Remember when you had to Mickey Mouse with your dual purpose bike to make it into what you intended it to be; a dirt bike with a license plate. Off-roaders have simply wanted a bike that worked just like a dirt bike should yet was street legal at the same time. Somehow, through regulation or design, that was one very hard combination to come across. I mean, why did they always even change the suspension setting from the dirt bike? Along with everything else. Dirt bike riders want dirt bike suspension, as well as dirt bike performance.
Well now KTM has gone and done it. You saw it coming with the adaptation of fuel injection and how spot-on those systems were getting. FI has been remarkable on street bikes in the last few years, let alone the cars and trucks we drive allowing the vehicles to pass even the stringent emissions regulations and still run hard and strong. The biggest hurdle then was passing the sound regulations on a bike that is such a tight and compact package, it is difficult to quell those decibels and it isn’t just noise from the exhaust. Then with the Husaberg dual-purpose models we saw how good the FI bikes can run still being so lean, this KTM shows the next step.The 500 EXC is for all intents and purposes a 500 XC-W with six additional pounds of minimal street mandated equipment. It has the exact same suspension, the same chassis, the same plastic, footpegs, bars brake pedal-it is 95% the same bike. Differing mostly in the ECU that controls the ignition timing and fuel delivery and in that the ECU has had to become tamper resistant, like all street legal vehicles. Additionally there are some additional hoses and tubes that seal up the evaporative emissions department by sucking any of those fumes through a charcoal filter then into the intake tract and burning them. There are turn signals and a bigger light hanging off the rear fender on a new and tough license plate hanger. It as if KTM decided they weren’t just putting all this stuff ion as a decoration, they have put it on there to last and so that the bike runs 100% proper in this form. About the only thing that is not 100% dirt worthy is the final drive gearing on the bike. Standard gearing with it’s 15/45 would be good for running on the freeway or doing some Baja road work but it makes first gear start where third gear should be and sixth is just about useless. So we dropped the countershaft to a 14 and the rear sprocket to a 48, rotated the chain blocks on the axel around and used the standard length chain and ended up with just about perfect gearing for everything.
Now I know the first thing every dirt rider wants to do is rip off every funky hose and contraption they don’t see on their dirt bike and toss it away, but this bike was designed and tuned to run with that stuff in place and we did not take any of it off. In fact if you do, it will run poorly and in some cases even cause a fault in the ECU that may take a dealer and his computer to fix. But you do not need to do this, trust me. I rode the bike from zero miles to well over 100 on my first day out and can saw that this 500 EXC runs as good as any true dirt bike and it is only a tick off in pickup compared to the XC-W. If you think you need more power or a faster bike, you are way better man than me.
The bike fires right up and as soon as it gets any time on it at all, does not even need the choke unless it is really cold outside. It idles perfectly and warms right up. I love fuel injection! The throttle response is crisp and quick and the noise coming out of the muffler, as tame as it is, still says it means business. Riding the bike there isn’t anything about it, other than being able to push on the horn button and get a beeeeep, that says that you are also allowed to ride right down the street too, that tells you the the EXC is anything but a dirt bike. The power is tame off the bottom and into the mid-range, but not by much compared to the 500XC-W. In a lot of conditions the EXC feels faster since it also feels like it hooks up better. It is the related snap when making small throttle openings that is missing, but you just turn the throttle a little extra and it will snap just fine. The exc also feels like it has less compression braking too. There is so much power overall that the additional spacing between the gears, compared to the dirt-only machine is hardly noticeable. The biggest issue is not being able to go slow enough in first without having to use the clutch in the really tight and technical stuff, though the bike will easily chug along in second based on power. It can stall but that is the rider since the clutch borders on being magical. How much power does it have and how fast is it? Plenty and plenty, this is not something you have to be concerned with, just trust the numbers on the side panel and keep your head in check. I saw a 105 mph indicated on a dry lake. If you are twisting the throttle cable to its end and the motor is wound out and you still need more, you might want to inform KTM of your riding ability, they are always looking to have the next great rider on their team.
The suspension is basically tuned to work perfect on singletrack and over a wide range of trail conditions. It is sprung perfectly for the 170-200 pound range and can, with some minor clicker settings, go even farther in each direction. The WP components have the amazing ability to hold the bike up the stroke without being harsh or choppy and resist bottoming really good for how easily they also break into the stroke when needed. It isn’t the least bit wallowly, you can’t feel the weight of the bike and it has a lot of that “pop” that typically comes with a more motocross style of setting. For sure the power and snap of the motor helps give this feel yet the suspension compliments it. And the Metzeler tires also aid the bump compliance too. The chassis is basically magical as well. How good is it? Well we took the 500 EXC out with a Husaberg TE300 two-stroke and the KTM felt lighter in about every aspect of handling which blew us away. Even under power, where thumpers usually get heavy, this one stays as nimble as its two-stroke brother. Simply amazing and very much like the 450 XC-W we were so impressed with just a few months earlier. In back-to-back with the 500 XC-W, the dual-purpose bike actually felt lighter because of the more tame power delivery.
OK, so everything can’t be so perfect, right? Well there are a few minor issues. First is the seat. KTM is pumping mystery mush foam into its seats again, likely to give us something to complain about. It will last 10-20 hours max. And then there is the vacuum vent line from the gas cap. If you fill the bike up, the suction is so strong that it will suck fuel into the line and then the bike will run rich and can stall easily. You can stop and drain the excess gas out of the catch line every so often but we are looking at putting a catch or expansion in the line to make it difficult for the gas to get pulled into the EVAP system. It will do it till the tank is almost 1/2 full from the splashing which is pretty surprising. The bike does not run properly if it is disconnected, so as we said before, leave it alone. We will have a cure for this as we play with it some more. Even with the smallish two-gallon tank, the bike is surprisingly efficient on fuel and we got well over 60 tight trail miles and still had plenty left over and easily pulled an 80-mile desert loop. The brakes are insanely good, the layout of the controls is excellent and we thing the bike looks sharp. The new wheels even seemed like they were staying tight and true better than the supposedly higher-end ones on the competition bikes, we’ll pound out more miles just to be sure. And even with pounding and jumping the license plate holder and turn signals were intact like they were built to last, which is how it should be. The only other goofy part is the mirror, which we replace with a folding one anyways.So this is finally the buy it and ride it anyplace you want to ride in the dirt, dual-purpose bike. It is excellent. Expensive, but well worth it once you ride it.
|2012 KTM 500 EXC|
|Actual Weight (Tank full)||267 lb|
|Seat Height||37.7 in.|
|Footpeg height||16.8 in.|
|Ground clearance||13.8 in.|