When riding in high-altitude off-road conditions, having the right bike is key to maximum fun and enjoyment. A highly tuned off-road weapon is drastically better than a heavy, poorly tuned dual-sport bike or a pipey motocrosser, and the experience of others can be an invaluable asset in prepping your machine. Simply put, if you’re going to be hitting gnarly trails on your way into the stratosphere, you’ve got to get your hands on a bike like BRP’s purpose-built KTM 450 EXC.
I rode this bike at the 2011 Colorado 600, an organized trail ride put on by the Trail Preservation Alliance that takes participants all over the Rocky Mountains and into some very thin air. For the better part of a week, we tackled rocks, cruised down dirt roads and battled lightning while also learning about the current issues facing off-road riders. Billet Racing Products, a well-known company that is comprised of hard-core off-road enthusiasts, provided this particular KTM 450 EXC (a slightly-used 2009) for my use while at the ride, and I couldn’t have asked for a better setup. These guys all ride religiously and have years of experience in Colorado’s vast terrain types, so they were the perfect choice to provide and mod out the orange machine for a week of fun. It should also be noted here that Colorado 600 participants may bring more than one bike on the ride, but all machines must be 100% street legal in Colorado with a 100-mile range and a 96-dBA maximum noise level.
Naturally, a host of BRP’s most trusted products formed a protective force field of billet and plastic around the bike while greatly adding to the overall bling factor. Rocks, logs, stumps and other natural obstacles were no match for the BRP Chain Guide, Scotts Shark fin, Cycra hand guards and Hyde Racing skid plate which graced the bike, and a host of other accessories upped the protection to a whole new level. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel the added weight, but this is a wise trade-off when you consider the alternative of being stuck out in the bush with a broken case or wrecked chain guide. Thanks to these accessories I was able to cruise through rocks with incredible peace of mind for the bike’s durability.Power-wise, the 450 EXC had a distinct bark from the FMF muffler, and even with the stock gearing I was—hypothetically, of course—able to achieve an unofficial speed of well over 90 MPH. The beauty of this bike’s engine was that the delivery was strong enough at lower altitudes that I still had some meat up above 12,000 feet. Usually bikes feel absolutely gutless in thin air, but the KTM had enough punch that I soon didn’t even notice altitude-related changes in power. Jetting was handled via a 45 pilot jet/ 168 main jet with the stock needle in the third position. This resulted in smooth, crisp delivery that wasn’t too rich yet didn’t pop or idle erratically. There were many times that we would buzz down a road or transfer section for several miles, and the 450 was just as happy cruising along in top gear as it was jamming down a tight trail. The mid-range hit on this bike was amazingly usable, and I spent the majority of the week right in the middle of the RPM with little to no need to hit the rev limiter.
The Scotts Steering Stabilizer was pure magic on the trail, keeping my crash-to-almost-crash ratio at a slim 1:196. This would have been far different without the damper, as it kept me out of trouble on countless occasions. A stabilizer is one of the most drastic changes one can make to a KTM. In corners, I came to find that the KTM still leaned really well despite the heavier-than-stock feel, and by sitting a touch further forward on the seat I was able to achieve MX-bike-like maneuverability in tight, twisty sections of trail. Interestingly enough, the ergonomics of the bike were not compromised by the IMS 3.2 gallon tank, which greatly increased the machine’s range.
Setting up the suspension for the 450 was a tricky task, as we had to find something that was stiff enough to handle big hits and fast obstacles while still providing plushness for my 155-pound frame. The Slavens Racing Suspension offered a great solution to pounding rocks while still allowing for excellent absorption of hard hits, which came occasionally when I’d drive into a big rock or water bar too hard. The bike was sprung slightly stiff for my weight, but a camera bag and tool kit helped to even things out on the trail and by the end of the first day I felt right at home with the setup.
Surprisingly, we were never forced to come back in the dark, but the street legal nature of this mean machine only helped to make it the ultimate Colorado cross-country dirt bike. Seriously, where else can you find a motorcycle that can be ridden on EnduroCross-sized rocks one minute and then legally driven past a Highway Patrol officer the next? The versatility was impressive, and it was amazing how much I adapted to the KTM by the end of the ride. About the only issues I had were tire related: The Kenda rubber hooked up well everywhere from wet asphalt to traction-filled dirt, but my slam-bam riding style left me with more than a few pinch flats in the front tire. I’ve spent plenty of time riding foam tire inserts and don’t mind the dead feel, so this would be about the only change I’d make if I were to go back and revise one aspect of the bike.
If you have any aspirations of riding in high-altitude terrain with trails that range anywhere from easy to nasty, I highly recommend that you find the right setup that works for you. For me, this target setup was nailed when BRP built this KTM 450 EXC, a perfect combination of power, protection and versatility that lead to what can only be described as the ride of a lifetime in Colorado’s high-altitude heaven.Visit www.brpmoto.com and www.colorado600.org to learn more.
2009 KTM 450 EXC
BRP SUB Mounted Triple Clamp
BRP Threaded Hand Guard Mounts
BRP Hand Guard Mounts
BRP Graphics Kit
BRP Chain Guide – Orange
BRP Brake and Clutch Res. Covers – Orange
BRP Billet Gas Cap – Black
Cycra Hand Guards
Cycra Shield Stickers
Double Take Mirror
End. Eng. Radiator Braces
End. Eng. Case Saver
End. Eng. Tail Light
FMF Powercore 4 S/A Muffler
Hyde Racing Skid Plate
IMS Oversized Big Foot Footpegs
IMS Oversized Tank 3.2 Gallon
Kenda Tires – Parker DT
Light Speed Fork Wraps
Scotts Shark Fin
Scotts Bolt on Frame Bracket
Scotts Steering Stabilizer
SDG Step Seat Orange/Black
Slavens Racing Suspension Spring and Revalve
STR Brake Pedal Tip
STR Rear Brake Radiator – Orange
STR Fork Bleeders – Orange
STR Oil Fill Cap – Orange
STR Rebound Adjusters
7602 Racing T-6 Carb Vent Filter Orange/Black
RK X-Ring Chain Gearing 13/50 –
Carb Jetting 45 Pilot / Needle 3rd Pos. / 168 Main
Motul RBF 600 Brake Fluid