The off-road world hasn't seen any earth-shaking changes in 2010, so Chilly White thought there was no better time to sample a KTM 300 XC equipped with Christini's All Wheel Drive system.
It‘s sort of a quiet year for new bikes in the off-road realm. While a new Suzuki RMX450Z is somewhere on the horizon, most everything else is just carried over from last year. Time to start thinking outside the box. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a Christini
two-wheel-drive bike in a while. I know Ben Smith and Wally Palmer had spent some time racing them, and of course Geoff Aaron
campaigns one in the EnduroCross series and other extreme races. Come to think of it, I must have Geoff’s’ number around here somewhere. Sure enough, one quick call and I was put in touch with Steve Christini who lined up a bike for me to ride. This wasn’t just any bike, but Geoff’s actual race bike, the converted KTM 300 XC.
My time with the Christini All Wheel Drive (AWD) ride was limited, so I won’t make any claim to understanding all its limits. What I can say is that with even just a couple days of riding, I can see all kinds of potential for the concept.
If you are a fashion designer looking to show off your latest designs, you hire a supermodel to wear them. The KTM 300 XC is a supermodel with wheels; it makes anything look good. As the bike that took Geoff to his very first EnduroCross victory against some very stiff competition, this thing is amazingly stock. Other than the FMF exhaust and a few pieces of protection, it’s just as it came off the showroom floor. No motor work, no suspension, nothing. This is part of Steve Christini’s vision to really demonstrate the stand alone potential of the AWD system.
How does it work?
The Christini AWD system centers around a series of chain drives, including one that takes power from the countershaft and delivers it to a transfer case on the frame's backbone.
The concept and execution is pretty simple. The devil of the design had to be in originally sorting out all the details to make the drive system effective and durable. In short; a drive chain takes power from the countershaft and delivers it to a transfer case located on the backbone of the frame. The power is then converted to a drive shaft that runs under the backbone and into the headset. That is again converted to a horizontal chain drive that is located inside the lower triple clamp. This chain powers the drive shafts that run down to the wheel along each fork leg and in turn powers the front wheel via helical gears in the custom Talon front hub.
The chain cover along the left side of the motor is one of the only indicators of what is going on underneath. Most of the parts are hidden away and therefore protected pretty well.
(For more information on the specifics of the Christini AWD system, read our 2007 Christini Quick Ride and Christini AWD Update articles and find detailed photos in the photo gallery.)
Does it work?
Yes, in fact the operation of the front wheel is very seamless. Only on rare occasions does the rider notice a
Power to the front wheel only engages when needed and can manually be turned off via a handlebar-mounted lever.
pronounced action in the front wheel. Most of this because the front only engages when needed. The front is driven at a slightly lower rate than the rear, so it doesn’t actually start applying power to the front until the rear wheels spins faster than the front. The rest of the time it is essentially freewheeling.
Why would I want AWD?
I guess the best analogy I can think of would be to compare it to a car. Most AWD cars out there never see much dirt, but if you drove exclusively off road, would you like to have AWD? Of course, driving all the wheels provides a number of handling advantages. The crossover to bikes is very similar.
The most obvious benefit is traction. Driving both wheels will pull you through sections that might otherwise be impassable. Additionally, the system lets you carry more speed though obstacles and this additional momentum makes everything seem easier. Maintaining something like a six-mph average has many advantages over say three-mph, the bike just naturally rolls over the terrain better.
It's important to keep the front end on the ground when climbing. Loft it in the air and you'll lose all drive.
Did you ever stop to think about what is actually happening when you wash out the front end? As the front tire starts to slide, its rotation slows down or stops. With AWD, the drive system will kick in and literally pull the front wheel through the corner, drastically reducing the possibility of losing the front to a slide.
These scenarios are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to defining all the potential benefits, many of them are probably so subtle that the rider will not have any real perception of the intervention of the system. I liken it to the advent of the auto clutch; it has all kinds of small benefits that go unnoticed until you ride without it.
What is the downside?
This was probably the most frequently asked question among people who saw the bike. Part of the system is a handlebar-mounted lever that allows the AWD to be disengaged. So at any time the bike can be ridden in standard rear-drive mode. The action can be switched on the fly, although Christini recommends only doing so less than five mph just to insure no damage to the moving parts. So in that sense, there is really little potential for drawbacks.
The only negative riding impressions were:
- At times the front wheel will try to make the bike go straight instead of turning. This was only on flat ground when making a fast acceleration into a turn. I think this was a combination of the abrupt rotation of the wheel and the additional inertia of the spinning mass of the front hub.
- As riding speeds increase this mass tends to make the steering feel a little heavy.
- To get the most benefit out of the system, it is important to keep the front end on the ground when climbing. Nothing kills the drive faster than a wheelie
- As the conversion adds weight to bike, most of which is to the front end, it will inevitably have some affect on the action of the fork. On our stock 300 XC it may have actually helped the fork some. The ‘09 WP closed-chamber system suffers from some harshness and the additional weight may have smoothed some of that out, just like on a 4-stroke.
- Access to the carb is limited without removing the three bolts holding the drive chain cover
Each of these are things that I think a rider would quickly become accustomed to and ride accordingly.
Over the long haul, the system adds lots of moving parts; chains, sprockets, bearings, gears and seals. These will all need regular servicing. Steve Christini tells us that overall the durability is very good. None of our tests have lasted more than a few days, but we’ve seen some other testing that confirms its durability. Christini recommends inspection and lubrication every 10 hours, noting the most critical issue is to make sure the boots on the drive rods don’t get damaged and let dirt in.
Due to the freewheeling ability of the drive system, should any part break during a ride, it will not disable the bike. So you are not going to get stranded in the backcountry if something should go wrong.
What is the best bike for the AWD conversion?
Perhaps the KTM 300 XC-W. I mean, is there a better bike for anything based on weight, power, and versatility? The 300 handles the additional weight and diversion of power
Chilly believes the KTM 300 XC is a perfect candidate for the Christini AWD based on its weight, power, and versatility.
without issue. The wide-ratio 2-stroke boasts an overall usability that is hard to match and the two position ignition mapping lets it go from single track to race track with a flip of the switch.
Initially I was sure that I’d be able to detect some change in the power characteristics with the AWD engaged. But after a few rips across the open desert it was obvious that the XC version we rode was just plain fast. That may be the best choice for professional level racers like Geoff, but for technical enduro use it was a bit aggressive. Once I took a few minutes to unplug the ignition wire to change to the soft mapping curve, things were much more manageable.
Did you know?
Christini AWD kits are available for late model KTM 2-strokes and 4-strokes, as well as Honda CRF250X and CRF450X, and Kawasaki KX450F dirt bikes. The conversion adds about 15 lbs. The biggest challenge to developing new models is the cost and time associated with producing a new fuel tank. They have sold bikes in over 15 countries around the world and are currently building a bike for a professional supermoto racer in the U.K.
How would I get one?
The system can either be purchased as a conversion to your current bike or you can buy a completely new bike delivered to you ready to go. Buying a new bike through Christini is the most economical method. Steve says they can deliver a KTM 300 XC-W for just about $11,000. That makes the total additional cost for the system a little over $2,000. Many people easily spend that kind of cash for accessories anyway. Considering how much is involved to create this innovative bike, it seems pretty reasonable.
After experiencing what the Christini AWD system had to offer, Chilly gave it "a pretty hardy thumbs up" and thought of several races where he could have used the extra traction.
For those who already have a bike that they wish to convert, it requires sending your frame to Christini. Typically it is treated like a core charge. You get a different frame back and eventually your frame is refurbished and modified to become someone else’s kit. This process helps keep the turnaround time down and lets the frames be produced in batches. The frame you receive back is given the VIN number of your original frame so there are no paperwork hassles to deal with. Christini covers all the bases.
At some point way back someone told me they figured a good yardstick for evaluating motorcycle stuff was simply: Does it make you excited about going riding? As for the Christini AWD system, well I have to give it a pretty hardy thumbs up. I can’t help but think about all the places I would like to try it; Snowy trail up at Gorman would be a good test. Then there were all those races where I wish I could have had extra traction, like endless hillclimbs at the Quicksilver National Enduro in Coalinga, or the 2002 Czech ISDE where 250 riders DNFed in the mud. The Christini AWD system makes me marvel at all the possibilities it offers, and that makes me pretty stoked to go riding.