Does the KTM Ready To Race mantra work for MotoUSA? We sourced a 2009 KTM 450 XC-W and 2008 AMA Hare & Hound Sr. Class Champion Chilly White to test it out.
“Ready To Race” is the motto plastered across every piece of KTM advertising. It sort of sounds like a little bit of a challenge, so we decided to take KTM up on it with the 2009 KTM 450 XC-W. The first great plan was to get MotoUSA or KTM or anybody to fly me to the ends of the earth to some exotic locale for some super cool race. Well, I’m not VIP enough for that kind of treatment. Instead it was off to the first local race of the year; the District 37 UMC Enduro. While it may not sound very glamorous, it actually had me a bit more concerned. You see this is the 2009 series where I hope not only to win my class – I want the top overall placing for the season. Needless to say I want to be on a competitive bike.
To keep with the Ready to Race premise, the bike had to be showroom stock. The full extent of the race modifications included jetting and a set of Tire Balls to prevent flats. I bolted on my timekeeping equipment and headed for the starting line. After two of the three loops had been completed I was feeling pretty good. I still had a zero score and felt comfy on the bike. We had been through a couple of challenging sections already and I was able to ride flat out while still being within my comfort zone. The final loop was where the real racing would take place. At the completion of the final 17-mile section I had dropped a total of eight points, overall winner Nick Blais would card a five. This was good enough to give me fifth overall behind factory-supported KTM riders David Kamo and Quinn Cody. I was pretty darn happy, not only with my riding, but the bike that got me there. Ready to Race, you bet!
At first glance if would seem that the ‘09 XC-W line is just a set of bold new graphics away from the models that debuted in 2008. Yet underneath there are a number of significant changes for the new year. The motor features a new cam with an all-new auto decompression system. This completely eliminates some of the electric starting troubles from last year. Other internal changes include new center cases, crank seals, valve springs, ignition, spark plug and clutch plates.
On the outside, the chassis changes focus around the suspension. It is almost cliché to say that the KTM suspension is better this year, as it gets better every year. But the effects of the changes this year are huge! The fork tubes are now sourced from Japan and feature a thinner wall and improved chrome plating resulting in lower friction and improved flex. As KTM increased the rigidity of its frames, it is now engineering flex back into the chassis components. This is also seen in the new two-bolt machined bottom clamp and smaller diameter steering stem. The fork clamps are now at a fixed 19-degree offset versus the previous setting of 20 degrees. The shock also gets revised internals and valving as well as a stiffer 7.2n/m straight rate spring. The fork comes with 4.4n/m springs.
At just over 200 lbs, I’m heavier than these designed spring rates, but they still work extremely well even at race speed. For the shock, I am running the static sag at the recommended 35mm and not worrying about the race sag, I did try adding an extra turn of preload but it didn’t improve anything. Overall the shock is super stable and predictable. At times I would swear it has linkage. The rebound always feels a little slow and it still has some of that chopper-like feel associated with the new generation PDS system. It does inspire confidence, the back end never kicks even when hitting things at odd angles and bottoming is infrequent.
Up front I am running four turns of preload to the open chamber fork. The stock oil height is probably just a little high, but it provides excellent bottoming resistance. Next on the work list is to try some stiffer spring rates front and rear that are more suited to my weight.
The motor is a joy to ride, power is smooth and progressive. Our jetting changes were limited to raising the needle and a larger main jet. The green sticker-legal stock settings are pretty lean. I have been slow to embrace the move to shorter stroke engines. When they came to the market a few years ago most of them had more abrupt power characteristics and were prone to stalling, which always seemed to come at the worst possible moment. All of the XC-W thumpers feature the same 95mm bore, using different strokes to create the 400, 450 and 530 displacements. The 450 with its 63mm stroke has a nice balance of sweet bottom end and quick-revving characteristics.
After the enduro I also raced the Desert MC National Hare & Hound. In the faster sections I did suffer a little against the higher horsepower bikes, but in the super technical second loop of the race I easily made up for that in the rocks and difficult hillclimbs. Where the more aggressive moto bikes were struggling for traction and control, I could just chug up the worst sections, typically in second gear. I previously complained about the low 13/52 gearing when I rode the 2009 Husaberg FE 450, but after two desert races, the gearing is just fine. I only got into 6th gear once at the National, and with a dyno measured top speed of 100 mph; it should be suitable for most situations. It was all good enough to get me to 19th overall and first in class at the first big race of the year.
Speaking of the Berg, these bikes share so many common parts that comparisons are inevitable. Regarding carb vs. fuel injection, I am still all in favor of the FI system as representing the future. There is one exception; I think the XC-W has a broader range of power compared to the standard map setting of the Husaberg. The ‘Berg really requires using all three of its map settings to get the most out of the FI system. So if you are a master of the black arts (i.e. carb tuning) you probably still have a few years to practice your craft.
The other major areas of comparison are suspension and handling. For handling the ‘Berg dominates in ease of turn in, quick transitions and neutral feel in the air. Once settled into a corner both bikes feel pretty similar. In open terrain the KTM takes the upper hand. The fork keeps the front end higher in the stroke letting it easily skim over many obstacles and take big hits without bottoming hard. The bikes do feature significantly different valving front and rear and the difference in weight distribution gives each a distinctive feel. Oh yes, call me old fashioned, but I still prefer the comfort of having the XC-W’s kickstarter, even though both of these bikes start very easy.
Alright, it’s easy. Just hop on top of the giant boulder and hold a wheelie while I snap a photo. Oh, and make look easy too!
I got together with Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand, and some of the other guys including our guest photo model and factory KTM racer David Kamo, to do a long desert trail ride. We had put on over 50 miles by lunch and I had yet to switch the 2.4-gallon tank onto reserve, this was fairly easy riding but I am sure it was good for 60-plus miles in those conditions. Later when we were waiting for the last great light of the day to finish up the photo shoot I was keenly aware at the lack of a headlight and made sure to high tail it back before getting caught out in the dark. I know those things cost money, but lighting is one area where the competition gets to chalk one up against the orange bikes.
For most riders, engine service on a modern dirt bike is going to be limited to oil changes and possibly valve adjustments. The oil change procedure is not difficult, just a little tedious. It consists of three drain plugs, one filter and refilling two compartments. The transmission has an inspection bolt that you remove to determine fill capacity, unfortunately it is on the opposite side of the filler hole. The engine compartment has a sight glass, but my experience is that if you fill it with the specified quantity, the sight glass will register overfull until the bike sets for a period of hours, like overnight. So, for example, you cannot just shut the bike off and check the oil level through the sight glass, it will always read greater than the true level. Fortunately our test bike has consumed almost no oil during our time with it. After 30 hours of use, our valves have stayed within spec and no adjustments have been required.
Test rider Chilly White calls it “The Charmer” and hopes the KTM 450 XC-W will be a championship winner.
I think of the 450 XC-W as “The Charmer” because of its girl-next-door characteristics. It is not as flashy as some of its siblings like the beefy 530 or the moto-derived 450/505 XC, but it just seems to get better with every ride. With the wide ratio transmission and plug-in lighting capability, it is an excellent do-everything bike. I know I just raced it, but it really only needs an oil change and air filter to be ready to go out again. I wonder if I could find someone to go to Baja this weekend?
HS Compression – 1.75
Preload/Sag 4mm/35mm Static
Needle 1st/3rd (position from top)
Fuel Screw 1.75/1.75