–  2012 KTM EXC Model Range
—  Four-Strokes
—  By, Mark Willis

KTM Australia has launched its 2012 EXC model line-up and mcnews.com.au sent along ex-Aussie Supermoto Champ, 500cc Grand Prix rider and King of the Mountain, Mark Willis, to put the full range through its paces.

KTM’s core business is built around their dirt bike models and this year their entire enduro EXC range sees a swag of new improvements and changes. With great anticipation and hype surrounding the introduction of the enduro version of KTM’s hugely successful 350cc motocross machine but with a quartet of four-stroke models offering differing capacities, and a triumvirate of two-stroke machines in varying sizes, KTM stands strong as the market leader in the off-road enduro category with a machine to suit almost every taste and skill level.

– KTM 350 EXC-F

After being converted by the KTM 350 SX-F last year, I was interested to see how good this bike would be as an EXC-F.

Motocross racer turned enduro maestro, Toby Price, has already been out winning on a prototype version in the AORC this year and just wrapped up the A4DE, so I had a feeling it would be special.

I wasn’t disappointed!

My first ride for the day was on board the 350 and I was suitably impressed. Is there a better enduro bike?

Now, I must confess that I am no specialist enduro rider and I haven’t had the luxury of being able to sample all the enduro models on the market, but I was incredibly impressed with this latest offering from KTM.

This bike has the best of both worlds; light like a 250 with power and torque of a much bigger capacity machine. It is nimble and easy to ride, allows you the confidence to be aggressive and forgives most of the overambitious rushes of blood that I seem to have on a regular basis.

We were riding at the new, soon to be opened, MA Qld ride park just west of Beaudesert and the KTM guys had done a great job in preparing a nice grass track/enduro loop.

There was also a motocross track on offer but I decided to focus solely on the enduro loop in order to obtain a good understanding of the differences between models.

As you can imagine with a loop of about 8 -10 minutes long, there were instances in those first few laps where I forgot which corner I was at, resulting in some heart-in-mouth moments as I ran in way too hot! On most motorcycles you would just stand it up and run wide but due to not knowing what was off the beaten track and the confidence inspiring front end, the 350 just begs you to tip it in anyway.

The front end is superb and it must be said that the steering across the entire range of EXCs is outstanding.

The six-speed gearbox is beautiful and smooth. As with the SXF, I was probably most impressed with stability on deceleration. With any of the big bore machines you usually get a strong compression deceleration effect that can hide your ability to be smooth and controlled on slippery corner entries as the rear end wants to pass the front. The 350 is identical to its little brother the 250 EXC-F on deceleration. The bike does not chatter at all, making corner entry much more precise and seems to make holding a tight line a lot easier than on most bigger bore four-strokes. Unlike the SX¬¬F, however, the EXC has opted to stay with the PDS rear suspension.

The entire range of 2012 model EXCs are fitted with a 7 mm longer PDS WP shock and it is mounted flatter, compared with the 2011 model. This has improved its rising rate characteristics and helps take away some of the impacts that are transferred from the back end to the front wheel.

The entire range receives a new 300 gram lighter cast aluminium swing arm. Up front, the EXCs have been fitted with the latest generation WP 48 mm inverted forks that have been re-worked complete with new seals and improved bushings for reduced stiction.

The chassis and suspension work faultlessly and I didn’t adjust a clicker all day on any model. The front suspension seems plush without being too soft and the rear tracked impressively over a variety of off-camber corners as well as hooking up well and not getting too out of shape while accelerating hard over some rocky sections.

As with all KTMs, brakes are second to none. The feel and bite of the KTM spec’ Brembos is amazing.

From a technical aspect, the 350 EXC has a slightly heavier crank than its SXF sibling; a new piston with slightly less compression, newly design cams and softer valve springs provide the user with an engine that has a broad and tractable powerplant. And to top it off a start button and a leg! All the EXCs barring the 200 have electric and kick start options. And don’t worry if your battery is flat – the kick starter will fire the electronics and EFI into action so you’re not stuck in the shed while your mates load up!

A new one-piece clutch basket combined with the primary gear is made from high-strength billet steel. Still actuated by the Brembo hydraulics, this clutch offers a super light but precise feel.

All four-stroke EXC models run the Keihin Engine Management System (EMS) and 42mm throttle. Thanks to the wonders of modern EFI, temperature and altitude compensation is automatically taken care of. An optional map selector available through KTM hard parts, allows for three additional maps to be selected for different engine characteristics.

The ergonomics of the new EXCs is fantastic. They are nice and slim and come with all the bling that you come to expect from KTM (Taper bars, Brembo brakes, billet hubs etc.). The EXC range is also fitted with a nine-litre translucent fuel tank, so it’s always easy to see at a glance just how much juice is left in the tank.

– KTM 450 EXC and KTM 500EXC

My next weapons of choice were the bigger bore 450 and 500 EXC-F; while they are similar they are far from the same! They do share the same bore size and piston but have a different stroke length.

Both the 450 and 500 EXC-F come in for a swag of upgrades and improvements with a focus on the engine. KTM have redesigned the crankcases to make way for the new lateral balancer shaft with integrated water pump. The engine cases are produced in die cast mouldings instead of sand cast, reducing the case wall thickness without compromising on strength. These new modifications have allowed KTM to shave a whopping 2.5kg in weight compared with the 2011 model. Due to the more compact engine the chassis rails are now higher, giving the new model better ground clearance. Both models also run the new Keihin EMS and have the new clutch, which also helps to reduce the overall size of the engine.

Out on the track it is very easy to notice the extra horsepower and torque that both these bikes produce. The 450 tends to rev through a little more, while the 500 is just a serious grunt and wheelie machine.

It took me a full lap to calm down after being on the 350, as with the bigger bore bikes, you tend to ride them differently. Where the 350 allows you to be aggressive and lively, the 450 and 500 force you to be a little more thoughtful and respectful to both braking markers and right-wrist impatience!

Instead of being down a gear on corner exits and high in the rpm, these bikes love to be laboured in a taller gear and use the torque and horsepower that is on offer.

The biggest and most notable difference for me over the 350 is in the deceleration. Both bikes have the tendency to chatter more with compression on deceleration and entry to the corner. I found that I just ended up not going down as many gears and both machines seem to be able to pull third gear out of even some of the tightest corners on the track. They are not as nimble as the 350, but if I was on fast flowing trails, I know which bike I would prefer.

As far as suspension goes the bikes felt impressive. It was really quite incredible how well these bigger bore bikes turn. In the tight corners, both 450 and 500 were a pleasure. As they are a little heavier than the 250 and 350 they seem to place more weight on the front wheel and this seems to help with stability and traction on the front end. The more laps I did on these two bikes the more I started to enjoy them.

And now for the surprise package for me ……

– KTM 250EXC-F

This bike blew me away! I had started out on the 350, followed by the 450 and 500 and next up was the 250 EXC-F. To be honest I wasn’t that excited about jumping back on a 250 as I have always enjoyed taming the big bore bike rather than wringing the neck out of a little bike, but maybe age is catching up with me because I had an absolute blast on this bike. From the moment I left the truck I knew I was going to have some fun.

This bike is so light and nimble to ride; don’t let the 250 sticker on the side fool you, this bike has plenty of sting. I was able to be super aggressive everywhere – running in to corners way too hot, snapping the throttle everywhere, quick changes of direction on off-cambered corners – it didn’t seem to matter what I threw at the 250, it ate it up.

If I had to mention a negative, it would be that the smaller bike was perhaps not quite as settled on the faster rocky sections as the bigger bore EXC’s, but overall it was a lot of fun to ride. There are quite a few sections of a track where a bigger capacity bike is an advantage, and when you go back to back from the 500 to the 250 you really notice that!

—  KTM 2012 EXC Two-Strokes Review

—  KTM 2012 EXC Pictorial

—  KTM 2012 EXC Full Technical Briefing