If the bikes were judged solely on looks, the KTM would run away with the title. This is, in our opinion, the best looking KTM moto machine to date.
Katoom is known for producing motorcycles with very potent engines, and their second version of the little SX-F doesn't disappoint. On the track, this bike produced the most power according to all of our testers, especially so at its top end until it bounced mercilessly off its 13,500-rpm rev limiter. Fed by a 39mm Keihin FCR carburetor, the KTM roosted up the long hills of Cahuilla Creek with authority, even with our heaviest test riders aboard.
"The motor seemed like it had plenty of power," Drew says. "I could pull second gear through all turns and it was good at second-gear starts too. It revs out far between each gear, so you don't have to shift so much." Mandahl felt the same way, noting that "it didn't lack power at all."
Another excellent feature of the Orange & Black is buttery-smooth shifting experienced from the rider's fingertips all the way through to the Bridgestone M70 mounted on the rear wheel. Things start with the hydraulic clutch and just get better from there. The lever pull is feather-light while still providing excellent feel. Not once did the clutch begin to fade or even need adjustment throughout the test. From there the dream shifting moves into the transmission where six gears click effortlessly into place - every time. I was amazed at how smoothly the KTM tranny operated, with my normal amounts of missed shifts being reduced dramatically. When I first sat on the bike the shift lever felt too short and was bunched in close to the footpeg, but not once did that affect me on the track.
A potent motor was the first thing that riders noticed, aside from that slightly unique European layout and ergos.
KTM's Tom Moen assured me when I picked up the bike that engineers had designed the '06 machine with supercross in mind. It seems a little counter productive to have a six-speed on an SX track, but in reality it simply allows the bike to be ridden in a higher gear. First was so low that it was never even considered for use on the expansive, high-speed Cahuilla circuit. Even on the tighter, jumpier Elsinore terrain it still got little use, though we realize that neither of those facilities are a true supercross track. With such a strong motor, the SX-F pulled second and even third gear through almost every corner. And like Drew said, second-gear starts are possible even for heavier riders like himself.
A great motor and awesome transmission leaves riders with only one option â€“ to go fast, and that's where the 250SX-F shows its weakness. Those WP suspension components still aren't up to snuff with what's available on the Japanese bikes. Things weren't so bad in the rear with the linkage-less PDS shock doing an admirable job of soaking up small chatter and resisting the urge to spit riders over the handlebars. Fork action was good at lower speeds (read supercross), but it blew through the stroke too quickly on harder impacts.
Our orange machine was littered with top-notch components like these black Excel wheels, wave brake rotors, and a hydraulic clutch.
Cahuilla is known for its chopped-out descents and gnarly uphills, and the latter is where the KTM suffered from occasional bouts of violent headshake. Twiddling with the fork's damping helped alleviate the situation, and we were thankful that the 48mm fork comes with quick-adjust compression clickers that don't require a screwdriver. Things also got a little shaky on Cahuilla's rough straights and high-speed sections, likely due to its steepest 26.5 degree rake. The KTM would benefit from the addition of a steering damper.
We were much more comfortable on our second day of testing when the tighter confines of the Lake Elsinore track kept our speeds below the point of headshake.
One thing is for certain on the '06 KTM 250SX-F; this is one bad looking machine. With a fresh coat of black paint and plastic on the frame, fork tubes, rims and shock reservoir, this thing doesn't come across as some buck-toothed jack-o-lantern. Angular bodywork and a nasty color scheme make the SX-F an onlooker's wet dream.
We were surprised to see that the max horsepower for the KTM was so low. So surprised in fact that we ran it on two different dynos just to be sure. The guys at White Bros were suspicious as well, since their own testing had revealed almost three more ponies. We suspect a dirty air filter or a weak clutch may have hampered its performance on the dyno. Regardless, all the bikes were tested in under the same conditions.
MSRP - $6598
Final Ranking: 3rd
Tale of the Tape - Power
The SX-F was the hands-down winner in the power category on the track, which is why we were mystified with the dyno numbers. The KTM reached peak power at 11,500 rpm pumping out 34.8 horsepower (the YZ-F made the same peak horsepower 1000 rpm sooner). The weird thing is that 250SX-Fs, like WB's own test bike, regularly make 37 ponies. After being disappointed by the KTM's dyno run, we made a swap to another WB dyno to confirm the numbers with the exact same result. However, the combined impressions from our track testing and the notable dyno numbers we've seen elsewhere tell us the SX-F has a top-ranked motor, regardless of what our dyno chart says.