Story by Kris Keefer
Photos by Nic Cade
Here it is, barely June and we are already receiving 2014 motocross machines. The Austrian manufacturer KTM was the first to give Dirt Rider a call and ask if we wanted to pick up a fresh 2014 – the KTM 350 SX-F in this case – and give it a whirl. Of course we obliged and here is our first impression from day one with the new 350. Look for a more in depth test in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rider Magazine, but for now here are 10 things we thought you should know about the new 2014 mid-size KTM four banger.
- Bottom end. Yes, that’s right, there is bottom end on the 2014 KTM 350 SX-F. It pulls hard out of corners and can even be lugged like its bigger 450 competitors. Second gear roll-on was not an issue here. Rolling through corners in second with just the slightest fan of the clutch shot you out of any rut in a hurry. You might even need to use the clutch to keep the front end down!
- Mid Range. This is the most used word in testing terminology. That is because this is where most of us ride. Mid range is the most used part of the powerband on any given track. After the 2014 SX-F builds rpm you can easily run third gear almost anywhere on the track. That’s the beauty of the 350. It’s so easy to ride. I left the bike in third gear on purpose around the whole track just to see if it would pull me around, and it did happily.
- Top End. If you really want to give it the business and try her out, twist that grip to the stop. The 350 will put a smile on your face like when you were a kid on Christmas morning. The 2014 350 pulls hard up on top with no problems and actually feels stronger than a couple of 450 MX bikes out on the market today. I was concerned that it wouldn’t get me from corner to corner like a 450 can, but I was wrong to worry. I absolutely felt enough power under me down long straights and wasn’t asking for more.
- Over-Rev. “Shift your bike tonight!” Or you don’t have to. It’s up to you. That’s the beauty of it. Feel tired and just want to leave it in 2nd for a while? The 350 will respond better to your decision than your 450 will, I promise. It will rev out farther than your 450 at 13,500 rpm. That’s as high as a 250F!
- Front Fork. With KTM’s revised 2014 (from 2013) fork settings this is the best feeling WP fork I have ridden to date. I felt more comfort through the stroke and less harshness than ever before. Under heavy braking and hard landings it was a little too soft, but when the track got rough with some good-sized holes and bumps, the fork felt better and more controlled than previous years’ forks from KTM.
- Shock. I didn’t have huge complaints about any of last year’s KTM shock settings and so far on the 2014 350 I don’t have any this year either. Under load, with big holes out of corners, the WP shock has great bump absorption and will not slam your vertebrae too bad. The rear end of the bike always feels controlled and stable.
- Brembo Brakes. For 2014 KTM changed its piston from 10mm to 9mm in the master cylinder and you can feel it on the track. I used to think previous KTM brakes were touchy and lacked a little control. Don’t get me wrong, they were strong, but they lacked that control that I like. The piston change brought that control into play. Under hard braking (front and rear) the bike stops with authority but will not catch you off guard and throw you to the ground. These brakes set the bar for every other production bike out there.
- Seat. Wow! Now when I go home after riding KTMs I will not need Bag Balm to put on my rear because I have been hitting the seat base all day. New for 2014 is a firmer seat and my butt thanks KTM for that.
- Frame. Nothing new here but it should be mentioned that I think there is a place for steel frames on current motocross bikes. When the track gets hard packed and rougher your joints will thank you for it. I do feel more comfort in a chromoly steel frame than I do in an aluminum frame. Bump absorption and overall ride are better when the track gets blue grooved or very choppy. There is enough room in the motorcycle market for Aluminum and chromoly Steel.
- Looks. KTM, can you make the orange frame standard on all models of your bikes, please? It just looks so much better and tricker. Even still, the 2014 KTM 350 is one of the best-looking production bikes on the market to date.
- Bonus! Ok, so there are actually eleven things you need to know. The 2014 KTM 350 does vibrate more than other bikes I have ridden lately. It’s not a huge difference but you do feel it more through your hands and arms. The reason is solid bar mounts. KTM needs to put rubber mounts standard on all of their bikes.
At the end of the day I came away very impressed with the electric-start-only (no kickstart back up) 2014 KTM 350 SX-F. The last time I had the chance to test the KTM 350 SX-F was in 2012. Although the changes are minimal to the 2014 from the 2013 I came away impressed on how much better this machine is from the 2012 model. It really is a fun, yet powerful and can be competitive in the 450 class. Stay tuned to the magazine for more info!