2017 KTM 450XC-F

Motorariffic!

MSRP: $10,099

Roost
  • KTM's horsepower factory of a 450cc off-road racer.
  • A very light weight bike that sometimes even acts light.
  • Secret weapon motocross bike for those not racing intermediate or above.
Endo
  • Power can make even a light bike feel heavy.
  • Yikes, did you say $10,000?
  • Now there are competition choices so the KTM isn't the only game in town.

Credits

  • Writer: Jimmy Lewis
  • Photographer: Drew Ruiz, Jimmy Lewis

Introduction

  • Straight up KTM SX with proper off-road goodies installed.

Take a KTM 450SX, swap to an 18ʺ rear wheel, larger capacity fuel tank, change to slightly more plush suspension compared to the full-motocross bike, add a kickstand and you have a 2017 450 XC-F. KTM says the XC-F is a closed course off-road racing bike and we agree. We referred to it as motocross-light in last year’s test but KTM kept playing with the machine for ‘17. We got our hands on the 2017 mostly to compare it to the new Honda CRF450RX and updated Yamaha YZ450FX and rode all three bikes at the track, trails and in the desert for an upcoming comparison. The big question, for whom and what task is the KTM 450XC-F designed and built specifically for?

"The big question, for whom and what task is the KTM 450XC-F designed and built specifically for?"

Changes

  • New WP air front fork.
  • Igntion mapping switch with traction control.

Starting with the ’15 KTM Factory Edition or what was the standard 2016 450 SX, KTM did their XC makeover. Compared to the ’15 XC-F, the 2016 450 XC-F was all new and the ‘17 received revisions. The biggest change is the swap to the WP 48 AER fork. Saying goodbye to the 4CS fork and dropping a few pounds in the process, yes please!. Also new for 2017 is the traction control or ignition map switch button with four settings.

"The biggest change is the swap to the WP 48 AER fork."

Power

  • Yes, it has too much!
  • Ignition mapping and traction control are great and on-the-fly switchable.
  • We wish it had a six-speed or a wider spread of the gears.

Most of the info here is identical to the impression we had in 2016, but even in that some stuff got better. The power seemed to get much better on top for 2017 but this test bike also had more time on it when we got it. As we rode it more and more, it got faster and faster. When we gave it back at 40-hours it was revving much more free and felt like it was making all of 60 horsepower. Plus choosing the right mapping setting was very helpful depending on conditions. The button is easy to use and can be done on the fly.

The first advice we might offer up is to always keep a finger on the clutch when riding the XC-F. It's a torque machine and wants to hook up and go. 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. It doesn't have flywheel induced torque, it is the piston just wanting to push the bike. 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 only 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 new lithium battery and in cold weather it needs to be warmed, or given time to build up to full power for a good crank. It never failed but we are keen to how LI batteries function. With no kickstarter for less weight, no options for even having one you have to pay attention to battery health. 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 (See Tech post). 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 ready 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, which is where it tops out at on the rev limiter with with stock gearing. Yes, this is a full 15 MPH slower than the 350 XC-F we tested. 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. Watch the clutch damping rubbers as well. They are a wear part and we’d recommend checking them every 20-hours. Shifting is excellent and really gets better with time and a few oil changes. We played quite a bit with the mapping switch and it is pretty amazing, especially the aggressive map when traction is optimal. The traction control setting really works when the rider gets sloppy (or the ground for that matter) and can really help who are too spin happy.

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. 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.

"The engine does not hit and spin, it hooks up and wants to go. It does not have flywheel induced torque, it is the piston just wanting to push the bike."

Suspension

  • The air fork is a big improvement over the 4CS in 2016.
  • Stiff for off-road but great for a lot of moto riders.
  • Balanced and easy to adjust for personal preferences.

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 bikes. The KTM holds itself up in the stroke and lets the rider feel the ground and all of its imperfection. It moves easier initially in the stroke than an SX would and then feels as if it has less high-speed compression and rebound damping. 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 jump faces. Adding a little bit of air (1 PSI) to the fork and a few clicks of compression made the XC-F more balanced.

The improvement from the 48 AER fork is huge. Small bump compliance is much improved compared to 2016 without having the rest of the damping or bottoming resistance suffering. The clickers are responsive and seem to affect the low speed damping much more than the 4CS adjuster did. Adjustment also works deeper into the mid-speed bump damping than on most forks. This is the best air fork on the market, yet simple too and just one chamber to fill. Remember air pressure is like spring rate so it isn’t really something you will change much once you find your setting. We had zero pressure loss in the fork, even if the bike sat for over a week. Yet out of habit we checked it before each ride. Some riders are just opposed to air forks period for a number of reasons, mostly because of what they have heard (not felt) and because it is one more thing you have to check before riding. There is a payoff or punishment for everything, we don't mind checking the air pressure in exchange for the weigh loss in the front end and especially the better feel.

"Like the addition of the map switch button to the engine, the improvement of the 48 AER fork to the chassis is huge."

Chassis - Handling

  • Light and heavy at the same time. Light on the scale and in the air, heavy with power.
  • The fork lets the chassis shine and the rider gets feel and confidence.
  • One of the best built and most durable machines out there.

With a full 2.2-gallon tank of fuel it puts the XC-F at 241 pounds, without fuel 230, suffice it to say the KTM is very light. Yet any time you propel most 450s 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 in the right direction. When the Katoom's engine starts revving, it does pick up inertial weight, more than other 450s, because it starts out with a litter feeling. A bonus is it really gains stability at the same time, and for a bike so agile it is also very stable.

This is where, depending on the rider and the conditions, a 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 is never a problem until the track becomes really rough or the rider starts to tire. Off-road, the tighter the conditions or the smaller and lighter the rider, the more a KTM 350, for instance, starts becoming a logical choice. Yet running this 450 in the less aggressive map position with the traction control on, is much less a hand full when you twist the throttle fast.

The 450 XC-F has a neutral handling character, meaning it will track the front wheel or slide willingly, and not to mention the transition between sliding or tracking is very seamless and very easily. For 2017 the front end feels much lighter and to some a little less stable at times, mostly when on the gas enough to lighten or lift the front. But as soon as that sensation is trusted, the rider is often very happy.  

Just a little rider weight transfer and the bike responds. Having a very thin and roomy chassis helps this a lot. The footpegs have grip and there are plenty of places on the side of the bike to bite in with knees and ankles, and not many things to get caught up on. We don’t even have any complaints about the seat, unless you are heavy and sit near the back, then you might feel frame rails or the seat base. 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 while 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. However, sometimes the sticky push-button gas 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.

A skidplate is about the only thing this bike is lacking in stock trim. The handguards are just stiff enough to be worthwhile but are not wrap around strong. The kickstand is there when you need it and it never gets in the way. 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, it also makes the bike feel just a little bit heavier too. The standard Dunlop AT81s are great for wear. The tires are doing their job of being an all-around choice. The O-ring chain wears well and the sprockets are excellent for standard equipment. We never had to even put a spoke wrench on the wheels either though we know these bikes are prepped properly before we receive them like you should expect from a good dealer.

KTM addressed the fuel line in the older models with a 90-degree angle out of the tank making it less vulnerable to damage. And it seems the brittle brake pedal return spring has also been addressed. If there are any gripes with the bike we’d start with the exhaust note being 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.

The brakes are pretty strong but we will tell you KTM has been working on control. Thought the parts are the same, changes to pad material and positioning and length of the rear brake pedal, for instance, have made the binders a little less aggressive. depending on the rider this was seen as an improvement or a loss of power. Typically those comfortable to older KTM brakes missed the more grabby nature but riders off of other brands were still pretty impressed with the power. Another note is how easy it is to adjust the lever and pedal position to get it just right.

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 as well. We expect the durability of the motor to be very high, this has been the case with the KTMs we have spent a long time with. Especially wear items like pistons, valves, clutch baskets, this stuff lasts as long as any make out there and in our experience may be at the top of the game.

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 XC feels controlled and light. Get too aggressive and the XC feels like it gains weight and starts to take control. Heavier riders who need the power and the torque can get away the extra power the 450 XC-F offers but for sure. However, the chassis, no matter how good it is, is controlled by the motor.

"The chassis, no matter how good it is, is controlled by the motor."

Conclusion

  • Could be the perfect bike for you?
  • Finally facing some serious competition in a hot market segment.

The KTM 450XC-F is a hard-core race bike heavy on motocross with a sprinkling of off-road. We really like it and the trend of these bikes popularity is growing. But there are a few things you must consider to make sure it's the right choice. For trail riding it's a monster like any of the new crop of racing based off-road four-strokes. Though the suspension is softer than a motocrosser and it's light, there is still an issue. The motor is still 100% moto and aggressive which makes it feel like a bull in a china shop compared to a ride like a KTM EXC or a proper trail bike. But if you take a KTM 450 SX off-road (or any MX 450) the XC-F feels buttery in comparison but there is still a fire-breather of an engine in there. 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’re really using what this bike has, or just a hero rider. 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 $10,099.00 we've hit 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 segment they have owned it until now. Serious competition is coming in hot. Where the 450 XC-F really shines in our opinion is as a motocross bike for an average rider, better than the straight-up motocross offerings from other brands as well. But it isn’t afraid or ill equipped to go off-road.

"The 2017 KTM 450XC-F is a hard core race bike heavy on motocross with a sprinkling of off-road. "

Recent Product Tests

What Others Said

A fair assessment of the KTM in video form from Dirt Rider.
http://www.dirtrider.com/2017-ktm-450-xc-f-2017-dirt-rider-450f-off-road-shootout-video
Another video from Dirt Bike Magazine (so you don't have to read) with some nuggets and specs.
https://youtu.be/vg1hRSdJTqY