The 2012 KTM 350 SX-F ($8499) fills a long-time void in the motocross industry by offering a motorcycle that combines traits of both the 250 and 450 genres. It’s a niche machine that has the ability to win over riders with its unique formula.
As its name implies, the KTM enters this test with a 100cc engine capacity disadvantage. That equates to less immediate bottom-end and mid-range thrust on the dirt and dyno. Measured peak horsepower numbers are 37.19 horsepower coming at a lofty 9600 revs. That’s nearly nine horsepower down on the class-leading Kawasaki but just over four ponies fewer than its big brother, the 450 SX-F. In terms of torque the engine cranks out 22.4 lb-ft of twisting force at 8200 rpm, which is between four and seven lb-ft fewer than the 450s.
What the hard numbers don’t reveal is how snappy and free-revving the KTM’s engine is. Keep the throttle pinned and you’ll discover it has a voracious appetite for building revs quickly. And that is the key to riding the 350: rev the heck out of it.
“You really have to rev it harder compared to the other bikes,” notes See. “It’s a fun motorcycle to ride and I can see where some riders would benefit from its softer powerband because 450s are so fast these days. But for me, it felt underpowered.”
(Top) The KTM 350 SX-F’s ergonomics were well received and it’s an easy bike to ride. (Center) The KTM 350 SX-F fits a wide range of riders. It also offers the push-button convenience of electric start. (Below) With its mellower bottom-end power the 350 SX-F hooks up well off corners.
“The 350 was awesome to ride. I actually love riding 250Fs but since I weigh 190 pounds I have to run it pretty hard to get over some jumps,” explains Simon. “The 350 is good because you can ride it like a 250F but you still have that extra power that you always want.”
Since the 350’s engine generally spins at a higher rpm we weren’t surprised that it registered the highest exhaust decibel reading at 94.3. Even though it ranked the loudest it’s still by no means obnoxious sounding behind the handlebar.
In the holeshot acceleration test, the 350 launched off the gate across a distance of 175 feet in 5.1 seconds carrying a trap speed of 50.2 mph. That was slower than all but Husqvarna and 0.85 second behind the class-leading CRF. Since it doesn’t have quite as much torque, the KTM struggled in the third gear roll-on test as it took the longest to accelerate from 15 to 45 mph (2.95 seconds) and about a bike-and-a-half length behind the red machine.
Even though the 350 trailed the other bike in terms of power, its drivetrain, including the hydraulic clutch and five-speed gearbox were praised and ranked second only to the 450 SX-F. While the 350’s clutch does feel a bit grabby at times it is easy to modulate and offers above average level of feel. Final drive gearing and shifting action was also positive.
On the scales this hybrid KTM weighed in at 237 pounds without any fuel in its 1.98 gallon tank. This ranks it second-lightest in the group, yet it’s still five pounds heavier than the CRF450R. However at the controls it doesn’t feel heavier with it offering comparable levels of maneuverability due in part to the reduced reciprocating mass inside the engine cases.
The cockpit of the KTM is properly proportioned but feels different than the Japanese machines, making it not as universally loved. It’s plenty narrow and easy to maneuver back and forth at the controls. Most weren’t happy with the bend of the handlebar, but that’s a simple fix. One feature that we’re sold on is the electric start which makes getting the engine fired push-button simple.
The 350’s handling manners were well received across the board with it being rated only second to the radical steering RM-Z. Although it didn’t turn quite as sharply as the Suzuki, or even Honda for that matter, it’s certainly close, plus it is probably one of the most predicable handling and stable bikes in this test.
“The 350, believe it or not, feels a lot better than last year’s bike,” notes Taylor. “I really like the way it turns. Whether you’re going through tight corners or a rut or a long, flat sweeping turn it does it all well plus it’s plenty stable.”
(Top) Pro-level test rider Scott Simon proves how maneuverable the ’12 KTM 350 SX-F is at Zaca Station. (Center) The KTM 350 SX-F has plenty of motor to clear jumps that you’d normally do on a 450.(Below) The KTM 350 SX-F offers a great gearbox and clutch which helps the rider spool the engine up slightly off corners.
As Taylor mentioned, the 350 is a much more refined machine compared to last year. While the suspension still felt a little undersprung for faster and/or heavier riders, like Milan, the baseline settings were more in the ballpark for the majority of our testers, and front-to-rear chassis balance was one area of significant advancement. Overall action was also good, feeling comparable to the Yamaha but not quite up to the same level as the Honda’s suspenders.
“It corners like it is on rails,” chimes in Milan. “It feels like a little 250F and its super fun to ride. But when I’m sitting on the starting line against a whole line of vets on 450s, I don’t want to have to start on a 350. As much fun as it is to ride, as an effective race bike for a big dude like me, it’s going to make things tough.”
Lap times don’t lie and unfortunately the middleweight 350 posted fast laps that were toward the back of the field (See: 1’48.9, Simon: 1’46.7, which were sixth and seventh fastest, respectively).
As usual the 350 SX-F was deemed as the motorcycle that stopped the best. Even though it’s equipped with identical Brembo hardware as the 450 SX-F since it weighs less and doesn’t generate quite as much speed the brakes work just a hair better.
While the KTM received high marks in a few subjective categories it didn’t wow us in any of the performance-based categories, thereby hurting it when the points were tallied. Still the 350 is a fantastic bike and can be the perfect package for someone looking a fun and easy-to-ride bike. But in this comparison it finished in a tie for fifth place.
- Corners like a 250F
- Strong top-end power
- Great suspension
- Needs more bottom-end power
- Could be lighter
- Awkward handlebar bend