Cylinder Works/Hot Cams/FMF KTM 270 XCF-W Project Bike

More Bark...And Bite!

In off-road circles, there’s a lot of debate which bike is better: KTM’s 250 XCF-W, or the KTM 250 XC-F. On the one hand, the 250 XCF-W provides off-road comfort and performance that we know is fully capable of competing in a national enduro straight out of the box. Similarly, the 250 XC-F is one of the few motorcycles that we would feel confident racing motocross aboard on Saturday and riding a GNCC with on Sunday. Both bikes have their faults, and yet they are each outstanding motorcycles that have each proven to be perfect for their target riders. But that still doesn’t answer the question: which is better—comfort, or performance?

If you ask us, quite possibly the best approach is to meet in the middle; that is, tune the XC-F for increased comfort, or make the XCF-W a little meaner than it is in stock form. Following last year’s 250 Four-Stroke Off-Road Comparison, we decided to do some work to the 250 XCF-W test bike to make it more “XC-F-like” in nature without sacrificing the bike’s natural off-road prowess. With that, we handed the machine off to bike builder extraordinaire Jay Clark for some aftermarket love. As always, Jay outfitted the XCF-W with a slathering of parts from his usual hit list—Cylinder Works, Hot Cams, FMF, and others—while testing each component throughout the build process in order to arrive at the best overall conclusions.

Clark’s aim for this bike was to make the XCF-W feel less like a Yamaha WR250F, and more like a Yamaha YZ250FX; in other words, it needed to be more like the bike that won our shootout, while still maintaining the KTM traits. Jay admitted that throwing this much money on an XCF-W may not be the best starting point if performance is the end goal, but he also noted that the XCF-W has phenomenal stock components, engine characteristics, and transmission, and that it makes for a great stock trail bike platform.

The big complaint about this stock machine is that it lacks power—primarily in the bottom to mid-range. For that, Clark added a Cylinder Works Big Bore kit, along with Hot Cams Stage One Cams, and FMF exhaust system, and comprehensive dyno tuning to match the new Vortex ECU. All together, these mods alone bump into the $2500 range—a nice chunk of change, but also an amount that the average KTM owner may be willing to pay for added performance!

Rider Opinions

We took the new-and-improved KTM 270 XCF-W out on a cool fall day in the desert to measure its newfound performance in the dirt. Even just glancing at the project bike, you could see that it was a whole different animal than the stock unit; if there’s one thing that Jay Clark doesn’t mess around on, it’s making a bike look stylish! The 270cc kit was a hot topic of conversation throughout the day, with most of our test riders agreeing that big bore setups make sense for multiple forms of off-road racing (where displacement is not as much of a differentiator) and for vet riders (who tend to ride wildly different sized bikes in the same age group categories). Nobody really looked at this as a “cheater bike”, because the goal of increasing performance was no secret—everyone knew that we wanted to put a little more pep into this 250’s powerplant!

On the trails—flowing singletrack dirt that was dry on top but went underneath—the 270 XCF-W actually lost just a touch of response down low. Compared to the stocker, there was a feeling of slightly more hesitation off idle, but what the bike lost here it quickly gained elsewhere in the powerband. The 270 kit/Hot Cams/FMF combo made for hugely more mid-range power, with a quicker revving feel that was even snappier than a stock 250 XC-F. The 270cc kit clearly made a big difference at higher rpm, bringing a more “motocross-y” feel to the bike without sacrificing the overall tuning (delivery was still clean throughout). It took a little clutch work to stay in high rpm, although once revved out the XCF-W had no problem singing down the trail in a lower gear. Interestingly enough, one of the mods to the bike was the addition of a stock KTM two-stroke air filter cage (with no backfire screen) to help air flow which, according to Jay, is one of the easiest and cheapest mods you can do to a KTM four-stroke.

This throatier feel was well-liked by expert riders, but even our novice testers commented that while they liked the stock 250 XCF-W because it felt like a fun trail bike that wasn’t trying to be a race bike, the addition of the big bore kit kept the mod engine easy to use. The bike still retained a somewhat mellow attitude (likely due to the decrease in low-end punch), yet it also achieved more “zip” all over. Despite not having an incredibly violent hit (which wouldn’t have been a big positive, had it taken away from traction and usability), the added torque of the KTM allowed riders to leave it a gear higher in certain sections where they would need to downshift on with the stocker to get the power to the right spot.

To help compliment the newfound power, WP stiffened up the suspension for better performance at higher speeds, while also working to retain plushness. This revised setting was not nearly as “wallowy” as the stock unit, with better hold up and attitude. There was still a slightly lack of bottoming resistance—though not as much as stock—that was felt in sand whoops and at higher speeds. Additional damping would solve that, but would also turn this machine into a full on race setting. The entire motorcycle was very balanced front to back. Even heavier riders felt as though the bike was planted, smooth, and absorbed a wide variety of hits. The back end was described as being more active and springy than stock, but otherwise similar in performance (other than being a little firmer).

One thing that makes the XCF-W a comfortable stock bike is that the machine has a high degree of overall flex. The frame—in combination with the triple clamps—has a certain amount of “give” that is transmitted to the rider in a soft and comfortable feel. The mod 270cc XCF-W retained this comfort, and it was highly appreciated on cruising trail rides and flowing two-track. One of the benefits of the increased power on handling was that the added “zip” to the motor allowed the rider to feel as though he or she could change directions more quickly; using the throttle to pivot out of a turn was much more readily done with the big bore in place. Handling-wise, our biggest gripe was that even with this many dollars’ worth of mods installed, the bike still did not have a steering stabilizer, and that was evident in a slight instability at higher speeds. With the shorter seat foam, the bike felt wider than with the taller, pointy-er foam. The added grunt made it seem lighter overall than the stock bike. However, the front end tended to push a bit in the corners. Fortunately, the bike slid well, and the trials tire was outstanding for both flat tracking around turns as well as navigating tricky rock sections. The Fasst Company footpegs and X-Trig PHDS handlebar mount removed nearly 100% of the vibration from the bike, and the end result was a smooth, comfortable ride that could be enjoyed for very long distances.

In the end, this was a great direction to go with the XCF-W. Performance was increased, and the power was improved to the point that the bike was not only competitive with the 250 XC-F, but it now boasted an engine that would beat the other orange bike—and likely the blue one—in a head-to-head test, and yet the mellower attitude could still shine through. Compared to the stock version, we’d take the big bore XCF-W any day of the week—we like the wide-ratio transmission and usable power. That said, with the total cost of the mods on this bike, we could buy a whole different used bike! But if you judge this solely by the performance alone, it’s easy to see that the 250 XCF-W has the potential to be the meanest animal in the jungle, provided that the powerplant gets an appropriate-sized aftermarket boost.

Parts List: Cylinder Works/Hot Cams/FMF KTM 270 XCF-W Project Bike

Cylinder Works

3mm Big bore Cylinder Kit 270cc

Includes Forged Vertex Piston and Cometic Top-End gasket kit

Hot Cams, 515-402-8200

Stage-One Cam shaft intake and exhaust

Rocket Performance, 951-471-3500

Vortex X-10 ECU and Mapping

FMF Racing, 310-631-4363

RCT 4.1 Aluminum Muffler

Megabomb header

DeCal Works, 815-784-4000

Semi-Custom Graphics kit

Pre printed number plates backgrounds

Cycra Racing, 740-929-0188

Shrouds, side panels, fork guards and mudflap in orange

Pro-Bend Full Wrap Around hand guards

Uni Filter

Two-stage Air Filter

CV4, 800-874-1223

Formed Silicone Coolant hoses

High pressure radiator cap

Renthal, 877-736-8425

Rear twin ring sprocket in stock gearing

604 Fat bars

Kevlar grips

Dunlop Tire

AT81 front 90/90-21

D803 rear trials tire

Moto Seat, 951-258-5229

Custom Cool seat cover and seat foam lowered

Works Connection

Front brake cap

Clutch Master cap

Hinson Clutch Components, 909-946-2942

Outer clutch cover

Tusk Off road, 800-336-5437

270mm Oversized Rotor/Adaptor Bracket

Rear Disc

Complete Wheel set

Brake bolts kit

Sprocket Bolts kit

Light Weight Lithium battery in both bikes

WP Suspension

Suspension set up more aggressive trail for rider weight

TM Designs, 541-772-4161

Rear Chain Guide

Trail Tech,360-687-4530

X-2 Off-Road HID 70 Watt 1850 top light and 3235 on bottom light on lumens for the 250 XCF-W

Radiator Guards braces in Black for the 250

Fasst Company, 877-306-1801

Impact Foot Pegs — Elastomer between the base and cleat to help with vibration and impact

WP Factory Services

Re-valving of the stock suspension ——$275 each end to start depending on wearable parts and springs. Additional lowering available.

Rocky Mountain ATV/MC

All OEM parts— two-stroke air filter cage with no backfire screen

O-ring Chain from Primary Drive

All KTM Powerparts

Brake Disc Guard (Shark fin)

Chain guide protection bracket (has to be modified to work with the TM Chain guide)

Orange Plastic Frame Protection

Skid Plate (plastic with single quick release, replaced to a bolt and nut setup)


PHDS Bar Mounts X-Trig— Rubber mounted on stock clamps — these are also available from KTM Powerparts

Progressive Handlebar dampening system

VP Fuel, 210.635.7744

U4.4 fuel

The added punch of the 270cc big bore kit not only gave the KTM more performance, but it also helped the bike achieve a lighter handling feel.Photo by Preston Jordan
One of our favorite mods to this project bike was the trials tire, which worked well in both rocks and more open desert sections such as this.Photo by Preston Jordan
Thanks to a fat parts list, the stock 250 XCF-W was transformed into a more-potent version of its mellow self. The bike still retained its usability, but was now our top choice over the 250 XC-F.Photo by Preston Jordan
The 270cc displacement lends itself to easy play riding, whether on flowing two-track or just a simple dirt road. And yes, this machine wheelied like a champ!Photo by Preston Jordan
WP revised the suspension for better hold up, and while it wasn’t a full on race setting, it got through sand whoops better while still feeling plenty plush.Photo by Preston Jordan
She’s a looker, alright! The mod 270cc XCF-W has loads of style and a clean, trick finish.Photo by Preston Jordan
In our experience, adding 20cc to the XCF-W was one of the most significant mods we’ve felt on this bike. If you want to do just one thing to make a BIG difference, this might be it! If you can pick just two things, go with an aftermarket exhaust as well. We ran the FMF MegaBomb/ RCT 4.1 combo.Photo by Preston Jordan
Fasst Company’s new Impact Footpegs really do damp vibration down; the elastomers provide another layer of cushion and suspension for your feet that is highly appreciated on longer trail rides.Photo by Preston Jordan