KTM can’t believe its luck. It has basically been handed the off-road two-stroke market with little, if any, competition. But instead of pumping out the same old bikes with years-old technology, the Austrian company keeps the development coming. And 2008 is a huge leap for every aspect of its off-road two-stroke lineup, including a feature that many don’t even feel is necessary: electric starting.The first thing you want to know is how much weight did the starter and battery add to the bike. Well, the scale tells us one thing, but riding the bike will tell you another. Without gas the bike weighs 227 pounds. KTM claims that only six of those pounds are directly related to the electric starter. But the chassis dropped two pounds compared to last year. Our ’07 250 XC was right near 220, so the XC-W(e) is a bit heavier despite the lighter chassis. Go ahead, tough guy, say you’d rather kick it. We didn’t have one rider who’d trade the button for the weight loss. Electric starting rules! To be honest, during the testing we were switching between the 300 and various four-strokes, so the E-start two-stroke always felt remarkably light. But you can always get a straight kickstart-only XC because KTM seems to cover everybody. The electric start is an option for the XC.The chassis was a huge step forward for the off-road XC-Ws. It takes the newfound stiffness from the SX and translates that into better off-road handling. Combined with a suspension setup aimed at an aggressive single-track rider, KTM is building the bike for which hard-core trail hounds are begging. It is not a track-ridable bike like the straight XC, yet the W designation on the end should mean single-track. It’s a setup that works in a national enduro condition as opposed to a GNCC race. Why? Those two types of riding are completely different and take totally different valving inside the suspension. Fork action this plush also required a different type of fork than the XC (and the SX) uses. The XC has a sealed-cartridge design with the compression adjusters on the top, and the W models require the open cartridge setup with the compression adjusters on the bottom of the fork legs. For relatively low-speed rock and root hits, the open cartridge fork works better. And as KTMs are sold as ready to race, the casual-to-serious trail rider is on a bike that was designed to compete at the highest level of its sport if asked to do so, but at the same time is trail compliant. The next step softer for suspension is usually to a dual-sport bike or a foo-foo trailbike. Good thing they got it right. Naturally stiffer than a dual-sport bike, the 300 XC-W(e) blows through the stroke when it needs to and also holds itself up when necessary by getting the high-and-low speed sensitivity right. By having the right spring rates, the bike stays up in the stroke and has a very light stance on its wheels. Hitting choppy bumps, like roots and rocks, the bike blows into the stroke so it doesn’t deflect. On rolling bumps, like whoops and water bars, for instance, the 300 has enough valving to keep the bike from bottoming and then on the jump landings it absorbs and slows down the suspension so it doesn’t slam to the bottom. If you hit motocross-style jumps, the XC-W will use up too much of the stroke on the takeoffs and landings, therefore feeling wallowy on the track. And it will bottom way too much. But on the trail this is a supple ride. Our only complaint is that there’s a moderate amount of feeling transmitted through the bike, mostly through the bar compared to other bikes. Some riders like the KTM letting them know what the ground feels like, often it’s something that you get used to if you spend more than just a brief ride on a KTM. But it isn’t a dead-feeling bike by any means, it’s light and agile all the time. Plus, the overall suspension action does improve with time and miles. Unfortunately, the seat still stinks.The handling has taken a leap forward, making the old bike feel a little lazy. The 2008 searches out traction, especially in the front compared to the old bike. It’s as light as ever in the steering, and with the new seat and tank it’s simple to move around on. There’s also plenty to grip. Bigger riders find the KTM roomy and average-size pilots fit perfectly. It also seems the bike acts lighter and is easier to lift the front wheel off the ground as well. It packs 2.9 gallons of gas in an MX-thin package, has the simple, no-tools access to the air filter with styling that everyone seems adapted to now. Oh, the rear fender isn’t the best for lifting the bike onto a stand, but the XCs come with a kickstand.
On to the power. Well, the 300 has been a favorite of the larger guys and torque lovers forever, and that will not change. If anything, the downfall of this bike has been fuel economy and picky jetting. KTM has done a pretty good job of cleaning up the bottom-end jetting, keeping that lug factor clean and responsive. But we found that the bike is susceptible to altitude changes, and it takes a bit of tuning to get it set up for different applications. Since the W designation in the name truly stands for “wide,” as in wide-ratio gearbox, this is the bike you’d use if running out in the desert, going fast. Stock jetting will work here and you’ll have no fear of seizing the bike. But if you hit the first- and second-gear trails, another place the W shines with its lower first- and second-gear ratios, then leaning out the needle and pilot jet might be a good idea. We dropped two sizes on the pilot and two clip positions on the needle and dropped the main jet a size leaner and found insanely clean-lugging power. The fuel economy jumped as well; we got over 65 hard miles on a tank at 5000-8000 feet. But we also paid the price with a classic four-corners seizure when racing against our test 530 XC-W(R) for miles at a time in the low desert to see which was faster. And believe it or not, the 300 and its tall fifth gear were dead-nuts even with the 530 in top speed, the 300 slightly faster in acceleration.The power is always smooth and builds rpm just a bit slower than a 250. It feels like a 250 with a flywheel weight added most of the time, but when it’s tasked with grunting out of something, that is when you know the bike is a 300. It holds its rpm and pulls noticeably harder. There isn’t a whole lot of snap out of this motor, and if you’re looking for that we’d suggest the 250; the 300 gets it done with torque. Up on top the bike revs out, and mirrors a similar performance level of an MX 250 in terms of overall horsepower.What more do you need? The KTM has insane brakes. A trick little odometer/speedometer sits behind the number plate, and it’s pretty easy to mount up lights. There is, after all, a battery. Plus, there are the wires, too, ready to go just sitting there. You’ll have to get your own spark arrestor, since the XC-W is sold as a competition bike, which is largely the reason there are no lights on it, either. But even the stock muffler does a great job of keeping the sound down, an S/A-equipped muffler would only make it quieter. And you get all this for a price that isn’t really out of line. You’d easily spend this much just converting an MX two-stroke and that’s still less the gearbox changes, the suspension settings and the holy grail: the electric starting. But can you find one at a KTM dealer still? Most likely not. But there’s already that 2009 waiting list, you know.Specifications
Seat height: 37.7 in.
Footpeg height: 16.9 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.8 in.
Ground clearance: 14.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.9 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 224 lb
Weight (ready to ride, no gas): 227 lbWhat’s Hot!
New styling, and fashion flaunts function
Incredible motor, all torque all the time
The right suspension setting for serious trail riding
Hello easy button!What’s Not!
You’re sold out? Till when?
You call that a seat?Opinions
Over the past few years, I’ve preferred the Gas Gas 250 and 300 two-strokes to the KTMs for a number of reasons. First was that the power delivery on the Spanish bikes was way smoother and softer on the bottom and would build smoother to the top where the Gas Gas would rip over the KTM, and they have a six-speed gearbox, too. The handling was better for my style even if the suspension was never as plush as the KTM’s. Well, this new KTM seems to have trumped my former favorites. The motor is smoother than ever, and with just a little jetting (I had to do the same on the Gas Gas) I got great bogability and it would rip into the top-end even after miles of power-valve-closed riding.The XC-W(e) now has a solid and planted-feeling front end, turning better than ever. And the power spread makes up for even the lack of a sixth gear. The only thing I don’t think the KTM has is the buttery smooth and light clutch feel of a Gas Gas, but nobody’s perfect! And until the Gas Gas comes with an electric starter, they may not stand a chance.
-Jimmy Lewis/5’10″/185 lb/Vet AI have always craved the feel and performance of the KTM 300 two-strokes, and this ’08 is still the greatest two-stroke made. KTM’s new chassis makes the bike feel more solid and controlled than ever. The suspension setting is “racier” than ever before with more attention paid to control than extreme plushness. There isn’t another two-stroke I’d really be interested in owning and few four-strokes I like more. And that’s saying a lot for me, since I love four-strokes. But the featherweight feel of the 300 put my long-held beliefs of four-stroke superiority in a blender. This thing is a spark arrestor, seat and hand guards away from perfection.
-Karel Kramer/6’1″/210 lb/B rider