KTM’s 2018 250XC-F: Lord Of The Lap!

10 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Donat O'Kelly, Salvatore Aloisio

Believe this: a bog-stock 2018-model KTM 250XC-F set the fastest lap time at the recent Transmoto
Okay, let’s qualify that: the fastest lap time was posted by multiple AORC and A4DE champ, KTM Enduro Racing Team’s Daniel Milner, aboard a completely standard KTM 250XC-F.

Admittedly, it came as little surprise that the lighting-fast Milner was the quickest man around the 12-Hour’s brutally bumpy race loop. But the fact he did it on a standard 250cc cross-country model toward the end of the race, when the track was at its gnarliest – and not aboard his fully fruited 500EXC-F race bike – was a little surprising.
So, did Timing Services get the lap times wrong? Did Milner cut the track? Was that lap time fake news fodder for the marketing mileage that KTM got out of it? Or did Milner simply gel with KTM’s 250XC-F so well that he upstaged his own best lap aboard, set much earlier in the day on his 500cc race bike? We cornered the 26-year-old Victorian for answers…

TM: Righto, Milner, let’s cut straight to the chase. Is it legit? Did you really post the fastest lap time at the 12-Hour on a stock 250XC-F?
DM: Bloody oath, I did. It’s 100 percent legit. Why would you doubt it?

If you were using the 12-Hour as a shakedown for the AORC opener on that following weekend, wouldn’t you be focusing on riding your 500EXC-F race bike? What made you jump on the 250XC-F?
Well, GK [KTM Enduro Racing Team Manager, Glenn Kearney] had been racing that 250XC-F all day at the 12-Hour and he suggested I do a lap or two on it. We had plenty of time on our hands, so I thought, ‘why not?’ And on that very first lap on it, I blew my previous best lap time away. It’s also fair to say that I wasn’t 100 percent happy with the suspension set-up on my race bike at that point. The 12-Hour’s beat-up track definitely helped us tune our settings in the right direction, but as part of that suspension testing process, I was curious to have a crack on the XC-F model’s WP air fork and see how it compared with my race bike’s 48mm cone-valve fork on the same bumpy track.

Was that fastest lap literally your first time aboard the 250XC-F model?
Yep. I’ve actually got a 450XC-F that I use as a practice bike – to muck around on between races and have a bit of fun – so I already knew what KTM’s cross-country models were built for and what they were capable of. And that meant I felt comfortable on the 250XC-F pretty much straight away. It was a bit of a surprise that I set the fastest lap aboard it on the very first lap I rode it. But then again, I’ve always ridden fast on a 250F. And I was so impressed by the power of that 2018-model 250XC-F. With so much torque for a 250, you can get away without perfectly timed gear-shifts on it. You really don’t have to rev the guts out of it to make it go, and it keeps pulling hard at high revs too.

From a performance and feel point of view, what were the standout differences between your 500EXC-F race bike and 250XC-F stocker?
The 250’s lighter weight and extra agility was probably the most obvious thing, especially in the tight sections. As the 250 has got a close-ratio six-speed gearbox – a blend of the transmission in KTM’s enduro and motocross 250s – that was also a bit different. But with so much grunt at lower revs, gear selection was much less of an issue than I thought it’d be. For a race-oriented rider, having the MX model’s more aggressive engine, combined with the 18-inch rear and hybrid gearbox and more agile chassis, is a big plus.

What about the suspension? Were the 250XC-F’s MX-spec linkage shock and air fork massively different to the feel of your race bike’s suspension package?
It was different, but nowhere near as different as I thought it’d be. In fact, I find there’s surprisingly little difference between the action of the linkage shock and PDS shock in a majority of terrain. The only time I really notice a big difference in the way the two bikes’ rear-ends handle is when I hit a series of high-speed sandy whoops. This is where the no-linkage PDS shock really shines. It drives better and tracks straighter, and is much less inclined to step out on you. That said, I suppose you also have to take into account that the EXC-F models also have a frame with more flex built into them, which probably also plays a part in sandy whoops.

What about the comparison between WP’s coil-sprung and air-sprung forks?
It was definitely a different feel, but same as the shock; not as big as I thought it’d be. GK had been running much lower air pressures in the air fork at the 12-Hour – like 115psi, versus the 140psi standard setting – so I decided to see how that worked, even though I’m heavier than him and push harder into bumps. I thought it would feel pretty soft, but I was surprised how well it held up in the stroke, even at that lower pressure. I did bottom it here and there on some big hits, but by absorbing the small, choppy bumps, rocks and tree-roots so well, the air fork gave me a lot of confidence and feel. And in the slow, tech terrain, the softer settings helped the bike turn really well too.

Were the tight sections of track where you made up all the time?
I’d think so. Compared with my 500cc race bike, that tight stuff is probably where I made up most of my time on the 250. It was amazing how quickly I adapted to the 250 and felt confident that it would do what I wanted it to do when I started pushing hard. I should probably also admit that I was chasing Chucky [Husqvarna Enduro Team’s Daniel “Chucky” Sanders] on that lap when I set the fastest time, so that gave me some extra incentive to chase him down [laughs].

Did the 12-Hour experience make you second-guess your decision to race the 500EXC-F in the E3 class this year?
Not really, because if I win the AORC’s E3 class this season, I’ll be the first rider to take the ‘triple crown’; a title win in E1, E2 and E3 classes. But don’t get me wrong. I had a ball riding that 250XC-F at the 12-Hour, and I’d love to get back on a 250F again at some stage – even if it’s a 250EXC-F – because I always seem to gel with 250s so well.

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