The Three Fifty Dairies: Part 2
One the road, and we’re going racing!
Three months ago, Gypsy Tales Podcast puppetmaster, Jason Macalpine, penned an interesting insight into a KTM 350SX-F project bike that KTM Australia had flowed him a few months prior. KTM ran it on their site, we ran it on ours. And after receiving a bunch of positive feedback about the article, Jase told us we’d have Part 2 in our inbox within a week. Or maybe two, at the outside.
Well, here we are three months later, and Part 2 has fnally arrived. Yep, there’s a reason Jason is called “Gypsy Jase”. But, similarly true to form, Jase has once again delivered an entertaining tale about his Kato mid-capacity MXer. And about his celebrity- and factory parts-filled life on two wheels…
It feels quite strange to be heading north up the Bruce Highway because growing up in Cairns, all the racing available to us was mostly south. But that’s about the only thing that is different about this trip to the race. Everything else is business as usual, and I’m not mad about it.
My younger brother, Matty (the fastest of our crew), has commandeered the steering wheel. Sam Moore is in the passenger seat, staring at his phone in order to keep his glove and flannel empire running while he’s away, and I’m in the back with my room-mate and videographer for the trip, Jackson. Papa Pete and my mum Liz are driving separately with the majority of the camping supplies, along with Matty’s – well, Toby Price’s – KTM 450SX-F [Matt Macalpine is Toby Price’s manager, meaning he gets special privileges here and there – Ed].
I don’t exactly know how much of a race weekend’s overall fun lies in the road trip itself, but it would command a decent percentage. By the time we pull into Rockhampton, my stomach is sore from laughing and all of the terrible food we have eaten along the way. It’s always such an awesome feeling to pull up to the track for a race weekend. My racing over the last few years has been limited to the ‘Day In The Dirt’ and the other Transmoto events, so it is cool to switch it up and get back to some old-school traditional moto. We arrived just in time to be smashed by mosquitos as the sun was setting, and discover that we had no bug spray. Perfect!
“I don’t exactly know how much of a race weekend’s overall fun lies in the road trip itself, but it would command a decent percentage. By the time we pull into Rockhampton, my stomach is sore from laughing and all of the terrible food we have eaten along the way.”
I talked about it in Part 1 of the Three Fifty Diaries – if you haven’t read that just yet, maybe start there for the purpose of putting this into context – but for me, racing is all about being with my friends and family, and this trip really embodied that spirit. The first night before the race was as classic an example of that as you could find. We set up our grossly oversized pit set-up, rolled out the swags and gorged ourselves on mum’s stir-fry. Chocolate cupcakes were served for dessert, and we all spent the evening fighting over the quickly fading LED lights as we did bike work that really should have been done during the week leading up to our departure.
I had a laundry list of work to do to the 350SX-F. Air filter, suspension change and a full set of graphics from Rival Ink. Papa Pete wasn’t impressed at the amount of work to be done, but we got a laugh out of his carry-on all the same.
Being the typical Gypsy I am, leaving my suspension valving to the absolute last minute meant that Paul Baericke from MPE Suspension didn’t have time to revalve my forks or shock before the weekend. Luckily for me, MPE is an authorised WP Suspension stockist and had agreed to lend me a set of brand new WP XACT PRO Forks (in layman’s terms, Cone Valve forks) that were set up for my weight and, I guess you could say, speed. As a further stroke of some Gypsy luck would also have it, Paul from MPE’s son had just got a brand new KTM 250SX-F, and he valved that shock for me and we did a clean swap.
I’ve ridden factory bikes in the past as a part of magazine tests, but the experience of factory suspension was never great. Those guys are so much faster than me and the set-up was always super-stiff. I would always rather ride a stock bike back-to-back with a factory rider’s bike, but this time I was getting the factory suspension that was set up for me, and I was fizzing to try it. I knew that I was super-underprepared for this race weekend and I will be honest; knowing I had great suspension under me was relieving a bit of the performance anxiety that was quietly brewing under the surface.
“I was super-underprepared for this race weekend and I will be honest; knowing I had great suspension under me was relieving a bit of the performance anxiety that was quietly brewing under the surface.”
I was so excited to see the 350SX-F with the WP XACT PRO forks up front, so Papa Pete and I tackled that job first. Switching suspension isn’t a hard job (KTM actually pioneered the strategic placement of the shock in the chassis to allow for easy extraction), and forks are one of the more simple parts of the chassis to change. This had surely saved countless hours just in the KTM Factory Team testing and R&D over the years, and is a benefit passed directly onto the customer of any new KTM motocross or enduro machine.
With that being said, the time in changing the suspension really did lie in the peanut gallery who’d assembled to give me a hard time during the swap.
With that being said, the time in changing the suspension really did lie in the peanut gallery who’d assembled to give me a hard time during the swap.
“The Gypsy is taking this race seriously. He came with Cone Valves,” was the audio I heard replayed what felt like 50 times, while Sam Moore posted the perfect caption to match the story on his Instagram. We also managed to convince Todd Waters that I had ‘his’ Cone Valves and we managed to stretch that one out until lunch the next day. This was the perfect match to actually stealing one of his lightly used Maxxis sand tyres. I was going to buy one of my own, I promise, but it was just lying in his workshop looking sad. With Todd in Rocky with his brothers and sisters, in true Gypsy fashion, I decided I’d take it for my bike. Thanks, Todd.
The Rival Ink sticker kit went on last, thereby breaking the first rule of graphics installation: DON’T DO IT THE NIGHT BEFORE A RACE. Bonus negative points if you do it at the track. Luckily for me, Rival Ink leads the industry when it comes to technology in their graphics. Technology might sound like an overreach when you talk about stickers, but I can assure you, your mind would change if you visited their factory on the Gold Coast.
At this point, I was cooked. Cheeks heavily fatigued from laughing, eyes tired from the drive. Excited as a kid to sleep in my swag, I went to sleep anticipating being woken up at first light by the hum of generators and the sound of KTM 50s free-revving as the excited mini dads wake up and make sure their weapons are ready for battle. Mum’s bacon and egg rolls and the promise of a solid flat white also make the decision to turn in early just that bit easier. This is what it’s all about. This is what I remember race weekends being like as a kid. I love it!
“The Rival Ink sticker kit went on last, thereby breaking the first rule of graphics installation: DON’T DO IT THE NIGHT BEFORE A RACE. Bonus negative points if you do it at the track.”
If you haven’t watched our Gypsy vs The Gove Lord VLOG from this trip, I will now deliver indirect quotes, the exchange between my mate, Sam Moore, and I after the first practice session:
“Sam, rate your practice.”
“Minus four,” Sam replied in a somewhat dejected fashion.
“Out of what?,” I ask, hoping that it was some kind of trick statement, and he wasn’t as defeated as he came across.
“Out of ten,” he says.
Okay, so yeah. He is as defeated as he sounds.
It wasn’t just Sam that was defeated. My brother Matty (who earned the #57 in his peak racing years) was laying on the floor contemplating moving into the support class. As for me … well, I was shaking as I was trying to hold the video camera up to eye-level to film Sam for the VLOG.
I can, hand on my heart, say that I have never struggled to ride a motocross track that bad. I hadn’t ridden in a couple of weeks, I’d never used a sand tyre, the track felt like quicksand and my arms feel like concrete. This was the real deal, and we had two days of this stuff.
I need to reiterate that this was practice. Just four laps.
It’s crazy what the added nerves and self-inflicted pressure of a race weekend can to do you. Before this, I would say I’ve been riding some of the best I ever had, but there were a lot of chinks in the armour exposed in that short practice session.
While Matty and Sam both pulled out of a class, I decided that I would have a crack at sticking to my guns and ride both classes. I had been pushing for the 30+ class and then signed up for the Clubman Opens as well. Although practice was rough, I was sure that over the weekend I would start to feel more comfortable, and that as the track wore in, it would get easier to ride.
The track did get easier to ride as the day went on. There is a sweet spot on every race day where the track is bedded-in enough to give you something really stable to hook into before it gets too rough and you’re almost back to the helpless feeling of practice. Rocky got mint on that first day, and so did the 350SX-F.
“I can, hand on my heart, say that I have never struggled to ride a motocross track that bad. I hadn’t ridden in a couple of weeks, I’d never used a sand tyre, the track felt like quicksand and my arms feel like concrete. This was the real deal, and we had two days of this stuff.”
I knew for absolute sure that I was on the right bike. As I type this now, the thought of having to ride a 450 around that track makes me shudder. Call me what you will, but it’s just too much.
I honestly was worried that I wasn’t going to make the motos and as the first day of racing went on, I would have the two 30-minute motos and a Clubman Open race. I am stoked to say I made it through every lap and I felt like I was racing, not just riding. The Cone Valve Forks were incredible, and Paul nailed the shock setting. Day one was in the books. I had four separate sessions on the track, and I was really stoked to get through my first day of racing in years unscathed.
But goddamn, were we tired! I felt terrible that Matty actually had to race the Pro class. This was his last ride before a full shoulder reco and he hadn’t had any bike time. And Sammy works about 90 hours a week, so he gets a full pass on bike fitness.
Regardless, we were all keen to hook in again for another day of racing. That is, until we saw that they were leaving the track unchanged, with minimal to no track maintenance for day two. Wow! This wasn’t what we had in mind as we all chowed down on bacon and egg rolls.
I spoke a lot about the bike in Part 1 of the Three Fifty Diaries so I don’t want to be redundant. But that was before I had the Cone Valves on the bike, so I will talk about those and who I think they are for.
Firstly, they are really good. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise. They are what the KTM, Husqvarna and GASGAS Factory race teams are using, and for good reason. You are paying more for more exclusive materials, coatings, CNC overcast and a lot more damping in the internals. Are they better than stock? Yes. They are also more expensive and highly specific. When I posted a photo of the bike with the Cone Valves on my Instagram, I was inundated with messages.
“But goddamn, were we tired! I felt terrible that Matty actually had to race the Pro class. This was his last ride before a full shoulder reco and he hadn’t had any bike time. And Sammy works about 90 hours a week, so he gets a full pass on bike fitness.”
How much better is this up-specced WP suspension? Would you buy a set for yourself? Who should buy them? Can only Pros make them work? Let’s dive into those questions here, keeping in mind that I am just your average rider.
Firstly, how much better are they? This is a hard one to quantify, but they felt a lot better to me – keeping in mind that the forks I came off were completely stock and the WP XACT Pro Cone Valves had an MPE set-up in them. They was a noticeable improvement over the stock fork components. The easiest way I can explain this is, whatever you think a bump is going to feel like when looking at it, it does. I notice with all stock forks, sometimes you will look at a bump or hole on the track and you predict how it is going to feel when you hit it. Most of the time, that feeling correlates to your expectation, but sometimes it doesn’t, and you get a sketchy little surprise. This can translate into a lack of confidence if you are second-guessing the speed at which you can hit sections of the track, and most certainly an increased chance of getting arm pump. It wasn’t until I rode the 350SX-F with this suspension set-up that I could understand when people would talk about wanting predictability from their suspension.
Who should buy up-specced WP suspension? This is a really simple one for me: anyone who can afford them. Seriously though, there is no downside to buying a set of top-of-the-line suspension if you have the money to do it. It will 100% make riding more enjoyable.
Can only Pros make them work? No. Just like any suspension, you can get it tuned for your weight and ability, and it will work.
Finally, would I buy a set for myself? Yes. I would 100% love to own a set of these bad boys. For me, it is about safety. I felt more confident because of the predictability that I mentioned, and I don’t think that can be overstated. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Motocross is a dangerous game, and if there is anything out there that can make the overall riding experience safer, then I am in. It’s like boxing; the one that knocks you out is the one you didn’t see coming. The extra sense of predictability by running the Cone Valve forks seems to fit that old adage.
“Let’s not beat around the bush here. Motocross is a dangerous game, and if there is anything out there that can make the overall riding experience safer, then I am in. It’s like boxing; the one that knocks you out is the one you didn’t see coming.”
After two long and hard days of racing, I was completely beat. We all finished the weekend in one piece though, and the beers we drank when it was all said and done were some of the tastiest in recent memory. Regrettably, I had to swap out the forks and return to stock trim, but in speaking of how good the Cone Valves are, I am pretty damn stoked on the stock WP suspension too. The ease of changing the bike’s balance with one tool is a pretty incredible piece of technology.
We packed the van, and while the rest of the crew headed south, Sammy, Jackson and I decided to keep the good times rolling all the way up to Cairns to get even more riding in. I was going home. After a rocky start to my riding in 2020, it felt amazing to be going on a trip home with bikes loaded. We would be riding some of the tracks I grew up putting hundreds of practice laps on, and I was pumped to be able to show my best mates not only the tracks from home, but the whole region.
The vast majority of you reading this are either KTM owners or at least dirt bike owners. But there might be some of you who have stumbled upon this article and don’t yet have a bike. And if you made it this far, I’m going to assume that you want one.
By now, you know why I think you should own the KTM 350SX-F in particular. The reasons are obvious. Front and center and at times shameless, but what might be less noticeable is that there is a message here in why you should just buy a bike. Any bike. Not just this one.
When you buy a bike, you’re not just buying a thing. You’re purchasing the nucleus of an atom with a bunch of extras that rotate around it to make it whole. You’re investing in the reason to stay in shape; a reason to plan trips away. You start to gravitate towards people doing a similar thing, and if you’re open to it, soon enough you are living a much different lifestyle that is suddenly filled with these things that seem to add up to this overall package.
“When you buy a bike, you’re also purchasing the nucleus of an atom with a bunch of extras that rotate around it to make it whole. You’re investing in the reason to stay in shape; a reason to plan trips away. Soon enough, you are living a much different lifestyle.”
If you are looking to buy a bike, the KTM 350SX-F is awesome. If you don’t get one like this, just please make sure you get a bike!
And if you own a bike, but you aren’t riding it as much as you want too, then I hope this short series of articles has inspired you to get the crew together, get back out of your comfort zone, and to the track to enjoy everything this great sport has to offer.
Motorcycles and my thirties have so far gone together rather well, and the Three Fifty Diaries project has been such an amazing reminder of what a motorcycle can add to your life. This was a six-month test, but I am struggling to part ways with my KTM 350SX-F. Like the foster dog you look after as a volunteer but end up buying because you fall in love, this 350 will be staying in my shed a little while longer after shelling out my hard-earned cash to call it my own! I think the 350SX-F is my sweet spot.
Until next time. Ride safe and see you at a track somewhere soon.