KTM gives the 450 SX-F a fresher upper. Read all about it in Cycle News 2020 KTM 450 SX-F Review.
KTM comes into 2020 with subtle but significant changes to its 450cc-class race machine, hoping to enhance the supercross championship-winning models with updated production specs for the new model year. We have a lot of experience on KTM four-stroke race bikes, and we can tell you the changes this year won’t knock your socks off with flashy headlines or visuals, but they do make an on-the-track difference. And as a direction, you’ll remember 2020 as a pivot year for KTM. Could it be your year to go orange?
Photography by Kit Palmer
The most noticeable update to the 2020 KTM 450 SX-F is the airbox cover with holes in it; this comes with your new bike purchase along with a standard, non-ventilated cover similar to KTM’s Austrian brothers at Husqvarna. Also included in the box with your new KTM is a black throttle cam that opens the throttle body quicker—again, just like Husqvarna. For our test, KTM installed the quicker-turning black cam. KTM’s airbox cover is more ventilated and aggressive than the one we saw a couple of weeks ago on the Husqvarna—something that fits the character of the machine and the growing gap theme between Husqvarna and KTM. Husqvarna’s ventilation looks more like a design cue in comparison.
This 2020 KTM 450 SX-F is a lot different than the Husqvarna FC450 we rode a few weeks ago. While the areas of change are the same (mapping, suspension, some engine internals, final drive gearing, airbox covers…) the end results of those changes are miles apart.
KTM is the more aggressive Austrian, with more bite across the board and a more aggressive setup to contain the accelerated attitude. If you’re torn between the two brands, knowing your riding style, performance needs, and preferences has never been more critical.
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Review—Find A Map
For KTM, the significant change in performance comes in Map 2 of the easily switchable fuel and ignition system. Map 1 is the same as in 2019, mostly. Leaders and test riders inside KTM’s U.S.-based Research and Development department have been telling the home office in Austria for some time now that more aggression via the power management system is required to compete with the snappier players in the game. Now they have it. A bit.
Fundamentally faster or not, bike reviews and shootout results across the board tend to put smoother power at a disadvantage. We’re egotistical and slightly delusional. And KTM’s have been smoother than the Japanese competitors in recent past. For the fastest KTM test riders, there is rarely a limit to how gnarly a bike can be at the first crack of the throttle. With this ask and reasoning, KTM had Austria’s attention, and they’ve ramped up the map structure. For 2020, we get the first edition of this more aggressive power.
Every pro-level rider we speak with agrees that more, more, more power is better. And we all know guys and gals that think they need a bike to accelerate faster. Right or wrong on a lap-time basis, this is what a chunk of the market demands. And, KTM is listening.
From our first rides aboard the 2020 KTM 450 SX-F, we think the changes to Map 2 are pretty significant, but even for a vet-class rider who prefers smooth power, the punch isn’t over-the-top, even with the more aggressive 49-tooth rear sprocket on-board.
I went into the test a little cautious. I don’t want to be the 40-something looping out test bikes because they’re too much for me, after all. But my hesitation wasn’t warranted. For “normal” riders, Map 1 is adequate, and Map 2 gives you a healthier rate of acceleration from the motor that requires more skill and attention. It could be considered a pro map, but pros will likely want more—as they do.
Traction being perfect, Map 2 does give you a bit more bolt out of the corner, but it’s not a revolutionary amount of snap, and the trip through the gears is just a little faster than Map 1. I can easily see myself starting in Map 2 and switching, via the super-easy control switch, mid-race to Map 1 when I get tired (you know, like, two laps in).
One of our favorite setups on the day (other than simply riding around in Map 1) was Map 2 with Traction Control switched on; this is super cool as it provides the aggression of the second map for my ego and the security blanket of KTM’s minimally invasive, swap-reducing Traction Control for my reality. Thanks, technology!
Inside the engine is a new piston that has the skirt spec optimized for some improvements in durability and the ability for the bike to rev with less restriction. The solitary, seat-of-the-pants test tells us the bike revs just fine.
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Review—Comfortably Suspended
The next major shift from 2019’s KTM 450 SX-F is a revamped suspension package. Yes, this is the XACT-labeled WP stuff. And it’s more than a re-brand of the AER 48 fork from last year upfront. The new fork for 2019 has an updated mid-valve that reduces shim stiction, freeing up the movement of the stroke, and flattening some harshness; this, combined with an all-new fork valve setting, has the KTM following the new Austrian trend of bringing comfort into settings.
Compared to last year’s models, the new 2019 settings are softer, but they’re not anything like Husqvarna’s 2020 FC450. These still have a higher-speed attitude built in with more aggression and certainly more stiffness. Same goes for the shock (which has a stiffer spring than Husqvarna’s model). It’s valving moves when you want it to, but it stands up to more advanced-riding abuse—or just heavier riders.
The fork on the 2020 KTM 450 SX-F feels significantly more compliant than previous versions of the AER-technology equipped units of the past. It has come close to eliminating all initial stroke harshness and is a new era for the air-sprung fork world. It’s an incredible improvement over the first generations of air fork systems from all manufacturers.
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Review—It Keeps Winning
KTM is clearly on a roll with its competitive motocross machines. Since 2013, it has been winning in the highest stake’s games in moto, and its product has updated more often than most of their competitors. Championships and race-wins are taken by bikes that are a far cry from the ones you and I can buy, but something is going on in the bones of these orange bikes that makes them win. And that might be worth investing in for your next ride. CN
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Specifications
||Liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4-stroke, single
|Bore / Stroke:
||Electric/12.8V, 2 Ah
||Keihin EFI, 44mm throttle body
||Pressure lubrication with two oil pumps
||Wet multi-disc DDS-clutch, Brembo hydraulics
||Central double-cradle type 25CrMo4 steel
||Neken, aluminum, 28/22mm
||WP XACT USD Fork, 48mm
||WP XACT Monoshock with linkage
||Single 260mm disc
||Single 220mm disc
||1.60×21 in. Excel
||2.15×19 in. Excel
||80/100-21 in. Dunlop MX3S
||120/80-19 in. Dunlop MX3S
||5/8 x 1/4 in.
|Steering Head Angle:
|Triple Clamp Offset:
|Weight (claimed, without fuel):