Breaking In The Pumpkin
Story by Trevor Hunter, Photos by Craig Hunter/Nicholas Baehr
2020 is in full swing and that means we’ve got our hands on 2020 models like the KTM 250 XC-F. The guys down at 3 Brothers Racing, the nation’s largest KTM and Husqvarna dealer in unit sales, helped us out with the bike and we had the chance to ride it a few weeks back to get an initial impression.
For 2020, changes were minimal. The most notable change is the “switch” from the AER 48 fork and shock to WP’s XACT components. The fork is still an air fork and most of the internals are the same front and rear between the two components, but WP felt they made a big enough change to rename the line of suspension. To see the full list of changes to KTM’s 2020 model range, click HERE. And to see our 2019 250cc Off-Road Comparison where the 250 XC-F, Honda’s 250RX, and Yamaha’s 250FX go head-to-head, click HERE:
The 250F class is often dominated by a strong motor package and KTM is bringing a competitive platform to the small bore class. With no changes from last year, it runs as we’d expect it too. The katoom has a decent bottom and enough torque to get by, but as the RPMs build, the motor comes to life. Similar to the bigger KTM four-strokes, it has a very linear powerband where there are no big surges or drop offs, but a strong climb from bottom to top where you seemingly never can find the rev limiter. Our rule of thumb aboard this bike is when you think you need to shift, count to three. At that moment you’ll find the magic in the 250 XC-F motor. In the transmission, KTM uses a semi-close ratio 6-speed gearbox with 1-5 being evenly spaced before a large jump up to 6th. The sixth gear feels like one from a wide-ratio tranny plopped into a close ratio five-speed and it’ll be tough to pull it in most cases, especially with the dependency to rev the bike out.
Setting up suspension on an off-road bike is nearly impossible from a manufacteurs standpoint. The same bike is being bought and ridden by riders hitting Baja whoops at 90MPH+ and splitting trees at a local enduro in Mississippi at 10MPH. Two very different scenarios that require two very different suspension settings. Often, OEM’s will cater to the east coast based crowd since they represent the majority, and truthfully, many western off-roaders can and do rely on MX models for their racing needs due to the similarities between the two disciplines.
On our 2019 250 XC two-stroke, the suspension was set as expected — for a GNCC type setting. However, KTM is attacking the four-stroke class with a little stiffer setup. The WP XACT components have a stiffer nature on this bike and were able to handle faster, rougher sections that we might typically see on one of our rides in SoCal. We ran the sag at 107mm which is something I grew to like more than the typical 105mm for a little more stability and to help keep the rear end lower upon corner entrance albeit slowing the steering a bit. Additionally, the fork air pressure was run at the standard 9.8 bar, or 142 psi, and we rode it. During testing, no significant changes were made. We traveled from the deserts of Barstow to the moto and off-road portions of Cahuilla Creek MX and never felt the need to change clickers or air pressure. The fork has some harshness to it, but we weren’t able to tune it out without sacrificing bottoming on harder hits in our little time on the bike. We’re going to continue putting in the time on this bike to remedy this feeling and find a good happy-medium.
The KTM rules the scales and it’s felt out on the track and trails — for better or for worse. The bike is very nimble and agile, almost 125cc two-stroke like. Pair the weight with a thin cockpit/layout and the bike will change directions or maneuver in the blink of an eye. At times it is welcomed, and at other times it is not. The bike suffers a little bit on square edges and small harsh chop where a bigger, heavier bike will not react as much due to its weight keeping it planted. Still, we don’t have any real complaints. Cockpit wise, it’s fairly neutral, and smaller riders can get along with the rider triangle and lower bar bend that’s been around for a few years now. Of course, the brakes work as well as any and the hydraulic clutch feels and works as it should.
Overall, the 2020 KTM 250 XC-F isn’t much different from its 2019 version, though changes weren’t all that needed. It has a strong engine package that favors the aggressive, high revving riders in a class where a motor plays a critical role in the bikes success. Additionally, the suspension setup follows suit where its stiffer nature tends to agree with being ridden at a faster pace. Though it suffers at times when absorbing those quick, sudden hits as it’s willing to dance and move around. We’ve had great luck with KTM’s durability in the past and we don’t see any reason why this bike won’t live up to that reputation. Stay tuned as we continue to test this bike and throw some parts on to improve/change the character of the 250 XC-F in the coming months.
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