2012 KTM 500 XC-W First Ride

MotorcycleUSA Staff | July 6, 2011

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We drop the curtain on one of the most hyped models for the upcoming year in the 2012 KTM 500 XC-W First Ride Video.

KTM chose the Wyoming round of the AMA National Enduro Series to debut the new models. The location and timing worked out just right. I was fortunate enough to get the call to duty for this one. I have always loved National Enduros and while I miss the old format, this event would prove to be plenty challenging for everyone.
Prior to the event, I mentioned to KTM’s Tom Moen that I would like to ride the 500 for the race. As the one bike with the “new” model designation, it is the one that everyone seems to be most excited about. Of course around southern California, the big-bore KTM’s are always a favorite choice for the weekend desert dwellers. As there was only one 500 in the demo fleet, I felt lucky to get first dibs on it. As it turned out, no one else really thought it sensible to choose the biggest bike for National Enduro conditions. Nevertheless, I wanted to try it in the worst of conditions, the place where it would feel the most out of its element, before getting a chance to hit the desert back home with it.

Despite its big bore status the 2012 KTM 500 XC-W felt nimble while flicking from side to side  but its weight came into play during heavy braking.
The 2012 500 XC-W felt nimble while flicking from side to side, but its weight came into play during heavy braking.

KTM had scheduled a whole day for us to ride and do photos. However, the airline had other ideas and decided that they should hold on to all the journalists’ bags for an extra day or two. Ultimately, that led to a situation where eight of us were sharing gear and had just a few hours with the one photographer to get our best pics done.

It all worked out, but as we were lucky just to get a few photos in, any real work on race setup was out the window. I did a quick stab at the sag, checked the bars and headed to the starting line.

My first impression was how small it feels. All full size KTMs now share the same basic frame and body dimensions. Therefore, the 200 and 500 have the same cockpit size. The Neken bar has lots of sweep, similar to the newer Rental 672 of the 2011models. So even with the bar mounts moved forward, I was not able to get a very comfortable standing position. In the same manner, that smallish feeling carries over to how quickly the bike will flick side to side. That is to say, very quickly! This impression of the 500 makes it seem very light. So now we are back to that debate over a bike being light and feeling light.

The reality is that for everything talked about in the new specs for the 500, it is only one pound lighter than the old 530 XC-W. So for as much as the bike feels light when making transitions, there is no getting around that mass every time you get on the brakes; weight is weight.

2012 KTM 500 XC-W
Throttle response on the 500 is crisp and predictable, with bottom-end power coming on smoothly.
KTM 500 XC-W

As it turned out, the Wyoming National Enduro was much tighter and technical than I imagined. Every test was cut just wide enough to get the bars through. It was a constant barrage of trees and limbs. Few riders survived with jerseys intact, most were torn to shreds and there were a significant number of raspberry arms to match.

I started my day by trying to override the 500, but neither of us were happy with that. Once I backed off just a little and carried a taller gear, the bike was easy to handle. It has a minimal amount of compression braking. The throttle response is crisp and predictable. Over the course of the day the lighter clutch pull became a very welcome change.
The motor is a unique mix of characteristics. It is fast, but does not always feel so. I did some impromptu third gear roll-ons alongside a Husaberg FX450 and the 500 easily outpaced the Berg. Power delivery off the bottom is smooth. It still has plenty of flywheel effect, so the response can feel sluggish at times, but as the day wore on, I got my timing down better and could keep everything flowing smoothly.

This is a big-bore bike, and as such it still requires some respect. The ground conditions were constantly changing from hard-pack to silt with plenty of patches of mud in between. On more than one occasion, I found myself completely sideways as I hit a slick spot and the wheel spun up before I could react.

Conversely, this motor does not like to rev. It feels as if it shuts off unusually early. Now keep in mind that the stock exhaust is whisper quiet and the fuel mapping is probably aimed more at emission standards than ultimate performance. It will win a roll-on contest, but doesn’t want to rev or act fast. In other words, it acts just like a big-bore bike should, no need to rev the daylights out of the motor, just keep it in the sweet spot and hold on.
So back to our race story. Overall, the bike did very well for the conditions. The power delivery worked well for most of the course. Turning and aiming the bike through the tighter sections was nearly effortless. The motor is easy to ride, but still demands good throttle control. I only stalled the bike

KTM 500 XC-W
While the bike’s power and handling worked well throughout the race, its suspension isn’t well-suited to open sections for a rider of our size.

twice, once due to a lazy clutch hand and the other was more like a flame-out. Each time the button brought it right back to life.

The suspension was too soft for the more open sections, but did well in the tighter areas. The bike has the heavy sensation of keeping the wheels glued to the ground; it goes through things rather than over them, again very typical for an open-class ride. I missed the shock setup by adding too much preload to compensate for the soft spring. The effect was a setup that was still too soft, but that would also kick on the rebound.

As the day wore on and I got tired, I was beginning to miss the ultra forgiving ride of the sibling 350 XC-F. On the 500, every turn takes just a little more braking effort and each acceleration requires just a tad more concentration and throttle control. But on the other hand, I can’t wait for the opportunity to turn the big five-hunnie loose in the desert. The flip side may just prove that any of those potential negatives will become positives in the open terrain. A strong, stable bike can chew up desert valleys with ease. I had better get some stiffer springs on order so I can be ready to roll once I get my hands back on the big bike.

MotorcycleUSA Staff