If there ever was a dream off-road riding day for the editors and test riders of this magazine, it was during this year’s Torture Test. In fact, make that two days.There, the crme de la crme of dirt bikes was delivered-nine hand-built pieces of sweetness all constructed for our torture. Combine them with two perfect-traction days at the vast Glen Helen Raceway compound and you catch our dreaminess drift.The machines came by invitation-only, built around our recommendations for race capability in closed-course events, such as WORCS, GNCC and Grand Prix-style races. We also wanted them to be trail-ridable for the average guy. Meeting our demands wasn’t easy, but as you’ll see, it can be done excellently.After we gazed, drooled and smiled at all our entrants we ran them through our solid collection of tests with our solid battery of testers. Our opinions in each discipline were noted, with our Fun GP “nonrace” and intense testing on said nonrace’s course weighing in the heaviest in our final voting.We saw the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly traits in these beasts and even picked an overall winner.So get ready, get pumped and experience the bikes of this year’s Torture Test.#116 Precision Concepts/JCR
Home Sweet Home
When you sit, stand or crouch in the cockpit of a Precision Concepts/Johnny Campbell Racing-built Honda the bike wraps its warm, fuzzy arms around you and gives you a great big hug.As first impressions (aka “showroom bounce”) go this 450 is the best. It’s the most comfortable place in the world for an off-road motorcyclist; it offers true perfection in control location and layout. Every single test rider who rode this bike agreed that the build quality and solidity of its components were second to none.”The cockpit and layout are so tight and sano it’s hard to believe,” Jimmy Lewis raved immediately after flogging it around our pristine Glen Helen GP circuit. He was so impressed that he labeled the Honda the “ultimate package racer.”The clutch pull, front brake lever reach, grip tack, starter and kill button location and even the cable routing are absolutely perfect.Check out the parts list and copy it if you want to open up and dial in your Honda CRF’s controls (R or X). We’ve also successfully duplicated this feel on numerous motocross bikes including Yamahas and Kawasakis.The rest of Johnny’s ride ain’t bad, either!The most noticeable difference between a stock X and this beast is in feel. The modified Honda takes the heaviness out of the stock model and replaces it with a lightweight, quick-handling racer. How do they do it? By boosting the power and modifying the suspension. Plus, operating the machine through the best control position possible doesn’t hurt.This bike shined the brightest in the fastest sections of our tests. Whether it was rocketing up the hillclimb or burning laps on the motocross track, the bike was set up to really speak to speed. Our highest-rated test (the GP loop) showed the Honda 450 settling in nicely. Its power character took a few moments to get used to since it’s more powerful and delivered with a bigger hit. Whereas the stock X is smooth and strong, this X is snappy with a gnarly bite. The power doesn’t come on instantly; it takes a second then hits with authority. There it builds so strong and fast you’d swear you’re riding a motocross bike gone mad. The mid-to-top pull is linear and steep and will have you going as fast as you want to go in no time. It’s like riding a factory Honda off-road bike. Oh, wait…it basically is a factory Honda off-road bike.Once you’re aware of what you’re riding, the bike becomes a full-tilt factory racer with the fit and finish to go with it. The aggressive power delivery did make it a handful on some of the tightest trails for the recreational testing crew, and we noticed some gaps in the transmission when creeping and crawling. But our fastest pros and quickest vets all sang praises for the Honda 450 when the speeds increased.The suspension was an improvement as well in exactly the same areas. In tight and technical situations, like those you’ll see back East, the X had its biggest challenge and managed to meet it, for the most part, while keeping the high-speed demons at bay. It delicately improved initial feel with a plush touch. The stocker has harshness in the fork and the PC/JCR bike tuned that away for sure. Further into the stroke, the bike featured beefed-up valving to hold the Honda up at speed. G-outs and motocross track landings were eaten alive with the settings, and it featured some of the best bottoming resistance in the test. Plus, it cornered like a dream.”The suspension soaked up the small chop and was still able to take some pretty hard hits without bottoming. I loved the way this bike cornered,” Chris Denison said.It wasn’t perfect everywhere. On the EnduroCross course and the slowest of trail sections it showed the limitations of a high-speed setup. Here, the suspension was stiff with a speedy rebound: something commonly found on really fast guys’ bikes. Somehow, Johnny Camp- bell, Robby Bell, Kendal Norman and Timmy Weigand go through obstacles at about the same speed we manage on a flat straightaway.Where else is this bike limited? Well, if you want to go for an all-day ride, you’ll need to pack gas in your CamelBak as the tank is teeny-weeny, just under two gallons. But boy, was it slim! Skinny tanks are easy to get up high on for motocross berm destruction and highspeed flat-tracking but bad for racing or riding for more than 45 minutes.Honda built this bike for speed, just like we asked it to. The result: a unanimous vote as the best WORCS series bike in the test. The Honda is the ultimate race machine prepackaged and delivered with a shine. That shine is followed by a hefty price tag and an expectation for victory. Can you afford either? If so, Precision Concepts and 1x International are ready to deliver.-Jesse Ziegler
While we considered all of the different tests and price while rating the bikes, the GP course opinions and times and the trail evaluation factored heavily in the final decision. During those tests the little thumper earned praise from riders as disparate as Vet pro Lewis, WORCS pro Ryan Orr and even Pete “I’d Rather Moto” Peterson.Lewis: “The bike pulled like a 300cc four-stroke, and it was jetted perfectly, a big improvement from last year. The pull is long and forever, it never flattens.Orr: “Good torque and a broad, usable powerband with plenty of overrev.”Peterson: “The little engine required a lot of shifting compared to the open two-strokes, but that just adds to the fun for me. Just when I thought I’d buried the little bike into a soft berm it couldn’t tractor out of, the bike simply pulled right out without a bog or strain. The throttle response was nice for a 250F.”Jesse’s moto test was a shorter, more intense test, but again: “Torquey with great power that liked to be revved as much as it could chug. This bike always seemed to be in the meat of the power and stayed there longer than most bikes, including bigger bores.”Handling and suspension are vastly improved for 2008 with a new chassis, fork design and shock angle, and the changes show up positively in the opinions. It didn’t matter if it was a pro like Orr: “The suspension is plush. The bike tracks extremely well in . at corners, feels light and is fun to ride.”Or Lewis: “The suspension stood out as being really good when you’re pushing the bike, especially in chop. It stays light-feeling, especially in the upper rpm where the other bikes get heavy. That’s good since that’s where you’re riding this bike. The brakes are super strong and the clutch is simple to use.”Novice and intermediate pilots were equally impressed. Pete said, “This bike was more fun than the two-strokes because it handled better on the gas, and this little 250F lets me get on the gas sooner than with the other bikes. The front wheel got great traction yet did not ride up in the ruts or do anything grabby with all that traction. When a bump threw the back end out, there was no drama as the little F was controllable and easy to bring back in line.”Despite being a lot heavier, I agreed, “This is the most fun bike in the test. The negatives are a slightly soft spot in the power in the lower midrange and suspension that simply isn’t plush on trail braking bumps or through rocks. The bike feels light and nimble, and it flicks easier than bikes that are even lighter.” The bike wasn’t perfect for every rider. Denison felt the rear was high in the EnduroCross, and Keefer was chasing the front end on the Escargot.This bike is slim and narrow with a clean design, so it slinks through ruts, dodges rock outcrops and stumps and it isn’t a mud magnet. The more rocky and ledge-filled the trails, the more crisp and firm the suspension feels. The suspension would definitely be overly firm for a light rider. Even though this bike has a close-ratio six-speed, first gear is plenty low for technical riding. Throttle control in tricky situations is magic. The exhaust note has more bite to the bark than we like, and the XC model is not green-sticker-legal for 2008. If we ranked this test solely on smiles-per-dollar or on a most improved bike from last year, this KTM might have won. But we tested race bikes regardless of class, and the 250 was always a bit slower on the stopwatch. -Karel Kramer#110 Precision Concepts/JCR
We forget who it was who said, “You can’t go back,” but it’s true. That roller coaster is never as scary, an old girlfriend found again doesn’t match the memories, your first car isn’t as cool revisited and neither are dirt bikes. And as we tested the Precision Concepts/Johnny Campbell Racing CRF250X, we thought “you can’t go back” had struck again.
As expected, the trail section of the testing allowed the 530 to shine brightly for Kramer and Finley.Kramer: “I love these bikes, and I really like this one with the exception of the tank. The tank tester at IMS must be short, because this one is wide right between my knees. I thought the engine and suspension were a bonus over stock. I wouldn’t say the suspension blew me away like the 250X, but for a big, powerful and relatively heavy bike, this thing rocks.”Finley is a light rider and as close to the average rider in size as you can get, and he isn’t a big-bore guy usually, but he coped fine here. “The Rocky Mountain MC crew did a really good job with this bike,” he began. “It had balanced suspension, ergos and the 530 motor is incredible. The bike turned well and just did everything right. For such a big motor, it didn’t feel like a big bike on the trail.” Keefer claimed the bike felt big and didn’t want to rev on the Escargot test, yet he turned his second fastest (KTM 300 XC-W(e) was faster) time of the test.Yet again we see the importance of clear communication with the company dialing in your race bike. Had we weighted the trail test more, the 530 would have been ranked higher, but most of the places the RM/Pro Cycle bike was rated down had more to do with the fact that the bike is essentially big, powerful and, while it’s in fact lighter than the WR450F or the Honda CRF450X, feels big for a tight, closed-course race. Excessive power has that kind of effect. But if you have long miles to cover in a day, look for a gentle giant. -Karel Kramer#119 L.A. Sleeve
Outdated Or Underrated?
One thing we do here at Dirt Rider is live in the real world. We know not everyone is living high on the hog and cashing in with a new ride every year, let alone dumping loads of dough into that ride. (Yes, that’s why we call them Dream Rides!) So we got an interesting entry from L.A. Sleeve: They wanted to bring out the test bike from the 2006 DR 24-Hour, then a CRF430 but now debored to a CRF400X. We told them to come on out.They’d redecorated the bike a bit from 2006 but it was the same tried-and-true ’06 CRF under the pretty skin. OK, so the pretty skin cost a bit, just look up the price list, but L.A. Sleeve didn’t want to bring an ugly duckling to the party. As far as true needed maintenance the bike was due for a head rebuild as it had been through a brutal 24-hour race at Glen Helen and its fair share of GPs. The piston got fresh rings while the cylinder was off and that was all.It came armed with a seven-inch RTT HID Destroyer headlight for the duration of the test, and that was the first thing riders noticed and truthfully the first thing they felt through the bar. It adds a bit of weight and, combined with the steering damper, you can feel it.The Escargot was the only weak point of this bike through the whole testing regime as it fought the front end pushing and the weight in the bar on the flat bermless turn. Yet as soon as you get used to it, as test riders quickly did, it wasn’t all that bad, even in EnduroCross. The one thing that was missing was a set of hand guards. This is what happens when motocross guys build off-road bikes, but they learned quickly in EnduroCross and out on our trail!Being unpumped to a 400 made this CRF a very manageable ride in every other test. In the drag race it was, “a little soft and very . at compared to 450s. It pulls the third gear roll-on fine but is unimpressive, ditto in the drag race. Very little wheel lift, very little spin,” is what I wrote in my notes.Metzger was surprised in the EnduroCross: “It was very easy to get over the hard obstacles using the soft suspension with good rebound to bounce over the rocks and logs. Lighter to maneuver than expected. Great delivery on the clutch.”And the headlight even helped Robie Peterson on the hillclimb, “It let me get my weight back farther than the other bikes without the front end coming up.”
For the test that was most heavily judged, the GP course, the bike shined in a way that was more than impressive. It acted a little like the fun 250F in outright power, but with a substantial amount more torque and at much lower rpm than those screaming meanies. It was very easy to keep the motor in its long, sweet spot; it had plenty of power everywhere and never too much. It pulled the gears just fine and the only place you were thinking you needed more was on long steep climbs. Karel was impressed enough he was wondering what the bike would be like in moto trim.Some of the notable upgrades since we last saw this bike was the swap from an aluminum skid plate to a carbon-. ber one. This and a revalved set of Precision Concepts suspension gave the bike a very planted feeling where it rode low in the stroke but didn’t bottom excessively as it felt like it would. And it had no funny handling issues, either.The R&D carb mods had the bike jetted perfectly and never missing a beat even when the rider grabbed a big ol’ handful. And with a power spread that started at such a low rpm and pulled out so far, that was a good thing. This motor ran like a tuned package. Are you crazy to debore a 450? Only as crazy as boring out a 250F. In a lot of ways they arrive at the same point. Sure, you’ll gain a little weight in comparison (the 400 feels lighter than the 450 for sure), but you’ll have more torque and certainly better durability as you’re putting less power through a motor designed for more.The 400′s times were, as expected, faster than the 250F’s but slower than the bigger bikes’ in most of the tests. But here’s where we run into that old debating topic of, “Yes, but how are you going to be riding it when you get tired?” For the record, most likely better than anything else, we’d say. You don’t need to be as aggressive as you’d have to be when riding a smaller bike. And you don’t have to worry about getting into trouble with excessive power, the kind of power that tires you out in the first place. So this bike was a really good performer just lacking in that one-lap gusto that we all love to pontificate over.Good, impressively so. Impressive? Dude, it was a 2006 and it kept up with the brand-new bikes just fine- are you kidding? -Jimmy Lewis#113 KTM
Armed And Dangerous
When planning for the Torture Test, KTM responded to our request for bike proposals with a simple, “Tell us which models you want and we’ll stick spark arrestors on and show up. Oh, and since we won every major off-road championship last year, which champ do you want on the bikes?” Pretty cocky, eh? But the company is backing it up and running with its “Ready to Race” slogan.The 300 XC-W(e) was a pretty easy choice since we’d raved about it in previous testing, but was it the right choice? There’s one thing for sure: KTM has variety in the 250-300cc two-stroke range. Would a 250 XC have been better? Stiffer suspension and a lighter feel with identical peak power as the 300? Well, for the majority of us it seemed the electric starter was the golden nugget that had us compromising with the wide-ratio W gearbox and nonsealed cartridge fork.
So FMF hooked on one of its new Q Stealth spark arrestors and the bike was ready to go. Talk about an easy prep! In fact, during the radar run the bike was still pretty tight and felt a little loaded up; nice break-in! Here, especially in the roll-on it was evident that the two-stroke is working through a lot less of a usable rpm range. It will pull at low revs but not with the authority that a thumper does. Then it signs off a lot sooner yet it isn’t the cutout of a rev-limiter informing you. Instead, it’s a progressive flattening of power telling you for a long time to shift! This doesn’t do much damage to the engine, either, I might add (unlike the valve-chattering that four-stroke rev-limiting does). But in every test the bike competed in it was praised for a super-smooth motor. It offers four-stroke-like (if not better than) smoothness and a full-range torque that just keeps on giving. It scored the low times in both Escargot and in EnduroCross and was pretty much top three in every other test it took on, we’ll give Kurt Caselli some credit, but even our test riders backed it up. What? This in a nearly stock KTM trailbike? think we chose the right one.In the Escargot it was billed as the “fun machine” and was one of the few bikes that didn’t need to be shifted, so there are no “between gears” here. Take that, all you four-strokes with long powerbands. The “super smooth” motor didn’t hurt a thing, especially traction. In EnduroCross its superlight feel was out of place with the power available; usually you have to . ght the girth of a 450 to have this much boost and lunge on tap. Metzger called it, “the perfect EnduroCross bike.” Out on the trail our resident novice Peterson said it had, “throttle response that a four-stroke can’t match.” He was only put off minimally by the vibration and it would be his first choice as an off-road race bike.Heavier riders and large guys like Kramer and Brian Cornelius definitely felt the suspension was on the soft side. Even for trail riding, guys over 210 pounds are at least looking at springs. I also felt the softness in the GP test where the bike bottomed, though not enough to cause much concern, especially considering it didn’t do anything funny when the suspension was maxed out. On the other end of the suspension spectrum, the bike can feel a little on the dancy side and gets busy in choppy ground at speed. This is a trait lighter bikes have and it was a far cry from anything we call headshake. Yet the hookup on acceleration bumps was superb. But when it comes to flicking the bike side to side, quickly, this bike is king. And at the same time it goes just as fast as the four-strokes, which are heavier, even as much as they have progressed in just the last two years in the weight-feeling department.In a GNCC-type setting, the two-stroke and this KTM particularly have an advantage since the racing is happening at middle throttle openings and rarely do you pin it and chase gears. You’re also doing a lot of turning and changing directions, quickly and oftentimes side-to-side where less mass really comes into play. Out west in a WORCS or GP setting you can still keep the speed on the 300; it just takes more shifts to do it. Shifting isn’t as much of a disadvantage as extra weight can be in tighter racing. If the going gets tight, technical or downright tiring the KTM, a lot like the CRF400F, is easy to conserve energy on since the motor is smooth and sweet and the KTM 300 is truly light. And you have electric starting if you should stall. But going full-bore the bike actually feels a little slow in a four-stroke world of 11,000 rpm and you feel like you’re short-shifting it in comparison.The jetting on the bike was stock and just perfect for racing conditions, though we’ve found it can be set leaner for trail riding. Add to the package that the bike has a deep tank carrying three gallons of fuel while staying reasonably thin. As much as this bike is billed as a single-track trail hound, it can race just the same.
Destry’s setup is a little low in the rear and pretty stiff in the front. It isn’t the best turning package, but we all know desert racers can’t turn anyways (ha!). How he runs at the front of the WORCS pack…well, we’ll just shut up now. In actuality, the bike can and will turn, you just have to mean it and the front end will stick. The larger tank doesn’t help this but, then, Destry can go for over an hour on fuel, wide open. And once you get used to the bike’s turning character it isn’t bad, just different. But where the bike was pure magic was in the braking bumps. You could pretty much ignore them or hit them any way you wanted coming into turns while still in control. The rest of the time the bike acted very stable and sometimes a little heavy feeling; we place a lot of the blame on the larger-capacity tank and the power, both affect this. Overall impression, for the faster stuff, this bike is dialed. Get into true motocross and it acts like an off-road bike.Getting to the nitty gritty, we put the bike through the EnduroCross test, which revealed some heaviness and bulk. Like the Precision Concepts Honda CRF450F, the tighter and more technical, especially with stop-and-go action, the more that 450cc race bikes become a handful. It has a lot to do with power and a little to do with the weight as stock versions of these bikes would have tackled EnduroCross better. Stock versions with this race suspension would’ve been even better. But a stock motor would get blown away everywhere else, especially at the level this bike is designed to run. Knowing how fast and open GP racecourses are only made it more obvious how pointed and focused this KLX is. It seemed to run the longest between the gears of any bike in the test and required the least amount of shifting. The binders made easy work of late braking, and then inside or outside through the turns the bike pulled with authority. In our GP test this bike was ever so close to the CRF450, it would’ve come down to personal preferences for any rider. And we know Destry likes it better than anyone. -Jimmy LewisThe Victor!
KTM 300 XC-W(e)
In the end you can have only one winner. We could’ve picked several, easily, but then there wouldn’t be a true winner, now would there? That’s why we gave out some distinctive awards throughout the comparison. In the end it wasn’t really hard for us to agree on one thing, that the KTM 300 XC-W(e) was an amazing bike that met every challenge we threw at it, finishing at the top of almost everyone’s opinions in the subjective tests and near or on top of the charts on the timed tests. It has the amazing ability to hang with the four-strokes where they shined and stick it to them when weight and agility become an issue. It even starts just like them, thank you very much. This, at a time when most have banked that two-strokes are dead. This is also the least modified bike in the test, therefore costing less, in some cases thousands less, than the other bikes. It easily strikes a chord for those of us on a budget and at the same time offers a high performance platform that’s ready to compete better than modified bikes since the rider has the ability to personalize it further yet. KTM was selling ready to race. And for this test, that was plenty to win.