KTM gave the 250 SX-F electric start, new EMS mapping and suspension revisions for 2012. Watch the 2012 KTM SX-F Comparison Video to see how the changes worked.
KTM does things a little differently than the rest of the manufacturers in this test. That can be a boon or curse in a shootout, especially in one that is as competitive as our 250cc contest. The Austrian company is ever so slowly conforming to the tried and true dirt bike designs such as a linkage equipped rear end, but it still continues to outfit the 250 SX-F with top shelf components. All this adds up to a bike that stands out for its uniqueness but still feels familiar on the track. The end result is an ever more ambitious racer as the SX-F continues to evolve year after year.
The updates for 2012 were few on the 250 SX-F, as last year the smallest KTM 4-Stroker received major changes in the addition of fuel injection and the abandonment of the PDS rear end in exchange for suspension linkage. For this year the orange Lites-racer gets electric start just like the 450 and 350 SX-F models. Our testers were mixed on the addition of the magic button. While some of us loved not having to kick (especially those with short inseams), others thought it was unnecessary and added extra weight. Throwing the bike on our digital scales did show that the KTM weighed in at a portly 244 pounds with a full tank. That’s seven pounds more than the next heaviest Kawasaki KX250F and 14 more than the lightest YZ250F.
The KTM was super-stable in fast sections, but was one of the worst performers in the tight rutted corners.
That added weight would rear its ugly head on the track with a heavy feel in comparison to the Japanese bikes. The effort required to get the bike down into a corner and stay there was the highest out of the five machines in this test. This tendency demanded constant concentration to keep the KTM from climbing out of rutted corners or going wide on flat and off-camber turns.
“It’s really stable; it tracked straight and got into ruts nicely,” says our pro-level tester Chris See. “But it felt heavier once you got the bike leaned over. It just wasn’t light and flickable.”
The most effective and least tiring cornering technique was to jam the SX-F to the outside and rail the line, taking advantage of its high-speed stability. The most common word uttered by our testers when describing the KTM’s handling was “stable.”
Coming to terms with the 250 SX-F’s stretched out riding compartment took some getting used to as well. The long, flat seat was excellent to move around on and the footpeg height was spot on, but the bike felt like it rode nose high, even with the proper sag setting.
“It has a big open feel and seemed to fit taller riders,” says Focus Apparel founder and super ripper, Matt Armstrong. “The wheelbase felt stretched which made the bike want to stand up the front end when coming into corners.”
Making the KTM’s resistance to holding an inside line even more disappointing was the fact the brakes were hands down the best of the test. The 260mm front rotor and Brembo 4-piston calipers had insane stopping power with an almost telepathic feel. This allowed you to brake harder and later coming into corners, but once in the turn it was more difficult to finish it off.
The 2012 KTM 250 SX-F offers features not found in the other 250cc motocross bikes such as a Brembo hydraulic clutch.
Another area the KTM was near the top of our list was in the drivetrain. Once again KTM’s choice of top shelf components shined, with the Brembo hydraulic clutch. The lever pull was feather light and even after the most abusive clutch user had their way with the SX-F, not even a hint of fade was detected. Shifts were solid and precise, without even one false-neutral after a week of testing. A slightly short gear selection kept the Austrian machine out of the top spot in the transmission/clutch/gearing category.
“As usual the KTM has the best clutch being that it is hydraulic. It has great feel and never has to be adjusted,” says Nick Thiel. “The transmission is good. I didn’t have any issues, but I think first gear was geared too short.”
In the engine department the 250 SX-F struggled a bit against its rivals. Power from the KTM was muted despite new EMS mapping that was supposed to increase performance on hot days. Although the bottom-end and mid-range were stout, the orange racer revved slower than the rest of the machines and it felt like it signed off earlier.
A lower power output hurt the KTM in the obvective scores, however the KTM is still an effective race mount in the right hands.
“The KTM had a strong bottom end and mid range, but revved slower than I would have liked,” says Thiel. “Uncharacteristically of KTM, it felt like one of the slowest bikes.”
Putting the 250 SX-F on the dyno confirmed our assessment of the power output from the Katoom. With 32.19 horsepower and 17.77 foot pounds of torque, the power deficit from the highest ranking Suzuki was almost three horses. That’s nearly 10% less juice on tap.
Oddly, the SX-F was the king of the holeshot test with a 4.02-second blast through the 120-foot mark at 38.9mph on Glen Helen Raceway’s crusty surface. It was also second quickest in the third-gear roll on test going from 15 to 40 mph in 3.01 seconds at a distance of 122.4 feet. Less explosive power means more traction, maybe the gurus at KTM are onto something? Turns out, not really, as the KTM turned the slowest Super Lap at 1:43.425.
At $7699 the 2012 KTM 250 SX-F is the most expensive entry in the Lites class. However, for that additional scratch you get electric start, Brembo brakes, and a hydraulic clutch. If KTM could put the SX-F on a diet and coax a few more ponies out of it, the Austrian powerhouse would have a winner on its hands, but as it stands now the 250 SX-F comes in fifth place in our 2012 250 Motocross Shootout.