We recently added a new section to the Trail Rider test loop. The highlight is a steep, rocky climb preceded by a hard left turn that leaves no running room. Ten feet into the ascent there is a collection of medium sized, awkwardly angled rocks that will derail the front end if it hit straight on, so it’s best to get the front end up and over the rocks and hit the initial climb on the back wheel. After that, there’s about 15 yards of loose soil and rocks covering a flat bedrock surface that makes traction difficult. Just before the top is another collection of planted rocks that precede a contiguous strand of young pines that you need to thread through before things flatten out. The steep grade, loose terrain, and rocky ascent cause a success rate on 2 stroke isn’t anything to brag about.
When I attempted it on the all new 40 horse power XCF-W, I got the front end up and over the first set of rocks while the shock kept me going straight. I then chugged up and over loose and planted rocks before squeezing through the pines at the top – with ease. I was a little surprised. Had I tried that on last year’s XCF-W 250 things would have gone differently. Last year I may not have gotten the front wheel off the ground and the shock would have kicked and sent me sideways. Last year I would not had the torque to keep the back wheel from breaking loose without excess clutch work. This year, none those were factors and reveal some of the changes to this year’s all new KTM XCF-W 250.
The KTM XC-W two and four stroke line has always been the trail-bike and enduro line up for the brand. The plush, open chamber forks coupled with a motor tuned for technical single track make for an outstanding enduro or trail bike. The only weak link in the lineup, at least in my opinion, was the XCF-W 250. The soft motor had a weak bottom end that necessitated excess clutch work. The bike would make noise, but not really go fast. Moreover, some of the two strokes were more torquey that the 250F-W. However, all of that has changed with the all new XCF-W 250. KTM’s choice to debut the new XC-W line up at the Rattlesnake Enduro showed the confidence the company has in the new enduro lights class machine. If I remember correctly, the 250F never made it to the last media launch in Wyoming two years ago.
After we finished the with media launch at the at the Rattlesnake National Enduro, I really wanted to get the new XCF-W 250 back to New England for some additional testing as I felt like this bike would be a great fit for the gnarl of the region. A short time later my KTM rep, Brooks Hamilton, was loading the bike into the back of his truck, or maybe he was watching me load it up. Anyway.
We detailed the changes to the 2014 line up last month but in case you missed it, here’s the Cliff notes: The biggest change to the 250F-W is an all new 40 horse power motor that produces old school torque and traction via crisp, modern fuel injection. The frame has been slightly revised to accommodate the new motor and managed to shed a little weight in the process. The swing arm is also lighter and the suspension has received new valving specifications – which translate into much more compliant ride, especially the shock. The flywheel is also a bit heavier which allows the rider to chug down low and resists stalling.
The new 250F-W also boasts a revised ECU that further focuses on putting power to the ground. Coupled with new 13/52 gearing and a revised bore and stroke, the 250F-W produces old school bottom end torque reminiscent of the old Honda XR’s in similar displacement. You won’t confuse the bottom end with that of a 350, but it’ still a dramatic improvement over past years efforts. And when you want to pick up the pace, there isn’t the need for heavy clutch work like before. The acceleration isn’t quite like the SX-F or XC-F, but it isn’t slow feeling anymore. The power is deliberate and smooth right through the top. You’ll still need a little warning and a slip of the clutch to wheelie the bike once out of the bottom end, though.
The suspension is another area of improvement for 2014, particularly the shock valving. While the XC-W line retains the PDS shock, the valving is significantly plusher and doesn’t ride as high in the back as it did in previous years. It’s still the same length, but it settles better and lends a more balanced feel to the bike. In 2012, I had to run the shock on my stock 2012 XC-W 250 test bike on the softest setting and was never happy with it in stock trim. This year my final shock compression settings were in the middle of damping range, which is right where I like them to be. The shock is supple off the bottom and transitions smoothly into the mid stroke without notice, meaning there’s no mid stroke harshness. Bottoming resistance is pretty good, too. Overall the shock tracks cleanly and remains planted. We did turn the high speed compression out 2.25 turns for best results in the technical woods. The only time it kicked is when I was out of potion.
The forks are super plush in the initial stroke and absorb the rocks & roots with ease while at a casual pace. The only time I felt deflection was when scrubbing speed before careening into something. This compresses the forks and pushes things into mid stroke. The mid-stroke in the forks is a little more resistant than the shock and worked better when obstacles were hit with more force.
Overall the suspension worked surprisingly well in stock trim, it is still a bit soft for serious racing, but the casual rider or novice/amateur woods racer will likely be happy with it. A faster, more aggressive rider will find the forks too soft but everyone else should be able to find a sweet spot.
The handling was exceptional. The bike is planted yet light enough for a full day on the trail. Cornering is sharp despite the plush forks, none of us picked up on significant wallowing. KTM has the EFI down so here’s not much to discuss beyond how well it works.
Overall the 2014 KTM XCF-W 250 is an exciting new bike and huge improvement over previous years. In stock trim, the average trail rider or novice/intermediate single-track racer will have to do very little to it. The revamped motor combines old school torque and traction with crisp, modern day fuel injection. The ride is nimble, plush and purposeful.
Expect to see more of these out on the trail this year.