2009 KTM 400 XC-W - First Ride - Dirt Rider Magazine Online

For $8398 plus a few fees and charges (don't forget all that tax) you are looking at a very expensive dirt bike, here. Nine grand for 400cc when for a few hundred more you can have a 450 or a 530? With power being everything is this a good idea on your part? Well, if you can believe anything, the motto, "size is everything" should ring true here.To me the 200cc two-stroke and 400cc four-stroke have that magical balance point of blending the right amount of power with the right amount of weight. And it isn't the weight the scale shows; it is the feel of the weight of the bike. That, my friends, is largely to do with the mass of the stuff spinning inside the motor and the way the feel of the power controls the way a bike handles.KTM is on to something here with the way they chose to have the 400 XC-W produce power. It is wonderfully smooth and very forgiving with plenty of steam in the tank when and if you need it.Now, I'm never going to claim I don't really enjoy riding bikes with way too much power, but in the real world I rarely used what those bikes have available. Notice how much you ride at 1/3-1/2-throttle as opposed to being pinned. I hardly use what this KTM fully puts out most of the time, but when I did need power it had plenty, in fact, just the right amount to get the job done.Keep in mind this entire first impression gathering took place in the wonderful country of Mexico at nearly 6000 ft. of elevation during the recent Fun Enduro event. We were riding on clay and slippery rocks so there were frequent times where having extra control made my job as a rider even easier. There is an extra fudge factor built into the 400 XC-W's throttle, it seems, that gives you forgiveness on little mistakes you make with the throttle.Being a four-stroke the power character is long and linear and it really revs, but it also seemed easier to get onto the rev limiter because I wasn't afraid of the very top-end power like I tend to be on 450cc bikes and up. You can truly use the whole spread with the 400, especially when there is great traction, which we had also in spots.The bike is geared a bit tall for tighter conditions though just fine for most stuff out west. The only solution aside from having a huge 53 or 54-tooth rear sprocket, which can be vulnerable to rocks, is to drop down to a 12-tooth countershaft sprocket and that is tough on the chain buffer pad. Then the bike is good anywhere. It pulls the gaps, even with the tall gearing, but it is not even close to being too tight between gears with the lower gearing. The clutch is magical, shifting is fine and the engine resists boiling as long as you don't abuse the clutch.The chassis is about the same as last year's XCs and XC-Ws with some tweaks to the fork and the shock. But the biggest difference is how the 400 makes the bike feel so much more agile than its bigger brothers. This is one really happy motorcycle either on the trail or in natural-type moto conditions.It holds itself up pretty good and stays plush at everything but a slow crawling speed. Then, it doesn't bottom as easy as most totally off-road bikes, especially like heavier four-strokes would. It is an aggressive single-track ride and this additional stiffness really pays off in the turning. I slipped the forks up in the clamps about 4mm and ran a little more high-speed compression in the rear shock and the turning was as good as any off-road four-stroke out there. And I never noticed any stability issues. I had about 105mm of sag set in the shock.We all know about the goodies that KTM dirt bikes come with. I personally like the kickstand, though it could have a bigger tip. And the new heat shield guard near the muffler saves my pants and upper boot. And if you like lights, the wires are right there and ready to go. Just plug and play. Oh, yea, there is plenty of gas capacity and it has a perfect waistline at the seat-tank junction.Where does this KTM fit in a crowded field of competition from family members and foes? Well, it is smooth and torquey like the 530 but feels 40-pounds lighter and chugs just as good. It makes the 450 feel like an aggressive revver and it, too feels heavy in comparison to the four-hundy. It will make all other 450s' except maybe the Kawasaki KLX feel portly and 250Fs don't hold a candle with their spin-crazy RPM trying to keep up.The 400 XC-W is a cheater at making you a better rider and since it is slower; it will likely have you going faster.How's that for $9000?
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