Thanksgiving Day! I’m the only one up this early, having coffee and blueberry muffins. It’s quite and it doesn’t get any better than this.
It’s been a month since my last post so thought I would post an update of my Love/Hate relationship with my KTM 350 EXC-F dual-sport motorcycle.
I bought the KTM to replace my Honda CRF250L for two main reasons:
1 60+ lbs lighter – 250 lbs KTM vs. 310+ lbs CRF
2 Much more power and I mean a LOT more power
Before I start talking about KTMs I have to note that they are a very loyal and vocal group. I owned/rode a Harley Davidson FLHTCU Ultra Classic for a number of years (rode it to Yukon Territory in 2012) and I thought HD riders were the most loyal/vocal. Wrong! KTM guys are more extreme. This isn’t meant to be a negative comment. I say it because me being a new KTM owner and not loyal to any brand of motorcycle, I make statements that hit a nerve with KTM folks so I get occasional negative reactions. Please no hate mail. This post is to give honest opinions (mine) for anyone thinking of buying a KTM.
I just got to the 600-mile break-in point last weekend so taking it in for an oil change and check-up next week. If you read my last blog you realize that I’m not a hard-core dirt bike rider and the KTM so far has been a challenge for me to keep under control. Every time I get on this bike I feel a bit nervous and that may be what is causing me to re-evaluate my decision to buy this bike. Here are the good and bad points I’ve found up to now.
1 Very Light which helps in tough riding circumstances
2 Lots of power (also in the bad list)
3 Engine can be lugged down in a higher gear and still keep moving up hill
4 Gearing seems perfect for off-road
1 Seat is hard as a rock (great for hardcore dirt but terrible for long distant rides like the TAT)
2 Vibrates at any speed above 35mph causing fatigue (foot pegs buzz under feet at 55-65 mph)
3 Vibrates causing every bolt to work loose so needs to be checked after every ride to tighten bolts
4 Requires much more maintenance
5 Lots of power (very easy to overpower on climbs)
6 Throttle very sensitive (on rough terrain it’s hard to keep engine from surging caused by small throttle movements)
7 Stock tires are great on dirt but right down dangerous on paved roads at speed (65-75mph)
8 Front-end jumps around a lot at speed on pavement but I think this is more the tires than the bike.
9 VERY TALL!
10 Rear sub-frame very flimsy to reduce weight but this limits carrying ability for TAT riders
11 Electrical system limited power so won’t accept a lot of extras like heated jacket/gloves (I assume this is correct based on bike specifications but haven’t tried to hook up my jacket/gloves yet)
12 Air box is much lower than CRF and not watertight.
13 Idle speed seems high and not consistent
14 2.25 gal fuel tank
15 Suspension springs too light for my weight
As you can see the bad list is much longer than the good (IN MY OPINION ONLY). I’m hoping to overcome some of the bad items as described below to fine-tune it for my riding style.
My approach to eliminate some of the bad items:
1 Seat – I’ve replaced the stock seat with one from Seat Concepts. It is much better and dropped the seat height ½”. I rode it 100 miles last weekend but my butt still felt the burn; still better than stock. TAT averages 150-200 mile days so this could still be a problem.
2 Carrying capability – I installed a rear rack made by DirtRacks. After using the bike on a long dual-sport ride on rough terrain I found 3 of the 4 mounting bolts MISSING! I was carrying 1 gal. RotoPax and a small dry bag on the rack. In fact the right top bolt had broken off in the nut. I had not used lock tight on the bolts so I take responsibility but I hope this isn’t a problem in the future. I plan on using a large GL horse-shoe shaped bag on back that will better distribute the weight plus will not carry fuel on back. We’ll see if this configuration is reliable on future rides.
3 Power – I love the power but I have to be able to control it. I’ve ordered a Rekluse Core 3.0 auto-clutch. From everything I read, this clutch is fantastic. It is considered cheating by real dirt bike riders but for me, I’ll take any advantage I can get. This should let me control climbs and single track riding a bit better. More on this in my next post after it’s installed and I put some miles on the KTM.
4 Sensitive Throttle – I’m hoping the ReKluse solves this problem but if it doesn’t I will try to get the fuel injection remapped to soften the throttle response. I get lots of conflicting info on this issue. When I asked my local KTM dealer if they could do the remap they adamantly said NO. I read on KTM blogs that other dealers will do the remap. More on this in future posts.
5 Tires – I’ll keep the stock tires on for a while but will eventually replace with Dunlop D606 tires. I used D606’s on the 3000 mile SC to CO TAT ride and they performed perfectly on dirt and pavement. I don’t need radical knobbies for where I ride but I do need tires that will do 55 mph on pavement comfortably.
6 Seat Height – I can manage the tall seat most times but it is a problem trying to brace with my feet while riding slow through rough terrain. I know, real dirt bike riders are on the pegs and going fast but I still like to be able to push the bike backwards if I need to turn around and I can’t do that on tip-toes. I plan on having the front/rear suspension lowered 2” by a professional. I will also have them put in heavier springs to handle my bulk and the load I plan or taking on the TAT next summer. More on this in future posts.
Points to consider if buying for first time:
1 The bike manual says the piston needs to be replaced after 135 hours! After talking to the KTM dealer this may not be necessary but only time will tell.
2 Valve clearance needs to be checked/adjusted with shims regularly
3 Air filter needs to be kept clean, especially after dusty riding
4 Water crossings have to be handled conservatively because air inlet is mid frame and if bike is dropped, you know what could happen (CRF was just under the seat)
5 The suspension (springs) are for riders in the 175 lb range. I haven’t seen 175lbs for many years, which means I need heavier springs installed.
I’m sure this post is coming off as that I don’t like this bike but that’s not the case. I do love riding it but I want it to better suit my riding needs. Several readers have pointed out that this is not an adventure bike and I should not have selected the KTM 350 EXC-F for the TAT. Interesting I got similar comments when I selected the Honda CRF250L to ride the 3000 miles from Charleston, SC to Lake City, CO this year. The CRF did great as long as you worked around its limitations. I carried a heavy load between SC and AR with no problems and a light load from CO to AR, again with no problems.
The KTM will be used on the 2500 mile Colorado to Oregon stretch in 2017, which is much tougher than the 3000 mile SC to CO stretch. I wanted a bike that is made for rough riding. We’ll see if the KTM (or me) is up to the challenge.