JC found the KTM to be the perfect bike for enjoying rugged scenery whether it was a view from the top of a rocky peak or in the expansive wasteland of desert terrain.
2006 KTM 450 EXC
The Rock Crawler
No matter what kind of test we’re doing, there’s always a catch somewhere in the organizational process that pokes us in the eye. This time around it was with the KTM 450 EXC and the fact that it missed out on our head-to-head Oregon test. Instead, we tested it in SoCal against the two Japanese bikes, both of which stood a very good chance of taking top honors after completing our series of Northwestern analyses.
Taking delivery of the EXC instantly got our saliva glands working overtime. Just looking at the mean-yet-clean styling was enough, but going over the finer details of the bike really got our juices flowing. Waiting until the following day to ride this beast was immediately out of the question so we headed off to the rocky, technical trails of Corral Canyon for an afternoon appetizer.
Right off the bat, the KTM asserted itself as a serious contender against the Yamaha and Honda, but there were a few things that took some getting used to. The first thing is that the bike feels very tall, despite KTM’s claim of a 36.4-inch seat height, which is lower than everything in our test except the Sherco. But even with a generous 110mm of sag in the shock, it still felt higher than most. The seat is very forward slanting, giving it that tall feeling when moving around on the bike. However, the gripper proves to be comfortable and combines to make for a very stable platform when negotiating climbs.
Another unique feature on the Katoom is its steering. Easily the lightest of the group, the KTM’s oversized aluminum handlebar rotates at the mere thought. During our initial ride, we were constantly voyaging into the brush at the trail’s edge by over-steering the super-precise EXC. It’s most noticeable in tight areas and at low speeds where more turning is actually done with the bars. Once the bike is up to speed, however, the lightness at the bars is less of a factor. All of the trails at Corral Canyon are tight and twisty, so we had plenty of time to adapt to the geometry which utilizes 26.5 degrees of rake and 4.4 inches of trail. Part of the light feeling stems from a lack of weight placed on the front end. Of the 255 pounds only 42 % rests over the 21-inch wheel. Though it took some getting used to, all of our testers came to love the KTM’s steering characteristics.
We failed to make it up all of Corral Canyon’s treacherous climbs on the first try, but it wasn’t for a lack of machinery. The KTM does a marvelous job of conquering technical riding. Now if we could just get JC to quit laying down on the job he might actually climb something.
“The KTM was awesome in the rocky stuff and in the sand washes,” says Ken. “Despite its light and slick-feeling steering, it handled the rough stuff very well.”
The easy steering actually helped on rocky sections where it dodged but didn’t deflect. Graced by a 48mm WP fork, the front end soaks up obstacles small and large, as does the rear. Ken was the only test rider to complain about the suspension. He claims the linkageless PDS shock is a bit unforgiving. “On the harder hits it seemed to get rocked pretty hard and transmitted that right up the rider’s spine,” he says.
Kickstarting the KTM feels different from the Japanese bikes as well. Where the Honda and Yamaha can be kicked relatively quickly, the EXC feels like it’s pushing through molasses. It’s just about as sweet, though, taking only one stroke every time. KTM riders will hardly ever notice, however, since its electric start is the most effective of the bunch. Hot or cold, the EXC fires within the first one or two cranks.
The six-speed, 448cc 4-valve engine utilizes similar bore and stoke figures (89 x 72 mm) to generate horsepower and torque figures of 42 hp and 37.5 lb-ft respectively. The EXC was topped only by Yamaha’s 43 ponies, but its delivery was very different. The KTM transfers a significant amount of vibration to the rider’s hands, but not as much as the ATK or Husaberg. Like the ‘Berg, our Orange bike overheated a time or two during repeated hillclimbs and heavy, low-speed use.
The steering on our KTM 450 was incredibly light. Maneuvering tight trails was almost too easy on the EXC, but we were pleased to discover that it is also very stable at speed.
Getting the power to the ground is much easier on the KTM than with the red Japanese bike thanks to its hydraulic clutch and sweet tranny. Six speeds give the KTM a serious advantage in wide-open desert terrain, but we found that it lacked the serious grunt down low possessed by the WR. However, that isn’t to say the KTM is ineffective on hillclimbs or in tight conditions. The buttery-smooth clutch provided feel similar to that of a cable unit but with a lighter pull. Picking your way through a technical section was easiest on the KTM thanks to the ease of use and quality components.
“The KTM is about perfect for the desert, but it lacked a bit of usable bottom end on the gnarly hills,” says Ken. “Overall it was really sweet, but the vibration at high speed and the overheating issue just doesn’t happen with the Japanese motors.”
Wave-style rotor brakes are one of a kind in this group, and they work exceptionally well. The 260mm front is strong yet light and it suited my personal style better than any other. Brakes can work a little too well, however, and the rear did just that. Getting a feel for what was happening out back was tough because braking was either all or nothing. Aside from being a bit grabby, the 220mm rotor looks good and works well overall. It isn’t perfect, however, and we’d like to have more feel at the toe, especially when negotiating long downhill sections.
This was our favorite front brake of the test. KTM definitely knows what it takes to build a worthy off-road bike, and it’s apparent in the attention to detail.
All in all, the KTM truly lives up to the company motto of “Ready to Race.” More than any other bike, we felt that the EXC was capable of being competitive at any level in stock form. The bike was great in each setting that we tested in, and with six speeds it could easily branch into dual-sporting or supermoto. Not being able to test the bike against all the others was a setback for big Orange, but those of us who did get a chance to throw a leg over the angular bodywork are certain that it would have done more than simply hold its own.
When it boiled down to it, each of us was faster on the KTM than the other bikes, both in our own minds and on the clock. This bike truly has it all, and with a level of refinement unmatched by the other manus, the lightest weight and a unique oval tubular frame, this bike can be the perfect steed for a wide range of riding styles. It’s hard to argue against the EXC.
– Quarter-turn gas cap is awesome and tank is easiest to refuel.
– Dual-compound Renthal grips are class best.
– No engine guards or skid plate. Definitely needs some armor.
– Airbox panel uses no fasteners.
– Fender brace.
– A heat guard is available as an aftermarket accessory but it should come stock.
– Included tool pouch is better equipped than our personal kits.
– MSRP: $7,598
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