The whole concept of a street-legal race-capable bike like the KTM 530 EXC gelled when we reached the end of the Tejon Trail-a single-track through the mountains above the Hungry Valley SVRA. You end up at a paved road with a sign that says, “Street legal vehicles only.” I had a huge grin as, rather than double back, I engaged the turn signal and headed into the forest for more trails. When you have a 2009.5 KTM EXC the world is one giant trail ride. Who says trails can’t be paved?So what exactly is a 2009.5, or 2009-and-a-half KTM? In the case of this Champion’s Edition 530 EXC, it is a late-release model with upgrades and features that the normal 2009 didn’t have. Mechanically there’s no difference. But cosmetically the bike features the Champion’s Edition graphics celebrating the 35 years since the company’s first world motocross championship. One other thing that has changed is the price. The battering that the dollar is taking against the Euro means the price is a whopping $9498, but for the caseload of cash you get all the normal 50-state street-legal EXC goodness that has made KTM EXCs runaway best-sellers plus some fancy orange billet covers to go with the graphics. So is the bike worth the cash? The worth depends on you, but we will say the KTM has the real goods of a race-ready off-road weapon with the bare minimum in street equipment. This means you get that coveted KTM six-speed transmission, smooth, usable power and plush suspension. If you want to ride it seriously in the dirt, you’ll need to do a little more work than a standard XC-W, but depending on your riding habits, the work and extra expense are worth the effort.As civil as the current KTM single-cam engines are in the dirt with that tractable, almost seamless boost and slim profile between the knees, the EXC is equally barbaric on the pavement. It isn’t bad for short stretches on the asphalt, but if you’re going for the “I can ride it to work and save gas!” ploy with the wife, you really need to want it. With the stock gearing the engine isn’t working too hard, but the seat has a comfort rating scaled in minutes, and the vibrations you never feel on the trail are in your face (well, your hands, butt and feet obviously). When you aren’t dodging rocks, ruts and bottomless pits, even dodging 4000-pound behemoths leaves you ample time to notice the rumbles of internal combustion. It isn’t that the bike complains on the street. The tires are noisy, but the power is plentiful and the brakes are reason enough to show care and restraint when ordering, “Whoa!” It’s the rider who’ll be complaining.The complaint list of comfort issues largely evaporates on the trail. Sometimes we only had the one street-legal off-road bike while we were testing, so most of the time the bike was treated like a CRF-X, WR or XC-W, so we scrapped the 15/45 Bonneville sprockets in favor of a 14/48. This gearing didn’t cripple the streetability much, but it helped a lot in the dirt. If we were really serious about dirt on the EXC, we’d go 14/51 or 14/52 to make second more of a staple in the tight, and allow more third-gear running. We prefer first as a fallback plan with the other five ratios doing the everyday work.The stock jetting is lean to the point of annoyance, so when we were in the dirt we ran a JD Jetting kit. The JD setting is leaner on the pilot and main but runs a richer needle machined from brass to JD specs. The accelerator pump stroke is also restricted. The kit instructions were very clear and easy to follow. After the change in jetting, lean-pop stalling vanished, and the engine was extremely well mannered. We didn’t notice any reduction in fuel economy. With the jetting sorted we had no engine complaints.In fact, our complaints in any area are few. The rear turn signals are suspect. Prolonged high-rpm running can melt the one on the exhaust side, and shorter riders will kick them off getting on and off the bike. The front signals and other lights and equipment held up fine. We trimmed the fender extension that holds the license plate. Otherwise, the rear tire will eat it. Our biggest gripe was with the tires. KTM had to go with a DOT-approved legal on-road tire, but the Metzelers on the bike howl on pavement and don’t hook up well in the dirt. The rear has a very tall profile, so it aggravates the seat height and has a bouncy feel while braking.Since Dirt Rider is all about dirt, we don’t really care much that the KTM suffers on the pavement. It makes the other street-legal, dirt-capable bikes suffer on the trail. We literally rode right from the highway onto extremely technical trails, and even played on a racetrack with only minor adjustments to the suspension. For now, if you want a dirt-serious bike with a plate, KTM is the leader. And that brings us back to our earlier statement about riding habits. If you’re the only rider in your group with a plate, you’re carrying weight and expense for nothing. So here is the bad news: You need to convince yourself you need one, the spouse (where applicable), the finance company and one or two of your buddies. A plated bike is like a pit bike or a trials bike in one sense: You need more than one to really enjoy it!OpinionsRob Waite
Weight: 170 lb
Excellent Trail Rider
I spent a long, hot, rough day in saddle of the 530. We had a 400 and a 450 XC-W along, and I rode each of those bikes a little, and except for the tires being a little slippery, you would never know this 530 was a street-legal bike. It is powerful, tractable and finely suspended. It really is a high-end off-road bike that happens to be legal on pavement.Jimmy Lewis
Weight: 185 lb
Fix the jetting, change the gearing, get the crankcase breather hose off the bell of the carburetor and open up the catch tank for the carb’s breather tubes. If you buy one of these bikes, just do this stuff before you wonder why your bike overheats or runs funny. Then stop slipping that clutch! Just let the 530 lug you to trail heaven and thank KTM for making a dirt bike you can get a license plate for. Because we all know how regulations are cutting into your trail mileage. Because of that, we need bikes like this KTM 530. If I had the money right now (and I didn’t already have a street-legal 400 EXC), I’d have one of these.