When I first heard KTM was going to hold true to their 450 SX-F for 2012 with only minor updates, I wasn’t that surprised. Yes, I would have liked them to toss on fuel injection to give the bike that FI feel we have grown to admire over the years, yet I can live with the carburetor—it doesn’t do anything wrong, providing the jetting is in the ballpark, which it was. The 2011 was/is a great bike and the 2012s are just as solid and slightly better.
The 2011 KTM 450 is a powerhouse and, for obvious reasons, the 2012 is as well. The two years are not totally identical. KTM has made several changes in the right direction to address issues that some of us experienced. The most obvious, yet unseen, is the new single spring clutch. The basket is a one-piece unit, meaning the outer gear and the basket is all one chunk of carved-out steel. The inner unit has a single diaphragm spring compared to several coil springs. The hydraulic master cylinder piston is also smaller for a more accurate feel. Other changes include revised suspension valving, stiffer in the mid-stroke for better control, although spring rates remain the same as 2011. The airbox is now white instead of black and the rear fender has been redesigned, which includes stronger handholds on the side to lift the bike. The rear master cylinder is new for more durability, and lastly, the 2012s are equipped with Dunlop MX51 tires instead of Bridgestones.
I really liked the 2011 450 SX-F so jumping on the 2012 was like putting on my favorite pair of flip-flops. If you like the 2011, you will be fond of the 2012 a tad more, especially with the changes. The clutch action is the first noticeable upgrade that caught my attention on the new mount. Although I never had any real clutch issues with the 2011, some riders said the clutch would fade slightly when abused and that over time the basket dampers would wear and need to be replaced. The new clutch has the dampers on the inner basket with better oil circulation. To me, the single-spring clutch has better action and feel when exiting corners. The engagement is slightly longer, which helps feed the power to the rear wheel more smoothly, especially in tight second gear corners.The chassis has the same feel—stable and easy to ride. Fine-tuning ergos is a personal preference and last year I found changing the bar bend helped the feel. I also wish the seat foam was a little more progressive and more of it under your rump. Other than that, I dig the bike.
Suspension action is something I had to mess with last year. The 2011 was too soft, especially the fork, it bottomed too easy. KTM has addressed this with the 2012 and the revised valving specs are much improved and feel similar to the revisions I did on the 2011. The target weight on the 2012 450 is right around 170, give or take a few pounds. If you go over that number, you may need springs, at least in the rear. The updated valving is stiffer and helps keep it riding further up in the stroke, which helps calm the chassis and make it less wallowly in rolling woops and in deep turns. The rear is very sensitive to spring preload and getting the bike in the right zone for your riding style is very important. If the rear rides too low, it makes the fork feel harsh, especially on slap-down landings. We started with 104mm of sag, yet this number is not set in stone, this is a ballpark starting spot.
Our light test pro still felt the fork was a tad soft for his aggressive riding style on the jump-filled Milestone track, but it worked well. Like last year, raising the oil height does wonders if the fork feels slightly soft or dives too low in the stroke. Our heavier (180 and into the 220 range) riders required jumping up shock spring size from the 5.7 to a 6.0. This really helped the bike and balanced out the chassis for the extra tonnage.
The power and its robust long delivery is something KTM did not mess with and for a good reason—the bike makes ponies and puts them to the ground. The power is very tractable and more than enough for the average rider. The delivery is slightly old school and not as smooth and electric compared to some of the FI machines, yet it is still manageable and very fun to ride. We have no complaints with this engine as it stands.
The KTM 450 SX-F is still very much a player in the 450 market for 2012, and the revisions have improved the motorcycle compared to the 2011 model. KTM’s 450 is a very stable bike, it’s twitchy and tracks pretty much where you tell it to go. It doesn’t have that ultra-light hyperactive feel like some of the bikes on the market, which is a trait you’ll either love or hate. The bike turns well, tracks offer ample positive chassis feedback. And since 2012 is the year of the “revised” 450s, KTM is shoulder to shoulder on the playground.
5’11″, 165 lbs, Pro MX
The new 2012 KTM 450 had a couple of things that felt different to me compared to the previous model. The clutch action stood out immediately. Coming into a corner I felt the clutch had a better engagement feeling and slipping the clutch on the way out of a corner felt more controlled and had smoother action. I do not know exactly what the change was but it sure did make it feel better. The fork felt a little less harsh to me but at the same time moved too far down in the stroke for my liking. Under heavy braking into corners or bigger braking bumps, the front end always wanted to drop too low in the stroke for me. I tried going a little stiffer but was recommended to add around 15-25cc of oil or go to a stiffer spring, so maybe we will try that on upcoming tests. The shock felt very planted and still had that “dead” feel I like so much. It doesn’t seem to move too much in the rear and I can really get on the back of the bike in rollers and the bike stays straight. Motor still feels very strong and smooth. Bike can be lugged or even revved out on longer straights. It accommodates a wide variety of riders. Ergos feel roomy and bar bend is good for me too. Another thing I could gripe about is the soft seat foam. I seem to hit the seat base a lot while leaning in flat corners or even seat bouncing some jumps. Not a good feeling when you have no butt like myself. I look forward to logging in some more time on the Orange pumpkin and to ride it back to back with some of the other new models.