TransWorld Motocross Race Test: 2004 KTM 525SX

Rollin’

Car Talk With Team Honda’s Ernesto Fonseca

By Donn Maeda

A few weeks ago, Team Honda rider Ernesto Fonseca rolled up to the TransWorld Motocross photo studio in his brand-new ride; a 2004 Range Rover, complete with huge 23″ aftermarket wheels and tires. His ride, combined with his fancy new Hollywood haircut, inspired us to conduct an impromptu DUB Magazine-style photo shoot and interview with the two-time 125cc Supercross Champion. Here’s what we came up with…

Dope-ass ride, Ernie! When did you get it?

(Laughs) Thanks. Believe it or not, it was actually my signing bonus from the guys at Answer Racing.

No way. A signing bonus? Who came up with that?

Well, my manager Jimmy Button knew that I really wanted a Range Rover, so he worked it into my contract with Big E.

Wow. Button is officially like the world’s greatest agent, then, isn’t he? When Big E worked for us, getting him to give up a Chicken McNugget was a major undertaking…

Yeah, I mean, Button just told me, “Hey, I got you that Range Rover that you’ve been wanting.” I was totally stoked. I love this car.

Well, we all know that agents get a cut of what they pull down for their riders. Does that mean that Button gets to drive it on weekends?

(Laughs) Heck no!

So why a Range Rover, of all things?

Well, I used to have a Mercedes, but I never drove it, so I sold it. After one year, I only had about 4000 miles on it. I’ve already gone the sedan route, so I figured something bigger like the Range Rover would be different and cool. It’s just nice to have something other than a truck to drive when I am not riding or going to the gym.

Are you sure there’s no ulterior motive for choosing a SUV? Is The Fonz gonna be a big papa soon?

Nah, man. Don’t say stuff like that!

So one of the questions the car magazines always ask is, “What’s more important; sounds or rims?”

Well, I did go out and buy some 23″ Antera wheels for it, but the stereo is stock. Every time I have ever taken one of my vehicles somewhere to get a system put in, they jacked something up. You know, like the “door ajar” light will come on for no reason. The stock system is nice, though.

And what would be in that stock system right now? You know, for when you roll through your ‘hood with the windows down, bumpin’…

I’ve got a Chingy CD in there right now. It’s almost always rap stuff like Snoop Dogg, but those days are over. I don’t do that stuff anymore.

C’mon, Ernie, we heard those stories about the Tuscany Hills pimp cruiser…

(Laughs) No, seriously, I don’t do that any more. Those days are long gone!

Okay, on a more motocross-related note, what went through your mind when you learned that Ricky was hurt, and realized that you were the sole 250cc-class factory Honda rider?

You know, it was pretty gnarly and I couldn’t believe it at first. But there was never any added pressure or anything like that… I mean, yeah, I am the only factory 250cc rider, but we have Kevin Windham and Mike LaRocco out there, too. I want to do good because I want to do good, not because I think there is added pressure.

You’ve looked great in Supercross at the first couple of races, but have had bad luck in the main events…

Yeah, I got my first-ever 250cc Supercross heat race win at Phoenix and I am pumped about that! In the main event at Anaheim I was leading and I got too carried away on the first lap and I crashed in the whoops. At Phoenix, I bent my shift lever and my bike was stuck in first gear. But I am feeling stronger and faster in Supercross. I am sure it will all come together for me.

What are your plans for the outdoor Nationals? Will you be on the four-stroke CRF250R in the 125cc class?You know, I don’t know. It kind of depends on what Ricky does. If he does ride the CRF450R in the 250cc class, Honda may want me to race a two-stroke CR250R. I am excited to race either class, though. I know the CR250R is awesome, and the CRF250R was super good when I raced it in Japan.

Right on… Hey one last thing. We’ve gotta ask you what’s up with that new hairdo of yours!

(Laughs) What do you mean, dude? I just haven’t gotten around to getting it cut, that’s all.

No way. Big E told us that you drive into Orange County and pay $70 bucks for that do’.

No, man! I just haven’t gotten it cut! I swear.

You had a ponytail when we first met you back in ’97. Are you going for that look again?

Nah. No way. And I’m not getting it cut into a mullet, so don’t even ask!

Vet’s Delight

The Biggest and Baddest Gets Better

By Rich Taylor

KTM was dealt a bad hand a few years back when the AMA changed the four-stroke rule which disallowed any four-stroke bike over 450cc to compete in the 250cc class. One of KTM’s best-selling motorcycles at that time was the popular 520SX, and KTM was forced to focus on making the existing 400SX into a bigger, more competitive 450. But what about the 520SX? One might assume that KTM would let the bike vanish from the model lineup, but KTM decided instead to keep the well-liked bike around. In fact, of all the bikes in the motocross lineup, the 525SX is one of the most-changed for 2004.

If it’s not legal to race in the 250cc class, where does the KTM 525SX call home? In case you hadn’t already guessed: in the Vet classes, of course! The unbelievable torque and overall power of the monster machine has vet racers across the country pulling holeshot after holeshot aboard the giant pumpkin. But did you know that the KTM 525SX currently holds the open class World Championship? Joel Smets smoked the competition this year aboard a 525, winning almost every round of the World Championships and bringing home the title, proving that the 525 isn’t just for the old guy classes.

WHAT’S NEW?

KTM didn’t make a lot of changes for 2004, but the changes they did make were dramatic ones. The biggest changes grace the chassis and suspension. KTM’s main goal was to improve the rigidity in the mid-section of the chassis. The swingarm was beefed up and the diameter of the swingarm pivot was increased as well. Flex points throughout the frame have been tweaked and motor mounts have been bulked up, all in an effort to make the bike more stable at speed and more predictable in the turns. The swingarm was also lengthened slightly, which puts more leverage on the linkless shock, thus improving the rear-wheel traction under acceleration.

The forks received new bushings for less stiction, and the spring and internal valve settings have also been revised. The PDS shock has an updated valve stack, as well as a non-progressive spring. To compensate for the straight-rate spring, WP lengthened the PDS needle, which makes the shock softer in the beginning of the stroke and stiffer towards the end.

The motor received a new crankshaft with more oscillating mass to broaden out the massive power delivery, and a new digital control black box allows the 525 to redline at 9800 rpm. Performance was also upgraded with the addition of a single-tube exhaust header, similar to the 450 unit, and a reshaped main silencer with an ovalized inner chamber. The hydraulic clutch was also improved for a lighter, more positive feel.

Detail to overall appearance and performance was also upgraded with the addition of the one-piece rear fender and side panel combination, and a new seat base allows more air into the bigger air box. Orange and gray Renthal dual compound grips are now standard on higher #608 Renthal bars.

ON THE TRACK

We initially made the huge mistake of testing this bike at the Lake Elsinore Motocross Park. If you have ever been to Elsinore, you know that it could easily be considered a Supercross track, rather than a motocross track. It is flat with whoop after whoop and jump after big jump. There aren’t many acceleration bumps and not many braking bumps. The mighty KTM held its own on the parts of the track with no stadium-style whoops or jumps, but we quickly realized that this wasn’t the place for the 525SX. KTM meant for this to be a motocross bike, not a Supercross machine, so we immediately headed for Cahuilla Creek MX Park; a real motocross track with only a couple of manmade jumps. This is the place this bike was built for!

We were all surprised when the mighty “Katoom” fired up on the first kick. KTM didn’t get the nickname “Kick ‘Til Monday” for nothing, but in the past couple of months that we’ve been testing this bike it has started with little or no effort even when hot, every time. Once on the track, it was noticeable that the massive power of the 525 had been tamed down from last year and wasn’t as violent. The heavier crank allowed the motor to pull hard without ripping our arms out of their sockets, and the power character is very strong, yet very mellow and broad. The 525 will pull nearly to the moon in each gear, allowing the rider to be lazy. The huge amount of low-end torque will also allow you to lug it around the track short shifting, keeping the power on the ground. We found that putting this thing in third gear and leaving it there was ideal for most tracks. The big KTM has the power to pull out of the deepest of turns and it will rev as far as you want it to. This bike has no problems pulling third gear starts as well, either!

The new bar position was spot-on for our entire staff, but the bend of the Renthal Fatbar is horrible. After swapping it out for a taller, less sweeping bend, we immediately felt at home with the ergos on the KTM and our lap times proved it. The 525 is narrow and feels surprisingly light on the track.

KTM was most concerned with the suspension and handling on the mighty 525. The improved settings were most noticeable on the gnarly rough sections of Cahuilla Creek. In sections of the track where the ’03 KTM felt “wallowy” and “wingy,” the ’04 bike has a very solid and positive feel. You can rip in and out of corners without having to wonder what the bike will do, even in the gnarliest of acceleration bumps, which go nearly unnoticed. The 525 puts the power to the ground with a very plush and stable feeling.

The suspension is set up on the soft side, both front and rear, and that was most noticeable at Elsinore when the bike bottomed violently on the face of even the smallest of bumps. At Cahuilla Creek, however, the suspension was more in the ballpark, although the settings did need to be stiffened for our staff. Stiffer spring rates are highly recommended for heavier and more aggressive riders, no matter what type of track you ride.

The funny thing about our relationship with the big 525SX is that we started out at Lake Elsinore deathly afraid of the “big dog,” but we all ended up loving it once we got it to where it was most comfortable. The 525 is a bike that works awesome on real motocross tracks but doesn’t like the fake ones.

Unfortunately, the 525SX is illegal in the 250cc class, which means that pros won’t be able to race it except in the occasionally available Open Pro class race at their local track. But for the vet racer, this is the bike. It handles decently, it’s easy to control and there is nothing more fun than passing your buddy on the uphill at your local track or out in the dez. We all know that getting the holeshot is half the race, and with a little bit of set-up this bike will have you in the lead all the way to the checkers. Just ask Mr.istake of testing this bike at the Lake Elsinore Motocross Park. If you have ever been to Elsinore, you know that it could easily be considered a Supercross track, rather than a motocross track. It is flat with whoop after whoop and jump after big jump. There aren’t many acceleration bumps and not many braking bumps. The mighty KTM held its own on the parts of the track with no stadium-style whoops or jumps, but we quickly realized that this wasn’t the place for the 525SX. KTM meant for this to be a motocross bike, not a Supercross machine, so we immediately headed for Cahuilla Creek MX Park; a real motocross track with only a couple of manmade jumps. This is the place this bike was built for!

We were all surprised when the mighty “Katoom” fired up on the first kick. KTM didn’t get the nickname “Kick ‘Til Monday” for nothing, but in the past couple of months that we’ve been testing this bike it has started with little or no effort even when hot, every time. Once on the track, it was noticeable that the massive power of the 525 had been tamed down from last year and wasn’t as violent. The heavier crank allowed the motor to pull hard without ripping our arms out of their sockets, and the power character is very strong, yet very mellow and broad. The 525 will pull nearly to the moon in each gear, allowing the rider to be lazy. The huge amount of low-end torque will also allow you to lug it around the track short shifting, keeping the power on the ground. We found that putting this thing in third gear and leaving it there was ideal for most tracks. The big KTM has the power to pull out of the deepest of turns and it will rev as far as you want it to. This bike has no problems pulling third gear starts as well, either!

The new bar position was spot-on for our entire staff, but the bend of the Renthal Fatbar is horrible. After swapping it out for a taller, less sweeping bend, we immediately felt at home with the ergos on the KTM and our lap times proved it. The 525 is narrow and feels surprisingly light on the track.

KTM was most concerned with the suspension and handling on the mighty 525. The improved settings were most noticeable on the gnarly rough sections of Cahuilla Creek. In sections of the track where the ’03 KTM felt “wallowy” and “wingy,” the ’04 bike has a very solid and positive feel. You can rip in and out of corners without having to wonder what the bike will do, even in the gnarliest of acceleration bumps, which go nearly unnoticed. The 525 puts the power to the ground with a very plush and stable feeling.

The suspension is set up on the soft side, both front and rear, and that was most noticeable at Elsinore when the bike bottomed violently on the face of even the smallest of bumps. At Cahuilla Creek, however, the suspension was more in the ballpark, although the settings did need to be stiffened for our staff. Stiffer spring rates are highly recommended for heavier and more aggressive riders, no matter what type of track you ride.

The funny thing about our relationship with the big 525SX is that we started out at Lake Elsinore deathly afraid of the “big dog,” but we all ended up loving it once we got it to where it was most comfortable. The 525 is a bike that works awesome on real motocross tracks but doesn’t like the fake ones.

Unfortunately, the 525SX is illegal in the 250cc class, which means that pros won’t be able to race it except in the occasionally available Open Pro class race at their local track. But for the vet racer, this is the bike. It handles decently, it’s easy to control and there is nothing more fun than passing your buddy on the uphill at your local track or out in the dez. We all know that getting the holeshot is half the race, and with a little bit of set-up this bike will have you in the lead all the way to the checkers. Just ask Mr. Smets!

Mr. Smets!