2009 KTM 450 XC-W Long Term Update

May 14, 2009
Chilly White
Chilly White
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Having spent most his riding career desert racing, Chilly White brings expert racing skills to his off-road dirt bike reviews. The Californian is also an International Six Days Enduro competitor, including the 2009 Portugal ISDE.

Chilly White KTM
Senior A rider Chilly White has put the 2009 KTM 450 XC-W through all kinds of hell, including this soggy fiasco at the Missouri ISDE Qualifier.

If you saw my initial review on the 2009 KTM 450 XC-W, it was pretty clear that I was impressed. The list of bikes that can match the orange 450 for overall versatility is a short one. With nearly 50 hours on the bike now, I have used it for everything from desert racing to eastern enduro and moto practice. Most recently I hauled it to Missouri for Round 1 of the AMA ISDE qualifier series and came away with a win in the Senior class, earning me a spot on the US team for this year’s Six Days Enduro in Portugal.

Things are going well as the bike continues to evolve. While prepping for race conditions I have tried to keep modifications minimal focusing on only those things that allow me to ride better and improve durability. The only true modification to the motor has been the addition of the Dirt Tricks cam chain tensioner; this is a ratcheting system that replaces the stock hydraulic unit. The stock version requires oil pressure to engage and therefore is slack upon initial start-up resulting in an annoying rattle and has been blamed for a limited number of cam chain failures.

I have also added a Rekluse Z-start Pro automatic clutch. Call me lazy if you want, but the auto clutch just makes me a faster rider. The Rekluse can benefit both novice and experts. For me it helps tackle the gnarliest obstacles without fear of stalling. In muddy conditions it allows the tire to hook up very smoothly, often better than I could accomplish manually, almost like traction control. For most people it will actually reduce the wear and related heat generated on the clutch plates.

Chilly White KTM
A stock SX-F muffler provides the extra punch, but a Pro Moto Billet end cap was needed to make decibel output legal for off-road racing.

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating what, if anything, to do about the exhaust. The stock system is quiet and durable, and the only drawbacks are weight and a lack of hit in the midrange. For example, it is reluctant to lift the front wheel at speed to clear a rock or log. I tried a stock silencer from the KTM 450 SX-F model and noticed a significant improvement in performance. The question was then how to make this system suitable for racing. Pro Moto Billet provided one of their spark arrestor end caps and it seems like a perfect solution. It quiets the SX silencer down to just under 96db and provides really nice overall power output. This billet piece looks bulky, put it is actually lighter than the stamped steel end cap that it replaces. This is a cost effective solution that still retains the durability of OEM style parts.

The 2009 suspension package was one of the highlights from my initial race test. In the rear I have upped the spring rate from the stock 7.2/nm to 7.6/nm for my 200-lb weight. I am still running the static sag at 35mm and everything is working great. I backed off on the low speed compression two clicks for the Missouri race and that was a perfect change from the desert set up. After a couple of races on the fork I was looking for a little better performance in slow rocky conditions so I hauled the forks up to Javier Gonzales at Trail Tricks for some massaging. He did some small shim changes to both the base valve and the mid valve, and installed a custom lighter spring in the mid valve. The fork action has gone from pretty good to amazing. Small roots and rocks simply disappear and slick logs laying at an angle on the trail are no longer a problem. Javier attributes much of the improvement in the 2009 fork to the new smaller diameter piston that WP is now using. Believe it or not the next WP evolution is expected to be a smaller diameter front axle, going clear back to the axle size used from 1998-2002.

Chilly White KTM
Flexx bars are a little bulky and convoluted when trying to mount additional hardware, but the benefits were worthwhile.

My only concession to comfort is the addition of Flexx bars from Fasst Company. My wrists just are not what they used to be and multi-day races really takes a toll on them. These are the first product that I have found that truly gives some relief as well as reducing blisters. Initially I was concerned about the sensation of movement in the bars, but it turned out to be a non-issue. I really do not notice movement except when riding moto practice, and while noticeable, it doesn’t bother me. Fasst Co. offers three different elastomers to customize the action of the bars. I am running the yellow “medium” elastomers for both compression and rebound. Their “10 degree moto” bend bar is close to the stock KTM bend that I like so much. I have cut the bars down about 1.25” yet they still have plenty of room for mounting my enduro equipment.

The Flexx bars do present some difficulty when mounting hand guards. One solution is to purchase the mounts available from either Fasst Co. or BRP. What I have done is use the Fastway F.I.T. 1 system that bolts the handguard directly to the top handlebar clamp. The F.I.T. 1 system also incorporates a mount for either the Scotts or GPR stabilizer. I was not completely happy with the raised crossbar that Fasst Co. offers for a top mount stabilizer, so I mounted my Scotts dampener as far back as possible and simply ground away the material of the rear crossbar to accommodate it. (see pic). I am still debating the durability of this modification, but so far it is working well.

Fastway included a set of their F5 footpegs for me to try. These are a pretty popular item and provide a wider and slightly longer platform than stock. They feature a reversible mounting sleeve that allows them to be mounted in the standard position, or the “low boy” position that moves the pegs back and down. In the standard position the pegs are marginally closer to the shift lever and in the low position they are just a little farther back than standard. This low boy position is a great choice for someone with larger boots who needs more room. The wider platform gives a very secure feeling and allows more room to move the foot around. The F5 comes with a special tool to install the star shaped pins, no need to have to clean out the mud and debris to change these external drive fasteners.

Chilly White KTM
The new Acerbis Vision Light doesn’t function as well as it looks. Output from the main 20-watt halogen bulb is relatively weak and the extra LEDs don’t contribute anything usable.

When I saw the new Acerbis Vision headlight I begged MotoUSA’s JC Hilderbrand to dig one up for me. I think this is the coolest looking light ever with its dual, 20-watt halogens and dual LED side lights. It has been durable enough to survive a number of races without issue. The only problem is that for all its good looks it’s not very practical. The light produced is marginal at best and the LED does not add any illumination for the rider. Also the clear housing is neither dust nor waterproof, so it requires regular removal to clean. For a basic lighting system the Baja Designs shell and glass lens with a 55/65 H4 bulb is a much better solution, even if it is a little dated looking.

I have enough hours on the 450 now to start considering some replacement parts. Once the sprockets started to show wear they were replaced with a set of Ironman super tough steel sprockets and bolt set. These things are nearly indestructible. Pro Moto Billet now offers billet chain blocks for the KTM and I was really stoked to see these. I have broken at least three of the stock threaded chain blocks previously and that meant having to buy a complete axle set from KTM. It’s nice to have a stronger and replaceable option now. From the KTM Hard Equipment catalog I added the poly-resin skidplate. This lightweight piece offers plenty of protection and is held in place with one Dzus fastener and does not rattle or reflect engine noise. I do take the precaution of drilling a hole near the single fastener to run a zip tie through it and around the frame mount just to make sure it cannot come loose.

Chilly White KTM
Overall the modifications proved sensible and have made the already stellar KTM even better.

Once the stock Bridgestones were used up, they were swapped out with a set of Kenda Washougals with a 120/100 rear and the oversize 90/100 front. These have become my favorite do-everything tire. After running them at the two-day qualifier in Missouri, they were still in good enough condition to use at a National Hare and Hound the following weekend. The rear will stand up to plenty of abuse without chunking and the front seems at home in just about any conditions. No-Toil oil and filters have been keeping everything clean in the airbox, and use effective and simple to cleaning solution. Although they suggest using the washing machine, my experience is that it shortens the filter life so I always clean by hand. I am always amazed how much sand still comes out of a seemingly clean filter when rinsing with water.

With plenty of hard ride time, things with the KTM things are going well. The valves are still in spec, having required no adjustment yet. The only real issue continues to be “the case of the missing oil.” The engine seems to consume oil at irregular rates, sometimes a little and at other time quite a bit. With only 600 ml. capacity there is not much room for error here. That may be the reason that all of the factory XC-W race bikes have the engine cases modified to run both the motor and transmission oil together as one. As I commented in the initial review, the sight glass level changes once the motor has set for a number of hours, but I have been assured that things are within tolerance as long as there is oil showing in the glass. Even still, I would probably not set out on a long distance adventure without carrying a little extra oil along.