Story By Chris Denison • Photos By Shan Moore // From the April 2011 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine.
You know how it goes: Visit dealer, drool over bike. Negotiate with spouse, visit bank. Detour to furniture warehouse (per terms of spousal contract). Visit dealer again, negotiate with salesperson. Load new bike, dash to nearest riding area. Commence roostage.
The process of buying and owning a brand-new bike is always an exhilarating one, but many riders get so caught up in the initial rush they fail to take a number of critical steps to ensure maximum performance and longevity of their shiny (well, not for long) new motorcycle. In truth, a number of things must be modified, tweaked, checked and adjusted on a new bike in order to achieve maximum longevity (particularly among all-new models), and just jumping right on your bike without first giving it some mechanical attention can come back to haunt you down the road. The 2011 model year KTM four-strokes are a picture of trickery and performance, but even they have some issues and features that should not be ignored. In light of the popularity of the orange machines, we sat down with suspension guru and KTM expert Alan Stillwell of Stillwell Performance. As the largest Race Tech performance center in the United States, Stillwell Performance is more than experienced with KTM off-road and MX models, and Alan was eager to shed some light on the top 20 things a new KTM owner must check on his or her new motorcycle. Take it away, Alan!
1. Torque your triple clamp bolts. “The first thing you want to do on your new orange ride is to torque the triple clamp bolts, especially the 2011 models. Because of the changes KTM made, the torque is even more important than it has been in years past. The fork and triple clamp have flex built into them, and it’s really important not to overtighten the clamp bolts; doing so can cause binding and permanent damage to the upper tube, and then the fork won’t move as efficiently as it can. Check your manual and use that torque wrench!” KTM makes it easy, the torque spec is machined right into the triple clamp. Be sure to convert those Newton meters into foot-pounds if that’s how your torque wrench reads.
2. Check your spokes. “KTMs are notorious for having loose spokes; check them often, especially around the rim lock and valve core. This will keep your wheel in good shape and decrease your chances of getting a flat tire due to a spoke puncture.”
3. Grind down the brake pedal tangs. “We always grind the brake pedal tangs on our KTMs because if you don’t and you hit a rock or other fixed obstacle, that brake pedal will push right into the case and can result in a broken case. You can see from the photo the tiny bit that we take down when we grind this component.”
4. Torque upper and lower shock mounts. “We always torque the upper and lower shock mounts on a new KTM, and on both linkage and PDS bikes we actually put preload in by grabbing the rear wheel and lifting it up. Compressing the spring slightly takes any of the slop and looseness out of the linkage or the lower mount on the PDS bikes. Again, consult your manual for proper torque settings.”
5. Check the exhaust mount for breakage. “Keep an eye on the 250, 350 and 450 SX-Fs because the exhaust mount has been known to break on those bikes right above the footpeg. The time on the bike and conditions surrounding the break are a totally random occurrence, but it’s something we’ve seen a lot of.”
6. Bleed the brakes and clutch. “To keep your KTM working consistently, one of the big things we recommend is that you bleed the brakes and the hydraulic clutch system to make sure you don’t have any type of air in there. We have found a couple of our team bikes came straight from the factory with soft brakes, and we were able to alleviate that by doing a tune on it.”
7. Loctite the chain slider bolt. “This is a notorious KTM problem area! The chain slider bolts always seem to come loose or seize up and break off in there. Take it out when it’s new, put some Loctite on it and live happily ever after.”
8. Put anti-seize on the chain adjusters. “We always put anti-seize on the chain adjuster bolts on new KTMs. Remove the wheel, remove the bolt, put anti-seize on it and run it in and out a few times to get it in the threads and you’ll be good to go. Like all the other tips here, I’d suggest you do this before you ever throw a leg over your new KTM!”
9. Check your sprocket bolts. “We’ve found the new KTMs’ sprocket bolts are not holding as well as they have in the past. Check these often so that they don’t come loose, which can cause much bigger problems as well as a huge safety issue.”
10. Check the chain guide bolts. “Especially if you’re an off-roader doing EnduroCross or tough trail riding, you’ll notice that the back chain guide bolt is coming loose. Keep an eye on that, and put some Loctite on it as well.” Don’t forget the upper slider under the airbox either.
11. Ensure that the air filter is sealing. “This tip goes all the way back to when KTM first went to this style of airbox. You want to make sure that when you remove the seat, you’re looking straight down into the airbox and can make sure that the filter is sealing. We see bikes come through our shop that have filters that aren’t sealed properly, and this will quickly lunch the motor by pulling sand and debris through.”
12. Check the gas tank bolt. “We don’t recommend that you put Loctite on your gas tank bolt, but this does need to be tightened frequently as the bolt tends to come loose.”
13. Adjust your fork height. “Fork height on the 2011 KTMs is very, very important to the ride height of the bike. Depending on whether you’re riding in sand, single-track or moto you’ll need to test this and adjust it accordingly. We recommend making adjustments on the fork height anywhere from flush to about 7mm up in the clamps. This is something you should test in 2-3mm increments.”
14. Set ride height. “Shock ride height on the new 2011s is very critical as well. Even 1-3mm of sag difference will make a rather drastic change in how the bike rides in obstacles, whoops and so forth. Consult your manual for the suggested range, but 105 to 110mm is a good starting place. This is something the average guy doesn’t pay much attention to, but it’s huge.”
15. Know your clicker settings. “In 2011 KTM has really stepped up its fork. It’s now on par with if not better than any of the competition’s front suspension. You’ll find that the fork now moves smoother and more efficiently than in the past, and that makes it important to check your clickers and make your adjustments in smaller increments. We typically make the adjustments in two to three-click increments to find the sweet spot, and then one click after that. Again, you always go all the way righty-tighty (stiffest position) and then count your clickers from the fully tight position going out, so the first click counts as one.”
16. Don’t let the linkage bolt seize. “We’ve noticed on the 250 and 350 SX-Fs that the large 19mm bolt at the bottom of the linkage is seizing. Make sure before you ever ride the bike that you push that out and apply a 50/50 mixture of heavy-duty bearing grease and anti-seize.”
17. Care for your shock collar. “We’ve found the shock collar packs full of sand, dirt and water. We recommend when having your shock serviced that the tuner should apply anti-seize to the threads. It’s more efficient if you pull the locking collar completely off the nylon collar when making your adjustments; it tends to turn more freely this way.”
18. Idle at altitude. “Anytime you change altitude, barometric pressure or anything else, we recommend you start the bike and let it idle for five minutes without touching the throttle. This sounds like a long time, but it actually resets the ECU and lets the bike figure out where it’s at. A rider can always do this while putting his or her gear on.”
19.Adjust the airscrew. “The hot setup on the 350 SX-F is to click your airscrew counterclockwise (all the way out) and then click back in 14 clicks. That tends to be the best setting to get the bike to run most efficiently. The airscrew is on the side of the ECU.”
20. Be careful with the compression adjusters. “When you’re going to zero on the compression adjuster on your fork, don’t overtighten the knobs. When the adjusters get firm, don’t push them any further or else they will crack.”
Based out of Colorado, Stillwell Performance can be found all over the Internet (or “Internets,” if you ask Jimmy Lewis) at