KTM’s 2004 300 E/XC is as new as a motorcycle can get. It’s based on the 2003 KTM 250 SX, which was adapted from KTM’s 2002 MXGP works bikes piloted by James Dobb, so it really can’t be compared to the ’03 300. Dobb’s race bike represented the first all-new KTM 250/300 design since 1990. The company took the opportunity to build more power, cleaner shifting and a lower seat height into a package that is super-light. One of the best things about KTM is that very little is lost during the transformation of a new motocross model into an enduro/cross-country machine. KTM currently has the lightest 250cc two-stroke motocross machine you can buy. Knowing that fact, and how closely related KTM motocross and off-road models are, we were still shocked at the readout on Dirt Rider’s dual-pad digital scale: 227 pounds! That isn’t some “claimed” dry weight; we weighed it ready-to-ride but with the tank empty. That is extremely light for a fully equipped off-road (closed-course) race bike and within a pound or two of some 250cc motocrossers! For comparison, the old Suzuki RMX250 weighed 249 pounds, a Kawasaki KDX200 weighs 240 and a Yamaha WR250F, a Honda XR250R and a Kawasaki KLX300R all weigh about 250.The best part is the KTM isn’t just light, it’s totally right for serious off-road racing. This bike needs only heavy tubes and hand guards to be race-ready anywhere.With all the changes, the 300 looks very purposeful and race-ready, and it is. We ran the bike through the gamut of terrain in our area. We started on the packed clay, shale rock and decomposed granite at Rowher Flats (Texas Canyon), roosted through the trails of Lake Arrowhead from the Pinnacles staging area, hit the starting line for two classes at the Lake Elsinore GP then headed for the steep and sandy high desert of Red Rock Canyon and Dove Springs. We experienced no need to play with the jetting despite the radical changes in altitude. For Elsinore we swapped the stock Bridgestone M59/M402 tires for an M401/M402 combo with Bridgestone heavy tubes, then installed Enduro Engineering hand guards and a GPR steering damper. The wide-ratio five-speed had a gear for every situation, and we rarely ran out of speed in fifth gear or found that first gear was too tall. There were times, mostly in the high desert, when the ratios felt a tad too wide for maximum fun, so we would gear a little lower for tight riding, where losing top speed wouldn’t hurt as much. It’s not that the engine isn’t perfectly capable of pulling through the semi-wide spacing of the ratios, but more a case of finding the engine out of the happiest part of the power climbing decomposed granite hills, when dropping down a gear would be too low. We did have a 120/100-18 Kenda Southwick tire on the back, and no doubt the stock Bridgestone rear or a less-aggressive Kenda would have let the engine pull a tall gear more easily. The Southwick is the next best thing to a true paddle tire, and has motivated us to run lower gearing in the past.The engine is strong but so smooth that it is more four-stroke-like than some four-strokes. Starting is also perfectly easy and reliable. Older 300s started readily but took some muscle to kick; the new bike kicks easier and starts readily. As with all ’04 KTMs, the 300 gets a clutch master cylinder with a 1mm-smaller bore. The new unit has a lighter pull but with the same easy, crisp engagement for which KTM’s hydraulic clutches are known. There is a little engine vibration, but otherwise we can’t fault the powerplant.At Texas Canyon we climbed some steep, rutted, rock-garden hills. Getting a run was not an option, and we had to crawl up through rocks on a steep hill using the power and the clutch to get through. We had four-strokes along that typically excel in similar circumstances, but they boiled over, stalled and required massive clutch slipping. The 300 E/XC, with its tractable power, light weight and low first gear, made them all look silly.The Lake Arrowhead trail system is fairly limited in terms of mileage for bikes without license plates, but the altitude makes it a tempting destination when the valleys are too hot. In addition, riding through the trees the views are great, so there is enough traffic that the trails can be rough with whoops, rocks and roots, and sometimes all three at the same time.We brought along a 525 E/XC four-stroke as a measuring stick. The two were something like a Cadillac and a Mustang GT. The 525 is plush and smooth with a somewhat-long feel to the chassis. The 300 acts much lighter and has snappier manners and responses, plus the suspension is crisp and rides up in the travel compared with the 525. The 300 is close to the 525 in power delivery; both are smooth, but the four-stroke is more torquey. The 300 is quicker revving, but you need to shift it more often; the 525 pulls longer in each gear. When we went to the high desert, we also had a 250cc motocrosser along. That was a fairer comparison than the 525, and the 300 was all that you would expect. It climbed hills as if it had more peak power, but the engine also made a lot more meat in the middle rpm ranges. Riding the 300 was less work, since you make good trail speed at a lower rpm. On tight trails that fat 300cc midrange pull often allowed the rider to accelerate from a corner without shifting when that would be impossible on any 250. Of course, since the KTM is an E/XC–made for enduros–it had smooth torque from right at idle on up. There was not what motoheads call “hit,” but a touch of the clutch did snap the engine into the meat of the midrange. As with the best years of the KTM 300, this one doesn’t really feel fast–until you notice you are constantly blowing by your buddies on 250s. When conditions are tight or uphill, you can moto by so quickly it nearly rips the stickers off the bike.The handling and suspension are as excellent as the engine. The combination of the 48mm WP fork, the oversize front axle and the rider-forward ergonomics had this E/XC cutting a line through tight trails that past KTMs only dreamed of. The seat height is not objectionable, so that also helped the handling.After a ride on the 300 E/XC, you’ll be spouting T-shirt slogans, since the bike invites superlatives. A couple we think apply are: “It doesn’t get any better than this” and “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.”
I think I have this figured out. I can max out the credit card, move into the doghouse and sell my old 2001 300 M/XC. It’s well worth the price considering I’ll get an ’04 KTM 300. The new bike is that much better than my modified ’01. The ergonomics are the first thing I noticed when I sat on the bike. The feel of the riding position is very flat and slim, and very much like a modern motocrosser. Once underway, I immediately felt the new 300 engine had more grunt down low, so it produces extremely usable power. I love two-strokes, and this motor seems to have more torque and traction-hunting power than any 450 four-stroke (aka Briggs & Stratton) could ever hope for. Then there is the new clutch lever and master cylinder: one finger of ultrasmooth power engagement. The new suspension is easily twice as good as my bike’s modified suspension. It soaked up all of those square-edged holes and rocks to the point of making the trail feel as if it had just been paved. I think it could even handle moto with nothing more than a change to stiffer springs. The larger front axle really added to the bike’s steering accuracy. Coupled with the new riding position, this bike really loves to turn and hold its line.I love to ride off-road, yet I like to moto once in a while, too. Throw on an FMF pipe and silencer and a set of springs, then go riding. KTM just built the ultimate do-all dirt bike. Maybe maxing out the credit card isn’t such a good idea; I’ll need it to buy stuff for my new bike. I guess I’ll have to sell the DR-Z125 I bought my daughters last Christmas. After all, they only ride it a couple of times a month. (I wonder if I can get a mattress that fits in that doghouse?)
John Bumgarner/6’1″/195 lb/A riderLately I’ve been primarily riding four-strokes off-road; I tend to forget how good two-strokes can be. The KTM 300 pounds me in the head to remind me. The bike is a pure joy to ride. The motor is as smooth as glass and pulls almost down to idle. The suspension is exceptionally plush, and the chassis turned on a dime. The ergonomics are great, and the quality of the components is excellent, as usual. The brakes are almost too good but have a good feel to them. I was most impressed with how easy it was to ride, and in particular, how quiet the exhaust note was. We have changed the pipe and silencer in the past and the performance wakes up quite a bit, but in the really dry conditions we were in, the mellow power delivery of the stock units really worked great. What more could you ask of an off-road bike?
Ed Tripp/5’10″/180 lb/IntermediateFor motocross, I simply don’t even consider two-strokes. The new four-strokes allow me to feel much more comfortable and ride closer to my potential. But just when I think I can box up the two-stroke oil and pass it on to some less-enlightened soul, a bike like the KTM 300 comes along. Even after trying light, MX-type four-strokes, the light weight and quick response of the 300 chassis is intoxicating. The engine is so willing in any situation that you marvel that all two-strokes aren’t 300s. The engine doesn’t pull as long in a gear as a comparable four-stroke, but it rivals any thumper for smooth and tractable power. The starting is effortless, the riding position extremely good (a Honda seat would make it perfect), the brakes are sick they are so powerful and when you stop feeding your buddies a dish of roost while trail-motoing you can put the kickstand down while you have a trail snack. This bike is so quiet they’ll never hear humiliation coming. I just ordered a new case of two-stroke oil–looks as though I’ll be needing it.
Karel Kramer/6’1″/200 lb/B riderThe first time I rode the KTM 300 E/XC was during the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix with no practice except for a 100-yard stretch from the truck to the starting line. So I was a bit nervous and thought this was going to take me a while to get used to the bike, not to mention I’ve been riding four-strokes for the past year. To my surprise, the Katoom was an easy transition. It had a very light, flickable feeling, and it had plenty of power, especially for a guy my size and weight. I really like how smooth the power delivery was–much like a four-stroke, but unlike most four-strokes it didn’t have that extra weighted feeling. The suspension worked really well for me, considering that the only thing I got a chance to adjust on the bike was the sag. I had no problems motoring through long sections of whoops and square edges. I definitely took a liking to the bike in a hurry; I would say this is the most-fun bike I have ridden off-road yet.
Joe McKimmy/5’9″/150 lb/Intermediate