2014 KTMs – Beyond The Brochure
Transmoto’s Andy Wigan checks in from the Italian island of Sardinia, where KTM has just staged a world launch for their 2014 models, for this insight into the new bikes.
Flying in, accommodating and feeding 70 moto-journos from around the world can’t be a cheap exercise for KTM. In years past, the Austrian manufacturer held world launches only for its pivotal year-models; machines that copped ground-up rebuilds. These days, however, it’s become an annual occurrence. Why? Partly because KTM revels in plying journos with food and booze and great riding terrain, and partly because their bikes now get major upgrades every damn year.
Think about it. KTM’s 2012 EXC range got a new-generation frame, significant suspension upgrades and all-new bodywork. That same year, the 350EXC-F was first revealed, and the 450 and 500EXC appeared with all-new SOHC powerplants and die-cast cases. Plus a Keihin fuel injection system was debuted on all four 2012 four-strokes. The 2013-model EXCs may have only got minor tweaks, but KTM unveiled an overhauled range of motocrossers last year. The revamped 450SX-F that we’d seen Ryan Dungey race was unveiled in production form, and the 250 and 350SX-F joined it with die-cast cases, bottom-mounted injectors, all-new Pankl conrods, plain bearing big-ends, reinforced frames and radical new bodywork – among a host of other updates.
So when KTM recently sent out invitations for the world launch of their 2014 year-models on the island of Sardinia, it came as some surprise. Given that the 250, 350 and 450SX-F were all brand new bikes, and the new-gen enduro models were barely out of nappies, surely KTM didn’t need a world launch to explain that the SX-F bodywork would be fitted to the EXC range. But hey, a bloke can over-think these things. And with the promise of getting a first-hand crack at the trails that’ll be used for the ISDE in late September, who was I to turn my nose up at a few days riding in the European spring?
So, just how new are KTM’s 2014-model enduro and motocross bikes? What are the standout mods they receive? And how does that translate in the saddle? I found a little time between lashings of prosciutto and Peroni to shed some light on those questions…
Revolution Or Evolution?
On paper, the 2014 bikes appear to be more about refinement than reinvention – especially the motocross models, which were all completely overhauled just 12 months ago. But when you start to look into the sheer volume of upgrades the 2014 bikes get – the EXCs in particular – it’s clear that the 2014 models represent much, much more than BNGs. And with KTM’s design team on hand at the launch, it was very interesting to get an insight into the thinking behind the mods.
Enduro Bike Upgrades
Here’s what we see as the major mods to the EXC models, and what we reckon about them:
Mod: All new bodywork, inspired by the SX-F models.
We say: The most obvious difference is the shape of the new front guard and radiator shrouds. Whether you like the radical guard or not comes down to personal preference, but it is much stiffer (50% apparently) and mates nicely with the revised headlight and surround. The knuckled-over shape of the shrouds makes them less likely to catch on your boots through ruts and less vulnerable to crash damage. They look much sleeker and more modern, too.
Mod: Updated seat foam.
We say: Working in conjunction with footwear giant, Adidas, KTM’s designers have made the seat firmer for 2014 without making it uncomfortable for longer rides. In fact, the firmer seat foam (with noticeably more padding at the rear) actually prolongs the onset of monkey-butt and aids easy movement around the cockpit.
Mod: The frames are now 300g lighter, due largely to thinner cradle tubes. This is designed to work in conjunction with revised engine head stays.
We say: It’s a perceptive test rider who can claim to feel subtle differences in frame flex. What we can say is the EXCs’ ride in the harsh, rocky terrain in Sardinia was very forgiving and even more deflection-free than their predecessors. Whether that’s due to the frame or suspension mods is difficult to say. Most likely, a combination of the two. But it is impressive that KTM’s designers were motivated to save weight on a frame that’s already more than 1kg lighter than that of its major competitors.
Mod: The 250 and 350EXC-F get SX-F inspired engines.
We say: In 2012, the 350EXC-F took the 350SX-F engine and cleverly adapted it for off-road use via mods to transmission, crankshaft, flywheel, cam profiles, compression ratio and mapping. And that’s exactly what’s been done with the 2014-model 250 and 350EXC-Fs. Despite the 2mm larger bore (now 78mm) and heavier crankshaft, the 2014 250EXC-F doesn’t give away any bottom-end performance. In fact, it’s now even torquier and more responsive through the bottom and mid-range, and it now stands head and shoulders above its rivals in the quarter-litre enduro bike class in this regard. Slightly shorter ratios for fourth, fifth and sixth gear combines with the revised 13/52 sprocket combo (previously 13/50) to help the 250 retain that lively feel on faster sections of trail. And at higher revs, the new counter-balancer gives the 2014 machines an even more refined feel with little perceptible vibration. Meanwhile, the fitment of the DDS clutch (two years after it arrived on the 450 and 500EXC) offers an even lighter pull at the Brembo lever and smoother take-up. Given you tend to be on the clutch more often with smaller-capacity bikes, the addition of the DDS makes a big difference. And with plain bearings now fitted in the new conrods’ big-ends, recommended service intervals have been extended from 105 to 135 hours. More durability is always music to trailriders’ ears.
Mod: Revised suspension for the 250EXC-F (now identical to the 350EXC-F), and updated settings for the 250 and 300EXC’s shock absorber.
We say: The 250EXC-F how has a less trail-oriented and more racy ride of the 350, which suits the added grunt the little 250 generates for 2014. The mods to the shock settings in the 250 and 300EXC definitely makes the rear-ends of the two-strokes feel more settled through a series of braking bumps. Those differences aside, the suspension action for the EXC range remains unchanged.
Mod: The headlight and its surround are totally new.
We say: According to the design team, the new headlight is the result of four years of R&D. It’s said to put out more light (which we didn’t get to test at night), and is now homologated for American, Australian and European markets. Clever! The bulb is smaller and the wiring behind the headlight is tidier and more crash-resistant.
Mod: The design of the lower triple mount has been revised.
We say: KTM designers have an obsession with triple clamps and barely a year goes by where they don’t upgrade their design. But for 2014, the mod to the lower clamp is more about accommodating the new front fender than it is about optimising flex character.
Mod: The front brake master cylinder has been redesigned.
We say: As a majority of riders run their front brake lever relatively flat these days, the reservoir has been designed to sit more level. That’s handy because you no longer have to tilt the perch forward to fill the reservoir properly. And the new 9mm piston diameter (down from 10mm) produces a noticeably more progressive brake feel (as does the new brake pad material). Pro racers might not like this slower modulation, but almost everyone else will – especially in technical or slick terrain, where the powerful Brembo stoppers could be a bit too touchy.
Mod: The handguards are all-new.
We say: The handguards that first appeared on the 2012 EXCs were incredibly strong and more effective than most aftermarket alternatives. But because KTM’s chassis designer busted a finger when he clipped a tree last year, he insisted they were made stronger. The 2014 units are a little larger and made from a two-component plastic for added strength. The things work even better than their predecessors for hand and lever protection.
Mod: The chain guide is redesigned.
We say: Aside from being lighter and now having an EXC-specific design, it noticeably reduces chain noise. And given that not one of the 70 journos bent a guide in the snotty terrain where the launch was held, the guide’s strength doesn’t seem to have been compromised in the process.
Mod: The fuel cap’s release mechanism has been redesigned.
We say: Thank Christ! KTM’s fuel caps have been a pain in the arse for years. Unless you pressed the button just right, they were very awkward to open quickly. The updated design makes it much easier.
Mod: Updated thermo switch on the 450/500EXC.
We say: This was one of the very few parts that failed on our long-term 2013-model 500EXC, so it’s nice to see that KTM has recognised and corrected the issue.
In addition to those key upgrades, there is also:
- All-new graphics.
- Updated frame colour.
- Simplified, lighter wiring harness.
- Updated shock absorber seals.
- The freewheel mechanism on the four-strokes’ starter motor has been made more durable.
- Clutch and brake master cylinders are now sand-blasted and have matching black caps.
- The airbox cover is now in two parts and comes with inlaid decals.
- Revised air filter latch.
- New under-seat ECU mount and updated fuse box.
- The 200, 250 and 300EXC two-strokes get a stronger (4Ah) battery.
- The 350EXC-F gets updated valve spring retainers and seats, a revised piston oil jet and water pump mods.
- The DDS clutch gets a reinforced inner clutch hub for improved durability.
- KTM’s sales previously peaked at almost 100,000 motorcycles back in 2008.
- Sales dropped to 64,000 units the following year, when the world was gripped by the GFC.
- In 2013, KTM’s sales not only recovered, but posted new highs. The company now sells 107,000 units.
- Of those 107,000 bikes, 60,000 are off-road models – made up of approximately 43,000 enduro models and 17,000 motocrossers.
- KTM’s best-selling off-road model is the 350EXC-F, with worldwide sales of 5500 units annually.
- Between 2011 and 2012, KTM’s market share rose from 5.4 to 7.3%. That compares with just a 2% market share as recently as 2006.
- KTM is now the largest manufacturer in Europe, though BMW remains larger in turnover terms.
MX Bike Upgrades
With the major mods to both the two-stroke SX and four-stroke SX-F models last year, KTM’s motocross range took a back seat at the launch. To save weight, the 250SX-F’s previous six-speed transmission is now a five-speed, and the 450SX-F gets an updated muffler to keep noise down. But aside from the upgrades to fuel filler cap, graphics, chain guide, seat foam, and the clutch and brake master cylinders, KTM’s 2014 motocrossers remain otherwise unchanged.
One interesting thing to come out of the launch was the fact that KTM now sets up their bikes for the American and Australian market much differently. Compared with the suspension spec that Europe gets, the bikes destined for the USA and Oz get a firmer fork for added bottoming resistance and a lowered rear-end (a 4mm shorter shock translates into a 12mm lower rear-end) for a more raked out chassis geometry.
Prior to the launch, there was some speculation that KTM would unveil direct-injected two-strokes this year. But the KTM guys were quick to throw cold water on the talk. They explained that the technology would take a 400-500,000 Euro investment, which would push the bikes’ prices up to match those of the four-strokes. And their feedback from dealers around the world is that this would put a major dent on two-stroke sales. The long and short of it is that KTM will only offer direct-injected two strokes when required to do so by emission regulations.
For 2014, KTM’s two-bangers weren’t overlooked. In addition to the mods shared across the EXC range, the two-strokes also received an updated reed valve with Boyesen high-performance reeds, revised jetting specs, modified ignitions and stronger batteries for more reliable starting. Along with the 250SX, both the 250 and 300EXC also get new cylinder heads with combustion chambers designed to offer more predictable throttle response through the mid-range, and new CDIs.
The Six-Days Specials
With more than half of the 500-plus competitors at the ISDE aboard a KTM these days, the annual event holds a special place in the KTM design team’s heart. Hence the effort they go to produce special up-specced Six Days models each year. With the 2013 ISDE being held on the Italian island of Sardinia, KTM made a fitting tip of the hat to the Italian flag in the bikes’ decals. The things look horn.
Coming To Oz
Both the enduro and motocross bikes are expected to arrive in Australia in July, and KTM Australia has just announced the RRPs of their 2014 range, with prices on par or cheaper than last year’s models.