Note: This post has a lot of technical details on my new KTM 350 EXC-F and unless you’re a gear head, you probably won’t find it very interesting. For those who continue reading, enjoy.
Since my last post a few weeks ago I’ve had the opportunity to put a few more miles on my new KTM 350 EXC-F and of course a few enhancements. This past week-end, three of the original TAT 2016 riders decided to head west into the wilderness that is only about 30 miles from downtown Little Rock; i.e. Mike, Steve & Terry. Woodrow made some excuse but I think he just didn’t want to be seen with 3 orange bikes while on his red Honda. Our destination was actually a national forest but has plenty of forest service roads and side spurs to give a dual-sport plenty of action. As for the 3 orange bikes, all of us were on KTMs; Terry and Steve were on their KTM690s and I was on my KTM 350 EXC-F. Although Steve used his Yamaha WR250R on the TAT Leg-2 ride from CO to AR, he had this KTM in his garage but he had just bought it used and wasn’t sure it was ready for the TAT when we started. He now thinks it will be his primary bike on future TAT rides. That leave only Woodrow still on his Honda CRF250L for the TAT 2017 ride.
We rode 135 miles round trip with about 90 of that on pavement. I don’t really like riding to this spot on pavement and will probably trailer my bike there in the future. The primary reason is that the KTM is NOT a pavement bike even though it’s called a dual-sport. I confess that I am not very smart on KTMs so most of my observations are based on hands on experience with this bike. It appears that KTM took an enduro off-road motorcycle and installed lights and a license plate and called it a dual-sport. One of the scariest moments on our ride was doing 65 mph down I-430 across the Arkansas River Bridge and the road was grooved to facilitate water drainage and to provide better traction. This is a pretty steep decent and we had lots of traffic to deal with. The KTM was jumping around so much I actually thought it was going to go down several times. I’ve ridden this highway numerous times on various types of bikes including the Honda CRF250L with Dunlop D606 knobbies. I can only attributer the KTMs reaction to the more aggressive knobbies installed on this bike. It reminded me of riding my Super Tenere in Alaska and Canada on the metal grated bridges but about 3 times as severe. Just a warning to new KTM dual-sport riders like me.
Other than poor pavement performance the KTM really shines on the dirt which makes sense based on the previous paragraph. We started on steep gravel roads and progressively moved on to some side spurs with mud holes and even a steep logging road with lots of moguls; i.e. large bumps in the road to prevent water erosion. Several of us got some air time going over the moguls and once again the KTM took them in stride.
Bike Notes - I’ve become much more comfortable riding the KTM but here are a few new or updated “observations”.
1 The bike is still tall but I was able to handle multiple stops on pavement and especially on the dirt. This included having to turn around several times on narrow dirt roads that required going forward and backing several times. No drops which surprised me.
2 It handles mud like a dream. The several mud holes we encountered would have been a challenge on my CRF but I just got on the pegs and powered up and the aggressive knobbies did their thing.
3 The power is outstanding with more than I needed to handle this type of riding which is equal to about 95% of the TAT from the east coast to Lake City, CO.
4 The gearing is terrible for in-city driving but is excellent for the dirt. I could pick a gear and powered up any hill I encountered. The CRF would have required a down shift in the middle of a climb which was never fun to accomplish.
5 I have used the kick starter and it worked great after I realized I had the kill switch on after kicking it about 10 times. One important side note is that damn kickstand, sorry for the language but it is definitely my most disliked item on this bike. As you kick the starter, the bike jumps some and the kickstand would come up. More on this later but it’s going to be fixed I promise.
6 Throttle sensitivity is still an issue but I think I can get used to it.
Modifications - As I am inclined to do even though I know I shouldn’t, I’ve made a few enhancements to the KTM:
1 I replaced the Spanish Inquisition style KTM seat with a Low-Boy Seat Concepts saddle. I love these seats and had one on my CRF for 5,000 miles of comfortable riding. The KTM version isn’t as plush as the CRF version but it is a significant improvement over the stock KTM seat. Another plus was this seat lowered the seat height around ½”. Doesn’t sound like much but every half inch helps.
2 I installed a DirtRacks rear rack that appears to be perfect for this bike. I worried about how well this bike could handle a rear rack since the substructure on the KTM is pretty flimsy; i.e. aluminum to reduce weight. The DirtRacks attaches to the steel primary frame in several locations and seems to be pretty well supported for the type of load I will carry which is extra fuel and the large GL horseshoe style saddle bag. The benefits of this rack are it has wings on both sides to help keep your bags off the muffler, provide crash guards plus lift handles. Only time will prove if it perform as I just stated.
Future Enhancements – Here are a few mods I plan on doing to the KTM as long as the money is available and my wife doesn’t find out, just kidding about the wife so no need to tell her.
1 Larger fuel tank to eliminate carrying the RotoPax. KTM makes a 3.45 gal fuel tank to replace the stock 2.25 gal tank. From what I see this bike gets about 50 mpg so fuel range will definitely be a problem out west. Even the 3.45 tank won’t cover some of the distances between fuel sources so I won’t totally eliminate the RotoPax yet.
2 Heavy duty springs fore and aft. I’ve learned a lot AFTER buying the KTM that I should have known before buying. The stock springs on the KTM are for a mid-range rider being max around 180 lbs (give or take a few pounds). I’m 195 lbs dripping wet from the shower so with gear I’m well over that limit. In addition, I bought this bike for the TAT and I’ll carry another 40+ lbs of baggage and gear on the next TAT ride. I must put heavy duty springs on both the front struts and the rear shock.
3 Lowering kit – I still want to get this bike lower so I can handle it on steep and rocky slopes plus deep mud. After riding 5 mountain passes in CO and lots of OK mud during TAT 2016, I know what it takes to keep a bike moving through this stuff and having the ability to get my feet on the ground for bracing is imperative. I now better riders would stay on the pegs and punch through but I’m a bit more conservative considering my old bones. To lower this KTM you have to put shorter springs in both the front struts and the rear shock.
Items 2 & 3 above both apply to the strut and shock springs so of course need to be dealt with at the same time. After doing research on multiple forums and web sites I hit on a site called KTMWorld in Georgia. They were extremely helpful answering all my questions and even provided a solution to my kickstand vendetta. The details of my discussion with KTMWorld are provided below but I assume all they said is accurate and if someone disagrees, I’m open to all input:
1 They confirmed that KTM only provides lowering springs for riders in the mid-weight category. All heavy weights are out of luck.
2 They stated that they specialize in lowering multiple models of bikes and they do the KTM 350 EXC-F on a regular basis.
3 They stated they can lower the 350 up to 2” based on the owner’s desires and riding requirements.
4 They stated that they do not use KTM springs but buy aftermarket springs that are available in multiple ranges and that they tune the owner’s suspension based on an extensive survey form the client fills out prior to the modification.
5 They require that the front struts and rear shock be shipped to their facility with a normal 10 day turn-around for the modification.
6 Price for my KTM 350 EXC-F to have my suspension lowered 2” with heavy duty springs is $758.00. A spring kit (mid-range) from KTM is around $450.00 plus installation at a KTM dealer. I would expect the price to be about the same considering KTM dealer labor prices.
With the Low-Boy seat (1/2” lower) and this suspension change the bike would be 2 ½” lower than stock. This would be much better than standing on tip-toes while riding through some tough terrain. I’m still undecided but leaning towards having the suspension lowered. Removing the struts and shock from my bike is pretty easy so that won’t be a deterrent. I’m taking the KTM to ride a 150 mile dual-sport rally this week-end and will decide after that ride if I will do the mod or not.
ATMWorld also gave me some valuable information on the KTM’s auto-retract issue. As I suspected, KTM used this to get around the DOT requirement for a kickstand down safety switch that prevents the rider from taking off with the kick stand down causing a potential accident. They said the solution is to remove the main bolt on the kickstand and replace it with a 10mm shorter bolt. At the same time remove the cam that is on the bolt which is used to make the kickstand spring back once a load is off of the kickstand. Very simple and after looking closely at my kickstand I can see how this would work. The result would be the kickstand stays up or down. The only down side is that you no longer have protection from leaving the kickstand down and riding off to oblivion. I’ll take that chance. More than once I was trying to get the kickstand down on sloped dirt and could barely hold the bike up on the right side while fighting with the kickstand on the left side to get it down and stay down. KTMWorld stated they remove it on all their showroom bikes because customers had dropped new bikes several times while trying moving them or getting on/off.
That’s all for this post but will give a ride review after this week-end.