2018 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition | FULL TEST | The Latest Edition
We ride the all-new KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition.
KTM is a company never known to rest on its laurels. It will often make changes to a motorcycle despite not needing any. Even if that motorcycle sweeps all of the magazine’s shootouts, you can bet it will be significantly changed somehow, some way the following model year, usually for the better, but not always. You’ve got to hand it to KTM, though, for continuously trying to come up with new things every year. However, this year was a little different, at least when came to the standard 2018 KTM 450 SX-F.
When we first saw it, we were somewhat surprised that it was so similar to the previous model, but, hey, we understood. After all, it was already the lightest, fastest and one of the best bikes in its class—and had been for a while—and we knew that the Factory Edition model would be coming shortly after it. Surely, it would be different. And it is.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIT PALMER
Click here to read this in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
In a way, KTM’s Factory Edition models are works bikes that we, the public, can buy, but KTM only makes a few of them, just enough to comply with homologation rules so its Red Bull KTM Factory Team riders can race the Factory Edition models legally during the current race season. Chances of you being lucky enough to get your hands on one are slim but at least you’ll know what the 2019 production KTM 450 SX-F will be like and can start saving for one, because the Factory Edition models are traditionally next year’s SX-F production models without the Factory Edition label and crazy graphics.
Yes, KTM saved all of its updates for the 450 SX-F Factory Edition. And it got a lot of them. The engine, which is a full pound lighter, is for all intent and purpose brand new. It has a redesigned top-end that is 15mm shorter for improved mass centralization and better handling, and has a more direct flow into and out of the combustion chamber for improved engine performance; the clutch now uses KTM’s DDS (Damped Diaphragm Steel) system, which eliminates the use of coil springs, and the five-speed gearbox is made by transmission specialists Pankl. It also gets a new exhaust pipe that can now be taken off without having to remove the shock.
It also comes with a Hinson clutch cover and that’s not just for show. The Hinson cover is said to be stronger, dissipate heat better and resist boot wear better than the standard KTM-built cover. There’s also a composite skid plate to help protect the engine cases and frame from flying rocks and debris, and prevents the lower frame rails from digging into the ground and throwing you over the bars in case you come up a little short over a double or triple jump.
The wheels are stronger, too. The Factory Edition gets top-of-the-line D.I.D DirtStar rims.
In the chassis department, the WP suspension gets new settings, a beefed up triple clamp and a redesign in frame rigidity. KTM stiffened longitudinal (front to rear) rigidity for improved bump absorption. The aluminum subframe is 40mm longer and has been strengthened to give the back of the bike a stiffer feel, especially when hanging off the back. The swingarm has a larger axle slot, which gives you 5mm more rear-wheel adjustment, a request by KTM’s factory racers. They wanted the option to increase wheelbase for better straight-line stability.
Bodywork is all new, too, which includes a factory race seat and a Sella Dalla Valle ribbed seat cover.
GEARSET: Alpinestars Techstar Factory
HELMET: Arai VX-Pro4
BOOTS: Alpinestars Tech 10
The icing on the cake is the orange-colored triple clamps and rear sprocket.
You’ll notice these changes right away on the track, but they are subtle. Suspension just keeps getting better and better every year, especially up front with the WB AER48 air forks. As time go by, KTM comes up better settings and we feel they pretty much nailed it on the head with the newest Factory Edition model. We could’ve ridden the bike all day with the factory settings if we had to, but since you have so many adjustment capabilities with these forks, we still played around with them a bit and discovered that reducing just a bit of air pressure made things slightly smoother.
The AER48 forks are super-easy to work with, since there is only one air chamber, and it’s located in just one of the two fork tubes. You really can’t mess things up. The only function of the air chamber is to adjust overall stiffness, much like with traditional coil springs. The damping adjusters do all the rest. We like the AER48 forks in that they are simple to fine tune, and once you do find that sweet spot, they tend to stay there so you’re not constantly tweaking on the fork. And, of course, they just perform well in all conditions.
Ditto the back end. Right out of the crate the back-end performs well, at least on par with the 2017 450 SX-F. We didn’t feel the need to make changes, though one test rider slowed down the rebound a tick because of a particular nasty bump on the track that caused the back end to kick a bit more than he wanted. The problem was quickly solved without any sacrifices. None of these changes hurt the overall balance of the bike, which we felt was darn good right from the get-go.
This bike turns! It gets in and out of the corners quickly, berm or no berm. The front end feels light and agile, yet always stays put and planted, which might have a lot to do with the rigidity changes they made to the frame. By reducing front-to-back flexing, not only does this improve absorption over the bumps, KTM says it also improves stability when setting up for the turns over rough ground since the bike isn’t moving around and twitching as much. Whatever it is, we just know that the KTM turns really good from as soon as you hit the brakes to as soon as you hit the throttle.
But what we probably like most about the KTM is its engine. It’s extremely powerful yet amazingly easy to manage and control, seemingly more so than the standard 450 SX-F. You can rev it, bog it, whatever, and it will take care of you. Our expert-level test rider preferred the more aggressive of the two handlebar mapping choices, which he felt made the bike feel a bit more responsive, and he utilized the traction control whenever he thought it was appropriate, mainly on dry, hard-packed and loose surfaces. Our much slower vet rider also liked the aggressive mode but pretty much left it in TC mode full time. Basically, this engine can be ridden anyway you want; it’s very controllable from low through midrange, and if you really want to go, just open ‘er up—you won’t be disappointed. This thing is fast!
And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, there is very little vibration at any rpm, and changing gears feels even smoother and more precise than before. Just tap the shifter and that’s it. The DDS clutch helps out here, too. Other KTM off-road models already have the DDS design and we’ve always been a fan because of its smooth feel and operation. Reliability seems to be good, as well. We just wonder why it took so long for the 450 SX-F to get it.
Comfort has been improved, as well. The new bodywork is trimmer throughout the bike, but you’ll really notice the difference when you climb way up on the tank. KTM lowered and redesigned the radiators and in doing so they were able to trim things up where your knees hang out while flicking it through the corners. The Sella Dalla Valle seat is super-grippy, too. In fact, it’s so grippy that it tries to pull your pants off.
The Factory Edition also has all of the things we already love about the 450 SX-F, like electric starting, its ultra light weight, Dunlop MX3S tires, launch control and powerful brakes, which now feature a floating disc up front.
It’s hard to fault anything when it comes to this bike, other than it being hard to find and its understandably high $11,999 price tag. But don’t worry, it won’t be long before this bike returns in a few months as the standard model with a smaller MSRP. And we guarantee it will be different from last year’s. CN
2018 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, single
Bore x stroke:
94 x 63.4mm
SOHC; 4 valves
44mm Keihin throttle body
Starting: Electric w/12.8-volt, 2 Ah lithium-ion battery
Pressurized w/ two pumps
Web multi-disc DDS w/Brembo hydraulics
Central double-cradle Chromoly steal
Fully adjustable inverted WP AER 48 fork
Rear suspension: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable WP shock
Front wheel travel:
Rear wheel travel:
1.60 x 21 in. / D.I.D. DirtStar
2.15 x 1 in. / D.I.D. DirtStar
80/100 x 21 in. Dunlop Geomax MX3S
120/90 x 19 in. Dunlop Geomax MX3S
260mm floating disc w/Brembo hydraulics
220mm fixed disc w/Brembo hydraulics
222 lbs. (no fuel, claimed)