The Ultimate All-Around Dirt Bike? The KTM 250 XC just might be it.
Looking for the best all-around dirt bike? If you like to do diverse types of riding, especially if any of that includes tight or technical riding, there may not be a better choice than the KTM 250 XC (or possibly the 300cc option—the KTM 300 XC). This bike is good for every type of off-road riding and is also still a very good option on a motocross track.
The 250 and 300 XCs have seen few minor updates over the last several years but for 2017, they got a significant makeover. A completely new motor that moves the electric starter inboard just behind the cylinder and addition of a counter-balancer to reduce vibration are the most significant updates. But it also has a revised frame and comes with the WP AER 48 air forks among other updates. The one update that may not be a step forward in the minds of many is the Mikuni carburetor that replaced the much-loved Keihin used for several years.
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Photography by Kit Palmer
When it comes to tight, technical trails, the two-stroke continues to be the choice for many elite riders, such as top Hard Enduro racers like Jonny Walker and Graham Jarvis. Many believe that the weight is the main reason for this but, surprisingly, the KTM four-stroke models are not far off from the two-strokes when it comes to static weight. Our 250 XC weighed in at 236 pounds full of fuel, which was just two pounds less than the KTM 450 XC four-stroke. They share most of the same components outside the powerplant, but the KTM two-strokes hold slightly more fuel (2.6 gallons versus 2.2 gallons, that’s almost a three-pound difference).
By comparison, the KTM XC models are 25-30 pounds lighter than the Honda CRF450RX and Yamaha YZ450FX. So weight is a consideration, but the power delivery that allows the KTM two-strokes to pull right off idle with controllable modulation and a buttery smooth hydraulic clutch will allow you to conquer tough terrain you never thought was possible. Ironically, the KTM two-strokes are now actually smoother off the bottom making them easier to control in technical terrain. And they vibrate less than their big-bore four-stroke brothers.
It’s also worth noting that four-strokes have more moving parts in the engine and, as a result, more reciprocal mass, so when things are whipping around inside there, it can make four-strokes “feel” heavier than two-strokes in motion.
Speaking of the engine, the 2017 KTM (and sibling Husqvarna) two-stroke engines are incredible. KTM added a counter-balancer to all of the two-stoke models and the reduced vibration is immediately noticeable at every contact point with the bike (handlebars, footpegs and seat). The power delivery is still tunable via a power-valve spring tension adjuster and anybody should have no problem finding the setting they like. With power-valve adjustments, you can make it crawl like a trials bike or rip like a motocrosser. Although the XC power is a lot mellower than the SX (motocross model), it will still out accelerate a 250cc four-stroke motocross bike and hang pretty close with a 450 in the open terrain.
Two more important points on the KTM 250 (and 300 XC) engine, they come standard with an electric start, which is really a benefit for technical riding and a nice convenience otherwise. The 250 XC also includes a six-speed transmission. So the gear spacing is just right for any speed and it will blast down a road or sand wash without looking for another gear.
The one gripe, as you might have predicted, we have with the 2017 XC engines is the switch from a Keihin to a Mikuni carburetor. The Keihin’s needed very little adjustment and worked well in a range of conditions including big changes in altitude. The Mikuni is more finicky. But we did manage to find a pretty decent setting.
The bike is pretty rich stock and will load up and get worse with extended riding in slow, technical conditions. We dropped the needle one position (moved the clip to the second of five grooves from the top) to lean it out a little. We also set the airscrew at the back of the carburetor near the air boot at three turns out. KTM recommends a 60:1 oil ratio with Motorex Crosspower 2T oil. That’s right 60:1. It feels weird mixing oil that thinly but it works! With all of these settings, the bike was much better than stock. It is still a little rich and more sensitive to altitude and weather conditions than the old Keihin but it is good. If you are riding in higher speed conditions, it is not really an issue.
Staying true to their lineage, the new XC two-stroke models come with linkage rear suspension similar to the SX (motocross models) and the new WP AER 48 air fork. The stock settings are great for aggressive trail riding and stiff enough to ride on a motocross track for most riders. While KTM was one of the last OEMs to adopt air forks for their motocross bikes, they are the first to do so in the off-road world and the AER 48 is great on the trail or track. Some feel that they are a little harsh on slap down-type landings, but that is not an issue on the trail. And the rear suspension is equally good in stock form so most riders will not feel a need to modify the suspension out of the box.
The XC’s also use an 18-inch wheel (better than a 19-inch for off-road traction with more side wall flex), kickstand and a large 2.6-gallon tank, which is also translucent, making it easier to fill and see how much fuel you have left out on the trail. The stock tank will get most people 50-60 miles of range depending on how fast the pace is. The only off-road item missing is a skid plate to protect the frame/engine/water pump and this is something you should buy before you leave the dealership. Apparently, everyone else thinks so, because we’re done with the test and the precautionary plate we ordered is still on backorder. Luckily, we didn’t bash the bike!
As you can tell, we are very impressed with the 2017 KTM 250 XC, and we aren’t the only ones, so is Taddy Blazusiak. We asked him to ride our bike to give us some of his input; after all, Taddy is a five-time AMA EnduroCross Champion, a six-time FIM SuperEnduro Champion and a five-time winner of the brutally tough Erzberg Rodeo Hard Enduro, so he knows a thing or two about riding motorcycles. Although he recently retired, he still loves to ride.
“For sure a factory bike is a different level, but this thing straight out of the box is really amazing,” he said of the box-stock XC. “The trail today is really good and grippy, so it was great conditions for riding a two-stroke.
“I was surprised at how good the suspension setup works…it is really there between not being too soft, but really holds up like it should when you go faster. I have been racing the four-stroke for the last few years, but this two-stroke is really fun to ride and that is what it’s all about for me now.”
Simply put, you will have a hard time finding a better all-around off-road bike than the 2017 KTM 250 XC. The 250/300 XC models have long been one great motorcycle/s and leaders of KTM’s sales. KTM should be commended for continuing to develop the two-stroke line and making them even better than before. This is arguably the best bike available for tough trails at higher speeds and it will hold its own in just about any other conditions. It’s the ultimate crossover machine, just begging for you to mix it and rip it! CN
SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 KTM 250 XC ($8999)
Water-cooled, 2-stroke, single
BORE X STROKE:
66.4mm x 72mm
Brembo, wet multi-disc, DDS, hydraulic
Chrome-molybdenum steel central-tube frame
WP AER48 air fork, fully adj.; wheel travel 310mm
WP single shock w/linkage, fully adj.; wheel travel 300mm
58.5 ± 0.4 in.
ACTUAL WEIGHT (fueled)
GEARSET: Fox Legion Off Road
HELMET: Fox Libra Helmet
BOOTS: Fox Instinct Off Road Boots
JACKET: Fox Legion Downpour Jacket