It’s always exciting when the KTM XC and XC-W 250’s are fielded at the same time for an evaluation. The general perception of these two bikes is that they are fairly similar, save for a few key differences. And at first glance, that would appear to be the case. Off the showroom floor however, these two bikes really are quite distinct. Given that we’ve already covered the XC-W earlier in the year, and that the changes to the XC aren’t too comprehensive, we thought it would be fun to change things up and do a side by side comparison. Doing this really drew out the differences in each machine. Before we get into the comparison, here’s a quick summary of what’s new for 2014.
2014 XC 250
The 2014 XC 250 features a new ignition curve, cylinder head, and jetting specs that are intended to make the bike even more “rideable.” The new jetting specs include a N8RW needle on the 4th clip, a 170 main Jet, 40 pilot jet and a 70 slide. Basically what KTM did is richened things up and take a step back from the “leaner and meaner” jetting specs from last year. The XC also has a redesigned reed valve housing that features Boyesen high-performance reeds.
The most notable change for 2014 is that the XC’s are now fitted with the newly developed 48mm 4CS closed cartridge fork featuring the patented 4-Chamber-System. With this system, both the rebound and compression damping adjusters are located on top of the fork; the rebound is located atop the right fork and the compression is on the left. The forks are also fitted with improved seal rings made by SKF and high performance fork oil (SAE 4). The new 4CS forks are lighter than their predecessors and include new valving specs that are a better match for faster off road racing.
Similar to the XC, the ignition curve on the XC-W has been altered and the carburetor settings adjusted to tailor the bikes performance towards technical enduro racing. The new jetting specs include a N8RJ needle set on the 4th clip position, a 68 Main Jet, 40 pilot jet and a 7.0 slide, which is a little richer than last years specs. The cylinder head has also been redesigned for more efficient combustion and better response. Finally, the W received the same updated new Boyesen reeds as its XC counterpart.
Other changes include a stronger starter (480W versus 370W) and a more powerful battery that makes the headlight more than just a token display for getting through tech inspection.
In the suspension department, the new XC-W comes with revised front and rear suspension valving that is specially designed for enduro riding (read: plush) In addition, the XC-W models received a new front master cylinder with a new reservoir, a smaller piston diameter and a new lever with optimized kinematics. We can’t leave out that the XC-W also comes fitted with lights, a spark arrestor and a speedometer.
The Test Track
Our test track on this day was a new location in the leaf covered suburbs of western, Massachusetts. The trails wove up, down, and around an unnamed mountain alternating between slow, twisty single track and gear grabbing cart roads. Some areas were rocky and laced with roots while others were remarkably devoid of New England gnarl. This new venue really revealed the differences in each bike. The only modification to each bike prior to the test was mounting Dunlop AT 81tires front and rear. Finally we set the sag at 108mm on the XC and 115 on the XC-W and turned the high speed compression out two full turns.
The motor on the 2014 XC is more linear than last year’s version, courtesy of the new ignition curve, cylinder head and jetting specs. The resultant effect is a bike that’s a little better mannered, at least off the showroom floor and prior to you personalizing it with your preferred jetting, gearing and power valve spring settings. The pull off the bottom is snappy, as expected, with very little in the way of a mid range mid hit. In the tricky leaf covered terrain, the more linear motor kept wheel spin within reason and certainly less than last year’s model. For serious racing, many will likely install the red power valve spring and lean out the pilot circuit, but for today the set up worked perfectly. The XC may be more linear than past editions but it is still racier and quicker than all of the other 2 stroke off road bikes out there.
The XC-W by contrast produces a completely different feel. The softer ignition curve, 13/52 gearing (compared to 13/50 on the XC) and different cylinder head create a power plant that is extremely well mannered and well suited for technical, enduro terrain. The power is significantly more torquey feeling when compared to the XC and better suited for chugging through the gnarl. First and second gear is shorter than the XC and can crawl along at insanely slow revs. The drawback is that it requires to be shifted sooner than the XC and the jump to third gear can bother some people. Regardless, it is an improvement over past years and will still allow for losing a tooth or two off the back sprocket. The transmission ratios are about the same as the XC from third gear on with the exception of a slightly taller 6th gear.
The less aggressive feel of the XC-W allows for better tractability when bouncing through the rocks and roots. Coupled with the PDS shock, the W does a better job keeping the rear wheel planted and moving forward in the slower conditions (we’ll explain shortly,. Where the XC may spin the wheel in the technical terrain, the XC-W does a better job of moving forward. The XC-W butters the gnarl, making the technical terrain something to look forward to.
The fork springs on the XC are .44’s and the shock spring is a .54. The XC-W by contrast, comes with .42 fork springs and the same .54 shock. As noted above, the big difference from last year is that the new 4CS forks are noticeably stiffer than the ’13 model. Whereas last year a good A or B rider could get away with riding the stock forks in the technical, rocky terrain, this year will likely require a visit your revalve specialist. For those of you that ride faster terrain and found last year’s suspension settings too soft, this year should be a pleasant change for you as the new valving specs are valved towards faster, chopped out terrain where bigger hits are commonplace – think GNCC or J Day grand prix style races. When we ran the XC though the rocks, we experienced deflection that hasn’t been experienced in a few years. There was a noticeable improvement when we softened up the compression, but the plushness from a year ago is gone.
The shock valving felt similar to last year and produces a nice, smooth progression through the stroke while offering sound bottoming resistance. The linkage soaks up the harder hits nicely and is more settled than the PDS over the rough stuff – at speed. In fact, both the front and rear offer adequate performance and bottoming resistance for a hard day at the moto track. It’s our opinion that the XC is the most balanced bike in the KTM off road lineup.
The XC-W still comes fitted with the open cartridge forks and is valved to soak up the technical terrain. The fork springs are .42 (compared to the .44 on the XC) and are supple off the bottom. The shock spring is a .54, just like the XC. The initial part of the stroke in the forks soaks up the trail junk nicely at slow speeds. There can be some mid-stroke deflection when noodling along but a little speed makes the transition into the mid stroke much smoother. The sweet spot in the forks is to ride them a fun, trail riding clip, just note that the XC-W doesn’t have the bottoming resistance of the XC.
The XC-W also rides higher in the back than the XC. When KTM transitioned from the previous frame to its current configuration, they made the shock longer. The rear travel is over 13 inches where the XC offers just over 12 inches. We still feel as if the shock is slightly too long, causing the back end to ride high. The shock valving is also firmer, causing it to ride higher in the stroke. If the terrain were rockier at our test venue, we would have run even more sag – possibly as much as 120mm. The higher back end seems to put more load on the supple forks. In stock trim, I need to run the shock in the softer end of the compression settings while the fork settings are closer to firmest. Balancing the XC-W isn’t a quick job like it is on the XC. It takes some time to find the sweet spot between the fork and shock. The sweet spot is there, it just takes a little experimenting to find it. Once the set up is ironed out, the XC-W is true enduro specialist.
Linkage or PDS?
We won’t wade too deeply into this debate as preferences generally boil down to style and terrain. Both systems can be tuned to handle any off road scenario but each has their specialty. Here are the basics as I’ve experienced them. The linkage bikes soak up the hard hits better than the PDS making it more appropriate for an aggressive rider or cross-country racing where high speed hits are common. The linkage is less sensitive to changing conditions, likely because of the interference it causes.
Without the interference from the linkage, the PDS by contrast, is better for slower speed riding. The PDS provides more feedback because the energy from the terrain transmits directly to the shock with no interference from linkage. The PDS also stays rooted to ground and allows for better traction when riding at a slower clip.
Turning and Cornering
Another key difference between the bikes is that the XC-W comes fitted with triple clamps in the 20mm offset position, while the XC is fitted with 22mm triple clamps. The 20mm triple clamp offset, in concert with the higher back end, make the XC-W a quicker turner and a little sharper than the XC in the tight and/or twisty single track. The XC-W just gets it done more efficiently in the tight, twisty stuff. The trade off is that it’s a little twitchier at speed. The XC by contrast settles into the high speed corners better and is more comfortable at speed.
If you were to log on to the KTM web site and pull up a side by side comparison of each bike, you wouldn’t see much beyond the linkage and the PDS suspension systems and a minor difference in shock travel and overall weight. The reality is that despite the appearance, there are more differences than similarities in terms of performance. The great thing about these two bikes is that they can easily tuned to imitate the other. You’ll need some help in the suspension department from your revalve specialist but the handling and motor, and gearing differences are easily adjusted. Much like the PDS vs. linkage debate, the preferences for each bike generally boil down to style and terrain.