2016 KTM XC-F Models - First Impression

We test the new 250, 350, and 450 XC-F

People tend to get slightly confused by the differences in the XC-F line compared to the motocross bikes, but it’s really quite simple in 2016. The XC-Fs have more in common with the SX-Fs than ever before, and they received the same upgrades as the MXers did (new frames, new lighter engines, new bodywork, etc.). The off-road part of the equation, though, lies in a handful of additional off-road-specific components on each bike. These include a 2.25-gallon translucent fuel tank, lightweight CNC-machine hubs with Giant rims (the SX-Fs come with Excels) and an 18” rear, Dunlop AT81 tires (compared to the MX32s on the moto bikes), hand guards, a side stand, and softer valved suspension. The 250 and 350 XC-F both get a 6-speed transmission (different ratios), while the 450 XC-F stays with a 5-speed and identical rations to the motocrosser. And that’s it.

Make no mistake: These are motocross bikes in slightly off-roady trim. In fact, they are designed for riders who want to be able to take their one and only bike to the MX track as readily as they can the GNCC course. Also, take into consideration the multitude of quality stock components that KTM puts on these machines and you begin to see that "Ready To Race" is not just a mantra; any one of the XC-F machines could be lined up at a hare scramble or a motocross race and be competitive.

2016 KTM 450 XC-F

The big boy of the bunch, the 450 XC-F, mimics the SX-F in that it feels more manageable than in year’s past but still has tons of punch. Thanks to a healthy initial snap, the rear tire will break loose in first gear if traction is less than optimal. This is not just a gearing thing; shifting to second reveals that the engine just plain produces a solid initial hit that will break traction if you aren’t careful (although running a higher gear does seem to minimize the nearly too-hard engine braking). This responsiveness helps the rider get into the mid-range quickly, from which point things are pretty strong and lively all the way to the top. This bike is very fun to ride in the upper mid-range. The problem, though, is finding trail that is open enough to do so! In the tight stuff, you’d better be prepared to cover the clutch, and expect the 450cc powerplant to be chomping at the bit to be let off its leash. Sound-wise, the 450 XC-F is throaty, but the note is pleasant enough to keep the noise emissions just this side of ‘responsible’.

Once again, the WP 4CS fork surprised us. It has good action throughout the stroke and provides a decent amount of comfort for off-road (interestingly enough, the 450 XC-F’s 4.6 N/m spring is the same rate as what is found on the 250 SX-F). The front end of this machine still feels stiff, though, a sensation that we think is attributed to the robust CNC-machined aluminum clamps (which have a much different feel than cast clamps like those found several other off-road KTMs). Even though the handlebar mounts are now rubber mounted, there’s rigidity from the front of the KTM that’s hard to ignore. Out back, the shock felt fine when it was under a load (such as charging out of a turn), but it also exhibited a tall feeling all around, and when unloaded the back tire felt disconnected from the ground on corner entry, downhill off-cambers, and other spots where we weren’t hard on the gas. Adding 5mm of race sag helped to take some of the unwanted lift out of the rear, but there was still a sharp bite on hard hits. Going two clicks in on the rebound helped this a ton.

The 450 XC-F feels like a long motorcycle. Yes, it feels fairly lightweight, yet you’ll find that it takes some effort to snake around tight direction changes and through the trees. Our advice? Try to arc your turns more in advance and be aggressive. Once in a rut, this XC-F will track straight and true so long as you don’t whack the throttle. When it comes to slowing the big beast down, the stock Brembo brakes are amazing—the front provides great action yet doesn’t bite too hard. We have no major complaints regarding the bodywork, ergonomics, or clutch, and the stock handguards are an absolutely epic touch.

2016 KTM 350 XC-F

Compared to the 450 XC-F, the 350cc four-stroke is much more ‘carvable’ on the trails. The bike changes direction more easily than the big dog and it feels great on corner entry and when at a severe lean angle. Interestingly enough, this makes the 350 feel shorter (front to back) than the 450 and thus easier to pivot around tress through the woods. Oddly enough, we struggled with the suspension a bit. The 350 has the same shock spring rate as the 450, but the fork is down to a 4.4 N/m. Possibly for this reason, we had difficulty getting the back end to settle, and when the fork was slightly weighted and leaned (think of hitting a roller in the middle of a turn, or carving the bike across a trail and hitting a root), we felt that the front was fighting us and refusing to settle. The initial thought was to slow on the rebound, but this did not fix the problem and made the fork work worse in other areas. Going a touch stiffer was only mildly better, and we clearly need to continue to play with this the next time we ride the bike.

The power delivery of the 350 XC-F is, in a word, sweet. Power simply pours out of this bike in a smooth and usable way, building in intensity until you get to the fever pitch of the upper-RPM pull. Overall, it's much more manageable than the 450 XC-F, though the 350cc engine needs to be shifted more. We found ourselves dancing a lot between first, second, and third gears; despite the need to keep shifting to keep the bike in a higher RPM range, it's fun to ride this KTM in the tight stuff and the hit is nowhere near as violent as the 450, with more seamless delivery and less violence up top.

2016 KTM 250 XC-F

Stepping down another displacement, the 250 XC-F shares many of the 350 XC-F’s same handling and engine characteristics. It is definitely better in tight sections than the other two XC-Fs; it feels similar in overall weight to the 350, but with a more balanced center of gravity. The 250 XC-F comes on strong up top loves to be revved out, and yet it still gets a surprising amount of traction due to its smooth delivery. We didn’t expect as much torque as we got in the tight stuff; the revised gear ratios make for a more pleasant off-road riding experience than you would find if you just took the 250 SX-F out to the trails.

The 250 XC-F is fairly calm and stable in the smaller bumps and square edges. The 4.2 N/m fork is plush initially (which works well on choppy/slippery obstacles like tree roots) and is also very progressive. The shock has more hold-up and less comfort than the front, but when accelerating out of the tight stuff, the bike will settle and get good traction. The weight feel difference is definitely noticeable compared to last year’s model, a fact that only adds to the nimbleness and fun of this machine when carving it through the trees.

2015 may be more than halfway over, but the 2016 testing season has just begun, and we have a lot of new MX and off-road machines to test! Read more about the new KTMs (and others) in upcoming issues of the magazine and right here on dirtrider.com.

We were impressed with the 450 XC-F, especially in flowing off-road trails where the bike could be wound out a little.Photo by Shan Moore
Responsive power helps the rider get into the meaty mid-range quickly.Photo by Shan Moore
The 450 XC-F feels like a long motorcycle, but it changes directions moderately well (with the right amount of rider input) and tracks nice and straight.Photo by Shan Moore
Clean, updated bodywork and simple new graphics make the new KTMs look stylish and sharp.Photo by Shan Moore
The 350 XC-F is an incredible trail carver. We love this displacement!Photo by Shan Moore
Compared to the 450, the 350 XC-F’s powerplant loves to be shifted and revved.Photo by Shan Moore
We found a decent suspension setting out of the 350 XC-F, but would definitely like more time to fiddle with the setup in order to find even more comfort and usability.Photo by Shan Moore
The 2016 350 XC-F is a great looking steed.Photo by Shan Moore
250cc is an excellent displacement size to make an off-road bike out of. The 250 XC-F feels light and works great in the tight stuff.Photo by Shan Moore
Fairly calm and stable, the 250 XC-F has good performance in low-speed trail chop.Photo by Shan Moore
Don’t discount the 250 XC-F just because it is lacking in displacement compared to its older brothers. This little bike rips!Photo by Shan Moore