The 2019 450 MX Shootout is quickly approaching and one contender in the highly competitive class is the KTM 450 SX-F. For 2019, the orange motocross bike sees a number of changes from the previous year model, most of which are similar to those found on last year’s Factory Edition bike. We rode the 2019 450 SX-F for the first time at Fox Raceway in Pala, California, to get an idea of how the changes made to KTM’s flagship motocross bike perform on the track.
The KTM 450 SX-F engine received several revisions for 2019 including a more compact cylinder head that is both 15mm (approximately 0.6 inch) lower and 500 grams (slightly more than 1 pound) lighter than the 2018 model, a new exhaust system, a Pankl transmission, a new 44mm throttle body, new ECU maps, a new lithium-ion starter battery, a reworked airbox, and revised traction control and launch control settings.
The 450 SX-F engine produces a lot of power in a smooth and predictable manner. The midrange power is improved over the 2018 model but without sacrificing the bike’s fantastic top-end and over-rev. The KTM has two maps that can be toggled via the switch on the left side of the handlebar as well as the traction control option that can be utilized on either map. Map 1 offers a smooth bottom-end and midrange power delivery coupled with the bike’s notoriously great top-end and over-rev. Map 2 possesses the same fantastic high-rpm power but with more torque that is especially noticeable in the bottom-end and midrange. Some test riders felt map 2 made the power delivery a bit more difficult to control than map 1, so they opted to turn on traction control in map 2, which was just about perfect for them.
With the increased midrange power for 2019, we found we couldn’t shift to third gear quickly enough when exiting a corner in second gear due to how quickly the bike went through the power. The upside to that is third gear on the 450 SX-F is more versatile than ever. The KTM can comfortably run third gear in even the tightest of turns and, because of its incredible top-end and over-rev, pulls long enough to continue down most straightaways before needing to grab fourth gear. The orange bike shifts smoothly and can be done with little to no clutch input. The Brembo hydraulic clutch works very well and has a positive and smooth lever action with a consistent feel and no fade.
KTM continually makes changes to the WP suspension components on the 450 SX-F from year to year, and the same is true for 2019. To match with the new chassis, the AER 48 fork receives new damping settings and the shock features an updated main piston and new settings to match with the reworked fork setup and provide better damping characteristics.
The WP AER 48 fork has lots of adjustability and suits a wide range of riders varying in weight and skill level. It can be adjusted via the air pressure, which essentially serves as the spring rate, with the use of the air pump. Once you find the best air pressure to run for your weight and skill level, further refinements can be made by adjusting the compression and rebound clickers, both of which can be done by hand (without tools), even with gloves on. The WP AER 48 fork has a plusher feel than ever before and offers plenty of comfort on braking bumps and jump landings.
The 450 SX-F chassis received several updates for 2019, with the main changes being a new black frame with increased stiffness, a more rigid upper triple clamp, a revised swingarm that has a longer slot for the rear axle, a 40mm (approximately 1.6 inches) longer subframe, redesigned radiators that are 12mm (0.5 inch) lower, a redesigned fuel tank for better ergonomics, new bodywork, and a newly shaped seat.
The KTM is the lightest bike in the class, and the increased stiffness in the frame makes it feel even lighter. It allows the 450 SX-F to react quicker to rider input than in years past, which makes the bike corner better and helps the bike drive straighter, especially in rougher terrain. The increased rigidity took away some comfort of the chassis, but only very minimally and the benefits from the stiffer setup are a noticeable improvement. The new bodywork makes the bike quite a bit narrower, especially in the radiator shroud area, which feels more comfortable and allows the rider to move about the bike easier than before.
The 450 SX-F has excellent straight-line stability, and jumping the orange machine is easy with how lightweight it is. The bike corners excellently as well. When riding through higher-speed, sweeping corners with two feet on the pegs, either standing or sitting, the bike tracks well and is confidence inspiring, even on hard-packed and slippery conditions. The Brembo brakes are strong, progressive, and predictable. The front brake and clutch lever shape are also very agreeable and the on-the-fly adjustability is fantastic. The cockpit area of the bike feels a little small, and this partially has to do with the Neken handlebar having a relatively low and flat bend, which had taller test riders desiring a handlebar with a taller bend to open up the cockpit area a little bit.
The 2019 KTM 450 SX-F is an improvement on what was already a good bike. The engine is one of the strongest, yet smoothest in the class, the WP suspension components continually improve from year to year, and the chassis is one of the easiest to move around on. The KTM is also the lightest bike in the 450 class and features high-quality components like electric start, Brembo brakes, and a hydraulic clutch. All of these qualities make the KTM 450 SX-F an excellent bike that just keeps getting better and better from year to year.
2019 KTM 450 SX-F
|ENGINE||449.9cc, liquid-cooled, single-cylinder four-stroke|
|FRAME||Steel central tube|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||WP AER 48mm fork adjustable for air pressure, compression damping, and rebound damping; 12.2-in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||WP shock adjustable for spring preload, high/low-speed compression damping, and rebound damping; 11.8-in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKE||Brembo single 260mm disc w/ twin-piston caliper|
|REAR BRAKE||Brembo single 220mm disc w/ single piston caliper|
|SEAT HEIGHT||37.5 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||1.9 gal.|
|CLAIMED WEIGHT||221 lb. (w/ all fluids except fuel)|