There’s a lot more to testing new motocross bikes than spinning laps at the initial press introduction, and we log countless hours on each test bike throughout the model year to gain a deeper understanding about how they perform. How durable is it? What breaks? What gets better in time? What modifications and/or aftermarket parts have we tried? Those questions and more are directed our way, each and every time we show up at the track.
In contrast to the initial ride day impression videos we create after our first ride on a new machine, this new series – Ten Hours Later – will document the extended time we spend on the machines in our fleet of 2016 test bikes. Though we’ll log far more than 10 hours on each bike, that seems like an adequate amount of time to really figure out each machine.
First up in this video series is the 2016 KTM 350 SX-F. Because of its odd-sized engine, the bike is not included in either our 250 or 450 Shootouts, so we didn’t have to keep it bone stock for comparison’s sake, and were able to start playing with its set up.
The stock Nekken handlebars do a great job of dampening vibration, but many riders on our staff of testers feel that the bend is a bit too tall, with too much rearward sweep. We’ve been huge fans of the Pro Taper Fuzion handlebar since it was introduced last year, as it features a crossbar that allows your to lock or unlock it, depending on the feel you are looking for. The SX Race bend is low, flat and has less sweep than the stock KTM bars, and they improved the feel of the ergonomics for all of us. This is, in fact, our favorite bend of all aftermarket bars.
As delivered, we weren’t huge fans of the KTM’s WP 4CS fork, mostly due to its lack of mid-speed control and bottoming control. For ’16, WP actually removed the bottoming system from the fork because it improved the fork’s ability to deliver a plush ride in the smaller bumps. As we put more time on the bike and the fork oil, shims, and seals broke in, the front end became even less impressive. Initially, we turned to enzo racing for a firmer setting in both the fork and shock. Valving and spring changes were made, and we were actually very pleased with the feel of the modified WP components. With firmer valving, the fork especially exhibited a more trustworthy feel and didn’t blow through the middle of the stroke on steep jump faces, G-outs and hard landings.
The one thing that the fork still lacked, sadly, was bottoming resistance and control, as the component simply is not equipped to handle big impacts. That said, we turned to KTM for help, and coerced WP Motorsports into providing us with a set of WP Cone Valve Forks for our test bike. Available in both 52 and 48mm sizes, we opted for the smaller as they would bolt right onto our bike. Valved specifically for each customer and his/her desires, we expressed our displeasure with the 4CS fork’s lack of control. We’ve tested several sets of “A Kit” suspension components in our time, and believe us when we say that the WP Cone Valve Fork is amazing, and worth every penny of its $3200 price tag. With the Cone Valve Fork installed, our 350 is plush in small bumps, controlled throughout the entire stroke, and confidence-inspiring in big hits. Needless to say, we were blown away by their performance.
One of the most frustrating things about working on a KTM are the unusual fasteners, namely Torx-head, 13mm, and 6mm bolt heads. After buying several cheese ball Torx tools at Auto Zone, we finally picked up THIS cool set of Torx wrenches from Motion Pro, which are of much better quality. And speaking of working on our KTM, we found that changing the exhaust system is a complicated affair that is best done at home in your garage, not at the track with a hot exhaust. We wish we would have seen THIS helpful instructional video from FMF before attempting to remove our stock system and install a FMF Factory 4.1 exhaust. Trust us on this one…if you own a KTM, click that link! The FMF exhaust cost our 350 SX-F a small amount of low-end throttle response, but the gains in mid-range and top-end power were impressive.
Though the sticker on the side case warns to “use only Motorex” oil, we’ve been keeping our 350 SX-F purring like a kitten with regular Maxima 530RR oil changes, every four hours. We’ve also maintained the stock air filter with air filter cleaner and Foam Filter Treatment oil from Maxima. We’ve been pleased to learn that the KTM airbox flows enough air to produce great power, but it doesn’t let a ton of dirt inside. That said, we’ve gone two or three rides in between air filter services. Nice!
We tore the stock seat cover pretty quickly. Though it is nice and grippy, it didn’t hold up too well against some of our testers who wear knee braces. SDG Innovations sewed up an orange and black cover for us, and because we live close to their offices, we were lucky enough to have it expertly installed, too. Our cool new seat cover was complemented by a set of Dirt Digits custom graphics. The kit was easy to install and the die lines were perfect.
Bits and Pieces
Though we’ve played around with gearing a bit – by adding a tooth to the rear sprocket – we’ve settled on the stock gearing as our favorite. The bike pulls amazingly well, and can be ridden in a taller gear than you might expect of a mid-sized engine.
Staying on top of the spokes – and in the front wheel, especially – is important when the bike is new and the wheels are still breaking in. We neglected this important bit of maintenance for a couple weeks and were rewarded with a front wheel that resembled a potato chip.
Be careful not to over-tighten the gas cap. For some reason, it becomes extremely difficult to remove if you cinch it down too aggressively.
We’ve been riding with Michelin Star Cross 5 soft terrain tires for a couple months now, and are delighted with the traction and feel they provide. The standard 110 size rear tire seems to work best on our 350 SX-F. We tried going up to the wider 120 size and felt that it bogged the engine down a bit, even though it yielded more traction in slick conditions.