Photos by Nic Cade
When the John Burr Cycles 6-Hour Endurance Race at Glen Helen popped up on our radar, nearly the entire Dirt Rider staff committed to racing this super fun event. However, signing up for the race only resulted in a series of long, drawn-out debates about which size machine would be the best to ride; some thought that a small bore two-stroke would be perfect, while others argued that a large thumper would do the trick. In the end, we decided to try a handful of machines and compile our collective opinions to see how they each panned out. For comparison purposes, we stuck purely to KTMs, and with so many two-stroke lovers on staff we ended up with only one thumper in the group.
Associate Editor Kris Keefer wound up racing the Ironman class on a 150 SX with a big tank and aftermarket gearing; Keefer’s lap times were competitive with the top pro teams, and after six hours Keefer was only two laps down from the winning three-man squad. Senior Editor Adam Booth opted to split his time in the Ironman class racing two different bikes; the KTM 200 XC-W for the first half and the KTM 500 EXC for the second. Editor Chris Denison stuck with the KTM 250 XC for the entirety of the race, completing just over 110 race miles before settling in to a lawn chair with a cold Gatorade to watch Keefer cross the checkers. Finally, Art Director Joe Mckimmy teamed up with test rider/ helper guy Scott Denison to race the KTM 300 XC-W in the business class. All together, the crew had a ton of fun, and when we got back to the office and talked things out it became clear that we learned a lot about these motorcycles.
What bike did you pick to ride and why did you choose to race it?
Kris Keefer: I chose to ride the KTM 150 SX because it’s a light-feeling bike with a little less horsepower, and over the course of six hours I thought I could ride it faster for a longer period of time.
Adam Booth: The KTM 200 XC-W two-stroke was my weapon of choice because it’s been in the Dirt Rider stable for months, receiving tons of upgrades and mods.
Chris Denison: I picked the KTM 250 XC because, in my mind, this is the best do-all machine that money can buy. The 250 XC is quick enough to moto, tough enough to pound rocks and light enough to race for six hours straight without completely blowing myself out.
Joe Mckimmy: I decided to team up with Scott Denison on the KTM 300 XC-W. I chose this bike because it was brand new, needed to be broken in and was the only bike in the DR shop that was available at the time…not that I wouldn’t have chosen it anyway!
Scott Denison: I didn’t choose the 300 XC-W; the 300 XC-W chose me. As an official Dirt Rider volunteer-tester-helper-guy, I often show up at the races with my gear not knowing what I’ll be riding. I had no complaints when I arrived to find a brand new 2013 300 XC-W, but really, how could I ever complain? Is there even such a thing as a bad motorcycle anymore?
Adam Booth: In addition to the KTM 200, I decided to split my time between that and the 2013 KTM 500 EXC. For the second half of the six-hour I slapped my lowered seat off the 200 onto the 2013 KTM 500 EXC and went wearing the already almost-bald rear tire down to the cords. Why? Heck, why not?
What do you feel was the biggest benefit to that particular displacement?
Keefer/ 150 SX: The biggest benefit for me was being able ride it faster in the tighter single track sections where a bigger bike would be tougher to maneuver.
Boothy/ 200 XC-W: The little 200 bridges the gap between screaming a 125 and lugging a 300, which is fun because with the 200 you can do either!
C. Denison/ 250 XC: The 250cc powerplant of the XC can be lugged, quietly and effortlessly, for extended periods of time while carrying surprisingly amounts of momentum.
Mckimmy/ 300 XC-W: The smooth, tractable power allows me to ride a lot longer without getting tired. Knowing that the Glen Helen course was going to be rough and not having much time on any bike lately, this would be the biggest benefit.
S. Denison/ 300 XC-W: The 300 is so smooth and so torquey, it’s amazingly easy to ride. It doesn’t really seem to care what lines you choose, or if you’re tired or not. If you want to rev the motor and attack the track it’s more than up to the task, yet if you want to sit down and lug the motor it can do that, too.
Boothy/ 500 EXC: Sheer torque! With the Rekluse Core EXP clutch I was able to ride a gear high and roll on the torquey power, ultra smooth-like. Even with a roasted rear tire the 500 hooked up predictably. The suspension on the 500 is plush and for the beat up course it was like riding a pillow sent from heaven. After just a lap I felt like I had more energy than the previous three hours and was using half the energy to go the same speed I was on the 200.
What was the biggest downfall?
Keefer/ 150 SX: Obviously, long straights and deep sand washes made me wish I had more ponies.
Boothy/ 200 XC-W: The downfall to any two-stroke, especially in a bumpy off-road race, is they are more work than a four-stroke when accelerating. Two-strokes tend to dance around a lot more, especially smaller displacement bikes that are wound out and hyper. Some of the climbs had hard packed, square-edge bumps that really had the back end hopping and searching for straight-line traction.
C. Denison/ 250 XC: Three hours in, I began to notice that the 250 XC’s suspension was picking up every square-edged bump on the track and transmitting the hit straight to my wrists. The front suspension just wasn’t plush enough in the initial part of the stroke for the hammered nature of the track. In the shock, hard hits were transmitted with increasing force to the point where I felt my spine being jarred lap after lap on the same massive bumps.
Mckimmy/ 300 XC-W: The biggest downfall of the bike would be the fact that the KTM was brand spanking new. Break-in consisted of riding it from the pit to the start. Suspension would change throughout the day as it started to break in. Constantly checking spokes throughout the day would cause some time, and confidence that the bike would be jetted properly was weighing on my mind. I guess that’s more than one thing, but they were all potential downfalls!
S. Denison/ 300 XC-W: The only part of the machine that I really hated was the grips. I’m a huge fan of ultra soft compound models like Renthal’s Kevlar, tapered diamond grips. The stock KTM dual compound grips, although similar in feel, were too hard for my hands. I also wasn’t sure if I’d like the wide ratio transmission. I enjoyed the taller 5th gear on the faster parts of the course, and the added torque of the motor more than made up for the fact that first gear was too low to be of any real use.
Boothy/ 500 EXC: The suspension is trail riding soft so a couple of the harder hits caused it to bottom out, but I only had to slow down for a few big bumps. The ultra smooth ride 95 percent of the time made having to compromise my speed for a few hits well worth it.
If you could identify one portion of the track that you felt your bike was totally perfect for, where was it and why?
Keefer/ 150 SX: As the track got rougher and tighter the 150 SX excelled. I could ride it faster because it has less horsepower to control. So I would definitely say that the rough sections were perfect.
Boothy/ 200 XC-W: The 200 killed it through the tight and sometimes rocky, new single track. It felt like riding a mountain bike especially combined with the Rekluse clutch.
C. Denison/ 250 XC: As I was sitting on the line waiting for the flagger to signal the dead-engine start, I remember thinking that there was nothing else out there that could beat my 250 XC to the first turn. I was right. In second gear and with the clutch in, I used a combination of kick starting while also pushing the button, and I was off the line before anyone else even moved! I grabbed the holeshot and maintained the lead for the first portion of the lap until Kris Keefer came buzzing my on the 150 SX. Coincidentally, video from the Ironman starting line shows that of the top four riders into the first turn, three were Dirt Rider staffers on KTM two-strokes!
Mckimmy/ 300 XC-W: This bike was money on tight, single-track sections of the course. The smooth power of the bike and perfect gearing allowed me to hum through these sections without even thinking about it
S. Denison/ 300 XC-W: The 300 really worked well for me in the tighter single-track portions of the course. Due to the softer suspension setup, the 300 XC-W absorbed the smaller chop, and it’s lightweight and nimble feel made quick direction changes almost too easy.
Boothy/ 500 EXC: The 500 was perfect for hacked up climbs and body rattling ridgelines. The planted feel of the bike saved energy in the long run.
Were there any sections of the track that made you feel as though you were on the wrong machine for the job?
Keefer/ 150 SX: I felt like I was on the wrong bike when on long, fast roads where I thought I needed two more gears, even with my 14/50 gearing!
Boothy/ 200 XC-W: The 200 still has to be ridden aggressively to make the most of the power, which means you have to be in good shape to ride it for a long time. When the power is somewhat like a light switch, you are either lugging or wide open, making long races a lot of work. The only sections I didn’t like the 200 were on the hacked up climbs and along some of the ridgelines, precisely the same spots where the 500 EXC excelled.
C. Denison/ 250 XC: There was one ridge section toward the end of the 10-mile loop where I felt as though the bike’s suspension fluid had been swapped to pure concrete. So sharp were the hits and so big were the bumps that for this mile-long stretch, it was all I could do to just clench my jaw and take the abuse from the bike. If I had come upon someone selling Fasst Company Flexx handlebars while on the upper ridge section of the facility, I would have paid $1,000 for them!
Mckimmy/ 300 XC-W: Fast, dry and jumpy sections of the course where we had to flat land jumps were not the 300’s specialty. The suspension was way too soft for these areas of the course.
S. Denison/ 300 XC-W: The soft suspension didn’t really prevent me from charging hard on the faster portions of the course, but the machine would occasionally let me know its limits if I hit a large, square edge too fast or flat landed from a jump.
Boothy/ 500 EXC: Some of the ultra tight turns in the single track had the 500 feeling a little heavy, but overall if speeds were kept just below race pace the 500 was a fun bike to ride at an aggressive trail pace. I know I would have been less tired had I done the entire six hours on the 500 and not worn myself down on the 200 for the first half of the race.
If you could go back in time and throw one mod on this bike for the race, what would it be?
Keefer/ 150 SX: I would have set the suspension up just a little stiffer, just for hitting square edge chop at speed. The bike would move just a little too much. Another thing I would do is use softer compound grips. Ouch!!
Boothy/ 200 XC-W: I wish I had put a stabilizer on this bike. It would have not only calmed the bike down on hacked up trail, it would have made the high speed sand washes less scary.
C. Denison/ 250 XC: Like I said, a Fasst Company Flexx handlebar would have kept me going through some of the nastiest portions of the course. That said, I think that tuning the suspension would have been the best thing to do before going out and tackling this race.
Mckimmy/ 300 XC-W: The 300 XC-W could have used a softer seat. Boy, did I have monkey butt after riding the stocker all day!
S. Denison/ 300 XC-W: If I had to pick just ONE mod, it would be a Fasst Company Flexx bar. From a comfort standpoint, that would have made life a lot easier in the later stages of the race!
Boothy/ 500 EXC: The 500 would benefit from a stabilizer, as most off-road bikes would.
Would you recommend this bike to a friend for the same race? If so, what additional advice would you give them?
Keefer/ 150 SX: Yes, I would tell them to race the KTM 150 SX because it was a blast to ride. It was easy to race longer and harder just because it feels so light. Its motor is responsive enough for you to hop over choppy sections of the track while keeping the throttle pinned. Big fun!
Boothy/ 200 XC-W: I would recommend it to a buddy, but would strongly recommend a stabilizer!
C. Denison/ 250 XC: I’d absolutely give a good friend a recommendation to race the 250 XC, but with a word of caution: this bike will beat the hell out of you once the track gets rough. Still, the strong power, light handling and versatile nature of the machine make it a good choice for an all-around race such as this.
Mckimmy/ 300 XC-W: Absolutely. Properly breaking the machine in before use is key, though. Let the suspension break in well and good before making any major adjustments. As the hours add up you will feel the suspension get better, and the more time you put on the bike the more comfortable you will feel. Also, I would make sure to check the spokes frequently in the first couple rides….they like to wiggle loose!
S. Denison/ 300 XC-W: Honestly? I’d just tell him to have fun! I was really surprised at how good the bike was, for something that was completely bone stock I didn’t really feel limited in any way under race conditions. Other than mods for the personal comfort of the individual rider, there is very little this bike needs to be a serious race weapon.
Boothy/ 500 EXC: I’d recommend this bike for someone soloing the race that wants to keep a conservative pace for six hours. It’s not the bike for a team effort where fresh riders will be aggressive and slamming into the terrain.