There was a time when KTM was more of an afterthought in motocross shootouts, but no longer. The KTM 250 SX-F brings distinct flavor to our test with its steel chassis, high-strung motor and kind-of-familiar-but-still-weird ergonomics. Regardless, its performance thresholds are equal, better and sometimes worse than the other machines depending on who you ask and what you are asking the bike to do.
Without doubt, the Austrians know how to build a fast small-bore engine. They had wicked schoolboy 2-strokes back in the day, and still do for that matter, and the 250F mill powering the SX-F is no different. We mean that quite literally since the KTM makes power higher in the revs compared to its competitors. The power curve is consistent, but as it builds through the bottom and mid, once the Japanese bikes are begging for a shift, the KTM keeps stretching with an endless scream. Our testers thought the delivery was softer off idle and through the midrange, and keeping it up in the rpm is the most effective way to extract the most from this bike.
Our lady tester, Bash, an admitted engine lugger, struggled to mesh with the SX-F. But, in those times when she struck the right cord, the WMA pro was more than impressed. “The KTM has an awesome hit in the middle and revs forever,” she claims. “I actually found myself shifting a little early, but figured out that if I let it go a little farther in each gear, the KTM really comes alive. It could be one of the fastest 250Fs I have ever ridden, race bikes included!”
Clip Position: 4
Fuel Screw: 1.5 turns
KTM is the only machine in our test with a six-speed transmission. The extra gear provided ratios that allow the rider to be very selective with the power delivery. Lighter riders were less affected by the moderate low-end, but all riders can extract more from the DOHC with the extra legs in the gearbox. What it boils down to is the SX-F powerplant is fairly demanding. Skilled racers will get the most from the rev-happy engine.
Unlike the 450 SX-F, which completely blew us away this year with its WP fork and shock, the smaller motocross bike was unanimously ranked last by our six testers. Some liked the 48mm fork but couldn’t come to terms with the shock, and multiple riders claimed to have a hard time getting the bike to stick in ruts, particularly on rough tracks with a lot of chatter entering corners.
“Both ends were too stiff for me and I never really got comfortable on the KTM,” says the 145-pound Bash. “I was getting a little bit of headshake, but I was able to make it better by tightening the steering stem. Once I got rid of the headshake it was better, but still not quite as good as the three Japanese brands.”
Our men also preferred the linkage setups of the Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha. Armstrong is only 10 pounds heavier than our WMA rider, but he carries more speed. He agrees the WP setup is too stiff, particularly when initiating braking bumps, but the components also blow through the stroke on large impacts. A more progressive feel is on his wish list. We might be having a whole new experience since the new 350 SX-F is promised to have linkage. It will be surprising if that technology doesn’t transfer over to the rest of the motocross lineup, but the question is when? For now, KTM’s smallest 4-stroke MX bike will require a lot of setup time to get right. Fortunately, things like a single shock preload nut and tool-less fork compression clickers make tinkering with the suspension easiest on the orange bike.
Spring: 0.46 kg/mm
H. Comp: 1.5
L. Comp: 15
Spring: 6.9 kg/mm
Race Sag: 105-110mm
Suspension and handling are inexorably linked, often the most difficult to separate on a scorecard. Unfortunately, this was the case for our KTM, which also drew poor marks in this category. The biggest complaint was that it just moved around too much. Some testers used terms like “nervous” and “jittery.” We sampled multiple tracks, and on those that were prepped, the KTM was astounding. Once it
starts to get rough, the stiff fork and sensitive chassis transmit a lot of that abuse to the rider.
The Katoom definitely feels big. At 6-feet-tall, Waheed felt the most comfortable on the European bike, but Armstrong (5’ 7”) and Sciacqua (5’ 8”) both were more at home on the compact aluminum chassis found on the Japanese machines. “Rider position was ok,” says novice motocrosser, Frankie Garcia, “but it really seemed like I couldn’t get up over the front end enough. I felt as if I were sitting really far back.”
The KTM holds 2.1 gallons of fuel, the same amount as the Kawasaki and the most in our shootout. Does it matter? Yeah, the KTM tipped our scales third-heaviest at 228 pounds filled up, but only 215 with the tank empty, meaning it’s actually the lightest bike in the group. It holds 40% more fuel than the CRF250R, which might mean something if you race GPs, endurance motos, team races, or, dare we say it, the occasional trail ride.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the 250 SX-F is the kickstart. Where’s the e-start, isn’t this the 450 SX-F’s little brother? Fortunately, a couple swift kicks are enough to ignite any of the bikes. KTM has developed a good reputation for durability. Surely part of the reason is the tool-less airbox promotes more frequent filter changes. Testers who spend a lot of time in the shop picked up on the inset Torx bolts, which make maintenance easier. Unlike some other KTM motorcycles, which are considered pricey compared to their competitors, the 250 SX-F is just a couple hundred more than the Kawasaki and Yamaha, and the same as Honda’s new high-tech CRF.
The KTM tallies the best objective test scores, dinged most heavily for its pricetag and holeshot time courtesy of slow-building power. However, it makes up for a lot with light weight and low sound output. As for its reception by our testers, outstanding Brembo brakes were high on the list, sometimes even too powerful, and all of KTM’s little Ready to Race details were appreciated. Unfortunately it still feels a little weird to some and the suspension and handling just weren’t as impressive as the Japanese competition. The KTM isn’t a radically different motorcycle; it’s just not a clone like the other three are.