2009 KTM 250 XC-W Motorcycle Review

JC Hilderbrand | March 30, 2009
KTM offers such a broad range of motorcycles it can almost make it too difficult to choose which one is right for you. After all, some might argue that too many choices is just as bad as not enough. KTM has six different quarter-liter bikes for American riders in 2009. Somewhere in the midst of all those closely-related model names lies the 250 XC-W, a midsize 2-stroke enduro bike which targets single track and technical terrain riders. There’s not much to get excited about for 2009 as far as the spec sheet goes, but KTM made some across-the-board suspension changes that were also applied to the XC-W line, and the outstanding results of the WP components are the absolute highlight.

2009 KTM 250 XC-W Motorcycle Review
The 250 XC-W uses a wide-ratio 5-speed transmission and trail-friendly motor characteristics to provide an excellent enduro machine.

We’ve become so accustomed to 4-strokes that hopping aboard the 38.8-inch seat of KTM’s off-road dinger was an exciting and cumbersome adventure. We had to re-learn how to ride the 2-stroke’s power delivery, and combined with the quick steering and unexpected ergonomics, the 250 XC-W seemed like a totally new venture. Once the wheels started turning it didn’t take long to get familiar with, but we didn’t get enough seat time to fully enjoy the bike before our benefactors, Oregon Motorcycle Adventures, asked us to return it. That being said, the fact that we liked it as much as we did in only a few rides should give you an idea of how fun and capable this machine can be.

We used two different testing locations and both seemed near-perfect for what the bike is intended to do. Both areas had an abundance of tight trails, the first filled with roots and mud and the second with imbedded rocks and rain ruts. Even though the 249cc Single has a strong mid-to-top engine, we actually found ourselves riding a gear high and bogging the motor more than expected. In this respect, the 250 XC-W is much like a 4-stroke, but the difference lies in how the bike reacts to a stab at the throttle. Unlike thumpers, the KTM was slower to power up unless given a simultaneous stab of the hydraulic Brembo clutch. As you would expect, when the bike comes into the real power, keeping the 18-inch rear wheel from spinning is almost impossible, especially in wet conditions such as ours. It doesn’t explode as quickly as a similar displacement moto machine, but it still has the quick 2-stroke rev. With the power coming on more mellow, it helps keep the bike clawing forward, and that’s why it worked best for us in the lower revs. How far down the 250 is willing to chug is impressive. We rarely used first gear, preferring to stay in second and use the clutch even on steep uphills.

2009 KTM 250 XC-W Motorcycle Review
Getting the front end to loft
over obstacles isn’t as
mindless as a 4-stroke.

Regardless of engine rpm, instantaneous traction can be difficult to find at times with the zippy motor and 245-pound curb weight. Traction is nothing near what a 4-stroke produces and this caused problems for us initially as we adjusted to being more active and precise with the clutch and throttle combination. Climbing obstacles takes more concentration until you master the relationship between right and left hand. The consequences of sloppy clutch work are more severe with the 2-stroke as well. We were reminded the hard way about the downfall of expansion chambers as our stock pipe received a fist-sized dent right away. Every ride resulted in at least some additional scratches or minor dings.

For one, we need to remember to crash on our left side, but secondly, either KTM or its customers must consider some protection. It might be too much to ask the Austrian manufacturer to provide a pipe cover, but it’s ridiculous that the bike is devoid of any form of skidplate. Looking around the bike demonstrates such attention to detail that it irks us to no end that KTM leaves the underbelly naked. Hell, even Japanese motocross bikes come with more protection. For a bike designed to bounce over rocks and skim across logs, we just don’t understand how this can happen.

2009 KTM 250 XC-W Motorcycle Review
We were confident heading straight for rocks and trail debris, even though we could have avoided them. The suspension is great.

There was hardly time to complain about the missing skidplate, however, since all we wanted to talk about was the awesome suspension and goliath brakes. A set of 48mm White Power sticks up front feature some new flex engineered into the fork tubes. Revised internal settings as well combine to make the front end extremely good for enduro use – soft and reactive. The WP shock is a good match and we were happy to find that the bike tracks extremely well while maintaining razor handling. The lack of engine braking helped keep the front end from plowing and though the fork is soft, it doesn’t pitch while under hard braking. The entire bike settles into corners and through rough terrain. Again, the 2-stroke’s lack of compression braking allows it to float over nasty sections. We especially noticed this while heading down rocky hills. Stones that we normally avoid didn’t buck and deflect the KTM like expected. The more time we had to build confidence in the bike, the more it rewarded us.

Having the freewheeling sensation so common when switching from a 4-stroke to a 2-stroke is both a positive and negative. We found that our pace was much smoother and a bit faster in general in rough terrain, but we often made errors judging corner entry. Fortunately, the Brembo brakes were strong enough to make up for the lack of engine braking. A 260mm wave disc up front and 220mm rear are snared by a dual-piston and single-piston caliper, respectively. Our Off-Road Editor says they’re the best stock brakes he’s tested with amazing power, precise feel and no fade. Everything about the brakes feel right including the lever position, size and contour. It takes

2009 KTM 250 XC-W Motorcycle Review
No need to worry
about stalling with
electric start.

some getting used to the rear which locks easily with the light motor and causes the back end to move around considerably. Initially this was a handling concern, but once we got accustomed to the feel and better at modulating the sensitive lever we were able to ride around it. Stalling was something to contend with as we got the hang of that rear binder, but with a powerful electric starter, who cares? E-start might sound unnecessary for a 2-stroke, but we loved it.

Aside from the extra red button, the handlebars are normal. The oversized Neken aluminum bars are a comfortable reach sitting or standing. Our taller testers were most comfortable on the 250. The chromoly frame and 2.9-gallon fuel tank make the bike feel larger than you might expect. We complained about it feeling fat through the middle, but eventually came to appreciate the physique. Our knees never had to bend inwards to grip the tank while standing and our legs were always in a natural position to support our weight and absorb impacts. It’s one of the reasons our riders felt less fatigued after a ride. The bike definitely takes less effort to maneuver. Steering is very light and we spent the early hours winding back and forth in overcompensation. Dial it in, however, and the 250

2009 KTM 250 XC-W Motorcycle Review
We could find the suspension limits on larger jumps, but we didn’t come close to maxing out the fun potential of an affordable KTM like this.

XC-W will dart in, out and around anything you want it to.

We had plenty of riding buddies who were not only surprised to see the 250 XC-W, but they were just as interested in taking it for a spin. Those who did were happy to report that they were impressed with the performance. Many of the KTM’s shortcomings were either a result of, or seemed worse, as a result of our lack of recent 2-stroke exposure. It seems that many riders these days have given up on the trusty 2-stroke, but the KTM 250 XC-W proves they’re still in the performance realm with swift handling, great suspension, astounding brakes and electric start. There are definite tradeoffs, but at $7848, the XC-W is one of the more affordable ways for someone to own a KTM dirt bike – a dang good one at that.

Thanks to Oregon Motorcycle Adventures for letting us borrow the 2009 KTM 250 XC-W. Check them out at www.oma-ktm.com.

JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

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