The hottest dirt bike debate used to be two-stroke versus four-stroke. Those warring tribes are still at it, but with Thumpers taking over as the prevalent engine design, riders switched to arguing over which is better, 250 or 450. Rider size, skill, terrain, racing application and more all factor into this battle, but now there’s a single solution – the 350.
Years ago, the 350cc realm was used for off-road and dual sport models fairly regularly, but since the introduction of the modern four-stroke, the 250 and 450 classes have been where OEMs focus their engineering and marketing might. Dirt bike riders of all genres have been waiting for the mid-size displacement. Manufacturers have offered motorcycle
models of various displacements for years such as a 310, 390 and 400. A smaller portion of off-roaders clung to these bikes with cult-like following, but they haven’t served as a fix-all solution embraced by the large demographic of riders. KTM and Beta are two companies that have recognized the call for mid-size bikes in these modern times and have risen to the challenge.
KTM is known for its ability to produce a wide spectrum of models, thus pleasing a lot of customers and building legions of orange racers that take to the tracks and trails every week. It extended its line with the 350 SX-F motocross bike in 2010. Since then the Austrians have played on its increasing popularity and spread it into off-road racing, recreational trail use and even dual sport. The 2012 350 XCF-W is the trail bike and was released as a new model this year. KTM has undergone several big changes recently throughout its product line with a mix-up in its WP suspension arrangement and the addition of fuel injection. The XCF-W retains the PDS shock technology and gets the electronic fueling, both of which help define it against the new challenger from Beta.
KTM is expanding its established 350 into different off-road markets, and Beta has just released its first model, the 2012 350 RR.
Despite being part of the Big Five, KTM is relatively small compared to its Japanese counterparts. This is one reason why it can change and adapt its product selection to suit market demands. But if KTM is flexible, Italian manufacturer Beta is a motorcycle Gumby. Beta only offers five different sizes of dirt bikes (not including trials bikes) in either enduro or dual sport trim. The bikes are all built using the same basic platform, but the 350 RR is the newest addition to the lineup and Beta used it as an opportunity to make some design changes. New chassis technology and front suspension highlight the smallest RR. Historically, Beta and KTM have been linked, with the Italian brand sourcing Austrian engines for a period of time. Those days are gone with Beta’s proprietary dual overhead cam engine, but it did learn a few things from its European competitor. Many of the components on the two machines are very similar, giving this duo a high-quality finish.
We sent two riders to test out the Beta in our 2012 Beta 350 RR First Ride and had EnduroCross and extreme enduro ace Kyle Redmond give us his thoughts in the 2012 KTM 350 XCF-W First Ride with a ride at his private testing grounds. With stellar reviews from both it was time for a comparison. In order to shake down these similar-but-different dirt bikes side-by-side, MotoUSA enlisted its Off-Road Editor (author), regular Vet test rider, Brian Chamberlain, and local professional racer, Randy Pekarek. The bikes were tested in Southern California and Southern Oregon during the winter riding months, and we ran them across our digital scales and in-house dyno while we were at it. The dyno was calibrated incorrectly (it has since been corrected) so our peak numbers were low, but they still serve to compare each bike to the other, and demonstrate the horsepower and torque curves. The selection of mid-displacement bikes is growing slowly, and it remains to be seen if other OEMs will join the fray, but for now let’s check out this European duo that makes up the 350 enduro class.