Drag site icon to your taskbar to pin site. Learn More

2012 KTM 500 XC-W First Ride

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Videos Our Sponsor
2012 KTM 500 XC-W First Ride Video
Click to view video
We drop the curtain on one of the most hyped models for the upcoming year in the 2012 KTM 500 XC-W First Ride Video.
KTM chose the Wyoming round of the AMA National Enduro Series to debut the new models. The location and timing worked out just right. I was fortunate enough to get the call to duty for this one. I have always loved National Enduros and while I miss the old format, this event would prove to be plenty challenging for everyone.
Prior to the event, I mentioned to KTM’s Tom Moen that I would like to ride the 500 for the race. As the one bike with the “new” model designation, it is the one that everyone seems to be most excited about. Of course around southern California, the big-bore KTM’s are always a favorite choice for the weekend desert dwellers. As there was only one 500 in the demo fleet, I felt lucky to get first dibs on it. As it turned out, no one else really thought it sensible to choose the biggest bike for National Enduro conditions. Nevertheless, I wanted to try it in the worst of conditions, the place where it would feel the most out of its element, before getting a chance to hit the desert back home with it.

Despite its big bore status the 2012 KTM 500 XC-W felt nimble while flicking from side to side  but its weight came into play during heavy braking.
The 2012 500 XC-W felt nimble while flicking from side to side, but its weight came into play during heavy braking.
KTM had scheduled a whole day for us to ride and do photos. However, the airline had other ideas and decided that they should hold on to all the journalists’ bags for an extra day or two. Ultimately, that led to a situation where eight of us were sharing gear and had just a few hours with the one photographer to get our best pics done.

It all worked out, but as we were lucky just to get a few photos in, any real work on race setup was out the window. I did a quick stab at the sag, checked the bars and headed to the starting line.

My first impression was how small it feels. All full size KTMs now share the same basic frame and body dimensions. Therefore, the 200 and 500 have the same cockpit size. The Neken bar has lots of sweep, similar to the newer Rental 672 of the 2011models. So even with the bar mounts moved forward, I was not able to get a very comfortable standing position. In the same manner, that smallish feeling carries over to how quickly the bike will flick side to side. That is to say, very quickly! This impression of the 500 makes it seem very light. So now we are back to that debate over a bike being light and feeling light.

The reality is that for everything talked about in the new specs for the 500, it is only one pound lighter than the old 530 XC-W. So for as much as the bike feels light when making transitions, there is no getting around that mass every time you get on the brakes; weight is weight.

2012 KTM 500 XC-W
Throttle response on the 500 is crisp and predictable, with bottom-end power coming on smoothly.
KTM 500 XC-W
As it turned out, the Wyoming National Enduro was much tighter and technical than I imagined. Every test was cut just wide enough to get the bars through. It was a constant barrage of trees and limbs. Few riders survived with jerseys intact, most were torn to shreds and there were a significant number of raspberry arms to match.

I started my day by trying to override the 500, but neither of us were happy with that. Once I backed off just a little and carried a taller gear, the bike was easy to handle. It has a minimal amount of compression braking. The throttle response is crisp and predictable. Over the course of the day the lighter clutch pull became a very welcome change.
The motor is a unique mix of characteristics. It is fast, but does not always feel so. I did some impromptu third gear roll-ons alongside a Husaberg FX450 and the 500 easily outpaced the Berg. Power delivery off the bottom is smooth. It still has plenty of flywheel effect, so the response can feel sluggish at times, but as the day wore on, I got my timing down better and could keep everything flowing smoothly.

This is a big-bore bike, and as such it still requires some respect. The ground conditions were constantly changing from hard-pack to silt with plenty of patches of mud in between. On more than one occasion, I found myself completely sideways as I hit a slick spot and the wheel spun up before I could react.

Conversely, this motor does not like to rev. It feels as if it shuts off unusually early. Now keep in mind that the stock exhaust is whisper quiet and the fuel mapping is probably aimed more at emission standards than ultimate performance. It will win a roll-on contest, but doesn’t want to rev or act fast. In other words, it acts just like a big-bore bike should, no need to rev the daylights out of the motor, just keep it in the sweet spot and hold on.
So back to our race story. Overall, the bike did very well for the conditions. The power delivery worked well for most of the course. Turning and aiming the bike through the tighter sections was nearly effortless. The motor is easy to ride, but still demands good throttle control. I only stalled the bike
KTM 500 XC-W
While the bike's power and handling worked well throughout the race, its suspension isn't well-suited to open sections for a rider of our size.
twice, once due to a lazy clutch hand and the other was more like a flame-out. Each time the button brought it right back to life.

The suspension was too soft for the more open sections, but did well in the tighter areas. The bike has the heavy sensation of keeping the wheels glued to the ground; it goes through things rather than over them, again very typical for an open-class ride. I missed the shock setup by adding too much preload to compensate for the soft spring. The effect was a setup that was still too soft, but that would also kick on the rebound.

As the day wore on and I got tired, I was beginning to miss the ultra forgiving ride of the sibling 350 XC-F. On the 500, every turn takes just a little more braking effort and each acceleration requires just a tad more concentration and throttle control. But on the other hand, I can’t wait for the opportunity to turn the big five-hunnie loose in the desert. The flip side may just prove that any of those potential negatives will become positives in the open terrain. A strong, stable bike can chew up desert valleys with ease. I had better get some stiffer springs on order so I can be ready to roll once I get my hands back on the big bike.

2012 KTM Models Photo Gallery
View Gallery
View Gallery
View Gallery
View Gallery
View Slideshow
Recent Dirt Bike Reviews
2015 Beta XTrainer 300 First Ride
Beta creates an entry-level trail bike for all skill levels with its new XTrainer, a two-stroke hybrid that blends enduro with a hint of trials.
2014 Yamaha YZ250F Project Bike
MotoUSA declared the YZ250F the best MX bike for 2014, but Jay Clark Enterprises improves the YZ platform with this project bike review.
2015 Beta 480 RR vs. Beta 430 RR Race Edition
Beta made a lot of changes for the 2015 model year, so MotoUSA took two of the new machines, the 430 RR Race Edition and 480 RR, out for some heavy off-road riding.
Ride Engineerings 2015 Suzuki RM-Z450
Ride Engineering adds a host of goodies to improve the performance of the 2015 Suzuki RM-Z450, so we took the machine to LACR MX to see how the upgrades translate to the dirt.
2015 KTM 250 SX-F Factory Edition First Ride
MotoUSA heads off road to see how the swath of improvements to KTM's latest FE model translate to the dirt in this review of the 2015 KTM 250 SX-F Factory Edition.
2015 KTM 250 XC-F vs. Yamaha YZ250FX
Until recently, KTM lived alone in the category of closed course off-road race bikes, that is until the 2015 Yamaha YZ250FX came along. See the new blue bike take on KTM's 250 XC-F in this comparison.
2015 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition First Ride
The 2015 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition marks the forth year the Austrian marque has introduced a factory edition of its 450 MX platform. MotoUSA takes a ride.
2015 Yamaha WR250F First Ride
The Yamaha WR250F was long overdue for a change, so the Tuning Fork brand offers a completely revamped WR for 2015.
2015 Yamaha YZ250FX First Ride
Yamaha took the best of its YZ250F motocrosser and added some off-road chops for its new 2015 YZ250FX, including an electric start, six-speed transmission, suspension tweaks and more.
KTM Dirt Bike Dealer Locator

Login or sign up to comment.

x2468   August 1, 2011 10:17 PM
dyno it when u get it to the office! and after u unplug it and remap it.. btw, does chillie ride street bikes? an article like "chillies first track day" might be hilarious. I'd like to see how his technical writing style takes on something he may not be so good at doing.