I would be a lot better off if I had only one motorcycle. Currently owning 30 motorcycles makes me sort of an extreme case. Most guys can barely manage two dirt bikes, be it space or spousal constraints. But for all of those with Multiple Motorcycle Disorder, I will outline a solution, if you’re willing to listen. But first, you have to admit you have a problem.Of course I don’t have a problem, I’m merely a professional. And in that capacity I can tell you why the KTM 250 XC is quite possibly the single best dirt bike being produced. This middle-displacement, lightweight, high-performance, multi-tasking ride is simplistic and utopian beyond what I could write here or explain to anyone with a closed mind-for them there must be a test ride. But if you’re considering just one motorcycle to accomplish whatever you desire in your riding requirements, this is the best way to get started and the best motorcycle to recommend if you want your advice to be credible. Sure, if you have a more specific purpose for your bike, there may be a better machine to recommend, but as a blanket suggestion, you can’t go wrong with the multi-tasking two-stroke KTM XC.Sound like some sort of lustful love affair? Maybe we at Dirt Rider are bought off by KTM or have some underhanded deal with the Austrian company? Well, the reputation and current status of the bikes come from a long road of consistent improvements and the ability to simply build the bikes riders are asking for. Across the board the company is making what some feel are niche machines, but there is enough demand for them. When we test these bikes they do just what they’re advertised to do.For 2011, the entire and exclusively two-stroke (for now, you didn’t hear it here that there will be a 350 four-stroke) XC line got a serious makeover. Starting with an all-new frame, retaining the non-linkage PDS shock system but benefiting from the raised shock tower, KTM is looking to push the handling even further. A longer shock gives the engineers and test riders more shock stroke travel to work with. The shock tower placement isolates the forces outside of the main spar of the chassis, limiting the amount of feeling the rider gets in the bar from the back end of the machine. Coming with the chassis is a whole new set of bodywork that is slim, thin and plenty futuristic as well. If that wasn’t enough, the engine got a revised cylinder with a lower exhaust port, new timing and optimized powervalve control via a new main spring, not to mention the six-speed transmission giving the bike even longer legs. Everyone still think the two-stroke is dead?Sure, the bike is not sold with a spark arrestor or any lights; it was never intended to be a trailbike. If you want to make it into one, that’s pretty simple. Although the bike has the same places to stick numbers on it as the SX line, it was not intended to be a strict MXer. But most can take it to the track and get away with riding it like any other MX bike; it works that well. Designed to tackle a relatively modern discipline of racing called “closed-course off-road racing” (a blanket term for everything from GPs to GNCCs to WORCS to EnduroCross), it is a perfect fit for the right rider, which means most of us. Then if you choose to expand its workload, it responds better than any other bike we can think of or have tried. It trail rides with minimal discomfort. It motos without performance-limiting holdbacks.
Riding the bike, a rider immediately will take notice of a few things. First is the electric start. Yes, even if the KTM 250 XC will kickstart simply, having a button to push instead is magical and makes it just that much nicer; don’t think all the luxury items are available only on four-strokes. Then there is the weight. Whether it’s on the scale at 225 (without fuel) or the feel of less mass when riding, the bike is simply feathery. You really feel it if you’re coming from any size four-stroke, and the minimal reciprocating mass stands out as the bike stays light even when the rpm go skyward. About the only drawback compared to some four-strokes is some additional vibration through the bar and sometimes the pegs. Next on the platter is the power delivery. The 250 XC has incredibly clean and crisp carburetion that will tug and torque at insanely low revs without the flywheel weight that used to be necessary to keep a two-stroke spinning so slowly. If you have been away from two-strokes for a few years now, this is an area that has come a long way. Then the bike pulls and pulls smoothly and with authority, revving out plenty far and with power that will keep a 450 in check. The downright disadvantage of the two-stroke is the overall power spread in each gear is shorter than a four-stroke, but this KTM masks any shortcoming here well.Gear-to-gear pull is no problem with the semi-wide-ratio transmission; it basically has a lower first and a taller sixth with a motocross box in the middle, if you factor in how it is geared in the final drive. The hydraulic clutch is as magical as the electric starting and needs a similar explanation; you don’t appreciate it until you use it. First gear on the XC can tax the clutch in really technical trail work as the ratio is closer to an MX machine than a trailbike, but in this configuration the top speed is admirable and fast enough to allow you to lug it and keep 50 mph, with an 84-mph top speed.The new plastic feels as slim and thin as it looks and hides just over three gallons of gas. That’s good enough for 60 trail miles or an hour of hard racing. You can move all over the bike and it never feels different than a motocross bike in regard to ergonomics. Add the adjustability KTM has built in through the multi-position top triple-clamp bar mount and the bike fits a wide range of sizes. The only item holding back a really large guy is the spring rates, which seem perfectly suited for the 170-190 pound range.Speaking of suspension, KTM has found the magic place a lot of tuners are searching for. It is track capable, holding the bike up from dreaded wallow while allowing enough compliance in small bumps so it doesn’t hammer you on the rocky trails. If anything, the overall softer setting, compared to a strict MX bike, gets the Katoom into the turns better and gobbles up the chop on rough motocross tracks better than an MXer. It can suffer on big jump landings, especially with heavier riders, and in rolling rhythm sections the XC can move around more than is comfortable. But out on the trail the bike has a safety margin built in with the stiffness that regular trailbikes just don’t have. You can hit stuff harder and not worry about ripping your feet off the pegs. It holds the pegs up higher in ruts and away from stumps, logs and rocks. Adding or subtracting a few clicks of compression front and rear can really change the feeling of the suspension through the chassis without affecting the performance in a negative way.
The brakes are simply insane, thanks to a combo of great parts and the light bike they’re slowing. Air filter access is a tool-less affair, and the bulk of the maintenance is changing your transmission fluid every few rides. We’ve seen guys go 100 hours on top ends on these bikes, and the clutches last way longer than most even with the added abuse off-road can bring. About the most vulnerable part on the bike is the expansion chamber, but this two-stroke has to have one weak spot, doesn’t it?When we first began this test we wanted to do another two- vs. four-stroke comparison. We asked around for another brand to stack its four-stroke against this bike in an all-around moto/off-road comparison, and there were no takers aside from the standing offer from Husaberg (KTM owns Husaberg) and another KTM vs. KTM comparison (we already did that with 150 SX vs. 250 SX-F). We won’t deny we were not surprised about this, because that fact alone shows just how good everyone knows this bike is; and in many regular-rider applications two-strokes are superior. But one final thing to consider, and I’ll wrap it up. When Jesse Ziegler left Dirt Rider he was bike-less. Having started here a motocross-bike-only rider and leaving with five years of bike testing experience under his belt, he was a knowledgeable consumer primed to make a bike purchase. He bought a KTM 250 XC.
Specifications: 2011 KTM 250 XC
Claimed weight: 215 lb
Actual weight (tank full): 244 lb
Seat height: 37.0 in.
Footpeg height: 17.0 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 21.0 in.
Ground clearance: 14.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.0 gal.
The KTM 250 XC gives you exactly what you would want and expect from a two-stroke. It has a very light feel-this right away makes it an easy bike to maneuver and throw around. It’s a bike that you can really put where you want, when you want. This makes it easy to ride on a motocross track and definitely won’t hurt you on the trails. Since it is so light, though, it does move around more and doesn’t stay as planted as the four-strokes. Being lighter and having a faster-revving motor than the four-strokes, the 250 XC definitely wants to slide more. However, this is easy to control and definitely helps with correcting mistakes. The motor on this KTM has two sides; this gives it a huge advantage for different types and styles of riding. It all depends on what you want. If you want more of a bite, then leave it in a lower gear and rev it out; this puppy will wheelie and break loose if you twist the throttle hard enough. Or if you prefer a smoother, more controllable type of power, then just shift up a gear and you’ll experience a smooth, broad power that has plenty of torque to keep a smile on your face. Either way the motor is very strong.The KTM 250 XC seems to thrive more on rider movement and rewards you for putting in a little extra effort, but on the other hand, being light and controllable, this bike is also a great benefit when getting tired or riding through some tough sections. So in the end, this is a great bike for a wide variety of riders.
Although the XC is not considered a motocross bike, its roots stem from the SX model. Yes, it’s a two-stroke, but I have no problem mixing my fuel. For an older rider who kind of went fast 20 years ago, I like the power of a 450 but have realized it does not always mean faster lap times. The XC is a great mount for that all-around rider who wants to go trail riding one weekend, do a GP the next and maybe a trip to a moto track if so inclined. You can tell the XC has a little moto in its premix but its heart is off-road. The power is ultra-smooth thanks to a heavier flywheel compared to the SX model. A harder-hitting delivery might be a little more fun for an MX track, but overall I would want the XC delivery for a do-it-all motorcycle. There was ample power to do every jump at the local MX track, so I could never say I was lacking ponies, but maybe it needs a little more hit.After spending the last few years riding four-bangers, it was a nice change to ride a lightweight 250 two-stroke. The chassis is so easy to flick around it makes you think about defecting back to the premix world. The suspension on the XC is very plush and doable on an MX track, though you have to be a little aware of what it can and can’t do. Yet for the most part, it tackles most everything on the track. I did stiffen up the shock and the fork from the standard settings. Most people forget that suspension is adjustable and you should mess with the settings between tracks or types of riding. I can’t rave enough about the electric start on a two-stroke, simply sublime.On my track test day we were going back to back with the Husaberg 450 FX. At the end of the day, I would go with the KTM if riding moto tracks were part of the equation. The XC has enough power with a smooth delivery for a two-stroke, the chassis is compliant, and the pogo sticks are soft enough for off-road and stiff enough for a trip to most moto tracks now and again.
The Comparison We Said We Wouldn’t Do
KTM 250 XC vs. Husaberg 450 FX
The 2011 Husaberg is the four-stroke interpretation of a do-all motorcycle. Focused on closed-course off-road racing with Swiss Army knife functionality, the Swedish cum Austrian mount is potent in its “minimalisticness” as it is loaded in performance. Dressed like an MXer and outfitted to roam farther than just MX fields, here is a list of where the Berg can draw blood against its two-stroke cousin and where it should run for cover.The Husaberg (and all four-strokes) should hide when it comes to weight. Even with its revolutionary engine placement and lightweight feel when riding against other four-strokes, the additional mass is evident all the time. It isn’t all bad as the four-stroke wins out with added stability and a more planted feel, but the weight (actual and perceived) is what comes to the front of the line during discussion time.The 450 FX has a really long and linear power spread that is blessed with FI computer drivability. We ran ours in the aggressive map position all of the time and truthfully were wishing for just a little bit more, compared to the spunk and spirit of the 250cc two-stroke. Overall power quantity feels very similar between the two, and the radar gun shows how close they are. The third-gear roll-on shows what is really going on. And as crisp as the two-stroke is, the bottom pull is nothing compared to what the FI four-stroke accomplishes-it is flawless, just not aggressive.
Both of these bikes are extremely flickable; the Husaberg is a benchmark off-road. But on the track, somehow that four-stroke weight stands out more than it does on the trail. The biggest differences in the way the bikes work comes from the compression braking of the Husaberg and the freewheeling of the KTM. Because of that the four-stroke can feel heavier and the brakes on it are a lot less important. On the KTM you notice how good the brakes are because you use them more.Some differences in features, like the 19-inch rear wheel of the Berg, work wonders for the bike on the MX track or in fast off-road racing conditions, but on the trail the rear of the bike gets kicky compared to the 18-inch rear of the KTM. And that 18-incher does not have nearly the adverse effects on the track under the lighter bike.Fuel range is about identical, but the Husaberg gets there carrying almost a gallon less, making it much more efficient.Air filter access on both bikes is simplistic and tool-less. The features list is nearly identical. The Husaberg is missing a kickstarter (though we’ve never needed to use one), and the KTM takes an 8mm socket to remove the seat whereas the Berg is just a pull cord. Lights can easily be hooked up to either bike, and spark arrestors bolt right up to make them trail-legal in most places. Tucked-in kickstands are excellent on both.In the durability department our past experiences with both of these bikes rates them as having a stellar performance record. Neither is a worry for any specific part, and servicing either machine falls within the skill level of most home mechanics. You’ll likely have to replace the pipe on the KTM before you have to even check the valves on the four-stroke. Of course, some men are just plain scared of cams and valves, though the powervalve of the two-stroke is just as complex.The real downfall of the four-stroke against this KTM is in the extreme ends of the spectrum. The more gnarly the motocross or the more extreme the trail, the two-stroke really starts to outperform the thumper. The advantage lies in equal power levels and the lighter weight. The two-stroke power can be just as smooth when called for and way more explosive on demand. The lighter weight is an advantage when you are pushing the bike on the track or really pushing the bike in the trails. And for all the stuff in between, the stuff that 95 percent of us ride 95 percent of the time, the bikes truthfully perform the same or very similarly. But it’s in that bookending performance advantage that the two-stroke really shines, a place where we can easily say the two-stroke is better by all accounts. Plus, it’s almost $2,000 less expensive.