2008 KTM 250 SX-F - Austrian Bike With More Than A Motor - Dirt Rider Magazine

Tyler Ruiz

KTM is a member of the club now called The Big Five, up from just the four Japanese brands that were competitive in the motocross arena; the Austrian bikes are now judged equally. Being held to those top-shelf standards can be tough; first, you come from a different continent (and world, really) than your competition. Also, when your home markets prefer a different kind of motocross bike than your biggest market (which is the United States) it makes it even tougher to compete. And in the U.S. the 250F class is as hotly contested as it gets. One thing's for sure, small-displacement bikes are made or sunk firstly on the engine.KTM has had the 250F motor dialed from day one, especially in outright power. It has always had the beans, only the delivery and spread weren't perfect for some. It was a deceiving sensation; the motor had great torque but often left novice riders confused on where in the power spread to ride the bike. What they didn't grasp was that there was a ripping top-end waiting a little further up the rpm range. Experts were often put off by the flattening of the top-end before it pulled strong again even further up. Why couldn't KTM have bridged this gap? A lot of aftermarket pipe manufacturers were able to. Well, for 2008 it looks like the host of changes have accomplished a lot of this.The intake tract has reduced volume, both cams' timing is changed and a new exhaust cam hides under the cover. Add a lighter circular crank with the weight positioned further out from center and you have a smoother power spread that seems to even fill in the potent midrange from last year as well as plug the little gap up top, making the total power pull much smoother and more full. If anything, the bike is reluctant to rev from a basement rpm, something a beginner may not appreciate. Above there, it goes and goes with a very long-winded top-end spread that seems to use timing to slow the speed at which the upper end rpm build. It's sort of "slow revving" up past 12,000 rpm. I'm sorry if that is the worst oxymoron you've ever heard, but it's true. Some riders like this, others thought the bike was signing off early. But hit a jump when the bike is working here and you launch as far as any 250F will throw you; drag race another bike singing here and you will likely win when your competition makes the next shift sooner.Clutch work isn't necessary on this bike, but when the time comes the feel is great, consistent and the bike responds well. Shifting is solid yet not as silky as some, but gear spacing is perfect for most every track. There is a noticeable amount of engine-braking on the SX-F but that's easily nullified with just a bit higher idle tuned into the carb. The jetting was spot-on for our hot summer SoCal testing from near sea-level to 4000-foot conditions. Everyone who rode the bike came away impressed with the motor and immediately noticed the improvements from last year. All this and it is remarkably quiet; KTM makes power and keeps the sound in check.The chassis fights a whole other battle. It's because of the linkageless shock and the built-in perception that follows it. For sure, the shock and the resultant handling are not the same as the other four bikes in the class. It's typically more finicky about proper setup, and the setup will vary as a track changes, as well as from track to track. But just because the bike does something funny doesn't mean it's solely because of the shock. Straightaway, having the proper ride height and comparably correct bike-only static sag, all combining to show the bike has the right spring on it for the rider, is crucial. Then you just go and ride. Riders accustomed to other brands might feel the rear end as being a little looser or moving up and down a bit more than they like. But a little compression or rebound can usually cure that.

What foreign riders will also notice is that the KTM has a little more bite at the tires than they're used to. This even with the stock Bridgestone sand/mud tires that aren't happy when the track turns hard. The traction is great and the overall handling is easily on the light side of the spectrum, making the KTM a cinch to throw around. This while remaining pretty stable at speed. This year the modifications to the fork and its seals and bushings have taken away the spiky or harsh bump feeling that last year's bike gave through the bar. This only helps the traction further and gives riders a lot more confidence in turns.The aluminum rear shock body saves some weight, but riders should schedule service more frequently than in the past as more oil contamination is going to take place. But the new valving and oil routing seem to have added plushness in the rear without losing any stroke control or causing any more frequent bottoming. The adjustments are now easily noticeable in one- and two-click settings, and even the high-speed adjustment makes pretty significant changes to the ride of the bike. Clicking these adjusters is more like getting the shock valved than just making it stiffer or softer. Faster riders liked a little more (two to three clicks) compression in the rear and an additional one-eighth turn more high-speed compression, as well as a couple of clicks of compression to the fork.The only complaints we had with the suspension seemed to happen when the track's bumps went from loamy conditions to hard-packed. We feel it was more of a traction issue related to the tires than a shock tuning issue, as clicking the adjusters did little to correct the bike's kick. But compared to last year we're claiming the bike has better turning and a much improved ride. You will notice the newfound plushness.After a couple of track days we're ready to line this KTM up with the rest of our 250Fs and see which will come out on top. And as always, it seems there's no clear-cut winner in staging. This KTM is polished enough now that it doesn't stand out with some sort of unique performance traits that will polarize our test crew. Orange is good. But is it good enough?What's Hot
Improved power fills all the gapsPlusher suspension with better damping controlBy Dirt Rider's track record, the most durable 250FQuiet, and it still ripsWhat's Not
Can be hard starting when new
Pipe burns pant legs
Number plates require custom preprints to look decent
No place to grab to put bike on a standSpecifications
MSRP: $6698
Claimed dry weight: 216 lb
Actual weight (ready to ride, no gas): 216 lb
Seat height: 37.8 in.
Footpeg height: 17.3 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.5 in.

Last year, the '07 KTM 250 SX-F was just a few quirks away from being my top pick of the shootout. With a solid motor and great cornering characteristics, the bike was held back only by the unfamiliar handling and hit-and-miss feel of the gearing. Having just ridden the 2008 machine, I'm stoked to say that KTM has again built a great bike, and there are some definite improvements from last year. The motor on this machine has a lot of personality; it happily grunts to life and begins pulling in a very early portion of the power. Initially, I dealt with a major bog right off idle, which was fixed by adjusting the accelerator pump so that it wasn't loading up with fuel. As soon as we got this handled, the KTM came to life coming out of corners, where the acceleration is most noticeable. Compared to other 250s, the SX-F requires slightly more shifting finesse-if you let the revs build just a tad too high, the motor flattens out like a squashed cockroach. Keep it in the meat, though, and the KTM's engine will grab traction like you wouldn't believe, especially in deep sand and loam.Handlingwise, I felt that this year's machine performed better on off-camber turns, where the shock seemed to ride much more confidently in the stroke than the 2007 did. Turning is still strong, but large, mid-corner braking bumps typical of rough tracks seemed to throw the rear end for a loop. I similarly had issues with the front end deflecting but was able to pacify this by slowing down the rebound. I'd need to ride this bike on a few more tracks and do some more tuning to see where it stacks up to the rest of the class, but my initial opinion is pretty favorable. With a few of the kinks worked out, the new KTM should be right at home at the top of the class.
-Chris Denison/5'10"/155 lb/IntermediateSome bikes change radically and others just sort of evolve. The 2008 KTM 250 SX-F is an evolution in process. Starting with the power, which is my favorite part of a bike, the KTM has a newfound bottom-end. Still insanely smooth and controllable, but it's boosted down low a ton over last year's bike. The exhaust, cam and ignition changes have radically moved the power over last year's. This comes at a cost, of course, and the '08 KTM likes to be shifted sooner than in previous years. I think most users will welcome this change. Up front, the fork seems more progressive than ever. In past years, KTM fork settings jarred me, but the new unit on this baby has me slamming into braking bumps with a smile-if anything, they're too soft initially and are getting down into the mid too soon for the bigger national-track-type bumps. Out back, the shock is impressive, too. It's now an aluminum-bodied piece that's keeping the back end in line better than any KTM I've ridden. I tested the bike primarily on a high-speed course with sweeping turns as well as some great ruts. The KTM kept its cornering prowess in all conditions and was a blast to ride. As always, the brakes, hydraulic clutch and all other controls are top-notch and proven durable. This isn't the easiest bike to start at times, but it's the easiest to work on. I'll take toolless air filter maintenance any day!
-Jesse Ziegler/5'10"/175 lb/IntermediateThe 2008 250 SX-F's unique look just makes you want to ride it. After figuring out how to take off the gas cap and filling her up, I was able get on the bike. The overall impression of the frame and bar is that they're wide, and this gives the bike a different feeling. Although this doesn't take away from the handling and control, it took a few laps to get used to. The first lap I noticed how smoothly the rear shock worked. It remained soft but stable through braking bumps and straights while still withstanding flat-landers or mistakes. It moves a little more than I'm used to, but stiffening it helped this feeling. The front suspension felt a little rigid at times, and the tires seemed to have a tendency to wash on hardpack. The front brake and the clutch made the controls of this bike pretty easy to ride. The hydraulic clutch is very easy to pull, which puts less fatigue on your arms, and the front brake is so controllable you can stop quickly without the brakes wanting to lock up. The motor is one of the more dominant features of the KTM, though it doesn't seem to have as much very low bottom-end as I'm used to, it's definitely compensated in the mid to top with a smooth pull. It feels like it will never end. After riding the bike for a while I've decided the width of the frame actually made gripping the bike easier. Aside from the wide-feeling handlebar and the front suspension, both of which I could easily fix, I would have no complaints owning this bike.
-Tyler Ruiz/5'9"/180 lb/Intermediate