Second in line for first new bike of 2009 is the KTM 450 SX-F. Once a fiercely hard-edged motocrosser, the new and improved KTM is showing a more refined compliance that should gain it some new track-addicted fans in 2009.Right away you know this KTM is different than last year’s bike. One look into its graphics, one stare at the factory-colored fork and one glance at the blacked-out triple clamps and you’ll see KTM’s forward-thinking style is alive and well. But the beneficial changes don’t stop with aesthetics.Clearly the most noticeable improvement and most obvious to the eye is the new front suspension components. The fork on the 2009 450 SX-F shares similar construction refinements with the 250 XC we’ve already tested. Thinner tubes, stiffer springs and new valving put the fork action in a different direction: a much softer one. Really, KTM engineers accomplished something directly in line with what American customers will appreciate: a more supple, friendlier ride aboard an orange bike. Surely, more riders will feel at home with the new plushness. While the combination of the flex character of the setup and overall softer damping makes fans from novice to intermediate, pro-level riders will need to stiffen up the front end to keep from getting stuck in the wallows. Same goes for the shock, which has its own upgrades.The linkageless shock out back on the 450 SX-F has an all-new PDS needle. This is the “linkage” in a dual-piston shock system. It acts similar to a carb needle in that upon compression, the amount of oil passing by the needle is reduced the farther the shock travels. When the needle closes off the bypass, the valving includes the secondary piston and the rate of damping force increases. The angle of the shock puts a certain amount of rising rate (like a linkage) on the shock, but the internal valving adds even more dimension to this.The result of all this fluid dynamic needle business is a great rear shock feel. Again, better than the ’08 and more friendly to a wider range of riders. We’re pretty sure the shock plushness has a lot to do with the improved front end feel, too. Also mirroring the front, the shock seems to be on the soft side for the fastest riders in our testing posse. Dial it in by stiffening it up, and don’t forget to use rebound adjustments for traction control!Speaking of adjustments, the only really strange thing about KTM’s suspension this year seems to be the sensitivity of the clickers. Our testers all felt the range of one click was huge. So huge that we were looking for half clicks. So click wisely. Or if you want to learn what things do, click recklessly and pay attention.Inside the KTM’s renowned motor is some enhancement worth noting. The motor nicely packages more bottom-end than a year ago with the same great overrev and top-end superiority. Everyone is in love with this motor, and since they’ve proven to have a solid track record in the durability department, we’re more than confident giving it a positive endorsement. Changes internally include a new, lighter weight piston which is at least partially responsible for getting the SX-F motor into the revs sooner. The valve train has some updates (lighter finger followers, new valve springs and slightly different timing) to enhance this rev-up further. Also new in the head are revised intake and exhaust ports that match the all-new intake and exhaust manifolds which bookend the top end.
In a refinement year, you’d think a suspension overhaul and major motor character enhancements would be enough. Especially since KTM has the control and style market more than cornered with its juice clutch, radical braking power and gnarly graphic treatments. But for ’09, that game is stepped up, too.New levers and master cylinders for both the brake and clutch side make another nice addition. The clutch is now less-funky feeling with a normal sized lever, and the front brake system (which is all new down to the caliper) is smaller, lighter and easier to modulate. The braking power is still there, though, trust us. The clutch lever also features great position adjustability and boasts fold-away crash-damage resistance.We’ve given this orange ride the First Test treatment over here at the Dirt Rider shop, for sure. We’re generally in love with the bike, mostly because it works so nicely for all of us and secondly because we love any bike with electric start.Shootout, here we come.2009 KTM 450 SX-F
Claimed dry weight: 231 lb
Actual weight (no gas): 234 lb
Actual weight (tank full): 247 lb
Seat height: 37.9 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.9 in.
Footpeg height: 17.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.1 gal.Other notes: Fuel screw setting is critical for smooth bottom. It varies track to track.Other notes: Static sag should be at 33-40mm (very important with proper race sag!)Modifications We’d Like To Try: Bridgestone 403/404 tires, clutch master cylinder off of the KTM 125. Put on the right color number plate backgrounds-duh!Opinions
KTM is making improvements every year to keep this 450 competitive against the Japanese machines. The first improvement over the ’08 model that I noticed was the suspension. When I was riding around and checking things out I immediately noticed how plush the bike was. It was smooth and supple. I was impressed. That was not a characteristic of last year’s machine. But when I picked up the pace from 70 percent to 100 percent, the suspension couldn’t keep up. Especially at speed on big jumps and bumps.The fork and shock were a bit soft overall, and on decel the fork would blow through and rebound back, making the front end really nervous. The shock was surprisingly stable in big rollers and didn’t give that bad rebounding feedback that Japanese bikes sometimes give. But when accelerating out of a corner, the rear squatted down and rode at the bottom of the stroke, which was harsh on acceleration bumps.The KTM shined on flat sweeping turns or sharper turns with no ruts or berms. The front end stayed planted, and the rear tracked right behind it. The only issue I had was in rutted corners. The front end wanted to climb out of the rut to the inside in an oversteer.The most impressive thing on the bike for me was the motor. This thing rips! The delivery is smooth and responsive. Then it transitions strong up into the mid and keeps delivering ponies to the ground all the way to the never-ending top-end. I could ride this bike a gear lower or a gear higher or even two gears higher, and the orange machine still pulled me around. I think with some suspension mods focused at keeping the bike’s handling up to speed with the awesome engine, this bike could be a more aggressive machine and really put a hurt on its competition in the class.
-Ryan Orr/5’10″/170 lb/Pro
I would have to say that the ’09 KTM 450 SX-F is definitely an improvement compared to last year’s bike. Not that the ’08 was bad, it’s just that last year, with such a strong motor, the stock suspension couldn’t keep up with it. Well, KTM got word of that, because it tuned the suspension big time, and even though the ’08 had a bitchin motor, Orange stepped up the ’09 in that department, too.The suspension on the new KTM is very plush. A little too soft for my top speed, but when I back it down some, it works quite well. It soaked up small chop and never really acted unpredictably; a huge improvement from the ’08, as that edition was very unpredictable and didn’t seem to work quite right riding fast or slow.One negative about the new suspension would be the sensitivity of the compression and rebound adjustments. One click on the adjusters makes a huge difference and makes it a bit tough to find that perfect setting. It seemed that a single click was too much; it would either make it too soft or too harsh. I just couldn’t find a happy medium. If the adjustment were maybe half or even a quarter of a click, the bike could definitely be dialed in. Even with this, it’s still the best stock KTM suspension I’ve felt, and it’s good to see it complement the Austrian company’s motor.The 450 SX-F’s awesome motor now has better power delivery. KTM smoothed out the delivery compared to last year, and the bike seems to have a little more bottom-end. None of this took away from the mid to top-end boost, though, because it still revs like no other 450.Now, I don’t usually like to rev out four-strokes, but it is nice to have some extra rev when I don’t feel like squeezing in that extra shift from time to time. The KTM is an easy bike to ride; not easy as in slow, but easy as in I don’t have to always be in the right gear. The bike can rip out of turns in second gear with plenty of traction and keep pulling hard or it can pull third through the same turn, just as easily, with plenty of drive. It all depends on how you want to ride it. Ride it smooth or hard, either way, it always finds traction and puts the power to the ground.Now I have to say it even though it’s said every time the KTM is brought up: How can you go wrong with electric start? It is so nice to just push a button and not have to kick your motorcycle like a caveman. When will the other MXers follow suit?I feel the ’09 KTM 450 is closer than ever to putting it to the Japanese 450s. I was definitely impressed. With its great motor and suspension to match I can’t wait to ride the KTM back to back with the big four.
-Chris Barrett/6’1″/180 lb/ProThe 2009 KTM 450 SX-F was a very easy-riding bike. The powerband was extremely smooth, and the throttle response was incredible. The suspension needed a little fine-tuning and adjusting to fit my riding style and my weight, but when we got the suspension tuned for me the bike ran insanely through all of the braking bumps at both high and low speeds.The angle of the fork on this bike is in the perfect spot for railing some ruts. The bike likes to get into a rut and flow with it; I never had a problem with the front end wanting to hop out. The best thing about the bike is its brakes. The front brake on this bike has incredible stopping power, but it’s not to the point to where it wants to throw you over the bar. The rear brake also has incredible stopping power. Being new to 450s and having just bought a 2008 Honda CRF450R, I really enjoyed riding this KTM.
-Jake Scarbrough/6’1″/180 lb/Novice