KTM now has different suspension specifications for its U.S.
models. The rest of the world has a longer shock and a softer
fork. We’re happy to be the outcasts.
fact that it makes more power and it’s less abrupt. The
first part of that isn’t surprising; the KTM 250 was always
the fastest bike in its class, and it hasn’t gotten any
slower. The second part is the result of hard work. In the
period since the other 250s were frozen in time, KTM
has made steady improvements on the power delivery.
The 2013 version of the bike might actually feel slower
than an example from 10 years ago, but in truth, the
low-end power has improved so much that the hit feels
mellower. A KTM 250SX from the early 2000s could only
stay with a 450cc four-stroke on a smooth, tight track
with perfect traction. Now, traction doesn’t have to be
so good. The KTM hooks up surprisingly well.
Still, let’s be real. Even the most fanatical two-stroke
lover will concede that the smoothest two-stroke is a
gnarly, hard-hitting monster compared to a four-stroke.
The result is that you have to work a little harder. You
have to shift more often, hold on tighter, and you can’t
get away with being lazy. On the 250SX, you can’t fake it
when you’re tired by clicking into a super-tall gear and
loafing around the track just below the powerband. You
won’t go anywhere. The flip side is that you won’t be
nearly as tired at the end of a hard-fought moto. Despite
the hard hit, you can ride the 250SX harder and longer
than almost any other bike this side of a 125. It’s a
feather. The 250SX makes you realize how much
strength it takes to ride a 450. Even though the KTM
gained a little weight in 2012, it still weighs almost nothing. You can brake harder and dig deeper when you
aren’t carrying around 20 pounds of cams, flywheels and
valves. All those rotating and reciprocating parts only
add to the sensation of weight, making a four-stroke feel
much heavier than it really is.
This year the 250SX’s overall handling takes a big step
forward. The stink-bug feel is gone, and that gives the
bike much more stability. Headshake is calmed down to
almost nothing, and the bike doesn’t wander in hard
braking bumps like it did. You would think that its cornering would suffer, but even that’s improved. The suspension changes for 2013 get a thumbs up, but the suspension is still the bike’s weakest point. That’s the one
thing that kept the Yamaha YZ250 in the game this long;
it always had phenomenal suspension. The KTM isn’t
there yet. The front has the best WP fork in history. It’s
good on little chop and stands up to hard hits. Most riders will take out a few clicks of compression and be
happy, but it’s still not in the same league as the Yamaha
front end. It delivers more impact to the rider, especially
on flat landings, and there’s no magic clicker position.
The rear end is a little more versatile. The 250SX starts
off with the same disadvantage that all two-strokes have.
It’s a two-stroke. There’s something about the power delivery of a four-stroke that makes the rear suspension work
better. It probably boils down to all the things that make a
four-stroke harder to handle: flywheel effect, overall weight
and so forth. A two-stroke can’t hold a straight line
through rough terrain nearly as well as a thumper, and the
250SX is no different. It seems to stop at each hole and
lose forward drive. The 2013 model still represents a big
step forward for KTM, though. You can work with the rear
shock and come up with a setting that performs well for
any given track. Hard-packed, choppy holes take a little
less compression damping. Big whoops take a little more.
At the end of any given ride, you’ll have something that’s
pretty good, but the suspension still won’t work quite as
well as that of any of KTM’s own four-strokes.