Replacing a legend is always a risk. For the past seven years, the KTM 520 and 525 have been the ruling class of off-road four-strokes. The joy of a magnum four-stroke is big torque, and first the 520s and then the 525s had plenty of the four-stroke goodness that thumper-lovers crave-arm-wrenching torque and big-time boost in a slim package sporting a low center of gravity and that magical six-speed gearbox. Being off-road experts, KTM didn’t make power that overpowered the chassis or the rider in tight conditions, but still geared the bikes for over 100 mph (they won’t pull the gearing unless conditions are flawless, but it’s there). Sure, most of us don’t need or want to see “the ton” on a dirt bike, but stitching together fun single-track trails with open sections is a lot more fun when the bike’s motor is loafing at 55 to 65 mph.KTM’s 530 XC-W(R) is all-new mechanically, but the 525 design philosophy aiming at a slim, tractable, long-lasting and easily maintained dirt bike lives on. Like the 525, the 530 is a six-speed and remains a single-cam engine, but the list of actual engine or chassis parts that will interchange with a 525 is very short indeed. The castings are modern in appearance with crisp lines, but the changes weren’t for looks.It doesn’t take even one mile to realize that this new 530 engine avoids all the weaknesses we ever noticed about the RFS engine family, and some we never noticed. The clutch pull is light and smooth, engine vibration hardly deserves mention and power is up everywhere. The added muscle doesn’t make the 530 harder to ride, or more bottom power makes it easier to handle in technical riding. The 530 is happier riding at extreme low rpm. It pulls smoother with far fewer hiccups, chuffs and stumbles. Above the rpm basement the engine pulls smoothly and strongly with a seamless, ever-increasing flood of power reaching the rear tire. Only in rare instances or with sloppy throttle control does the power overwhelm traction. A moderate amount of care with the twist-grip will ensure that the majority of the boost is channeled into forward motion. We switched back-to-back with a 525 and the jump in the delivery around midrange makes it feel zippy, but the 530 ate it up in any roll-on comparison and required less thought toward throttle control or traction.Even the 530 eventually runs out of power-at least in one gear-but there’s always another gear waiting eagerly. The shifting ease and accuracy are vastly superior to the older KTM engine. The 525 wasn’t bad, but the 530 is more positive with no false shifts and you barely have to think about shifting. If you’re riding on the balls of your feet through rocks or stumps, often just rubbing the sole of your boot against the side of the shifter will select the next gear. But since the shifter is tucked away, we never accidentally bump-shifted the bike either up or down.KTM claims that the entire engine and the crankshaft in particular is more rigid. The one area that the 525 wasn’t totally bulletproof was in extreme high-rpm, high-performance use. The new engine should help that weakness and address a few others we barely considered. The first point is lubrication. The engine and transmission oils are separated like a Honda. The primary reason is to avoid having the inevitable clutch debris run through the engine’s bearings. A sight-glass on the ignition cover allows easy monitoring of the level. We were advised to change the engine oil after five hours, but after a 10-hour, 137-mile ride that saw everything from radiator-boiling slow to all the speed the engine would pull, the oil looked virtually new when we drained it. A bolt in the clutch case is removed for determining “full” on the clutch and transmission side of the engine. Just drain, then refill until oil dribbles out.
KTM made the engine a single-cam design, with an angled valve cover like the 250F engine. Valve adjustment is via shims, but the cam need only be loosened to remove and replace shims. Our experience with other KTM models has shown that the valves rarely need adjustment.If ridden hard in slow conditions, the 525 would boil the radiators and blow coolant out the overflow. The 530 is a little better and the only time we had an issue in the West was when we were shooting photos. We had the unique opportunity to test this bike in Michigan at a National Enduro in tight woods as well. Michigan is a tougher test of the cooling system, combining low speeds with a lot of clutch work, and we needed to add coolant at each fuel stop. Even in the tight woods the 530 was supremely easy to ride and in fact took less effort than the 450 thanks to the smooth and controllable bottom power.”Motor” is only half of the word “motorcycle.” And the rest of the 530 is as new as the engine. KTM has a year with this chassis design, since it was standard ’07 SX-spec. The lightweight but strong steel frame is part of the amazingly low weights that we keep measuring for new KTMs. At 251 pounds, the 530 isn’t a featherweight, but it’s very light in its class. The 450 XC is nearly 15 pounds lighter, but the XC-W(R) has a kickstarter and supporting hardware and a sixth gear in the transmission. The frame is constructed of huge section oval tubing mated to curious eight-sided tubing in the lower cradle. The tubing isn’t exactly octagonal. Four of the eight sides are flat and four are rounded. A stronger swingarm is mated to the chassis and the bridge section in the front where the shock mounts is designed to equalize the forces the shock exerts on the swingarm. What is important while riding is that the bike stays a lot calmer and resists flexing and kicking to the side under heavy suspension loads. The new chassis and stiffer overall suspension allow the 530 to rocket through rough and whooped sections at speeds that older EXC models can’t hope to equal. It didn’t matter whether the whoops were the packed and solid California sort or the softer and deeper Michigan ones.Stability at speed is fine, but some riders found the front busy, where others had no issues. Turning is crisp and accurate in all conditions but better on the throttle. This is especially true of flat turns and sand or mud. The footpegs feel like they keep toes a bit safer than the older chassis did.As far as suspension goes, the XC-W(R) spec is certainly stiffer overall than past KTM EXC models. It reflects the changes in off-road racing to shorter, more aggressive loop-type competition. Nevertheless, the XC-Ws are the most supple legs KTM has for off-road bikes and control in rocks and roots is very good, but the overall feel is biased more toward aggressive riders who get up on the pegs.With the new chassis comes a change in the shock angle that reduces the load to the shock. Changes in shock preload don’t have such a profound effect, and two turns might be required now where only one would be enough with the older bike. KTM used to base suspension setup around a pretty strict 35mm of bike sag. Now between 30 to 40mm of bike sag and rider sag in the 110mm region works well. Our bike was set right at 35mm and that measured out fine for 210-pound Karel Kramer and 185-pound Jimmy Lewis. That’s a nice change compared to having to change springs for any rider who had weight out of the ballpark of the stock coil.The suspension offers plenty of adjustment. In addition to the normal clicker adjusters, WP fitted a high-speed compression adjuster-critical to control G-out bottoming on a KTM-and an external fork preload adjustment. Our best results came with only small low-speed compression setting changes and using the high-speed adjuster to dial in the ride and comfort.
As far as riding position goes, the KTM has the four-position handlebar we’ve come to appreciate, and the bike has gone on an anti-diet. The ’08 is actually a bit wider through the middle and it provides a better knee-grip than earlier models. The standing riding position is excellent and takes very little energy to maintain. That’s a good thing, since the seat is probably the least-loved component on the bike. The seat on our bike is soft and thinly padded, and tall or heavy riders feel the seat base far too early in the ride. But we rode a 505 XC purchased at a dealer, and despite having similar mileage, its seat felt great. Apparently, the seat density can vary considerably from bike to bike.Aside from the seat we found little to grumble about and much to applaud. The 530 XC-W(R) is a solid, fine-handling mount with a magic motor. And if the engine isn’t affable enough for you stock, just disconnect one wire under the tank and the ignition goes to another curve that’s even more controllable. We saw 65 miles of tight trail riding on a tank without running out-even though we were on reserve for almost 20 miles. In faster riding we never hit reserve in 55 miles. The speedo/odo is a nice touch, and this bike has the premium components we expect from KTM. It’s quiet and clean-running enough to be green sticker-legal in California, so it should have little problem in other areas. The tank is even sealed to prevent fuel fumes from assaulting the atmosphere. One of our test crew-a KTM convert currently riding his third RFS and second 525-summed up the 530 like this: “All KTM did was fix everything wrong with my current bike.”Specifications
Seat height: 37.4 in.
Ground clearance: 13.7 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.4 in.
Weight (ready to ride, no gas): 251 lbWhat’s Hot!
Smooth, deep, endless well of usable power
Plush suspension that can handle aggressive riding
Easy to work on for routine maintenance
Chassis rigidity is way up, so no kicking to one side afterhard impact
Roomy and adjustable riding position
Shifting is fabulous, plus it has a sixth gearWhat’s Not!
Fuel capacity is average and adding capacity
doesn’t look easy
Seat is a pain in the rear for tall/heavy guys
Keep an eye on the little S/A tip or lose it
I rode the 530 on both coasts. You would think that in the Michigan woods the 530 would be a monster and the 450 would be a better choice, but I liked the 530 better in the tight trees. The engine is just smoother and takes less effort to ride. The smoothness is manifest in the West as well. Only out here it shows up as traction and acceleration in dry, slippery conditions while other bikes spin. While switching around during the testing I noticed that a KTM 525 feels faster, but when we did roll-ons, the 530 is always out front. Where the new bike really shines is in rough, gnarly cross-grain loaded with G-outs. The chassis feels solid and predictable when you slam into major hits. I think that’s why I felt safe on a mild moto track with the off-road suspension. Basically, I like everything about this bike but the seat. It’s too thinly padded and the foam is soft. Fortunately, Enduro Engineering has a cure, so for $130 I have no complaints. The suspension is firm enough for play moto yet supple enough for trails. The brakes are strong, the ride position roomy. If I had the money, though, I’d spend the extra for the model with the license plate. The EXC is basically the same race-ready bike but street-legal.
Karel Kramer/6’1″/210 lb/B riderHow many letters can there be in a dirt bike’s name? 520 XC-W(R)? Why not LMNOP? Jeez, it’s like a text message conversation with KTM’s ‘tween generation of off-road weapons.OMG, did uc the new XC-W(R)? It’s Gr8! TTYL!Sheesh.Whatever XC-W(R) stands for isn’t important. For me, it stands for X-tra Cool Whatever Ride.I like pretty much everything about this big girl. First, it’s got a huge cylinder. That’s cool just because. “What are you riding today?” “Me? Oh, just a little something I like to call my 500-pluser. You?” Few bikes can shut your buddies up in a cc battle like the big KTM. It’s the mellowest big-bore ever produced and makes great power from right off-idle to the big-piston tug on top. It takes any snappy 450-ness out of the big bike equation, for sure. The KTM is light feeling and nimble and ultrabalanced. Not what you expect from a big bore, but it’s true. The hydro clutch and comfortable chassis melt away the expected weight and give your body effortless control of the bike. It’s like riding a small KTM, just with more oomph! I think the “R” stands for “Racer.” The suspension is a good blend of aggressive trail and soft moto and, at my weight, is perfectly suited for a quick jaunt to the track. Hello holeshot! The 530 isn’t going to jump the triples, but it will turn great and soak up the whoops like an animal at most of your local MX tracks. Plus, I won’t have to shift. Ever, really. Just in case, it’s got a tall top gear if there’s a three-mile straight on the track. What else is there? Lots. But really, to me, this is just a great off-road tool.
Jesse Ziegler/5’10″/175 lb/IntermediateI’ve never been a fan of the 520 or the 525. I didn’t like the character of the engine stock. There were things I’d found, like quieter pipes that would get me the traction I was looking for without resorting to using the clutch to manage the delivery, but I’d rather ride a 400. At my weight and size you could say that I wasn’t big enough for a 500-plus-cc bike, but I really like the Husaberg FE550 and Honda XR650R. With the KTM 530, the company has found a smoother bottom-end and a faster top-end, sort of like a 400 on the bottom and 600 on top. The right amount of power where you need it. And the chassis is way better, too-they must’ve found one development rider who turns on the front wheel instead of sliding the rear and listened to him. The steering is no longer vague. And the bigger the motor was on the older KTMs, the worse the front end was for me. I’m pretty sure this bike will not be sitting much. Now where do I get a 6-gallon tank for it?
Jimmy Lewis/5’10″/185 lb/Vet A