Every year, KTM releases an “elite” version of its primary production motocrossers, the Factory Edition 250 and 450 SX-F. But what about the 350 SX-F? For 2018, we don’t feel so badly because, while it doesn’t have any one-off graphics or super-grippy Italian seat cover, the 350 SX-F basically got the same goodies that this year's FEs received.
The main changes to the ’18 350 are the same as the FEs, headlined by a new version of the WP AER 48 fork. It’s basically the same design just with a new piston material, new seal slider, and new valving. As usual, if one end of a bike changes, the other end does, as well, and the shock has new damping settings.
There’s also new radiator guards, new clutch plates made from nitrated steel, a new C4 bearing on the transmission for better reliability, and a new lithium-ion battery. The 349.7cc motor stays exactly the same as does everything else, including the chrome-moly steel frame, aluminum subframe, and Brembo brakes.
Fork N' Shock
We’ll start with the suspension because that’s the biggest change for 2018. We’ve said it before and we will reiterate it here, as far as air forks go, the WP AER 48 is our favorite. Not only is it the best performing but there’s one air chamber to check instead of three. You wouldn’t think that updated settings, a new air piston, and new fork sliders would make much of a difference but they do, making the AER 48 even better. For our pro level tester, the fork was still too soft at the stock setting (as was last year’s) but each time he came in and went a little stiffer, he said the bike went from good to great. He added some air (from 10.7 bar stock to 11.0 bar) and six clicks of compression.
The main difference from last year’s fork is that the ’18 350 has more movement without having a hollow feeling. There’s good bottoming resistance but on serious OJs you can still bottom the fork, which our pro guy did. For our average-speed testers, we left the clickers stock and went down to 10.4 bar. This was to get the fork to start to move sooner/higher and to help it settle for corners for our non-pro speeds. We also slowed the shock rebound down two clicks because the back end wanted to step out on corner exits. Our pro-level rider did the same on the shock.
Piston N' Gears
Like we’ve said in the past, KTM models share a common power delivery and the ’18 350 SX-F is no different. It starts off controllably mellow at the bottom-end, builds smoothly into the midrange where you get more excitement, then there’s a ramp up in power from the top of the mid through the top-end to the rev limiter. Like the 250 SX-F, to ride this bike fast you need to let your right hand go nuts and tell your left foot to chill. If you’re the short-shifting, lugging type of rider, you’ll be able to have fun on this bike, but you’ll miss out on the majority of the power.
The gears seem pretty long, which allows you to stay in one gear on a straightaway. In the deep loam, you can tell it’s not a 450, but you can also tell it has way more beans than a 250. All of our testers loved the smooth and predictable hydraulic clutch and easy shifting. The 350 (as with all KTMs) also has a very light throttle pull that takes a little getting used to—most riders like it, but we know that some would be concerned about getting whiskey throttle.
To begin, our pro-level guy felt a little stink-bug, but after the aforementioned suspension changes, the bike balanced out for him. He described the KTM as having the cornering characteristics of both a Kawasaki and Suzuki. “I could steer with the front or the rear of the bike,” he said.
There’s no denying that the bike feels really light and that helps in a lot of ways, one being cornering. You aren’t fighting this bike to get it to start to lean, you aren’t fighting it to stay leaned in a rut, and you aren’t fighting it to pop back up after the corner either. In fact, our photo model was so comfortable cornering this bike that in one left-hander he was dragging lever, bar, and shroud. We noticed after the photo session that he got the shroud deep enough in the loam to scoop dirt into the radiator louvers. The steel chassis helps when the track gets rough. Overall, it’s really hard to find a flaw in this orange bike’s handling abilities.
So who is this bike intended for? Everyone who rides a 350 SX-F says how fun the bike is, and if having a great time at the track is your primary goal, this bike is for you. And, even in a less-than-agro local motocross race, a skilled rider could comfortably compete in the 450cc class and be competitive. Some say this bike feels like a big-bore 250 on steroids and we agree with them on the handling part. It’s easier to maneuver than a 450 for sure. But the motor feels closer to a 450 than a 250, in our opinion.