2018 KTM 300EXC Review

How does KTM’s 300EXC compare to new TPI models?


A while back it seemed as though manufacturers were trying to phase out the venerable two-stroke – despite the fact there was still strong demand. It appeared as if the unnaturally hairy, tree-hugger types would get their way. However, history and demand has proven otherwise.

Despite regulations and emission concerns, two-strokes have soldiered on, with EFI now a reality
Despite regulations and emission concerns, two-strokes have soldiered on, with EFI now a reality and phasing out carburetor models

Of course, for on-road work there has had to be some appeasement with regard to emissions, hence the fuel injection (TPI) models from KTM and Husqvarna. But even the total cynic in me has to admit the TPI system works very well everywhere – and it’s clean burning.

This brings me nicely to Tommy Buxton’s KTM 300EXC race bike, our test bike and the very last of the carburettor models. And recently KTM Australia announced that for Model Year 2019 there would be no more carb’ two-stroke Enduro bikes availale, as the range goes EFI only. Thus right now is your last chance to get hold of a final generation carburettor two-stroke from the Austrian manufacturer.

Having spent many hours on a TPI 250cc machine over the Christmas break, I was keen to see if the carb model felt “old school” already and generally how it stacked up. It’s amazing how quickly our perception moves on; out with the old, in with the new etc, but, really, Tommy’s bike is a thoroughly modern machine.

The 300EXC's carb - TPI models will be the only option from 2019
The 300EXC’s carb – TPI models will be the only option from 2019

KTM is selling the carburetted model alongside the TPI version. The carb’ model comes in 3kg lighter and will save you $1000 to boot. It gets the counter-balancer and everything else is absolutely cutting edge. But what are you losing out on, if anything?

Good Jetting, Crisp Motor

Tommy has tinkered with the jetting, as any good KTM dealer will do for you when preparing your new bike, so the bike is crisp.

Only the usual warm-up procedure producing a few burbles and the associated smoke on this bike and the engine was warm it ran very well. The power delivery is livelier than pre-counter-balanced engines with less flywheel feel, although there’s still plenty of torque and inertia.

The KTM 300EXC saw a major update in 2017, which is carried across to both carb and TPI models in 2018
The KTM 300EXC saw a major update in 2017, which is carried across to both carb and TPI models in 2018

It is racy feeling and reasonably abrupt if you swing on the throttle carelessly, but will still tractor up a cliff effortlessly on a sniff of gas when required. The mid-range is wide and strong, well-suited to big hills and flowing trails.

For racers I see the power delivery as more suitable for achieving effortless trail times than outright pace in special tests… mainly because the huge mid-range torque struggles to get the power down in slick conditions, but I could be in a minority of one here. This is where I think a great 250 two-smoker has the edge.

The 300EXC feels racy, with strong mid-range and the ability to tractor up cliff like terrain
The 300EXC feels racy, with strong mid-range and the ability to tractor up cliff like terrain

Up top the 300 revs well, is comparatively smooth and fast, but really the vast mid-range is this engine’s happy place – pull a high-ish gear and just surf the grunt. Overall, the engine is impressive, the carb model is still a rock-solid machine.

Quality Chassis

What else? The clutch pull is light and takes abuse super well. Six gears offer a cog for everything short of road-racing. I have to admit that even after all these years I’m still not that used to riding a two-stroke with electric start. I guess too many years of kicking them becomes quite ingrained. Whatever the reason it sure is a delight to have the ease of the E-button.

Electric start is a great feature, with a great dash layout
Electric start is a great feature, with a great dash layout

While up on the bars, the KTM ODO/trip computer is as good as it gets, also all levers and controls are first class in feel and use. The ergonomics probably favour the taller rider, after all the 300 is a relatively big machine and all proper dirtbikes have a tall seat height.

That’s not to say that short riders won’t be happy or comfortable too… just that logic dictates it will be trickier for them to get their feet down.

WP 48mm Xplor USD telescopic forks offer adjustability
WP 48mm Xplor USD telescopic forks offer adjustability, with a strong brake system

The suspension action is very plush but still quite bottom resistant. I felt it used a lot of the travel, a lot of the time, but then I’m much heavier than Tommy. The suspension is set to cope with tree roots and the like at the expense of bigger hits to some extent.

Considering Tommy’s lighter weight, his 300 EXC suspension would always be plush for me, but, most importantly, very comfortable and, therefore, not fatiguing over long races and yet it’s plenty capable of absorbing the big stuff when necessary, making it a confident and competent package.

A WP Xplor PDS single-shock adorns the rear, and also features adjustability
A WP Xplor PDS single-shock adorns the rear, and also features adjustability

The front brake is the usual KTM fare, which means it is class leading and has been for many years. They’re light to use, strong on stopping power and have excellent feel with decent pad life. Out back the rear has a smaller diameter disc than most Japanese brand ones and I think slightly lacking in feel and strength by comparison. However the trade-off is that being smaller it’s less vulnerable to track side damage, while performing almost as well. In general these are very fine stoppers.

So overall this is a quality machine in all regards. KTM’s slogan of ‘Ready to Race’ is accurate and as a company their dirt-bikes show the most uncompromising focus to racing for a production machine of all the brands. And it’s fair to say that while TPI might be the latest and greatest, and all the rage at the moment, the carb is not dead quite yet.

The 300EXC lives up to the brand's 'Ready to Race' slogan
The 300EXC lives up to the brand’s ‘Ready to Race’ slogan

Tommy Buxton talks his 300EXC

My 2018 300 EXC is proof of the Austrian manufacturer’s slogan “Ready to Race”. Straight out the box this bike was ready to go. Without any major changes I raced it at the Husqvarna Hard Enduro, and Dead Toad cross country with no complaints.

This model had a complete overhaul in 2017 with new chassis, changes to the engine, and as well as a new look but not a lot has changed this year. Apart from different graphics the bike was pretty much untouched from last year. But why change perfection?

Weighing just 100kg without fuel and without engine braking the 300EXC feels light compared to four-stroke options
Weighing just 100kg without fuel and without engine braking the 300EXC feels light compared to four-stroke options

The low end torque which is unrivalled by any other bike makes it the perfect tool for extreme enduro. And with plenty of power through the rest of the rev range, it doesn’t disappoint. As the saying goes, “You only get one chance to make a first impression”, and after this bike’s first outing I was left very impressed. Firstly, with its lightweight feel and secondly with its torque at low rpm.

Tipping the scales at 100kg with no fuel the bike feels nimble. Coming off a four-stroke, the reduced weight was noticeable on off cambers where the four-stroke would want to slide down, but the 300 hangs up and gets you across. Another time that the 300’s lighter weight is noticed is in corners, especially when it’s slippery.

The 300EXC is well known for it's low down torque
The 300EXC is well known for it’s low down torque

The front wheel gets better grip and you don’t need to worry about it washing out as much as on a four-stroke. This is due to the difference in weight and positioning of weight on the bikes. Also, there is virtually no engine braking on the 300, which gives the bike the feeling of being very light coming into corners and downhills.

This bike is known for its down low power, and it can definitely “torque” the talk. Eager to get out and ride this bike for the first time I left on the stock Six Day tyres, which are fine in the dry, but not so flash in the wet. With conditions closer to winter than summer, I wasn’t expecting to get many places.

The bike was particularly home once testing in the pine trees
The bike was particularly home once testing in the pine trees

However, once in the pine trees this bike was at home. This is where I noticed the bottom end, as it could pull a taller gear at revs that would’ve stalled other bikes – it will crawl up a hill with very little loss of traction.

Tommy’s Modifications

I was a bit worried about getting the jetting right as this bike’s predecessor proved difficult to get running right. However, my mind was put to rest when I realised KTM had addressed last year’s problem. With a change to the ignition and revised carburettor settings, I got to work getting it right for me. In the end I liked it richer across the board.

An ignition mod and carburetor settings had the 300EXC set up just how Tommy wanted it
An ignition mod and carburetor settings had the 300EXC set up just how Tommy wanted it

I went bigger on the pilot and main jet, as well as going to a half clip richer on the needle. I found this worked well for what I was doing (XC and hard/extreme enduro), making it very tractable at low rpm and with enough grunt to pull a higher gear, which also aided traction. Also the bigger main jet helped to smooth it out and keep it on the safe side of being too lean.

I have done very little to the suspension. For the hard enduro I rode on completely stock suspension without even changing the clickers much. It was probably a bit on the plush side but this wasn’t a problem at this event, as it soaked up the roots.

Little suspension work was needed either, although this will vary by rider
Little suspension work was needed either, although this will vary by rider

For the Dead Toad XC at Woodhill Forest, I opted to go up a spring rate front and rear to cope with the whoops and rougher terrain. This made it handle a lot better in the rough as it kept more settled coming into corners and on the whooped out straights.

The only other modification this bike has had is a cooling fan to stop it from overheating.

2018 KTM 300EXC
2018 KTM 300EXC

2018 KTM 300EXC Specifications

  • Engine – 293.2cc, liquid-cooled, two-stroke single with exhaust valve
  • Bore & stroke – 72 x 72mm
  • Compression – n/a
  • Ignition – Kokusan digital electronic
  • Fuelling – Mikuni TMX38 carburettor
  • Lubrication – Petroil (60:1)
  • Power (claimed) – n/a
  • Torque (claimed) – n/a
  • Clutch type – Wet multi-disc, manual, Brembo hydraulic
  • Starter system – Kickstart and electric
  • Transmission – Six-speed, chain drive
  • Frame – Steel spine with cradle
  • Front suspension – WP 48mm Xplor USD telescopic fork with compression, rebound and preload adjustment, 300mm travel
  • Rear suspension – WP Xplor PDS single-shock with compression, rebound and preload adjustment, 310mm travel rear
  • Rake/trail – 26.5°/ n/a
  • Brakes – 260mm wave disc, Brembo two-piston caliper front; 220mm wave disc, Brembo single piston caliper rear
  • Wheels – Spoked with aluminium rims
  • Tyres – 80/100-21 front; 140/80-18 rear
  • DIMENSIONS
  • Seat height – 960mm
  • Ground clearance – 370mm
  • Wheelbase – 1482mm
  • Weight – 100kg (no fuel)
  • Fuel capacity – 9.5 litres
  • Price – $13,495
  • Contact – KTM Australia (link)

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