KTM has decided it is time to define its model lines even further and make a bold statement with a type of bike that only it produces. The idea is to make the XC line a benchmark so lofty that riders converting to motocross bikes or pumping up trail bikes have something to shoot for. While at it, KTM has quite possibly developed the ultimate GNCC/hare scramble/grand prix race bike, a machine most riders will find is perfect on the track and an acceptable trail bike. It is the bike a lot of us try to build, a sort of “do-all machine” that doesn’t suffer anyplace-at least, not suffer much.All-new for 2008 and based heavily off of the ’07 SX, the 450 XC-F has a much more serious mission statement than DR’s 2006 Bike of the Year. The chassis is straight-up SX with the large-section oval chrome-moly tubing first seen on ’07 motocross models, and it houses a motor that is very similar to the electric-start-only ’07 450cc motocross engine. But stuffed inside is a five-speed tranny (one more gear than the SX, but one less than the previous XC). Tuned differently than its motocross brother, the XC has an exhaust cam timing that is revised for added bottom to mid power and matched to a lighter crank that has more inertia combined with a lighter balance shaft. This all makes for a more off-road-worthy power delivery. The engine is brought to life by the EXC-size battery for stronger and longer cranking power, and KTM changed the clutch so it’s fed more oil, which helps keep engine temperatures down. There is also a dual-map ignition activated by disconnecting a wire near the radiator.Suspension duties are still handled by a PDS WP linkageless shock and a sealed cartridge fork with settings developed specifically for the longer courses the bike is intended to race. Hence the bike is sold as a closed-course competition model without a spark arrestor, so if you install a spark arrestor that is 96 decibels or less, you can ride it in most places on public land or during “red sticker” time in California.We hooked up with KTM at Lake Elsinore MX Park on a warm afternoon for our first ride on the bike and to shake down any jetting issues that might arise from a bike fresh out of the crate. None did. In fact, the bike ripped like it had been set up specifically for this track. Straight away, the power is impressive. Smooth right from the bottom, it pulls like a full-on factory race motor in style, meaning a consistently building strong pull that revs forever and doesn’t really sign off nor hit a rev-limiter. It is only differentiated from an unobtainable race motor in the outright amount of power. This sweet power is blessed with a five-speed tranny that we’d describe as medium-spaced ratios. And with the power spread this wide and strong, it easily pulls the load and gets a lot of work out of each gear, as you’d expect a four-stroke to do.Next on the list is the light feel of the bike. It is every bit as light in feel as any 450cc MX four-stroke. That means flickable, where it is easy to move the bike around on the ground or in the air. And it grabs an amazing amount of traction-the front bite is good, but it is better in the rear. Turning is very neutral, and the bike gives solid feedback, bonus to the Bridgestone tires. On the motocross track, the suspension gets the job done and then some. It seems KTM has found a way to keep the bike stiff enough on jumps, landings and when bouncing through whoops so you don’t suffer one bit on the track. We tackled all of the supercross-style jumps-camelback, rhythm and step-up-that send bikes with any type of off-road setup running scared. Simply put, this bike is not afraid of the track one bit and is even better than ’07′s SX for 90 percent of riders out there. The motor is better for sure. Every one who rode the XC found the riding accommodations slim, smooth and roomy, but the seat foam is a bit thin, so don’t get too comfortable.Next we took it out and rode it on a long, beat and fast outdoor track in central California that would be exactly what you’d come across in a WORCS race. The bike repeated its Elsinore excellence and put an exclamation point on everything we felt at the MX park. This track’s bumps were irregular, and the dirt went from sand to hardpack from turn to turn. Traction was easy to find with the smooth power, plus it launched when needed but was always in control. The stability never came into question, and it was easy to keep the front end light with the long-winded power. These two riding stops confirmed that KTM hit the target it was shooting for with the XC setting. Brakes are the standard stronger-than-anything-else KTM issue; you’ll likely get used to them and feel everything else is weak.Next we loaded up the bike and drove much farther north, all the way to Idaho to ride it in the St. Anthony Sand Dunes. Here, we’d be able to use every ounce of power and see what kind of legs the gearbox really has. Power was plentiful and would pull the bike anywhere and everywhere it needed to go. Due to the elevation, the bike was starting to get a little blubbery on the bottom and needed a slight jetting change, as we planned on going up high in the mountains the next day. On the dunes, we tortured the bike with repeated hillclimbs, and it never spit a noticeable amount of coolant, although we did get the gas to boil in the tank.Our next test was to push the design envelope of the bike and take it on trails. Jetting was in order as was the addition of an FMF Q4 spark arrestor. We dropped the needle two positions leaner, went from a 185 to a 175 main jet, went from a 42 to a 38 pilot and added a Scotts Performance (www.scottsonline.com) T-handle fuel screw averaging in the neighborhood of two turns out. This made the bike just a bit lean at 5000 feet, but it ran clean to nearly 10,000 feet. On faster, flowing and easier trails, the bike is just fine. It is plush, and you can use the power effectively. But as you get into the tighter and much more technical single-track, the bike is definitely pushing the limit. Compared to more of a trail-focused bike like the Kawasaki KLX, which we had along with us, the KTM isn’t nearly as plush. The KTM is better than a full MXer on the trail since it has a midspeed soft spot that lets it blow through the stroke on just the type of hit where MX suspension would deflect and abuse you. Also, the gearing isn’t low enough in first to easily (without clutch) get through the really nasty stuff. The KTM wants to go fast, sometimes too fast, so some fancy clutch work comes in handy. And this clutch abuse (the clutch took it) gives the cooling system a workout; the bike can and will steam on the really difficult and long trail sections. The power can be just a bit too much, almost getting snappy when you pick up the rpm any higher than just off the bottom. On the roads, we never really missed the sixth speed. Ask those who do the last time they were wide open in fifth. There was never anything the KTM couldn’t do on the trail. In fact, the torque of the engine right off the bottom is really strong and impressive, but there are much better bikes for a more trail-biased rider.That trail-biased rider is below where KTM’s 2008 XC-W line will aim, but we just had to find out. Even on a bike with no lights, no odometer and not even a kickstarter, we had to address the trail manners. At least the XC has a kickstand, now with a bigger foot, so it doesn’t sink so easily in soft ground.The real test of the bike was when we loaned it to a local Idaho riding buddy to take to the MX track for a night practice. Impressed with the bike on the day’s trail ride, he brought it back later that evening, after comparing it back to back with his 2007 450 SX, and said, “I’m buying one.”Thus far, the KTM 250 XC is my favorite 2008 model from the boys in orange. It makes smooth power, yet the mellow hit is so versatile that you feel like you can do anything. I believe that I speak for all two-stroke fans: The KTM 250 is a prime example of why mixed gas is not obsolete.
5’10″/155 lb/IntermediateThis is the KTM with the best pound-to-horsepower ratio. Nothing beats the two-stroke power and pop. The vulnerable pipe is the only two-stroke drawback. You’re going to come back with a dent or two!
5’8″/167 lb/Vet proI felt physically comfortable the second I got on the KTM 250 XC. The suspension is literally ready to race, and the bike never got out of control, no matter what gear it is in or how hard I push it. I really like KTM’s “stealth” style.
5’10″/155 lb/ExpertIt is no surprise that this 250 XC is such a hot property in tight and technical woods racing. The engine is so willing and tractable, it all but does the riding for you. It feels as light as air. For trails, the suspension is too hard.
-Karel Kramer/6’1″/210 lb/B riderKTM’s 300 engine is fast as hell! KTM did a good job making sure no one would say the 250 and 300 feel like the same bike. On slippery trails, the bike was hard to ride because of so much low-rpm grunt.
-Chris Dvoracek/5’10″/155 lb/ExpertI’m pumped on the 250 XC, but the 300 still seems a bit awkward to me. The power is great for fast sections, but the extra horsepower is like an excited host that keeps offering serving after serving of a filling meal. The 300 XC forced me to politely decline on more than one occasion. I was nicely surprised at the chassis’ ability to not wear me out.
-Chris Denison/5’10″/155 lb/IntermediateDvoracek’s lost it on this one. KTM’s 300 is a perfect two-stroke and more than 50cc better than a 250cc. It does require more throttle control. I’d prefer the more trail-friendly 300 XC-W, but I’d roost on any KTM 300.
6’1″/210 lb/B riderI got on the KTM 250 XC-F expecting horsepower like a trail bike, but this bike builds power quickly, it has smooth delivery and it hauls! I could pound any size whoops and hit G-outs without a problem. I never found a spot in the rpm range where I wanted more power.
5’10″/155 lb/ExpertThe ’08 250 XC-F is lighter, faster, turns better and has much better low-rpm urge than the 2007 model. Most 250F riders are light, and considering that fact, the suspension is too stiff for technical trails, but the bike rocks for a mix of moto, WORCS/GNCC and trail use.
6’1″/210 lb/B riderThe 250 XC-F was a lot of fun to ride, especially at the end of the day. It felt about 40 pounds lighter than the 450, and after a long day of trail riding, when all your buddies are pooping out on you, you can look like a hero with lots more energy!
-Tod Sciacqua5’8″/167 lb/Vet pro