Outwardly, you can’t see much difference between
the 350 and the 250. Both the bore and the stroke are
different, but you would have to know your KTMs pretty
well to tell one from the other. On the left side, you can
see that the 250’s cylinder is shorter, and on the right,
the head is different. Everything else is identical. Once
again, though, there’s a very big difference in the way
they run and act. The 250 only weighs 1.5 pounds less
than the 350, according to the scale, but, as we’ve come
to expect, it feels dramatically lighter. You even imagine
that the 250 is physically smaller than the 350. It’s not,
but the power delivery has that much of an effect on your
perceptions. The 250 has a very soft power delivery down
low. That combines with very little engine braking to make
the bike super easy to ride. Even though it has the same
shortcomings in rubber and suspension as its stablemates,
those things simply aren’t much of a bother.
The fact that it’s so difficult to modify these bikes might
be more of a problem with the 250. The low-end power is
pretty mild. It is a 250 four-stroke after all. If you want to
pick up the pace, you can’t just roll on the throttle and go.
The 250 likes to downshift or two and a lot of clutch work.
Even in its MX state of tune, the KTM 250F motor has
never been known for torque. On most trails, this isn’t an
250 is too small. Your mind naturally wanders to exhaust
modifications and other things that could turn out to be a
can of worms. Still, compared to dirt-only 250 four-stokes,
the 250EXC is in the hunt, and it will blow any other 250
dual-sport bike out of the water.
That brings us to the two questions we set out to
address. First, are these three dual-sport bikes worthy
replacements for the now-discontinued, dirt-only KTM
XC-W four-strokes? That answer is clearly a big yes.
They’re lighter. They run cleanly and smoothly, and
after the first set of tires is worn out, the playing field is
completely level. The fact that today’s dual-sport bikes
are difficult to modify has been rendered irrelevant by
increasingly tight regulations that face all off-road bikes.
The biggest drawback to having dual-sport bikes replace
off-road bikes is the price. The 250 is $9399, the 350 is
$10,399 and the 500 is $10,699. Last year’s XC-Ws were
around $700 less expensive, model for model.
The second question: which KTM? That really does
depend on where you ride. The three bikes get more
difficult to ride as you go up in size and power. The 250
is the best on tight trails as long as they’re flat and hard.
The 500 has all the power that anyone would need, but
you pay a price in manageability. That leaves the 350
as our favorite. Horsepower is never an issue, and it’s
still a sweet, friendly bike, no matter where you ride.
Predictable? Sure. But sometimes the answer is spelled
out in the question. ❏
You would swear that the 250EXC
is the lightest, full-size, dual-sport
bike on earth. Oh, it is.