First Test: 2010 KTM 450 EXC - Dirt Rider Magazine

In the dual-sport world there have been far too many streetbikes posing as off-road trailbikes or even race models. With the KTM 450 EXC, the opposite is true. It is a thinly veiled off-road race and trailbike pretending to be a streetbike. For real dirt riders, KTM's strategy is the right direction to pretend. Don't be confused: The EXC is a world-level, dedicated off-road machine from a company serious about off-road competition. It breezes through the DMV, but it isn't a streetbike. For an extended road trip or daily commuting the KTM gets the job done as far as legality goes, and with a wide-ratio, tall-geared six-speed, it is capable of traveling at highway speeds with little trouble. Many miles into our test, which included perhaps three percent pavement and many hours of true single-track, all of the lights and street paraphernalia remained in perfect order. But to use the bike as a commuter is as uncomfortable as it is a waste of a perfectly fine dirt bike. The KTM's thinly padded seat and noticeable vibration is compounded by ergonomics that are excellent riding standing up but not as suited to road-oriented, butt-planted comfort.We'll get the complaints out first. The KTM is a premium-priced model, and some traits will bug the heck out of you after writing a big check or signing your life away. The mutation from XC-W competition model to street-legal EXC leaves marks. The XC-W is geared 13/52-low enough for almost any trail situation-while the EXC has a much taller 15/45 setup. To minimize hassle and make the bike more dirt-worthy, we changed to a 14/48 setup that still allowed highway speeds for short distances (or extended 55 mph running), was relatively dirt-friendly and allowed use of the stock chain. The KTM remains one of the few plated off-road bikes employing carburetion. KTM routes the crankcase breather hose into the mouth of the carburetor, and hot, oily air is not ideal for performance. We blocked the hole in the carb bell and rerouted the breather with the other vent lines. The stock setup's lean-hesitation meant the bike wasn't much fun until we raised the needle (lowered the clip position) two. That helped, but the engine had erratic idle that was annoying. We installed a JD Jetting kit-following all the instructions including blocking the line from the small air pump located near the countershaft sprocket-and gained a steady idle, clean running and solid midrange pull increases. The JD needle must be richer because it calls for a leaner main and pilot than stock. After that we changed nothing but the mileage reading until the stock tires wore out. As DOT rubber goes, the Metzelers walk the line between performance and life, but are clearly missing traction compared to dirt tires. Plus, the rear is tall and bouncy, so it affects chassis balance and suspension and may catch the license plate and rip it off. We trimmed the rear fender shorter and mounted the plate higher for safety.As irritating as our complaints are to a new owner, they are all easily fixed, and once they are, the EXC is truly dirt- or even race-ready. It is lighter than pure dirt models from other brands, and the great features that make the XC-W a loved off-road bike-light and tucked-in sidestand, easy-change wheels, no-tools air filter, adjustable riding position, hydraulic clutch, a great engine and plush suspension-are all included. While our gearing was a good compromise, for serious trail adventures first gear can be tall, and you can easily abuse the clutch enough to boil the radiators over, but otherwise the 450 EXC is a fun and willing trail companion with an off-road range of 60 miles or more in most conditions. If you need more, there are plenty of tank options up to seven gallons.

A one-word description of the power would be smooth. It is energetic but always builds easily with modern short-stroke energy. Off the bottom the engine has a little chug to it and plenty of torque, but never the grunty, old-school thump associated with classic strokers. Get it in the midrange and the power builds strongly enough that you can steer with the throttle. On top it pulls hard for an off-road bike but not at the level of a motocrosser. For real-world measures of performance, like getting the front wheel up in an instant for dips or ruts, and easily pulling across the spacing in the trans ratios, the KTM has outstanding power. The Devil exhaust from our pipe test is even quieter than stock, and we considered putting that on but soon realized it would instantly melt the turn signal off, so keep that in mind if you consider pipes to change the power.Enhancing traction seemed desirable, so we spooned on Maxxis IT tires before Art Director Joe McKimmy raced a D-37 VCMC Qualifier with the EXC. The event was scheduled in a California OHV park, and JM knew that legality would never be an issue with a plate on the bike. He won his class and ran 32nd in the overall. Not bad for a "street" bike. Heavier riders or those who hammer through the rough may find the suspension on the soft side, but it is very capable on small and medium bumps, though it can get lost and wallow on large whoops.The EXC is nearly a race-spec XC-W with a license plate. It has XC-W performance, handling and comfort, but as odd as it sounds, the on-road legality opens a vast horizon of off-pavement riding opportunities, and for riders in many areas it could cut the leash to the truck or other hauler. The buy-in is steep, but the freedom is priceless.

Specifications: 2010 KTM 450 EXC

MSRP: $9,198

Claimed weight (tank empty): 251 lb

Actual weight (tank full): 270 lb

Seat height: 37.4 in.

Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.9 in.

Footpeg height: 16.5 in.

Ground clearance: 12.4 in.What's Hot!

  • Smooth and long-pulling power gets the job done and doesn't wear you out.

  • Roomy, adjustable riding position that is great for aggressive, stand-up riding.

  • An enduro gearbox that has a distinct wide-ratio flavor.

  • Easy to maintain and work on.

  • Engine is mechanically quiet, and the exhaust note is reasonable.

  • Solid chassis feel, and nimble but stable handling (with off-road tires).

What's Not!

  • Parts to make it run clean don't come with the bike like FI models.

  • Difficult to ride off-road in restricted, over-geared showroom stock form.

  • Seated on-road comfort is not great.

Opinions

Joe McKimmy

5'10"/160 lb/Vet B

I have many miles off-road on various KTM off-road bikes, and despite the road-legal parts, the 450 EXC performed like any other ready-to-race orange bike, and that is saying a lot. I entered the bike in VCMC's Hungry Valley Qualifier without even removing the mirror, though I did that on the trail. The gearing is still quite a bit taller than an XC-W, and I felt that in the gearbox spacing. Other than the gearing, the bike handled fine, felt light and did everything the race demanded of it. The race didn't even wipe off any of the street bits. This is the ultimate trail freedom ticket, or at least that plate on the back is.Sean Finley

5'10"/170 lb/Vet intermediate

My ultimate dream bike is a true off-road bike with a license plate legally attached. I have never managed to get my hands on one of these bikes until now, and within five miles "I have to buy one of these" was repeating in my head. I spent two weekends with the KTM 450 EXC in true dual-sport riding conditions. I left from my own garage (no packing the truck when you have a plate) and explored 130 miles of dirt roads connected by paved roads. The dirt sections were not technical, and the EXC's off-road potential was far greater than the ride, but knowing that it was there made me willing to explore any path. The following weekend found another ride of about 55 miles, with this one on far more demanding dirt roads and a few technical sections that would have been far less fun on lesser bikes. I'm most impressed with the expanded riding opportunities available with a license plate, but performance-wise, this bike is amazing. I went from 1,200 to 5,700 feet in elevation with no carburetion issues, the suspension is versatile enough to tackle anything I came across and everything about the ergonomics and performance is flawless. The modified gearing is enough to ride comfortably at 70 mph on the highway and still chug along on a trail reasonably well. I have to buy one of these.