As the old saying goes, “There is no replacement for displacement,” but KTM begs to differ with its KTM 350 SX-F. For 2013 the mid-sized Katoom received tweaked fuel injection settings, a new piston, reworked intake and exhaust ports and a new exhaust pipe to up the power output to make it more competitive against its 450cc rivals. Last year it finished near the bottom of the pile, but would that be the case this time around?
Tipping the scales at a second-lightest 247 pounds with a full tank of fuel, the 350 SX-F feels slim and light especially in comparison to its larger sibling, the 450 SX-F. Although the 350 shaves only three pounds in weight, it feels much lighter from the moment you pull it off the stand. Even though the two are almost identical it receive higher marks in the ergonomics category.
“The ergos felt extremely similar to those on the 450,” says our Vet class ace Bret Milan. “I really like the way the KTMs are laid out. They are very comfortable and easy to move around on, even for a bigger guy like me. Additionally, they have a good range of bar clamp adjustability.”
The 2013 KTM 350 SX-F's light weight makes cornering much easier than the 450 SX-F, but we felt it it's suspension was sprung too softly just like its bigger brother.
Being comfortable behind the bars translates to being more comfortable on the track, and the handling scores reflected that fact. Just that small difference in weight makes the 350 SX-F feel like a pumped up Lites racer. It is not a razor sharp as the RM-Z, but once in a turn it locks in and finishes up the corner with ease.
“The KTM 350 felt the lightest bike which made cornering very simple. It was easy to lean the bike over and put it where you want to go,” comments Womens Moto X Gold Medal Winner Vicki Golden. “This bike also felt really good and light in the air. Just like the 450, the distance from the seat to the handlebars was close which made it easy for me to weight the outside peg through corners.”
In the suspension department the smaller KTM
suffers from the same woes as the 450 SX-F. A soft spring rate in the shock and fork hurt the KTM in the whoops and on big jumps. The rear shock felt better to our team, but the forks had some issues with blowing through the stroke.
“It was weird that this bike felt so much different than its bigger brother, the rear end worked well with no issues, but the front end was very harsh right in the mid-stroke,” claims suspension setting geek See. “It seemed like when you got on the brakes hard that it just blew through the initial stroke and packed up right in the middle.”
Just as any KTM in any shootout, the 350’s brakes spanked the competition with the standard Brembos. Every rider raved about the feel, power, and consistency of the binders. The 350 received a higher ranking as its lighter weight allowed for even greater braking performance.
The power gains KTM was able to coax out of the 350 SX-F's smaller mill was impressive.
“The KTM 350 had the best brakes of the bunch,” comments Milan. “Not only are the brakes smooth and powerful, but they have the easiest job since they are mounted to the bike with the smallest displacement of the bunch.”
Also topping the drivetrain category, the SX-F’s hydraulic clutch was fade free all-day. Shifting was precise and solid, on or off the gas. The gear also matched the power output well, although two of our testers would add on tooth to the rear just for a little more hit out of the corners.
“As always the hydraulic clutch is a show stealer,” says Nick Thiel. “The KTM tranny, clutch and gearing were spot on.”
While the lightweight and small feel of the KTM are all well and good, the real story of the 2013 350 SX-F is the engine. We were absolutely blown away with the gains KTM made with the internal changes made the mid-sized mill. Throttle response was crispy and snappy thanks to the RC8 superbike sourced throttle body and injector. While the power is still not on par with the big dog, it is not far behind. Out the corners, it pulls decently and builds power quickly to an insanely high 13,400 RPM. Rev it like a 250F and you will be rewarded with fast lap times, or be lazy and grunt around in the midrange to save your strength for all day shredding.
“It definitely doesn’t have the power as some of the 450s, but I can make it do everything I would need a 450 to do,” says Sirius Radio Host and retired pro skateboarder Jason Ellis. “It’ll do the job, it’s just a little more work.”
“This is easily the most improved engine in the test,” adds Milan.” The KTM feels like it puts out more top-end horsepower than the Honda 450!”
The 2013 KTM 350 SX-F has broken into the top three in our 450 shootout thants to its spunky motor and light feel.
Bret’s butt-dyno must have been calibrated recently because he was correct in his assessment of the KTM’s power output. On the MotoUSA Dynojet 250i the 350 SX-F cranked a third best 50.08 horsepower, that is just two ponies less than the class leading 450 SX-F and over two more than the Honda. The torque numbers are where the 100cc deficit shows; the mid-sized machine put out the lowest result at 27.06 lb-ft of torque.
On the starting line the 350 covered the 150 feet holeshot distance in 4.28 seconds at 43.9 mph. While only a fifth place result, it’s pretty impressive that it is only a tenth of a second behind the class leader. Third-gear roll on results are similar, accelerating from 15 to 40 mph in 2.849 seconds over a distance of 121.4 ft. During the Super Lap Testing the SX-F bounced back with a second place finish, lapping Cahuilla’s big track in an average time of 2:29.8. Vicki Golden turned her fastest time on mid-sized ripper, while See and Thiel both had mid-pack performances.
For the first time in our 450 Shootout something other than a 450cc powered bike has made the podium. Thanks to KTM’s hard work and constant refinement on the 350 SX-F in its third model year it has become a formidable weapon in the big-bore MX arena. Not only is it fast enough to hang, it’s easier to ride for those without the strength or endurance to hang onto 450 MX’er. Not one of our testers were surprised with the ranking. One even picked it as the bike that they would buy with their own money.