A large part of KTM’s current status as the Big Guys off-road has to do with value, arriving with the correct and necessary equipment and delivering on its “Ready to Race” slogan. Heading into 2010, the Champion’s Edition models-celebrating KTM’s 35 years building complete competition models-are more than ready to race. And this XCF-W will be KTM’s only off-road 250cc four-stroke this next model year and green sticker-legal at that.Technically there is little to mention. The $7998 Champion’s Edition (CE) has compact, tucked-in lights, but otherwise the bike boasts 2009 specs. Since the suspension had a 2009 overhaul and the engine was already a rocket, that isn’t a bad thing. Our experience with the KTM 250F is good: The little mill lives at blender rpm, but it lives long and requires little upkeep while making peak power that should make the Japanese off-road models blush. The fact that this is a CE blesses the already fine XCF-W package with orange-anodized covers for all three master cylinders and the oil filter cover, the front axle has a pull handle and the bottom of the engine is hugged with a quick-release plastic skid plate. Even with all these goodies-which includes the standard electric start, plastic hand guards, light kickstand and the electronic multifunction odometer-the KTM still weighs less than the Honda CRF250X or the Yamaha WR250F. On top of that, the opinions we gathered claimed the CE graphic treatment made it a superb-looking machine as well.Once it came to riding the bike, things weren’t quite so rosy. In on-off throttle situations that make constant use of the accelerator pump, the response was sloppy and inconsistent in addition to having a lean hesitation. This model has a leak jet in the carburetor, so we certainly could have spent the time to tune out the hesitation, but we know that an adjustable leak jet from Merge or R&D will knock the problem right out, and we only needed to remove the carburetor once. Since R&D has that great remote fuel screw too, we grabbed those two parts and converted the annoying carburetion to perfection in minutes. At that point the bike was extremely fun to ride, and it ripped on top with a consistent, strong, off-idle chug. Getting between chug and scream was more sluggish than a WR or CRF-X, and the choices were waiting for the rpm to ramp up, or force it with the clutch. For our heavier riders, that seemed like a lot of clutch slipping or just plain keeping it screaming. We solved some of this with an FMF MegaBomb header that added pickup right where it was needed.With the response sorted the little KTM is a riot on the trails. Like all 250Fs, it rewards aggressive and energetic riding. Once you spend a little time on it you start to see how Kailub Russell has been giving the Open bikes a run for the overall in recent GNCCs. Our bike spent every ride in the company of much larger bikes, and it proved a giant killer. It led on mountain trails and in sand where we expected it to lag, and that was with a 225-pound rider aboard. This bike is light for a full-featured e-start model, but it feels even lighter. You really notice it in the turns where this 250 is effortless in comparison to bigger bikes. The suspension is an excellent balance between trail plush and race firm. For sure it feels more on the firm side than the 450 or 530 XC-Ws, but it is still surefooted in rocks and across square edges and roots. It is most likely more at home on moto obstacles than other bikes in the class, but still very soft for that use.KTM made the bike comfortable, and easy to ride long distances on. The lights will get you home with 70 watts of generator output. Fuel range is excellent and the tank is MX thin.
In all, the KTM is a better-looking, superbly equipped version of what was already an excellent off-road thumper. If you want a trail cruiser that never sings above a bass, forget it. But if you don’t mind a ride that is a little hectic and an engine that wails like a rock star, welcome to the jungle.