By Chris Denison
Photos by Adam Booth
With the 2014 testing season well underway, KTM’s off-road model line-up is the latest of the new machines to land in Dirt Rider’s testing cue. With the world press launch taking place in conjunction with the Rattlesnake Enduro in central Pennsylvania, we had a perfect venue to put several of these models to the test. And believe me, these things are fun to test!
First off, the changes: While all of the KTM models received new tweaks and revisions, the 250 XCF-W takes the cake as the most revised orange 2014 model. Along with all the four-stroke XCF-W and EXC models, the 250 XCF-W received a new, lighter frame. Unlike the other models, the 250 XCF-W also sports an all-new engine. The DOHC motor has larger intake valves to match a larger piston. Yes, the piston diameter has increased 2.0mm, and the stroke has decreased 2.7mm. KTM claims a 10% increase in intake flow rate, and that piston that has grown in diameter has actually gotten lighter, which KTM did in order to achieve quicker response. The bike also gets the DDS clutch, revised exhaust and new bodywork, as well as a smaller air boot for boosted velocity. Both the 250 and 350 XCF-W models are green sticker legal.
In addition to the lighter frames, all of KTM’s four-stroke models receive a new lower triple clamp, updated bodywork, a new headlight and new colors/ graphics. There are a variety of other minor tweaks, such as an updated gas cap and softer grips, along with a firmer seat that is aimed at improved durability over time. Additionally, KTM’s Brembo brakes have a new front master cylinder and reservoir for a more linear feel, and both the 250 and 350 four-strokes receive a stock cooling fan. On the two-stroke side, the 250 and 300 XC-Ws get new shock valving that is unique to these machines, plus a stronger starter (480W versus 370W) and a more powerful battery.
The test course that KTM had set up for us was a fun mix of flowing grass-track and tight, rooted trails. With several other riders playing on the new machines for a KTM demo ride, I started the day on the 250 XCF-W and was immediately pleased to find that the torque-filled little engine was a great match for the terrain. In the tight stuff, the thumper could be lugged in a higher gear with the proper amount of clutch input. I felt like the gearing was a good setup for the trails we were on, as I could also downshift and rev the machine anytime I wanted to really open it up. The tuning was smooth with clean off-idle snap, although this machine is not as much of a powerhouse as the bigger 350.
On the grass track sections, the 250 XCF-W pulled well and seemed to do best when ridden in the upper mid-range. The bike grabbed plenty of traction, settling into turns and not deflecting or drifting. I would describe the overall suspension setup as fairly plush; I weigh 155 pounds, and felt as though I was using most of the stroke on the 250cc thumper. In my opinion, this makes for an outstanding off-road setup that will settle in rocks and roots while not feeling overly busy. I preferred the sag a tad low in the rear (108mm-range), which kept the rear end hooked up and helped me to feel more balanced going over rollers and hard hits.
The 350 XCF-W is an excellent off-road package; the bike feels balanced and easy to ride. I really enjoyed this machine in tighter sections, where the broad powerband encouraged me to really use the throttle without wearing me out. You can leave this machine in third gear everywhere if you choose to. I felt as though the 350 was heavier than the 250, but these two machines are incredibly similar in terms of handling feel.
On the two-stroke side of things, the 250 XC-W is the same great bike that we are used to, with a few noticeable differences compared to the 300. The ergonomics of both bikes feel neutral and comfortable; you can just hop on and go with minimal time to adapt. I was pleased with the suspension but found that the two-strokes had a somewhat busy shock feel that was hugely rectified by decreasing pressure in the rear tire, Both two-strokes are lightweight, making them wheelie machines and overall outstanding play bikes. For me, the 250cc powerplant is a better fit simply because I liked the “snap” of the smaller bike as opposed to the “bark” of the larger 300. Whereas the 250 likes to be shifted frequently, the 300 is more four-stroke-like and allows the rider to modulate the power inside of a wider RPM range. Both machines lug like crazy, but the 250 has a more on/ off feel than the 300, and I found myself staying in one gear aboard the 300 in contrast to the multiple shift points that I found myself using aboard the 250.
Along with the above machines, I also played around aboard the 200 XC-W. With more power than a 125cc but not as much juice as the 250cc, the KTM 200 is a super-fun package size that begs to be revved. The sweet spot of this powerband is fairly high, and by revving it out you are rewarded with a strong, deliberate pull that only requires a few quick stabs at the clutch to remain in. The entire bike feels light and can change lines quickly. So long as you’re aggressive, the 200 XC-W is extremely capable and really, really fun.
While this is just a first taste of KTM’s 2014 off-road line, what we’ve seen so far indicates that the orange machines are once again the bikes to beat in 2014. With the futures of Husqvarna and Husaberg uncertain and several exotic bike brands knocking at the door, it’s only natural for KTM to step it up several more notches and continue to improve their entire lineup. By the time you read this we’ll have raced the new 250 XCF-W at the Rattlesnake Enduro, the full test of which will appear in the November issue of Dirt Rider. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this bike, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or hit us up at www.facebook.com/dirtridermag.
Also, check out the first test video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdowemMdFjQ