2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison

JC Hilderbrand | March 19, 2012

KTM introduced the 350 XCF-W ($9149) as a new model for 2012 with the goal of becoming the premier four-stroke trail machine. This bike was designed to take on the 450 class and make use of its lighter weight and smooth power delivery to run circles around bigger bikes at various off-road events. In the orange enduro lineup, the XCF-W falls between the racy XC-F and street-legal EXC-F.

2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison
KTM intends for the 2012 350 XCF-W to be a trail bike, with cross-
country racing reserved for the XC-F model.

One of the defining features on the XCF-W that makes it a single-track race bike its PDS shock. KTM has adopted the linkage design for its motocross and cross-country race models, but still uses the linkage-less system on this version. That’s just fine by us since the PDS is set up extremely well, and it offers a major advantage in ground clearance and easy maintenance. The WP shock is 7mm longer and features a new preload adjuster. Performance on the trails is amazing with the ability to resist harsh bottoming while remaining supple on small bumps.

The front end is held up by an updated 48mm WP fork. Similar to the Beta, KTM opted for SKF seals for improved durability. KTM reduced the longitudinal stiffness with an all-new chromoly chassis, and gave it a cast aluminum swingarm to optimize flex characteristics.

The 350 is extremely nimble and active on the trail. Hopping off the rock-solid Beta makes it feel almost nervous, but once acclimated to the Austrian it becomes clear that the WP setup and new frame have made this bike a supremely good handler. At only 256 pounds with a full 2.5 gallons of fuel, the 350 is lighter than the 2012 Yamaha WR250F. The orange machine handles like a small-bore rather than an open-class motorcycle by carving through sandy corners, flying across ruts and picking its way around tree stumps. With a 48% weight bias on the front end, the KTM is more nimble than the 350 RR. It’s not as stable at low speeds, but the superior suspension allows for a more controlled high-speed ride.

“My favorite part on about the KTM,” says Boney about the WP components. “It’s the best suspension for off-road, extremely plush and enjoyable. Soaks up any bump you put in front of it and can handle the big hits too. Plus it has excellent ground clearance. The KTM feels light and ready to carve up anything, tight and slow, or wide and fast.”

It’s easy to see why our test riders were so happy with the new enduro bike in this 2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison video.

All three of our test riders are more than willing to line up for competition on the XCF-W. The KTM offers a well-balanced ride capable of recreational trail pace or dropping the hammer.

The transmission has a very low first gear for technical riding, but a six-speed gearbox gives plenty of room to run high speeds. The 13/52 sprocket combo allows the KTM to churn its way up the steepest hills in second gear, and it has enough over-rev to keep pulling to the next corner. The hydraulic clutch is a notch above the Beta’s design with a new single diaphragm spring unit and billet steel clutch basket. It’s buttery smooth and perfectly consistent.

Braking is another area the KTM shines. Brembo binders are the industry standard and the lightweight XCF-W has the best in the business. Wave-style rotors measure 260mm in the front and 220mm out back. Like we report with virtually every orange bike, the front binder is particularly strong, almost on the verge of being overly sensitive. Modulation requires only one finger and the feedback is instantaneous. Both ends grab plenty of traction with a Dunlop MX51 Geomax intermediate rear tire and Dunlop MX51 Geomax intermediate front tire.

“It’s hard to beat the brakes on a KTM,” says Pekarek. “The KTM has excellent braking power and great feel. The wave rotors add a touch of cool factor.”

With fewer pounds to slow down, the KTM easily out-brakes the Beta, and it outpaces the 350 RR once the rider transitions onto the throttle. The engine is a fuel injected dual overhead cam design that has a new, lighter piston and camshafts tuned for extra torque. The cylinder is longer and uses a lower compression ratio than its motocross siblings. Engineers gave it a new counterbalance shaft as well and the XCF-W runs flawlessly. The EFI system allows riders to bog the engine to insanely low rpm and then pick up the throttle

2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison
2012 KTM 350 XCF-W Comparison
The XCF-W is the easy choice for our testers. It provides ultimate confidence whether trail riding, hillclimbing, racing or tractoring across an EnduroCross course. This is one of the finest off-road bikes we’ve had the pleasure of riding.

without any stuttering. The power curve pulls in a liner fashion all the way to redline and the 350 mill spins up quickly. It readily applies usable torque and jumps into the robust midrange. Riders can short-shift it and keep it down low or leave it pinned and enjoy the spirited top-end that acts like a 250F.

“From idle all the way to the rev limiter it was a no contest,” notes Pekarek. “The KTM is faster. It’s my favorite engine I’ve ever ridden in the woods. Smooth power delivery, easy and enjoyable to ride. Impressive bottom end followed by great over-rev is icing on the cake. You can bog engine down to the verge of dying, roll the throttle on and it pulls hard all the way to the rev limiter.”

“The KTM has the stronger motor,” agrees Chamberlain. “Both deliver smooth usable power, but the KTM just has a little more and the gear ratios were also better.”

The fuel injection works perfectly with the electric start to get the motorcycle up and running quickly. KTM provides a kickstart lever for a backup. The bike also features high-end components from top to bottom as we’ve come to expect from the Austrian manufacturer. Excel AL7 Rims, handguards, updated bodywork, translucent fuel tank, no-tools airbox access… The list goes on.

Ergonomics on the XCF-W are decent. The handlebars have a goofy bend that keeps them low and in the rider’s lap. None of our testers liked them and had a hard time getting immediately comfortable on the KTM. The translucent fuel tank is large and easy to keep track of fuel consumption, but it was uncomfortable between the rider’s knees for some of our testers. The seat is tall and harder than the Beta, but not as bad as older KTM benches. It is very slippery though.

“Do your stretching before you try and throw your leg over the KTM,” Pekarek warns. “The KTM is tall and hard to touch the ground. The stock handlebar bend reminds me of an old vintage bike.”

Our resident pro off-roader put all of our thoughts into words by saying: “The KTM is hands down a better motorcycle. It performs better in every category; no need to change costly exhaust or have suspension work done to enjoy your bike. The KTM is a well-rounded package. The Beta is a nice bike, but feels behind in performance and needs to go on a diet.”

By itself the KTM impressed our testers, and when ridden on the same tracks as the Beta it clearly stands above as the premier off-road 350 machine. It makes more power, runs cleaner and handles a wider variety of terrain. Our testers were unanimous in this comparison with the 350 XCF-W cementing itself as one of our absolute favorite off-road motorcycles.


JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

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