that the KTM 350XC-F or even the 300XC have a wider range of duty. But who are we to tell you that this bike is just plain too powerful for just about everyone.
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