2011 KTM 350 SX-F First Test - Dirt Rider Magazine

The air box is as simple as ever to get into and change the filter without tools and without unknowingly knocking dirt into the clean side of the air box boot.

"How is that new KTM 350?" It has been the question of the month and I'm sure it could rank right up there as question of the year. And we will continue to answer that during the rest of the year as we ride the bike a lot more and throw it into a variety of shootouts, no doubt.But you really want to know what this bike is? Well it isn't a 450, nor a fast 250F. It isn't a two-stroke by any means but it does have some two-stroke like characters. And it all depends on what you make it and how you will ride it because this bike is a lot of things, just depends on what you are expecting in the first place. My standard answer is, "It is exactly what you think a 350 should be." Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

The air box is tuned with a sort of velocity stack on the back of the carb, inside the air boot. And the straight shot through the intake tract does not hurt anything. You can almost see the intake valve if you open up the throttle from here.

If you are thinking about racing it and will be racing against 450s, then it is an underpowered bike that feels lighter than a 450 and handles as good as the best of them. It's weight feel advantage helps out this as much as anything, 245 on the scale full of gas is right in the middle of the 450 class, six pounds lighter than the old KTM 450 and eight pounds heavier than a CRF450R, but the scale and the feel are two different things. You can get a holeshot on this bike against 450s as skill, the rear tire and traction dictate the outcome more than the outright power. Holeshots happen in the first 30 feet off the line and this thing can jump out there with the best of them. Then if you can get the holeshot, this bike is a serious threat to throw down quick laps, as quick as anything and it can either be easier or harder depending on the rider you are. If you have no problem revving the guts out of this bike and making the shifts like you mean business, you will not have an issue going fast and it would be hard for any bike, let alone a 450 to straight up out-power you and pass away. If you can ride it like a 125 or a 250F, you will haul and if you are in shape and can concentrate at this level this bike will get you less tired. Where you ride this bike wide-open to go fast, it is very much unlike a 450 where you must use restraint.But if you do not get a start there is the issue of passing. And it is hard to pass a faster bike for a number of reasons, the first being the slower guy in front of you just has to twist the throttle farther (likely since he was not twisting it all the way in the first place) to stay in front of you. On the 350 you can select and make the bike go into lines easier, enter turns at a higher rate of speed and change up lines easier, great for passing but when it really matters and power is the deciding factor, you will ultimately have less.OK, so you don't race against 450s…

The shock is about as easy to get at as any bike with a linkage but not as simple as good 'ol PDS. It is much more familiar in settings and changes to most riders. The bike has done nothing funny and it looks like KTM didn't mess up by going to a shock linkage, or to a new frame.

If you just ride for fun or race against anything else then you are at an advantage in every situation. Because the 350cc size is just about the perfect size and power level for the real world. It is big enough to torque and pull out of a turn at low RPMs and move fast, just not 450 fast, while pulling its way into the meat of the power which is strung in the 11,000-13,000 RPM zone. You can ride it lazily and not worry about bogging the bike down, the Fuel Injection makes this even more of a reality, and get into the business part of the power without fear that a 450 can deliver with its overwhelming surge. You can half-ass your way into the power and since the bike is so smooth there isn't the on-off that can be common with a 250cc two-stroke, the 350cc machine's biggest comparison in a power-to-weight feel sense. It pulls as long or longer than anything we've ever ridden and is downright easier to ride than any other MX bike when all the factors are looked at. Power, drivability, traction, length of power spread and all the connections the power has to the handling. If there is one thing a lot of the test riders came off the bike saying, it was that they were sure having fun going that fast.Some of the points of the KTM 350 that really stand out are the light weight feel of the bike on the track. Everything about the way the bike handles is much more like a 250F than anything bigger. There isn't a 450 that comes close on the ground or in the air, for sure. It is light in the steering and light in the flickability category, whipping this bike is an easy chore. The KTM is a pretty neutral handler with the ability to chase the front tire around turns as easily as it is to put the bike into a power slide. It has more stability than its predecessors but can feel a bit twitchy to those unfamiliar with KTM's though the bike does not headshake when properly set up.The 350 has the least amount of compression braking of any four-stroke to date. It has to be like this to allow the 125-style downshifts that you need to do to go fast by keeping the bike in the peak power and allowing unobstructed and fluid suspension action going into turns without a dragging rear wheel. Some love this, others find they have to use the rear brake more.The power is right in the middle between 450 and 250F. There is no other way to describe it. It is like a really strong 250F with excessive torque (ever wonder what a factory 250F feels like?) and tons of peak power or a detuned 450 that revs a lot. You don't have to clutch the bike but it can help by bringing the revs up quickly. Likewise the clutch will also help control the power when you have too much, and it takes the abuse just fine, though neither of these techniques is recommended. The bike does build some of that weight feel with the RPMs getting higher and higher but all the time, at any comparable RPM the bike feels lighter than a 450 at the same RPM. Guys that get away with torquing a 450 all the time will notice the weight feel of the revving 350 more than guys who rev everything.The linkage on the KTM is just a way to make the KTM work more like everyone else's bikes than it is a way to make the KTM suspension better. On the 450 SX the suspension has been among our favorite for the past few years, especially in plushness. This year the linkage gives the bike a stiffer feel on the ground yet transmits less of that stiff feeling to the rider so it is a step in the right direction for better handling at the expense of some comfort if you like soft suspension. Yes, the bike is not as plush, but you can also feel the ground better and ride harder because of it. It isn't bad and we found the best thing to do (besides have the correct sag) was to stay away from stiffing or softening the front but to make changes to the compression on the shock (both high and low speed) to get the front feel that we wanted, especially going into and out of turns. We also lowered the fork in the clamp about 3mm from where it was set when we got the bike. Better stability and no effect on the turning. The setting of the bike is for a 170-pound rider but even some of our 185-pounders were doing just fine on it with only a little extra bottoming.The electric start is magical and we would not replace it for lighter weight and don't fear the battery going dead or anything like that. Sure there will be that one guy who always has the dead battery, but that has not been us so we don't' worry about it, just like in out trucks. The brakes are not the best ones we have ever ridden on a KTM (the 450 had that last year!) but they get the job done with solid feel and great power, the rear on our bike is just a little on the touchy side. Pedal height goes a long way in how a KTM's brakes work. Shifting, for the most part has been solid but a couple of our riders have hit some false neutrals, but there was a lot of time on the engine oil as well and it was progressively getting worse. The oil looked bad, but nothing metal was detected so we'll know more after our next ride on fresh dinosaur juice. Hydraulic clutch, excellent!The layout of the new plastics and gas tank have no glitches and drew little comment, they are seamless. The bike is one of the easiest to get forward on and overall the bike has a very tiny feel to it. It is tiny in the ease of moving it around but not tiny in the making it cramped for larger riders. The nearly 2-gallon tank is slim and doesn't bulge anyplace and seemed good for a regular-guy 45-minute moto, but this bike is a thirsty little guy. So far we have over 13-hours on our bike and it is purring like a kitten, nothing seems out of line and we suspect durability is on par with all KTM products, excellent. And for all you looking for an off-road version. Don't worry, it will be coming, you may just have to wait a year for the XC version.So how is the new KTM 350? Well it is one of two things. It is a really good 250F. And that is not a slam, that is a great way to describe it; a bike that fits a lot of riders. Or it is a lap-time machine, a great 350F, or exceedingly fun. It is just the right size machine for so many riders and balances the needs of the many while ignoring the rules created at a time when we didn't know what we were creating. Monster open-class 450s or expensive to race 250Fs. It's handling seems on par to make up any disadvantage it might face in going against 450cc machines but in being so different it might suffer in a shootout against a bunch of like machines. Or it won't but you actually have to do that comparison to find out. And we will. Just give us some time to ride this 350 more. Because that is really what we want to do right now.MSRP: $8499

Claimed Weight (tank empty): 230 lb.

Actual Weight (tank Full): 245 lb.

Seat Height: 37.5 in.

Footpeg Height: 16.5 in.

Ground Clearance: 13.0 in.

Fuel Capacity: 1.9 gal.

Fuel Injection: STD STD

|||||||| |---|---|---|---|---|---|---| |SUSPENSION||STOCK|DR||STOCK|DR| |Fork:|Compression:|12|11|Rebound|12|12| |Shock:|Low-spd comp.:|15|14|Rebound|15|15| ||High-spd comp.:|2.25|2.1|Sag (mm)|105|105-110| Other Notes: Springs are on the lighter side for heavier/faster riders. We switched the worn stock tires to Bridgestone 403/404s and were pleased with the result.Modifications We'd Like To Try: FI mapping adjustments to see if it can dramatically change power character for individual riders.

Stock, there is no kickstarter. You don't need it and you don't want it. The weight savings isn't worth the pain in the rear. The oil fill plug can be vulnerable and in fact one magazine's test rider was able to kick it loose while riding. So I'm sure that magazine will crucify this bike for that fatal flaw because someone has to tell you how it really is.
We have bent two front rims now. That is either a sign of too soft material (suspect) or more likely a sign of really good confidence inspiring suspension that lets you push the bike really hard. The black stripe on the front wheel, for some reason seems to be fading fast to a brown color.
We got our hands on a fresh off the line FMF Megabomb system for the 350. Like all Megabombs, it spiced up the throttle response and then helped the bike rev farther easier. We ran it with the 94 dB insert in and it was quietier than stock and put out a more useable spread then when run in a more open configuration. But it also started melting the side panel and FMF already has an upgraded heat shield and is sending a new muffler can.
Chris Barrett gets with the power in the loose stuff. The better the traction the better the bike seemed to work. In sloppy mud or inconsistent traction conditions, the 350 can spin through the power pretty quick, places where you'd lug a 450 or scream a 250F.
In the air the KTM is confident and light feeling. There isn't anything strange about it other than how can such a light bike have so much power to jump so easily.
We've had the bike at five different tracks so far and it works everywhere with minimal fiddling to the suspension. Tight and technical or wide open, this bike has what it takes to go up against 450s. Seeing if it is the Holy Grail in comparison will take a real shootout.