One Deluxe Dual-Sporter, Hold The Compromises
At first glance, the 2007 450 EXC looks much like the 2006. But look closer and you'll see the items KTM added to make the new bike 50-state street-legal.
For years, dual-purpose bikes have been crippled by compromises. Since most manufacturer surveys indicate that such machines spend the majority of their time on public streets, the bikes developed from such surveys exhibit a marked pavement bias. That's fine for those who do indeed use their bikes as commuters or as a way to do chores around town. But for those who like a lot of dirt in their diet, those bikes don't cut it.
The solution for enterprising aftermarket companies and riders willing to tread the grey area of legality has been to convert "real" dirt bikes into their vision of dual-sport bikes. Often, this included nothing more than adding lights (including a brake light), a mirror and a horn. Voila, a trip to the local motor vehicle department with said machine often yielded a license plate, though technically, said bike didn't meet the letter of the law, especially in more stringent states like California.
That appears to have changed.
Ever since the introduction of the Racing Four-Stroke (RFS) line, owners have disregarded KTM's pleas to avoid putting these bikes on the street. Due to the limited oil capacity, lack of cush drive rear hub and emissions controls, among other things, the RFS bikes weren't suited to spending lots of time droning down the highway in top gear. If you wanted to do that, KTM
recommended the LC4-based bikes, upon whose engines the Dakar Rally racers are built. Those are the really bulletproof motors.
Besides the keyed ignition, you also get the requisite indicator lights for high beam and the turn signals. The 450 EXC also comes standard with a tapered aluminum handlebar; the hand guards are options and were quite welcome in the Ohio woods.
That didn't stop people from converting the new-generation RFS thumpers anyway. That's because they wanted a bike that was truly dirt-worthy - one that was light, responsive, well-suspended and actually fun to ride in the dirt. LC4-powered bikes tended to be built like tanks and had their niche, but it usually wasn't what hard-core dirt riders wanted. Most of these enthusiasts weren't interested in spending hours on an interstate to get to a trail; they treated them like regular dirt bikes and loaded them into trucks, vans or trailers to get to their chosen ride area. Once there and unloaded, the only time they really cared about being street-legal was when it came time to pop onto a county road in order to transit to another trail.
Over the years, KTM noticed that converted bikes weren't blowing transmissions or breaking hubs or falling apart as had been originally feared. Seeing this, KTM also saw an opportunity not to be missed: Let's give the consumer what they want straight from the factory. After all, that's what KTM is famous for, offering more dirt models than any other manufacturer simply because one size does not fit all, at least in KTM's world. So, based largely on input from KTM North America, the Austrian factory came up with two new models for 2007: the 450 EXC and the 525 EXC, both 50-state street-legal.
What's the difference between these new EXCs and the previous generation which weren't, of course, street-legal? Not much, actually. What KTM did was add street-legal lighting (high-/low-beam headlight, taillight with brake light circuitry), DOT-approved turnsignals/mirrors/horn and corresponding handlebar switches and EPA-friendly emissions controls (air pump, vapor-collecting canister and a slightly quieter muffler). Really. Oh, they also come with DOT-approved knobbies - ISDE-legal Pirelli Scorpions that worked quite well on a recent introductory ride in Ohio. Your bike could well be fitted with Michelins or something else once it comes time for replacements.
Law enforcement might take a second look at you if you're on a 2007 KTM 450 EXC, but you'll ride away happy because you're perfectly legal. Just ask KTM's Mark Hyde.
The cost of this factory conversion in dirt penalties? About three less horsepower and a half-dozen extra pounds compared to the dirt-only 2006.
To demonstrate the new 450 EXC's prowess, KTM invited the enthusiast press to the Buckeye State where nearly 100 miles of typical southern Ohio riding awaited. Ever hear of the Little Burr National Enduro? That's the area KTM selected. In fact, many of the trails had been used recently for a local enduro as well as a dual-sport ride, so it provided an excellent opportunity to sample the bike in conditions very representative of what the likely buyer might encounter - at least east of the Mississippi.
It started at the Vinton County Fairgrounds, home base to the Enduro Riders Association, and employed a few miles of pavement before turning into the woods for the first of many miles of supremely fun trails. Recent rain and fallen autumn leaves combined to prove just how slick the infamous southern Ohio clay can be, but our guides from the ERA as well as KTM's Robbie Jenks (the recently crowned AMA National Hare Scrambles Champion) and Mark Hyde (former Blackwater 100 winner, multi-time ISDT/ISDE medalist and victor in countless enduros and hare scrambles back East) made sure that we didn't get in over our heads. It wasn't like a SoCal dual-sport ride, that's for sure.
You may remember that the dirt-only 2006 450 EXC earned high praise from many testers in our 450cc Enduro Shootout
earlier this year. The street-legal 2007 450 EXC is very much like that competent dirt bike. Our ride provided plenty of variety as far as terrain. We rode up snotty, slick, clay trails covered in the aforementioned leaves, down shallow creeks lined with flat rock, through relatively tight second-gear tree sections and on smooth dirt roads as well as paved ones to link trails together.
In other words, we took the EXCs on nearly every type of trail that you'd tackle on an honest-to-goodness woods weapon. Oh, one other thing: Early in the day, we even visited the local sheriff to indeed prove that they'd pass muster from a law enforcement officer's point of view.
New AMA hare scrambles champ Robbie Jenks joined the ride to help out if the editors needed a hero photo model.
Did we ever feel hampered by the street gear? To be honest, the only things that we recall noticing that you wouldn't think of when riding a regular dirt bike was the mirror (our test units came with only the left mirror installed) and the rear blinkers. When standing, the mirror often hits your forearm so you've got to adjust it to where it sits fairly far forward, limiting its usefulness on the highway.
As for the turnsignals, the front ones are fairly well protected, and no one in our group inflicted damage. The same cannot be said for the rears - in particular the left rear. Its solid mounting design precludes it from giving way when struck, especially when swinging your leg over the seat to get on or off the bike. Unless you're a world-class hurdler, your boot tends to kick that left rear turn signal. As the day wears on and you wear out, it gets a little more difficult to swing your foot sufficiently high enough to clear that little bit of the DOT-mandated kit. In several cases, the blinkers dangled by their wires before lunch, but only for a few miles before disappearing completely. Sure, one or two of the bikes' signals suffered legitimate crash damage, but it seemed like older and less limber the rider, the greater the danger to the blinker. Surely there's a way to make the mount more flexible or swing out of the way.
Other than that, however, we can only praise the 450 EXC. It worked so well in the course of our one-day demo ride that we rarely even remembered the fact that we were on street-legal machines-right down to the tires! It doesn't have that cutting-edge race bike feel, but you can still wick it up and make good time down most any trail. The suspension felt softer than you'd expect for a racer - more so as they broke in and mud accumulated - but this isn't meant to be a racer. It's geared toward the dirt junkie who doesn't want to let the lack of a license plate limit the miles of trail he can ride in a day.
The biggest problem encountered turned out to be left rear turn indicators, with most succumbing to the rider's right boot when getting on the bike. A new design is needed.
So the new EXC is softer, a little heavier and a little mellower in power delivery than the old EXC or the XC line. Big deal. That didn't keep us from having a great time on a great ride. All of us treated the bikes no differently than regular dirt bikes, and rarely did we feel hindered in any way. They threaded through the trees, creeks, rocks and hills just fine. Dual-sport rides tend to be all-day affairs anyway, so the slightly softer, less edgy feel is going to be a plus as the motor isn't going to hit as hard and the supple suspension won't beat you up as the hours roll by. Those in the more arid parts of the country where speeds are higher might find the suspension a little too soft, but that's an easy fix.
While the EXCs did exhibit the typical reluctance of emissions-controlled bikes to start and keep running without the choke on a cold morning, once warmed up, they carbureted fine. There didn't seem to be any lean spot or bogging at low rpm, and rarely did they pop when suddenly shutting the throttle and decelerating. The power simply flowed, with best results coming from liberal use of the meaty midrange. It doesn't need a lot of clutch work, and the six-speed gearbox shifted positively.
The 15/45 gearing seems on the tall side, and this is a concession to the EPA for the bike to pass things like a ride-by sound test - lower rpm at a given road speed, you see. At first we were a bit alarmed, but unless you spend a lot of time on trails more suitable for trials bikes, first should be low enough. Sixth, of course, will get you down the road at more than the legal limit without strain. In fact, we often found ourselves running along in fifth gear down the pavement at an indicated 60 or 65 mph with the engine just loafing before realizing that sixth was still available. If you want to lower first and close the gap between first and second a bit, replace the countershaft sprocket with a 14-tooth. Or you can try the 14/48 gearing like last year's dirt-only EXC; that should satisfy you and still keep the thing from revving its guts out at freeway speeds.
Loose leaves over muddy clay proved to be a recipe for plenty of spills during the initial photo sessions as the editors got accustomed to the eastern conditions.
KTM seems to have found a way to satisfy some very conflicting requirements from different camps with the 2007 EXC. First of all, it took a look at the intended buyer and started with a genuine dirt bike, just like a number of enthusiasts did. Then it added the components demanded by the law without those items diluting the usefulness of the bike in the dirt.
In the end, KTM's 2007 450 EXC is the dual-purpose bike you'd probably build if you were first and foremost interested in riding trails all day except for the occasional road section to fill the tank or your belly, or to get to another trail. If you want to ride mostly dirt roads and pavement, get something else. This thing is a deluxe trail machine for $7995 that you can legitimately take on the street but without the compromises other bikes have succumbed to.
Talk about the 2007 KTM 450 EXC in the Forum