The Underdog - 2008 KTM 250 SX-F - Dirt Rider Magazine

Modified 2008 KTM 250 SX-F
You're like me, I know it. You skim over the early paragraphs in every shootout about how the new bikes are all so good, all so close, how ranking them was splitting hairs, and you agree-for a moment. Then you read on about the bikes' rankings and you can't help thinking of the last place bike as a dog. I'm newest on staff, last to pick, and I got the pound puppy-the little orange KTM. Its weakness, to me, was obvious-the suspension was a step behind the others. But the bike corners better than the best of them and has a strong and very reliable engine. Suspension is the easiest thing to fix, so I set out to turn my mutt into a superhero.My first trip was to Factory Connection for a full revalve and spring swap of both ends. Factory Connection also has some cool WP tricks, so it replaced the floating piston reservoir with a bladder-type reservoir, swapped out the rebound adjuster housing with its better-sealed unit, and made the move to a progressive spring in the rear. On the first trip out to the track the bike was clearly unbalanced-to me. Jimmy and Karel both rode the bike that day and didn't have major balance issues, but Jimmy's pace is higher and Karel has some pounds on me. Everyone agreed the bike had found a plushness, but I was stinkbugging around the track and needed a fi x. Factory Connection swapped out to a softer rear spring and that brought all the pieces together. Whereas the stock bike would pound my hands and make them sore, the new bike felt much more plush and in line with the rest of the 250Fs. The stock bike has big trouble on the little stuff, and this FC bike smoothed out that braking chop. The work isn't cheap, but most riders would benefi t from a revalve, and maybe springs, on any of the bikes, so think hard if this counts as a bike fix or a tuning modification you would do to any of the brands.I wanted to see if I could do better still, so I did a full suspension swap to hlins components. Now this counts as extravagance, but I wanted to know what was possible. First I rode with just the hlins shock, and the bike instantly gained a more confident stance. The braking chop never wagged the bar, and the whole ride had a more stable and also more responsive feel. Then I added the hlins 48mm fork and the spring balance got out of whack again. Now the freer-moving front was tucking in the corners and in bad chop. It was clear the movement of the suspension was incredibly stiction-free, but the two ends weren't cooperating. A switch to a softer rear spring and everything clicked into place. The ride was everything you'd want. Way less jarring than stock, a controlled and connected feel in the rough, and a responsive bike in the corners. The great benefit of hlins seems to be the controlled way they transition from compression stroke to rebound stroke. Jimmy jumped on the bike again and really enjoyed it, though it was undersprung for him. Even a hard bottoming for him, which would usually mean a harsh tink! and bounce, was met with a dull, controllable thud that didn't disrupt the bike. The KTM seemed to gain that rare understanding of knowing what you want it to do and doing it through thought as much as input. The stock bike comes close to this feel on a smooth track, but bumps upset that ride. This hlins bike had it, smooth or rough, berm or fl at corner-the bike just felt right. It's not a cheap option, but for 2008, hlins is coming out with fork internals and seals to upgrade your stock front fork to this Swedish-massage ride. The rear shock and fork upgrade will still cost around $3000 and there's no way to get over that steep price tag without a good justification, so here's one-with four-stroke engine mods reaching new heights, suspension work, even this radical of a upgrade, is still the best deal for riding better and shaving seconds off laps. For the serious racer, hlins could be the answer.The modified bike rode on a set of Michelin tires- hardpack Starcross HP4s, oversize at both ends with a 90/100-21 on front and a 110/90-19 on the rear. The tires worked great on dry, flat corners, but anything soft or especially when wet, the terrain-specific rubber showed its limitations. In straight ruts, the tires could find so much traction they'd want to climb out, so these things were definitely grabbing dirt hard. For baked stuff, these tires find a lot of traction, but I should've been running a different tire for the loam.The bike also got a new seat from Enduro Engineering with more resilient foam. It helped cushion the acceleration chop a bit. This was a minor fix for me, but would be a critical one for heavier riders who push through the stock foam or for those who ride with a sit-down style.Finally, I had to make my bike look sweet, so I swapped the black and orange plastic for a set of full orange Cycra plastic (hoping that would get my Gavin Gracyk mojo on) then added KTM Hard Equipment factory graphics-in hopes of channeling a little factory rider speed. The bike sure looked better than the others-not really saying much in Jimmy's case-sheesh!Don't think of the KTM as the dog of the bunch, because no stock bike is going to be perfect for you. The KTM just needs a little more help in an area you're likely already going to throw some time or money into with any race bike, and dialing a bike's suspension is easier and more fun than trying to overcome some design fl aw. The KTM is a good little puppy, it just needs some training and some attention. And when you humiliate all your buddies on 2008's "losing" bike, just grin and tell them,"Life's ruff."Parts List
Factory Connection revalve, springs, bladder modifi cation and rebound housing adjuster
hlins 48mm fork and TTX shock
Enduro Engineering stock height, hard foam seat
Cycra plastic with Powerfl ow shrouds
KTM Hard Equipment Factory Racing graphics kitTires
Michelin Starcross HP4