We could go on and on and on about which is the best bike here and if one of these bikes is the best off-road bike made. And likely one of them is. Because the 300cc two-stroke has evolved. So much that KTM produces three of them just for off-road, even if one of them bears the name Husaberg. Pretty close in so many ways, yet they differ with small specification changes and differ completely in the suspension department. Which is the best? What are the differences? Which one is for you? Read on…
Simply put, the KTM 300 XC is designed more for racing and going faster than the KTM 300 XC-W and the Husaberg TE 300, which are no slouches in speed but they just prefer the single-track more than laps around a track. But that didn’t stop us from doing it all with all three bikes to get them figured out.
The engines are all very similar; the six ratios in the transmission are tighter in the XC, but with six speeds that is of less concern. The engines’ only other differences are in the revised air intake boot on the KTMs vs. the Berg and a different needle in the carb of the XC. The TE also has a two-position ignition switch standard, though the KTMs have the same dual maps, just no switch. Riding the bikes, the power is basically identical save for some minor differences. From zero to one-eighth throttle, the Husaberg and its older-style intake boot pulls cleaner, making the KTMs feel like they need a pilot jet change. But above that both KTMs pull just a bit harder and stronger, especially in the midrange with some additional torque feeling. How fast are they? Well, they’ll easily put a 450 to shame when kept on the pipe but require more shifting. They all run so clean off the bottom, if you haven’t ridden a 300 in a few years, this is a major improvement. They also rev further than in the past. But mostly they are bog-o-matic bikes that seamlessly chug along and work at a low rpm and will lunge forward with just a snap of the clutch and fire to life without hesitation; and revving is also rewarding when you really want to cook. All three are highly tunable as to where the hit comes on and how hard they hit with different (included in the tool kit) springs for the powervalve and via an external adjuster.
Next, you can feel the gap between first and second gear on the XC-W and the TE when compared to the XC. For most, riding the XC’s first is as low as you’d need to go, and the shift to second seems very natural. The other two bikes are geared to handle nastier terrain in their lower first gear, but second gear is just a little tall for what we call “average” nasty terrain. You could easily alter the final drive for your conditions, but you wouldn’t want to space out the gaps any more on the wider-ratio boxes. Sixth speed on all of the machines is as fast as most will ever need to go this side of Baja racing. And speaking of gearing up for speed, the XC’s gear spacing will handle high-speed racing the best if you can live with a tall first gear.
The major difference in design is in the chassis and rear suspension systems these 300s use. The Berg is basically the older KTM PDS system with Husaberg’s valving specs in the shock. The blue and yellow bike also adapts a closed-cartridge fork, like the one on KTM’s XC and SX machines. The XC-W has the new PDS system with the shock tower isolated off the main frame backbone. It uses an open cartridge fork. And finally, the XC has the same linkage system that KTM has on the SX motocrossers and a closed-cartridge fork. Can we tell a difference? Yes. Was it as much as we thought? No.
As expected, the XC has a stiffer nature and setting than the other two bikes. But what the linkage has done is allowed the bike to ride softer overall since the extra bottoming resistance that is needed can be accomplished through the linkage and not within the shock. It seemed that while it was stiffer initially, it also transferred less of the stiff feeling into the bar and footpegs so riders felt less of it. Then it was also very plush and forgiving in the mid-stroke of the suspension, so the ride is far from jarring. Plus, this suspension setup had the XC, though heavier on the scale, feeling lighter on the trail. Bottoming out was not noticeably better than the other two bikes, but on the track there was a distinct difference as it just bottomed a lot less. If anything, the linkage is letting the XC get away with more versatility as opposed to some sort of outright performance gain.
The Husaberg has the plushest-acting suspension of the three, and it also feels the most planted to the ground; overall the bike has the slightest bit of a heavier feeling, like the weight is sticking it to the ground and forcing the suspension to work even though the scale will tell you this isn’t the actual reason. Husaberg has gotten the suspension to work better than KTM ever did, and some of that is the control the fork brings to the table. It is ultra plush but then controls the hard hits as well as the XC. For single-track riding and racing you won’t find any complaints about the TE, but our riders could feel the bumps through the chassis a bit more on the Berg than the other bikes. There is a reason KTM changed the frame, but we suspect the advantages really show up on more stiffly suspended bikes.
The best suspension, by a hair, for the trails is the XC-W. It isn’t as planted as the TE nor as stiff as the XC, but it does everything each of the others do and is the most simplistic. It also benefits from the new chassis design which transmits less of the impacts to the rider, gives the bike a lighter feel on its wheels and feels like there is more travel overall, so the wheels move freely underneath you before the chassis starts yawing to and fro. It is hard to feel anything bad or different in the open cartridge fork except that any time it begins to move, it moves more freely initially, which translates to better plushness and less trail feel coming through the bar. It does, however, bottom easier than the others on a similarly hard hit.
The features each include are some insanely strong and controllable brakes, feathery light hydraulic clutches, bar position—adjustable top triple clamps, hand guards and tool-less air filter access. Additionally, the TE and XC-W have an odometer/speedo, and then the Husaberg piles on a slightly larger gas tank, a plastic skid plate and side frame rail protection and the two-position ignition switch. What these bikes don’t come with is a spark arrestor, so we slipped on FMF’s Q2 Stealth to make us Forestry-legal and even quieter than standard. And high on the upgrades list will be new seats because KTM has found another horrible blend of seat foam that lasts all of 5–10 hours before becoming mush.
So which one of these bikes is for you? It isn’t an easy choice, and really all of the differences are like splitting hairs for most riders. The simple answer is that if you put any weight on racing or track time, then the clear choice is the XC. It is as good a racer as ever and now transitions back to the trail riding or single-track racing even better. But with the linkage you get a small amount of increased maintenance, and a low-hanging log or rock catcher, if that factors into your decision. Either the XC-W or Husaberg would make any trail rider or single-track racer happy. With the KTM you get a small boost in higher-speed and power performance while the Huasberg gives you some additional features at a slightly lower price. The biggest advantage, really, is the simplicity of the PDS suspension and in truly gnarly, extreme enduro conditions, no linkage to hang up on rocks or trees, and KTM’s new linkage does hang down lower than others.
In the grand scheme of all bikes, these 300s are right up there with any bike made as powerhouses but also coming in at a weight (and weight feel) that four-strokes only dream of. The maintenance required, motor-wise, is minimal and easy for almost anyone to do. Plus, the price is a little less than a four-stroke as well. What KTM has given riders is options, and it is in these options that any off-roader can not only dream of the perfect bike but also ride it!
5’10”/190 lb/ Trail proSince I’m always looking out for my last dollar and know if something is working just fine, it doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest. I could see myself buying the Husaberg if I were in the market for a 300. It appeals to me for a few other reasons, too. I have always liked being different, so not being part of that orange brigade while still enjoying one of their stellar bikes and great aftermarket support and parts network is fine with me. The Husaberg’s gas tank is slightly larger, and I know how important having fuel is on my rides. The TE was also the best performing at zero to one-eighth throttle opening, where I seem to ride at a lot of the time. Did I forget to mention the electric start? Questioning me? Well, you haven’t gotten used to it like I have and I hate kickstarting anything! Last but not least, I have been a Husaberg fan since they were funky four-strokes built in Sweden, so you should have seen this coming.
5’9”/160 lb/ Track proMy riding style tends to be a bit more aggressive than that of the average trail rider, so I tended to be a bike hog with the KTM 300 XC. I get to ride all of the new bikes, and often I have friends ask me which would be the best all around bike for them; one they can take on the track and the trail. I now have the answer, and I can quite honestly tell them to get the 300 XC. It may feel a tad more aggressive on the trails than the TE and XC-W, but if you’re used to riding moto, this won’t bother you one bit. On the track you get impressive two-stroke torque and plush suspension that was carefully set up for you, the one who craves jumps, braking bumps, ruts, single-track, logs and water crossings. On a wide-open track you will notice a lack of revving capabilities, but you do have six gears so use them all! These tires aren’t afraid of anything.
6’1”/190 lb/ Track and trail proFor those of you looking for one bike to do it all, the XC-W might not be your ideal bike. I, on the other hand, don’t want one bike to do everything. I want a separate bike (two or three) for each discipline. “Keep the moto to moto and the trails to trails,” I have learned to say. This is exactly what brought the 300 XC-W to my attention over the XC, which may fit a wider task list. This orange stallion was bred specifically for the trails. The suspension, motor and chassis were designed to give you the optimum single-track experience. The XC-W had the least amount of bump impact being delivered to the rider through the handlebar and chassis. Combine that with its smooth, torquey motor and this 300 gave you a plush trail flow all its own. Well, all that and, while I was deep in the woods, she started whispering (two-strokes have a quiet way about them) sweet nothings in my ear, which I kind of liked, too.