KTM 250 EXC-F first ride

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KTM dominate off-road sport with over 200 world championships under their belt. And they dominate because every year, without fail, the Austrian manufacturer makes its bikes better, sometimes incrementally, sometimes substantially.

This year their primary focus has been the 250EXC-F, the enduro for the everyman. Already the undisputed class leader, with a new motor KTM has just made it quantifiably better in every way...

KTM’s new 250EXC-F is a distillation of all that is core to KTM. It’s off-road (aka enduro), it’s competition, and it’s the best.

KTM have now amassed an impressive 223 world championships, but it’s what the firm can do for you, the amateur rider, rather than the professional elite, that really sets them apart.

Put simply, they’re giving you ‘what he’s getting’ (the world champ). Buying the new 250EXC-F is very much like being able to go into a Yamaha dealership and buying an exact replica of Jorge Lorenzo’s M1 MotoGP machine.

Okay, not exactly – even enduro gods reserve the rights to a few trick bits – but we’re talking 98% of the package.

And here’s the cool bit – while having 98% of what Lorenzo races would probably cause the average rider no end of headaches and possibly pain, having 98% of what enduro world champion Antoine Meo rides is just pure joy.

In enduro – where a rider will race for up to eight hours a day across the most difficult of off-road terrain – the ‘easy-to-ride’ bike is usually the winningest bike. And because of that truth, what works for Antoine invariably works for Tom, Dick and Harry.

And while a Lorenzo replica might hypothetically stand you in a cool £500,000, maybe, here’s almost-works tackle for a pretty fair £7149. Motorsport doesn’t come much more affordable.

Riding the new 250EXC-F is then to revel in decades of top level enduro intelligence. KTM have been making top enduros for going on six decades (longer in fact, their motorcycling history reaches back to 1954) and they pride themselves in adding to their understanding year on year.

So while the 2014 250EXC-F might be brand new, with a motor taken from last year’s then brand new 250cc motocrosser, they’ve instantly managed to reconfigure the power delivery, the transmission and the whole chassis to exactly meet – and beat – the enduro standard.

The motocrosser features a high-revving short-stroke ‘screamer’ set-up for the motor. The enduro version is retuned, remapped for torque. The motocrosser has a five-speed gearbox, the enduro comes with six – that sixth being important for riding ‘liaisons’ on the tarmac.

And while the motocrosser has electric start, the enduro comes with the back-up of a kick start – in enduro fail-safe systems are the difference between a world championship and excuse-laden PR.

The e-start is pretty rock solid all the same. There’s no ignition key on enduros (KTM have worked hard on making minimalist never-fail wiring looms) so it’s just a matter of pressing the button, allowing the engine a micro warm up – these racing singles emit a distinct short-sharp ‘brap-brap’ exhaust note when revved – then selecting first, and go.

If you’ve ridden dirt bikes before – maybe even if you’re new to them – you’ll immediately sense everything is right. The 250EXC-F rests slim between your calves (you ride stood up, not sat, except for extreme cornering or accelerating) with a fantastically intuitive feel to the handling.

Pretty soon you’ll be flinging it around without a care, whether accelerating hard or braking hard – for the latter it allows you to simultaneously slam on the front brake while tickling the rear brake to set-up an into-the-corner slide that helps speed up the cornering process, just as in WRC.

Open the throttle and the 250EXC-F charges forward. It’s not as forceful as its 350cc bigger brother, nor as downright brutal like the even bigger 450cc sibling, but it’s plenty enough and if it doesn’t feel fast enough straight off then hang on a split second because once it gets into the upper half of its 14,000rpm rev-range it’ll be flying.

That enduro breeding then conveys into the intangible – it’s almost impossible to explain how it does it, but the 250EXC-F can ride terrain almost unaided. Where the big bikes call for real skills, you can launch this quarter-litre gem onto the gnarliest terrain with little planning, or idea, and the bike sorts the rest.

It’s uncanny but it’s a trait of the best bikes – if you were sat on the start line of the annual International Six Days Enduro, considering a week chasing rugged trails, then this is exactly the kind of bike you want.

KTM’s attention to detail is stuff of legend. Two examples shine through with the 250EXC-F.

This year they’ve reworked their brakes. Already they were considered the best in the business but now they’ve reworked the master cylinder with a smaller diameter piston combined with a new brake pad material to create the same braking performance only with more progression.

Before it would be easy to panic brake on gravel, lock the wheel and crash – now the forces build more gradually, perfect for loose surfaces.

Second improvement (this sounds mundane, but it’s indicative of the detail) – a new fuel cap. For enduro KTM use a quick release quarter-turn cap. However, the necessary push button release has caused operation issues in the past.

So KTM has studied it and now have an optimal spring resistance on that button so it’s 100% foolproof in operation.

There’s a modern saying (now a TV show): don’t sweat the small stuff. KTM show this to be entirely wrong, it’s by sweating the small stuff that they make the most complete, most bug-free enduros on the market.

Their 450EXC is a stand-out powerhouse of a machine, but you need to be a stand-out powerhouse rider to live with it. Their two-strokes are almost universally adopted by British championship enduro racers – light, powerful and home-mechanic friendly they are the top privateer’s choice.

Their 250EXC-F has always been the ideal entry point to enduro being a bike so easy to ride, yet it’s adept right up to world championship standard. The new version offers more of the same, being about 10% better all round. For most of us amateur racers it’s about as perfect as they come.

2014 KTM 250EXC-F, £7149
Engine: Water-cooled, 249.91cc, dohc, four valve, four-stroke single. 6 gears, chain drive.
Frame: Central double cradle type in 25CrMo4, alloy swingarm
Suspension: WP USD 48mm dia. forks, fully adjustable, WP PDS (non-linkage) shock, fully adjustable
Claimed dry weight: 105.5kg
Front brake: single wavy 260mm disc with twin-piston caliper 
Rear brake: wavy 220mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Fuel capacity: 9 litres
Seat height: 970mm
Colours: orange Contact: www.ktm.com

2014 KTM enduros

125/200EXC, £5899/£6099
Not many changes for 2014, but new Boyeson reed valves and optimised combustion chambers have made these sweet little two-stroke racers even sweeter. The 200 offers the same small packaging as the 125 but with a more torquey power delivery. Ideal for smaller people and youth racers.

250/300EXC, £6599/£6799
As used by top British enduro racers and extreme enduro specialists the world over, these are the virtual TZ250 production racers of enduro. New reeds and head work make for improvement but it’s microscopic in terms of the big picture. Just add competition numbers and race – literally.

350EXC-F, £7249
KTM’s most popular model combines near-250 ease of use with near 450 power – and two-stroke EXC ability in the tough stuff. However, it’s still a compromise, the 250 is easier in the tight stuff and the 450 is mightier in the fast stuff. Great tool for the year two or three rider.

450EXC/500EXC, £7349/£7449
A true expert’s tool, possibly the most potent machine this side of a big-bore motocrosser. A thrill a minute, but only a minute as after that only the super-fit will survive. Like a turbo-Hayabusa, on nitrous... National champions need only apply. The 500 is actually mellower, best for the oversized gent.

2014 KTM motocrossers

The 2013 model year was a big one for KTM. With legend Roger De Coster new into the orange fold the Austrians created all-new 250SX and 450SX racers according to ‘The Man’’s blueprint.

Subsequently KTM works riders won the MX1 and MX2 world titles plus the AMA 450cc Motocross championship – the veritable grand slam.

For 2014 KTM are changing precious little – chain guide modifications here, wiring loom shortening there. The suspension set-up has been modded to further suit American tastes (stiff forks with a low-riding shock) and time will tell if this suits European tastes, too.

First ride impression isn’t (in fact) wholly positive – the forks feel compromised by a less than plush action. The 450SX gets a new silencer to smooth the king-hit motor while the 250SX gets a gearbox revision to save weight.

KTM also make two-stroke motocrossers (all the Japanese, bar Yamaha, abandoned these over five year ago now) and these are excellent machines.

There’s a 125/150cc option and a 250cc that’s now super-developed as to rank as the most refined 250cc two-stroke motocrosser ever made.

If you own a KTM and need to insure your bike soon, don’t forget to check out MCN Compare where you can get prices from 43 insurance companies in one place.

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Jon Bentman

By Jon Bentman