2020 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition Review
The Original Rule Breaker Maker
Photography by Kit Palmer
The 2012 KTM Factory Edition started it all. Thanks to AMA Supercross homologation rules, KTM needed to have at least 400 modern, fuel-injected 450-class weapons in the United States for sale by March so newly hired Ryan Dungey could race one. Creatively, KTM offered a limited run of new models in 2012 with the performance Dungey and his team manager Roger DeCoster expected of the Austrians when they came aboard. These “half-year” models have been showing up every year since with varying degrees of updates and exclusivity. In a masterful stroke of marketing born out of necessity, KTM created a special-edition market in the motocross world while fueling some good-old-fashioned championships in the process.
Some years we’ve had incredible updates to current year MX models in KTM’s FEs—monumental shifts in the class. Other years’ models have been less significant and more pedestrian in desirability. The original 2012 Factory Edition gave us an all-new single-cam engine and added fuel injection to the marquee and Red Bull freakin’ graphics.
In 2016, the FE platform added the AER 48 fork and a host of other weight savings to drop the Factory Edition into a new normal of ultra-light class-leading statistics. Consider this, in 2017, when we weighed all comparable 450s, the KTM was more than 10 pounds lighter (all bikes full of fuel) than every bike in the class except two—the Kawasaki and Husqvarna. It was eight- and 2.5-pounds lighter than those, respectively. It was 15 pounds lighter than the Yamaha and the Suzuki, and the Suzuki had an air fork.
If you bought a 2016 Factory Edition, you were riding with that power-to-weight advantage months before anyone else. And the rest of the bike was amazing, too. It’s power, handling, and cornering all worked excellently. And if you’re lining up for Anaheim 1, having the most up-to-date performance a factory can pull off for a production run is priceless. Surely, the rapid manufacturing focus of KTM’s SX-F models had a significant influence on their corresponding success on the track.
For 2020, we’re in a bit of an in-between year. Sure, on paper, the 2020 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition doesn’t stand out as a big update. But the main areas it’s changed in are some of the most debated and bemoaned in media and test-riding circles. That tells us that KTM is paying attention and, like usual, isn’t satisfied with letting current models cool into complacency.
The big updates for 2020 come with the new fork and engine mapping. There’s also new graphics and a bunch of excellent bolt-on parts, but the updated fork internals and the updated mapping are the biggest performance indicators of where KTM’s heading in the future.
Before this, the KTM 450 SX-F has been in my top three MX bikes in the class for the past four years. I love the KTM’s power delivery, ergonomics, cornering, and style/design. I like KTM’s comparable cousin, the Husqvarna FC 450 Rockstar Edition package a little better for my smooth-power desires, but the KTM, as I said, is always on the podium. Usually, a Japanese bike sneaks in and shuffles my order around every year, but it hasn’t been often since 2016 that two-thirds of that personal-favorites podium is dominated by Austrians.
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition Review | Power
For some, KTM’s power delivery has been too, dare I say, mellow? No, that’s the right word. It’s just not as exciting as they want, maybe. I’m not on that train, but I’m also not a pro-level racer or tester (or pretending to be). I prefer the torque and controlled power of the KTM (Husqvarna, really) over snappy and aggressive-hitting power. I feel torque has more place than wheelspin for my riding ability and speed. I don’t have a lot of efficiencies to waste. With that said, I can get rowdy and enjoy a good elbow dislocation like the next guy. And KTM hasn’t done that as Yamaha and Kawasaki did a few years ago. Well, KTM has certainly tried to build it into this new update. The U.S.-based R&D team has pushed for more snap off the bottom for years, with Austria hesitant to make the bikes less ridable across the board. For 2020, Austria delivered a map that should keep Americans happier. But is it in the right spot?
KTM’s power delivery is generally controllable with an elevation in aggression in the low-to-mid and then it just keeps going until you pass out. The new “aggressive” on the 2020 Factory Edition map seems to amplify this curve with a big spin-up as the standard curve gains momentum. But it doesn’t drop the hit to the floor, where most people want snappy bark to feel gnarly. The bike certainly spins up quicker than before, but we think that it ramps up too late in the rpm range to satisfy the snap-addicts and pro-level aggressive response desires.
I tried all combos of the map switch in conjunction with traction control and my favorite is the stock map (“1” on the switch) without TC. It’s just good for me. I thought the aggressive map would be better, but I just lost traction when it ramped up, and then I felt a bit of a let down on the top-end. I prefer the more progressive stock map. And if they’re going to make a map hit with bottom-end power, I think it should be dropped down to the bottom.
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition Review | Suspension
This is probably the biggest story with the Factory Edition this year. Major fork component updates, changes, upgrades and mods abound. With the most significant being a new mid-valve damping system that opens the door to a future of more tunable, more compliant suspension action. The damping leg (opposed to the air, or “preload,” leg), gets new oil management tweaks as well. There’s a new oil bypass—stay with me here—inside of the outer tube to reduce pressure spikes as the fork moves through its range. The air (preload) side of the fork also gets updates via a longer bypass on the—stay with me again—outer of the inner tube to encourage an easier transition in fork action.
All this adds up to KTM’s ongoing commitment to the WP Xact AER fork technology. They aren’t giving up on the fork, and I don’t think they should. I like the front-tire pressure it generally has, and the small-bump complaints aren’t as big of a deal to me. Still, KTM is aiming to improve feel across the board and that means a few dynamic fork changes and accompanying shock updates/settings to the package.
It all works in their goal to provide a more compliant feel and smoothness to the suspension system, but I think they went too soft, overall. I ended up stiffening the suspension and slowing down the rebound to get the bike to settle in turns better. It worked, and I think it’s obvious KTM’s stock settings are made to bring comfort to the bike first, and then be adjusted stiffer as riders start setting them up for their tastes and weights and speeds. If you’ve been a fan of KTM suspension in the past, this will be good. If you’re a Yamaha KYB-only type of guy or gal, you’re going to be closer to the free-moving feel of that setup.
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition Review | Parts
Having all the latest and greatest engine maps and suspension settings KTM can provide is nice. But there’s something to be said for Red Bull Graphics, still. And what about these insanely rad triple clamps!? And the skid plate, and disc guard, and orange frame, and Akrapovic slip-on muffler, and Hinson clutch cover, and Factory D.I.D DirtStar Wheels, and anodized hubs and spoke nipples, and Selle Dalla Valle Factory Seat, and orange freakin’ sprocket!? To cap it all off you get a rear fender full of sponsors you don’t have to impress every weekend.
Part of going all-in on any special edition anything is having what others can’t or won’t. And that’s still a lot of the appeal here. Did I feel cool having this bike in my garage? Yep! Would a stock version make me feel as cool? No! Do cool dirt bikes make me happy? Yep!
If you can swing it, and want the coolest KTM available, this is the ticket. CN
2020 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition Specifications
||Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-valve, SOHC, single
|Bore / Stroke:
||Electric / 12.8V, 2 Ah
||Keihin EFI, 44 mm Throttle Body
||Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps
||Wet Multi-Disc DDS-Clutch, Brembo Hydraulics
||Central Double-Cradle Type 25CrMo4 Steel
||Neken, Aluminum Ø 28/22mm
||WP Xact USD Fork, 48mm
||WP Xact Monoshock with Linkage
||Brembo, disc, 260mm
||Brembo, disc, 220mm
||1.60 x 21 in. Excel
||2.15 x 19 in. Excel
||80/100-21 in. Dunlop MX33
||120/80-19 in. Dunlop MX33
||5/8 x 1/4 in.
|Triple Clamp Offset:
||58.5 ± 0.4 in.
|Weight (claimed, without fuel):