2019 KTM 350 EXC-F First Riding Impression

KTM’s Mid-Sized Dual-Purpose Machine: 2019 350 EXC-F

Photos by Heather Lewis

The war is ongoing with fronts on many frontiers. KTM is on the front line with the 2019 KTM 350 EXC-F. Making a machine that fights battles between power and handling, against ruthless regulations and of course other brands with a similar conquering spirit. Consumers are the real winners here as spectators in this battle. However, sometimes they struggle with so many choices not even knowing what each offering brings to the table — let alone what they are really needing for their task list.

The face of dual-purpose or dual sport has changed so many times over the years. In the beginning dirt bikes evolved from road-going bikes. Then as dirt bikes and motorcycles in general became more specialized, the need for a blended bike birthed a true dual-purpose machine. Another round of specialization and then the segment was redefined with dirt riders looking for a dirt bike with minimal required legal necessities. Finally, legal necessities took a lot of that dirt bike character away with weighty emissions and mandated road-going equipment. Different manufacturers use many methods and interpretations of the rules so today’s dual-purpose bikes are not only more confusing, they are truly more capable. Some, like this KTM, are expected to replace the company’s four-stoke off-road only bikes

Our video gives you a great first impression of the 350 EXC-F and shows how stoked we are on the bike. We will do some more comparisons and maybe even a full test and modification story on the machine as time permits. But if you don’t like watching videos and want a bullet point written version, we’ll give that to you too. (Like always, it’s loaded with more facts than you will get anyplace else.)

What we liked:

-Light weight! The scale showed 252 pounds full of gas with Michelin AC10 knobbies and the included rim locks installed.

-Great fuel economy. We averaged over 35 MPG in normal dual-sport and trail riding so the roughly 2-gallon tank is pretty good for 65-70 miles, sometimes even more. It can go down with aggressive soft terrain riding but not by much.

-The seat is grippy and actually cushy in comparison to the older one.

-Super quiet, maybe too quiet. Our bike had an optional KTM Hardparts skid-plate added and between the silent exhaust and the sound reflecting off the plate it almost sounds like the bearings are getting loose. Trust us, they are not. We checked the oil filter for any signs.

-Nimble handling. When KTM says they are going after the handling character of a 250F, they were not kidding. Even when revving this engine, the bike stays light feeling and the chassis flickable with light steering feel. Almost to a fault as some commented they felt slight instability and would like a steering damper.  Usually after riding other bikes, not KTMs.

-Way better torque than the previous KTM 350 engine. If there was an improvement, it is in how much torque this bike has and you don’t hear it or really “feel” it. You just learn to trust it. We know some of that is related to the reed block in the intake that is there for sound deadening, but in the RPM ranges most of us ride in, the bike has “tug.” There is also the tighter and lower gear ratios, but in stock form it is surprising if you trust it.

-Plenty of ways to grow. KTM has an extensive aftermarket following to make the 350 EXC-F anything you want it to be. You can bling it out, adventure tour it, and even make it a closed course race bike if you prefer the PDS linkageless suspension setup. It isn’t so much of a street bike that these possibilities don’t exist.

-The best suspension possible. For its intended use, to be an aggressive off-road trail bike, KTM and WP hit it out of the park with the settings on the suspension. An increased front fork spring rate and some revised settings keep us loving this bike’s suspenders and it makes us think KTM has slipped in the stiffer fork spring into our last year’s test bike because we liked it a lot then too. Yes, too soft for racing but you are not going to find a more compliant setup with such safety in bottoming built in.

-Easy to work on. Once you do the basics on this KTM, you will find it a chore to work on almost any other brand. It seems like KTM designers have all had to maintain their own bikes over time and they didn’t forget that when placing air filters and oil changing locations and access.

What we didn’t like:

-The rear fender/license plate cluster is floppy and junky. It will get sucked into the tire — it’s only a matter of time. We trimmed ours to delay the inevitable. The price of light weight!

-Black rims look good but scratch easily. But the wheels held up great and spokes didn’t loosen.

-Stock tires provide a good street ride and are on the bike because they are quiet. Replace them with some real knobbies before you find out the hard way they are only 50% capable off-road.

-We would honestly like to see a wider spread in the transmission, specifically a taller, more overdrive-like sixth gear. As for now it is basically a half to a full gear lower in ratio compared to other bikes. If you do a roll-on with even a 450cc or 500cc bike in the same gear, the KTM 350 pulls the other bike in the beginning then runs out of gear. So 3rd on another bike is like 4th on the 350. Plush it tops pout at 88 MPH by hitting the rev limiter.

-Here is what KTM has to say about their bike but it seems they are more ready to sell you some power parts than give you some real specs: https://www.ktm.com/us/enduro/350-exc-f/

-My bike cost me $11,000! Ouch, but you get what you pay for. MSRP is $10,799 but find one for that out the door and you are doing well!

Want to know more? Ask questions in the comments below and we will try and answer the quality ones.

More questions right now? Check out the full test on the very similar 2018 KTM 350 EXC-F by clicking here

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