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2011 KTM 250 XC – The Ideal Off-Road Bike

by Charles Owens on 12/26/2010

This is a great article from the February 2011 Dirt Rider Magazine. – Story by Jimmy Lewis

I would be a lot better off if I had only one motorcycle. Currently owning 30 motorcycles make me an extreme case. Most guys can barely manage two dirtbikes, be it space or spousal constraints. But for all of those with the Multiple Motorcycle Disorder, I will outline a solution, if you’re willing to listen. But first, you have to admit you have a problem.

Of course I don’t have a problem, I’m merely a professional. And in that capacity I can tell you why the KTM 250 XC is quite possibly the single best dirt bike being produced. This middle-displacement, lightweight, high-performance, multi-tasking ride is simplistic and utopian beyond what I could write here or explain to anyone with a closed mind. For them there must be a test ride. But if you’re considering just motorcycle to accomplish whatever you desire in your riding requirements, this is the best way to get started and the best motorcycle to recommend if you want your advice to be credible. Sure, if you have a more specific purpose for your bike, there may be a better machine to recommend, but as a blanket suggestion, you can’t go wrong with the multi-tasking two-stroke KTM XC.

Sound like some sort of lustful love affair? Maybe we at Dirt Rider are bought off by KTM or have some underhanded deal with the Austrian company? Well, the reputation and current status of the bikes comes from a long road of consistent improvements and the ability to simply build the bikes riders are asking for. Across the board the company is making what some feel are niche machines, but there is enough demand for them. When we test these bikes they do just what they’re advertised to do.

For 2011, the entire and exclusively two-stroke XC line got a serious makeover. Starting with an all-new frame, retaining the non-linkage PDS shock system but benefiting from the raised shock tower, KTM is looking to push the handling even further. A longer shock gives the engineers and test riders more shock travel to work with. The shock tower placement isolates the forces outside of the main spar of the chassis, limiting the amount of feeling the rider gets in the bar from the back end of the machine. Coming with the chassis is a whole new set of bodywork that is slim, thin and plenty futuristic as well. If that wasn’t enough, the engine got a revised cylinder with a lower exhaust port, new timing and optimized powervalve control via a new main spring, not to mention the six-speed transmission giving the bike even longer legs. Everyone still think the two-stroke is dead?

Sure, the bike is not sold with a spark arrestor or any lights; it was never intended to be a trailbike. If you want to make it into one, that’s pretty simple. Although the bike has the same places to stick numbers on it as the SX line, it was not intended to be a strict MXer. But most can take it to the track and get away with riding it like any other MX bike; it works that well. Designed to tackle a relatively modern discipline of racing called “closed-course off-road racing” (a blanket term for everything from GPs to GNCCs to WORCS to EnduroCross), it is a perfect fit for the right rider, which means most of us. Then if you choose to expand its workload, it responds better than any other bike we can think of or have tried. It trail rides with minimal discomfort. It motos without performance-limiting holdbacks.

Riding the bike, a rider immediately will take notice of a few things.  First is the electric start.  Yes, even if the KTM 250 XC will kickstart simply, having a button to push instead is magical and makes it just that much nicer; don’t think all the luxury items are available only on four-strokes.  Then there is the weight.  Whether it’s on the scale at 225 (without fuel) or the feel of less mass when riding, the bike is simply feathery.  You really feel it if you’re coming from any size four-stroke, and the minimal reciprocating mass stands out as the bike stays light even when the rpm go skyward.  About the only drawback compared to some four-strokes is some additional vibration through the bar and sometimes the pegs.  Next on the platter is the power delivery.  The 250 XC has incredibly clean and crisp carburetion that will tug and torque at insanely low revs without the flywheel weight that used to be necessary to keep a two-stroke spinning so slowly.  If you have been away from two-strokes for a few years now, this is an area that has come a long way.  Then the bike pulls and pulls smoothly and with authority, revving out plenty far and with power that will keep a 450 in check.  The downright disadvantage of the two-stroke is the overall power spread in each gear is shorter than a four-stroke, but this KTM masks any shortcoming here well.

Gear-to-gear pull is no problem with the semi-wide-ratio transmission; it basically has a lower first and a taller sixth with a motocross box in the middle, if you factor in how it is geared in the final drive.  The hydraulic clutch is as magical as the electric starting and needs a similar explanation; you don’t appreciate it until you use it.  First gear on the XC can tax the clutch in really technical trail work as the ratio is closer to an MX machine than a trailbike, but in this configuration the top speed is admirable and fast enough to allow you to lug it and keep 50 mp, with an 84-mph top speed.

The new plastic feels as slim and thin as it looks and hides just over three gallons of gas.  That’s good enough for 60 trail miles or an hour of hard racing.  You can move all over the bike and it never feels different than a motocross bike in regard to ergonomics.  Add the adjustability KTM has built in through the multi-position top triple-clamp bar mount and the bike fits a wide range of sizes.  The only item holding back a really large guy is the spring rates, which seem perfectly suited for the 170-190 pound range.

Speaking of suspension, KTM has found the magic place a lot of tuners are searching for.  It is track capable, holding the bike up from dreaded wallow while allowing enough compliance in small bumps so it doesn’t hammer you on the rocky trails.  If anything, the overall softer setting, compared to a strict MX bike, gets the Katoom into the turns better and gobbles up the chop on rough motocross tracks better than an MXer.  It can suffer on big jump landings, especially with heavier riders, and in rolling rhythm sections the XC can move around more than is comfortable.  But out on the trail the bike has a safety margin built in with the stiffness that regular trailbikes just don’t have.  You can hit stuff harder and not worry about ripping your feet off the pegs.  It holds the pegs up higher in ruts and away from stumps, logs, and rocks.  Adding or subtracting a few clicks of compression front and rear can really change the feel of the suspension through the chassis without affecting the performance in a negative way.

The brakes are simply insane, thanks to a combo of great parts and the light bike they’re slowing.  Air filter access is a tool-less affair, and the bulk of the maintenance is changing your transmission fluid every few rides. We’ve seen guys go 100 hours on top ends on these bikes, and the clutches last way longer than most even with the added abuse off-road can bring.  About the most vulnerable part on the bike is the expansion chamber, but this two-stroke has to have one weak spot, doesn’t it?

When we first began this test we wanted to do another two- vs. four-stroke comparison.  We asked around for another brand to stack its four-stroke against this bike in an all-around moto/off-road comparison, and there were no takers aside from the standing offer from Husaberg (KTM owns Husaberg) and another KTM vs. KTM comparison ( we already did that with the 150 SX vs. 250 SX-F)  we won’t deny we are not surprised about this, because that fact alone shows just how good everyone knows this bike is; and in many regular-rider applications two-strokes are superior.  But one final thing to consider, and I’ll wrap it up.  When Jesse Zeigler left Dirt Rider he was bike-less.  Having started here a motocross-bike-only rider and leaving with five years of bike testing experience under his belt, he was a knowledgeable consumer primed to make a bike purchase.  He bought a KTM 250 XC.

This looks like a great bike! One of these is definately on the TSM wishlist!