Smooth Sailing: A Year With The 2011 KTM 350 XC-F - Dirt Rider Magazine

It seems like only yesterday that we were jumping with joy at the shiny new 2011 KTM 350 XC-F that had just been delivered to the Dirt Rider shop. Ever since the 350 SX-F motocrosser landed in our laps a year earlier, we'd been hoping that KTM would produce an off-road version of the bike, and with the 350 XC-F we got our wish. Flash ahead to one year later and our beloved 350 XC-F is being returned to KTM with 74.9 honest hours on it, though the orange machine has more than proven itself as a legitimate midsize competitor.Our KTM 350 XC-F started off its time at Dirt Rider in a big way with a radical cover shot on our April 2011 issue, courtesy of GNCC racer Cory Buttrick. From there the bike went into an initial first test, where we praised the performance of the small revisions that KTM made to the XC-F but still recognized that this machine is largely based off of a motocross platform, so the SX-F influence is very apparent. After the first test, we began riding the 350 XC-F everywhere we could in order to get a true feel for how the bike performs. Tight, technical off-road sections typically had us stoked on the forgiving, full-stroke feel of the suspension but wishing the bike had a flywheel weight, while MX tracks revealed the 350's moto-inspired heritage but also the less-than-perfect bottoming resistance of the fork. We took this time just to learn about the bike and fine-tune what we found to be the best settings, while also playing with a number of aftermarket parts for our DR Tested section.

One major handling mod that we went for was the Renthal Twinwall handlebar in the Windham bend, which gave us 12mm more height than the low-feeling stock bar, plus the added strength of a crossbar. We also popped on a Twin Air PowerFlow Kit, which can only be described as an essential modification for modern KTMs. The stock filter is difficult to get seated against the airboot and can leak unwanted dirt and debris, while the PowerFlow Kit replaces the stock cage with a unit that seats firmly and perfectly against the seal. The result is an easier-to-change air filter system that performed flawlessly and doesn't let a speck of dirt in. No doubt, this was one of the big contributing factors to the 350 XC-F making it all year with zero major issues.At approximately 30 hours we checked the valves on the 350 and found that everything was in spec. Following this, the bike was entered in the Glen Helen 12-Hour with January guest editor Ricky Johnson, Andrew Wilkins, Michael Gaynor and myself jamming the bike around the dusty Glen Helen course for a half day's worth of pure fun. The weather was hot and the track became super rough, yet the KTM kept purring the entire time. The clear 2.5-gallon fuel tank was hugely appreciated during pit stops, and the clutch on the bike showed no signs of wear even with a few tight canyons on the upper portion of the racecourse. The suspension, however, was entirely too soft for the weights and speeds we were throwing at it, and at this point the setup was feeling a bit sloppy. Next stop? Pro Circuit.

We didn't abuse the KTM's rev-limiter and were rewarded with acceptable valve clearances.

The Pro Circuit boys first turned their attention to the suspension, aiming to maintain the bike's off-road character while making it friendlier for moto applications and heavier riders. No expense was spared as both the fork and shock received Pro Circuit's full revalve, internals and setup. The end setting had a .46kg/mm spring rate up front, with the big news in back being Pro Circuit's longer-than-stock KTM linkage arm that stiffens the first part of the linkage curve and lowers the entire chassis for better stability and less wallowing. The final touch to the bike was a T-4R Race System to keep noise down and power up.The next several weeks of the KTM's life were spent mostly on tight single-track with the occasional open desert fire road at the hands of DR tester Kris Keefer, who had plenty to say about the bike's performance. "The thing I most liked about this bike would have to be how fun it is in the tighter, technical sections," Keefer commented. "It feels light enough where I don't feel like I'm pushing around a big 450, and it has enough power where I can still lug the motor when conditions get dry or slick. The big negative for me was that the bike ran hot a lot of the time in tighter sections where you would really be going slow. Once going faster out on the trail where the bike had air to cool itself down, there were no issues." By the time Keefer handed the KTM off, he'd accumulated another 25 hours on it.

The 350cc engine kept together nicely through several long races including the Glen Helen six-12-and 24-hour endurance series.

The final challenge for our KTM 350 XC-F was a big one: Complete the Glen Helen 24-Hour Endurance race with a crazy Irish Ironman at the helm. Geoff Walker, a hard-enduro-racer-turned-journalist from the U.K., volunteered to fly across the pond and pilot the bike for a full day in hopes of finishing the grueling event. But first, the KTM's suspension got a freshening at Pro Circuit, followed by a top-to-bottom inspection by Walker in which the oil was changed, the linkage was greased, each and every bolt was checked and a pile of Twin Air filters was prepped. Finally, fresh Dunlop tires were added and a battery-powered Baja Designs HID light was lined up for when the sun went down.

Pro Circuit was responsible for taking this bike from good to great via suspension, motor and pipe modifications.

You can read more about Walker's adventures on www.dirtrider.com and in the pages of Dirt Bike Rider (not a made-up name, that's an actual magazine in Britain!), but the short version is that the mad paddy broke his elbow, puked in his helmet, ground the skin off his sensitive regions…and still finished a strong second place! The bike performed flawlessly, and Walker was full of praise for the handling. "Perfection is the only way I can describe the balance of the bike," Geoff mumbled in his thick Irish accent. "The Pro Circuit suspension and link arms made for an incredibly linear rear shock stroke through the mid levels, making the bike incredibly stable and accepting of every one of the 11,000,000 square-edged bumps I hit in 24 hours. The motor pulled to another dimension with the PC pipe fitted and the noise level was never an issue during the race. Together with my legendary mechanic Scotty, the KTM looked after me in every way and got me to the finish. I just wish my energy levels were higher and my pain levels lower!"

One of the best things about the 350 XC-F is its light overall feel compared to a 450cc four-stroke. You can hop, pop, jump and jam around on this bike with minimal effort.

Before returning the 350 XC-F to KTM, we again prepped and cleaned up the bike, taking a look at some of the extended issues that nearly 75 hours revealed. For one thing, the stock nylon ring on the shock was cracked and deformed from numerous sag setting changes; in hindsight, we should have replaced that at the outset. Toward the final 35 hours a bit of oil could be seen weeping out of the front-side corner of the valve cover, likely a result of a slightly torn seal during a valve check. We kept fairly fresh Lucas Oil High Performance 4T Motorcycle Oil in the bike throughout the test, and are thrilled with the care that it took of the bike's internals. Aside from spokes that continually come loose and a slight coolant-sucking issue, there isn't a whole lot of stuff to complain about.

Who better to test a bulletproof bike then a hickory-tough rider? Navy SEAL Desert Off-Road Race Team leader Andy Wilkins puts the KTM through hell, and with a smile. Visit www.sealswcc.com to learn more.

All things considered, this was an awesome steed for the year, and we're impressed with how the Katoom performed and held together. We kept things simple from a modifications standpoint--not a lot of extras were bolted on--and it was fun to ride a motorcycle that did so well in such a wide variety of terrain types. If you were one of the many riders who popped for a new 350 XC-F when the bike was first introduced, we hope you had as much fun riding your bike this year as we did ours. And for any of you who may have doubted the XC-F's durability simply because it was new, let it be known: This KTM gets two thumbs-up for long-term performance!