All three maps are usable and very different. If you’re
young and strong, there’s nothing wrong with the aggressive map. Just be prepared for faster response and more
of a hard-edged bark at smaller throttle openings. The mild
curve takes away some of the bite down low and makes
you twist the throttle farther. To confess, we didn’t ride
with the mild curve very long. We know it’s probably more
efficient, but the bike is much more fun when it’s in its nastier moods. The mild curve also makes the gears feel more
spread out because the powerband isn’t quite as wide.
You actually find yourself using the clutch to make up the
gap. The clutch, by the way, is excellent. It has a light pull,
precise engagement and doesn’t drag.
We expected all of this,. We would be astounded if the
new KTM didn’t flatten our eyeballs against the backs of
our skulls. But does it feel lighter? Yes, of course it does.
That much weight loss can be felt by anyone. The bike
feels lighter in the air, lighter in turns and lighter when
you put it on the stand. But even though it’s the lightest production 450, we’ll stop short of saying it feels that
way. The sensation of mass comes from other factors too.
Horsepower makes a bike feel heavy, and the KTM, by our
best guess, has about seven more horses at peak than the
Honda CRF450R. So, yes, the KTM feels light because it is
light. But, you still have to renew your gym membership if
you want to toss it around.
FORK IT OVER
Let’s be honest, the KTM already had all the power it
needed. It already was acceptable in the weight department. What really held the bike back was the front fork.
And on paper, at least, that’s one of the least changed
items. The 4CS fork looks the same and still has the
design with a rebound clicker at the top of one leg and a
compression clicker at the top of the other. The only hope
for improvement is the usual bold new valving.
Again, we were surprised. The improvement in the fork
is just as substantial as the improvement in weight. We
know that KTM did a lot of testing here in the U.S. Mike
Sleeter was out at Glen Helen every week working with
the WP guys. We’re pleased with the results. The fork
has a much higher comfort factor than ever before. In our
experience, the 4CS fork is harsh and cruel unless it’s set
up very soft—and that makes it unacceptable for higher
speeds and rougher tracks. That’s why off-road guys like
them. For the Factory Edition, the settings that KTM came
up with are surprisingly good. Fast guys will still say the
fork is too soft and slow guys will say it’s too stiff, but it’s
in the hunt. It’s still not the best front suspension in the
game; it’s just better than it was.
The improvement up front is big enough that some riders
will turn their main focus to the rear. That’s human nature.
The rear end is still pretty good, although no one would
call it plush. With the reduction in overall weight, it has less
work to do. The bike is so light that getting a little sideways
in the whoops is no big deal. The lighter weight makes it
easy to recover from mistakes. You still feel the bumps, but
nothing gets scary. We set up the bike with around 105mm
of sag. You can go quite a bit higher or lower than that if
you like because the rear end has more travel, and that
makes it more forgiving of sloppy setups.
THE KTM CLAN
KTM clan members will say the new bike feels nothing
like the old one. That’s because the ergos that have defined
KTM motocross bikes for years have been drastically
altered. Yet, the bike still handles in much the same way,
with the same strong points and weak points. The footpegs
are mounted more rearward, and both the handlebar and
seat are lower. You would think that those things would
make the bike more cramped, but that’s not the case. If
anything, the Factory Edition feels roomier. The seat shape
and the flat junction to the fuel tank make it easy to move
around. The seat is very narrow, but softer and more comfortable than past KTMs. All that will make it more appealing to riders who usually don’t drink the KTM Kool-Aid.
The anti-KTM crowd has very little ammunition in this
bike. Just look at the number of “bests” here: The 2015
Factory Edition has the most power, the lightest weight,
the only electric starter, the best brakes and the best
clutch. All of that is undeniable. Will you be able to buy
one? Probably. Dealers who move more motocross bikes
will have first shot, and even though most of them have
had customer deposits since December, there are invariably bikes that become available. If you wait too long,
they’ll be gone. The good news is that by then the 2016
models will be right around the corner. ❏
The exhaust pipe
header has a feature
called the Flow Design
Header. KTM says this
results in less noise and
better throttle response
and allows the exhaust
canister to be mounted
60mm further forward.
Additionally, the canister is 40mm shorter.
The footpegs and
shifter are lighter
and designed to
perform better in
KTM gave the bike a new snap-in filter design that engineers
say is very difficult to install improperly.