Ride Impression: 2017 KTM EXC Range

8 years ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Marco Campelli | Black&RAD | Andy Wigan

For 2017, KTM’s enduro range gets its biggest overhaul since 2012. The bikes are lighter and more rideable, and the all-new two-strokes are revolutionary!

“Righto, Wigan, what are they like? The list of upgrades to these 2017 EXCs is so bloody long, I’m bamboozled. You’ve ridden them, so just give me a top-line summary of how the things ride compared with the 2016s, and let me know whether I ought to be buying one.”

That’s typical of the countless phone calls I’ve had from excited mates while I’ve been here in Spain for the international launch for KTM’s 2017 enduro-bike range. And to be perfectly honest, it’s been hard to know where to start when responding to them – and that’s not just because half the clowns called at 3 o’clock in the morning! The 2017 EXCs are so comprehensively different to their 2016 counterparts, it’s impossible to capture their performance differential in a few glib sentences. These 2017 machines aren’t just upgraded; they’re entirely new specimens from the ground up. And the sweeping changes apply to both the two- and four-stroke models, and across all capacities. With all-new frames, suspension, engines and bodywork, the 2017 models share fewer than 10% of parts with their predecessors, so the reference to “new generation” is thoroughly justified.


Predictably, my mates didn’t have the patience for the long-winded explanation I’d embark on over the phone to convey how wide-reaching the 2017 changes have been, and they’d routinely steer me back to the central question at hand: “Okay, okay, but how do the things ride, mate? And should I be buying one?”

So, what follows is a snapshot of the responses I gave those mates – from the tell-me-in-one-sentence, executive-summary kinda guy, through to those who wanted a slightly deeper insight into where I thought the 2017 bikes had made their most significant advances, and the standout characteristics of each new model.



To sit on with your eyes shut, the 2017 EXC range only feels marginally different from their predecessors. To ride, though, they’re entirely different animals. The two- and four-stroke models are all unquestionably lighter and more agile. The all-new frame and suspension components make their ride noticeably more sure-footed, forgiving and versatile. Combine that with their broader, more powerful and refined engines, and each and every bike in the 2017 range is easier and more enjoyable to cut loose on – even in the snotty, rock-strewn terrain at the international launch here in Spain.


“The 2017 machines are entirely new specimens from the ground up. And the sweeping changes apply to both the two- and four-stroke models, and across all capacities.”

And if you’re even vaguely interested in reigniting your two-stroke passion, KTM has now given you the perfect excuse. While the four-stroke models feel, say, 20% different than their 2016 equivalents, the 250 and 300EXC two-strokes are 50% different to ride. They may look and sound like a two-stoke, but with a counter-balancer fitted to their engines for the first time, they now offer a refined, vibration-free feel that turns your preconceptions about two-strokes on their head.

2016-05-13 KTM Les Comes-210


To help delineate the four-stroke EXCs from the two-strokes, KTM’s 250, 350, 450 and 500cc thumpers all come with an “F” model designation on the end for 2017. And no, that doesn’t simply mean that the SOHC 450/500cc engines have joined the 250/350’s DOHC configuration. As we saw with KTM’s 2016 MX range (which the 2017s EXC-Fs are heavily based on), an obsession with weight savings and mass centralisation has driven the 2017 enduro bikes’ design philosophy. In addition to all models shedding between 3 and 5kg, the radical repositioning of the engines’ largest rotating masses – the crankshaft and clutch – has had just as big an impact on the bikes’ handling character. Add to the equation a new frame that’s got more longitudinal flex (and torsional rigidity) and an all-new WP XPlor fork and shock, and the resulting ride the 2017 bikes produce is next level. After a day’s riding, here’s what jumped out at me at the launch about each bike in the four-stroke line-up:


250/350EXC-F: When KTM’s 2016 MX bikes appeared 12 months ago with big advances in power, torque and throttle response at lower revs, it was apparent this new engine platform would translate well onto the enduro models. And there’s no doubt it has done exactly that for 2017. With a host of enduro-specific mods to the 350SX-F engine, the 350, in particular, is much happier to be short-shifted and torqued around at lower revs. It’s now able to drive seamlessly out of slow corners and tight ruts in third gear with very little assistance from the clutch. And that means you no longer have to ride it high in the rev range like the 250 to keep it on song. The 350 can still be ridden like a wailing banshee, but that added breadth and versatility from the engine’s power means that, almost like a 450, you can steer it with the rear wheel and/or flow through singletrail at a lower RPM with far fewer gear-shifts required.


“The two- and four-stroke models are all lighter and more agile, with a ride that’s noticeably more sure-footed, forgiving and versatile. And they all have broader, more refined and tractable power curves.”

The 2017 250EXC-F comes with similar relative gains in torque and throttle response, which is always welcome on a small-capacity bike. And there’s no doubt it’s now an even better machine for less experienced riders or those who spend a greater majority of their riding time in tight terrain. But to my way of thinking, it’s been overshadowed by the outstanding improvement to its 350 sibling in 2017. In any case, when you combine those power gains with a 3kg weight loss and a more complaint rolling chassis and suspension package, you’re left with two super-agile and grounded machines that now punch even further above their weight.

2016-05-13 KTM Les Comes-200

450/500EXC-F: Just like the 2016 450SX-F, the 2017 450EXC-F’s 5kg weight loss on its predecessor has generated huge advances in agility. And that’s before you take the bikes’ sweeping mass centralisation program into account. But the 2017 450 and 500EXC-F are equally as notable for the broader and more tractable nature of their engines’ power delivery. Rather than simply fitting the 450SX-F powerplant with a wide-ratio gearbox and some extra flywheel weight, KTM has given the enduro versions of this SOHC powerlant a completely different set of rotating parts – from the crankshaft to the cam shaft and everything in between – along with differences to exhaust, throttle body, mapping, stator, transmission, etcetera. In other words, the EXC-Fs have been developed and built specifically for off-road use, rather than being crude off-road conversions of the successful 450SX-F powerplant.

KTM 450 EXC-F_Stripped_ 90_left

In recent years, the 500 has consistently outsold the 450 in Australia – largely because consumers preferred the bigger bike’s smoother and more tractable power delivery. But I reckon that’s set to change for 2017 because this new 450EXC-F has some real magic about it. From a handling point of view, it feels as agile as a 350, and yet its super-torquey power delivery is way more user-friendly than the 2016-model 450 and 500EXC. In fact, for machines than generate a prodigious 56 and 62hp at the crank, respectively, they’re both incredibly rideable beasts, though the taller gearing (13/50) on the 500 encourages you to ride it a little lower in the rev range. And as tractable as both engines are, they work even better when you activate the traction control, which mops up for any throttle control shortcomings you might exhibit in slick terrain or when you start to get tired.


TRACTION CONTROL: As we expected, the 2017 EXCs were fitted with the traction control (TC) technology that first appeared on the recently unveiled 2017 four-stroke MX models from KTM and Husqvarna. After all, enduro machines were always likely to benefit even more from this technology than their MX counterparts. Instead of using a sensor on the rear wheel (which is not legal for racing), KTM’s TC system analyses throttle inputs against sudden increases in RPM, and retards power accordingly in order to maximise traction. And I’m happy to say it’s no gimmick. It’s nothing like the audible, hit-the-rev-limiter interruption to the power, like the TC systems used on large adventure bikes; it’s more of a subtle de-tuning of the power delivery, but only when absolutely required. In slick conditions, it definitely helps the rear wheel hook up better and track straighter, and it takes the emphasis off precise throttle control. Despite my initial scepticism, I found the TC to be so good, I ended up keeping it constantly engaged (because when it’s not required, the TC has zero impact on power delivery) for the 250EXC-F right through to the fire-breathing 500EXC-F.


The only downside is that the switch needed to activate the traction control doesn’t come standard on the 2017 bikes. Yep, you need to buy an optional map-selector switch (which includes the TC function) from KTM’s PowerParts catalogue ($190). Either that, or buy a Six-Days model, which comes with the bar-mounted switch as standard equipment. It’s a bit unusual that KTM has, in effect, put a paywall in front of this hugely practical TC technology. Then again, KTM stands to make a healthy buck out of it, because to my mind, the map-selector/TC switch ought to be the first upgrade that owners make to their 2017 EXC-Fs, irrespective of capacity. After all, because the TC function applies to both Map 1 and Map 2, you effectively get four maps when you fit the map-switch selector to the 2017 EXC-F range.

Unlike KTM’s previous fiddly map-selector switch, the all-new rubberised switch is really easy to use on-the-fly, and the different-coloured lights that illuminate for each setting (white and green lights for Maps 1 and 2, respectively, and an orange light for TC) confirms at a glance what you’ve selected with your left thumb. Cleverly, the map and TC settings are retained, even when you stop (or stall) the bike.

Mapswitch_SixDays MY 2017


In 20 years of KTM launches, two-dingers have never been journos’ first model-choice – especially in skatey, rocky terrain, where they have a tendency to be more skittish than their four-stroke counterparts. But after hearing KTM’s claims that their all-new 250 and 300cc two-stroke engines were more powerful, more rideable and reduced vibration by an astonishing 50% (thanks to the first-time addition of a counter-balancer), these two models were constantly in high demand at the 2017 bikes’ launch. And the things certainly lived up to the hype – even in the rockfest that is Spain.


“With a counter-balancer fitted to their engines for the first time, the 250 and 300EXC now offer a refined, vibration-free feel that turns your preconceptions about two-strokes on their head.”

After you twist the throttle on one of these new two-strokes for the first time, it’s difficult to process just how different they feel to ride. They still sound like a two-stroke, but the lack of vibration tells your hands, feet and arse otherwise. It’s a super-refined, almost otherworldly sensation. Instead of being overwhelmed by a teeth-rattling screech, your senses are suddenly freed up to tune into where you are in the rev range and how the chassis is behaving beneath you. That makes you feel less of a passenger, and much more in control. Meanwhile, the addition of the Mikuni carburettor and overhauled power-valve mechanism (with lateral booster ports) helps make these landmark new engines’ delivery super-smooth and even more tractable than their predecessors.

250 EXC MY 2017_Action 06

Back in 2012, when KTM first introduced the idea that their frames were an additional damping element, we said the two-stroke models were the biggest beneficiaries of the move toward a more compliant frame and suspension set-up. And with the 2017 bikes taking frame and suspension sensitivity to the next level, we reckon the same is also true this time around. According to KTM’s design team, the previous two-strokes’ critical vibration levels created an oscillating effect on the shock spring (which bound up the shock’s action in the first part of its stroke) and accelerated wear in shock bushings, which made them by far the most difficult models to set up. For 2017, however, with vibration levels reduced drastically, they say their two-stroke models’ suspension is now the easiest to get dialled. Interesting.


And what of the two other two-stroke models at the launch – the 125 and 150XC-W? Thanks to the enthusiasm of a bunch of largely Victorian dealers, limited numbers of these non-registrable XC-W models with a wide-ratio gearbox (hence the “W” in the model designation) will be brought into Australia. At this stage, the 125XC-W sounds like it’ll be available in Oz on an order-only basis.

2016-05-13 KTM Les Comes-34


Speculation has been running rife that the new EXCs would be fitted with either the 4CS or AER (air) fork from WP, but KTM surprised everybody by revealing an all-new WP ‘XPlor’ fork and shock absorber on their entire 2017 enduro range. Some might argue that’s a pretty bold move because the existing PDS shock and open-cartridge fork had been refined into a hard-to-fault package. But there’s no doubt the move to WP’s XPlor componentry has been a positive one. Combined with the more compliant flex characteristics of the all-new frame and swingarm, the 2017 bikes all make tangible handling gains. Both ends of the new models are just as plush and planted over small bumps, but they’re now a lot more capable of handling bigger hits without bottoming out. That broader operating range makes the 2017 bikes more user-friendly and versatile across a greater variety of terrain, and rider weights and abilities.


“The move to WP’s XPlor componentry has been a positive one. Combined with the more compliant flex characteristics of the all-new frame and swingarm, the 2017 bikes all make tangible handling gains.”

As an added benefit, the new WP suspenders save weight (600g and 200g for the shock and fork, respectively) and improve adjustability because the fork’s compression and rebound clickers are now both within easy reach on the fork caps (a la WP’s existing 4CS fork). And if you want to take adjustment a step further, an ingenious tool-free fork preload adjuster can be bought from KTM PowerParts (it comes standard on the Six-Days models). Simply take the weight off the front wheel and then dial the preload setting to 0, 3 or 6mm with your hand. It’s the first tool-free fork preload adjuster we’ve ever heard of, and an ingenious solution from WP (its RRP is TBA).



So, the short answer to my mates? The whole range of 2017 EXC models is a whole lot easier and more enjoyable to ride than their predecessors. And if ever there’s a time to trade your trusty older EXC or EXC-F in, then this is surely it. The 2017 models are expected to be in Australia by early August at prices that are yet to be confirmed by KTM Australia.

450 EXC-F MY 17 Sixdays_Action 02

“The whole range of 2017 EXC models are a whole lot easier and more enjoyable to ride than their predecessors. And if ever there’s a time to trade your trusty older EXC in, then this is surely it.”

  • Click here for candid insights into the new technology integrated into KTM’s 2017 enduro range from the brand’s main R&D man, Bernhard Plazotta.
  • Click here for an interview with KTM’s Michael Viertlmayr, the engineer credited with designing KTM’s new-generation powerplants.
  • Click here for an interview with KTM product development guru, Joachim Sauer. It’s a candid insight into the design philosophy of these new-generation EXC models, and what’s coming from KTM in the near future.

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