You know the saying, there’s no replacement for displacement. Bigger is always better when it comes to engine size and power output. We thought the same. That is until we began spending more time on the mid-size 350cc machines in the latter portions of 2023. The middleweight option from KTM falls somewhere in no man’s land, as it’s neither a 250 nor a 450. We set out to find out if it is the perfect compromise between the two.
Photography by Jesse Ziegler
There’s a bit of a rift in the big-bike market. Riding a 250 might not be enough juice for a bigger or more experienced pilot. If you still choose to go that route, you might be riding it too hard, which in turn leads to shorter service intervals and the overall cost of maintaining the machine. But riding a 450 might feel like too much oomph for a casual weekend warrior. After all, 60ish horsepower isn’t something to scoff at when the rider’s age can be in that same range, too.
Enter the 350 SX-F. At 224.65 pounds without fuel, the 350 weighs in about two pounds heavier than the 250 but only one pound lighter than the larger 450. And according to KTM’s power department, the 350 pumps out 57 peak horsepower, 10 more than the 250 and six less than the 450. The frames, wheels, and other components are the same across the three SX-F models, making the engine the biggest differentiator.
For 2024, the bike gets no major changes as it received a full generational update in 2023. The frame, swingarm, shock mount and engine were all new a year ago, and KTM chose to keep those updates the same in the new model year. The electronics still feature two different maps, standard and aggressive, with traction control and quickshifter coming as standard features. For ‘24, the 350 SX-F gets new graphics and updated suspension settings. Remember, the front suspension is the WP Xact Air Fork, and the “spring rate” is tuned via an air pump. Both the fork and shock feature plastic finger adjusters, which make clicker changes a tool-free, hassle-free process.
On paper, the 350’s weight and power output seem more comparable to the 450, and it’s easy to think of it as simply being a “smaller 450.” But that’s not exactly the case. In fact, you’d be better off classifying it as a “bigger 250.” That’s because the engine character of the 350 is less “luggy” like the 450 and more “revvy” like a 250. It has more torque than a 250 off the bottom but transitions into that familiar free-revving character in the mid to top. This is the real sweet spot, as the 350 does its best work in the higher rev ranges. It also offers more over-rev than the 250. The second and third gears are strong on the 350 and carry much higher into the red than we anticipated. Think of the way you rev and carry speed on a 250 and apply that thinking to the 350. Yes, you can still be a bit “lazy” on it and ride a gear high, but you don’t want to lug this bike as much as you would on the larger 450 since the sheer, low-end grunt just isn’t as comparable. It certainly feels faster than its 250 counterpart, but its overall personality wants to be ridden in a similar fashion.
What really stands out while riding this bike is the overall maneuverability. With less rotating mass inside the engine, the 350 feels light and flickable. It might only measure out to be a one-pound difference, but at the end of a moto, I didn’t feel as tired as I did when doing the same duration on the 450. On track, the 350 feels more like a lightweight 250 and allows you to ride longer with less fatigue. Moving it into the rut of choice or using body English to correct the bike in the air doesn’t require as much effort as the bulkier 450. A 450 motocrosser is a lot to manage at speed, and the controllability of the 350 is a pleasant surprise when you see the halfway point in your race.
Racers might find a few drawbacks when lining up with the 350 since it bumps them up to the faster 450 or Open classes. But don’t think this means you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight. The 350 was picked by some of our testers as the bike of choice on tracks with tighter layouts. Here, the raw horsepower of a 450 isn’t as necessary, and the lightweight, fast-revving personality of the 350 can be seen as more of an advantage. Larger displacement does universally reign supreme on a faster, wide-open track like Glen Helen Raceway, but you’ll still find positives when riding the 350. On this style of track, the overall speed might not be as high on the 350, but the rider can likely maintain a strong pace for a longer time when compared to riding the more powerful 450.
In our time with the 350 SX-F, we opted to keep it stock and only replaced necessary wear items like tires, grips, etc. The platform is well-rounded for any ability level and has been equally hard to pry away from one test rider to another. We also raced this machine at the Day In The Dirt, where it carried us to a win in the Open Expert division. Race testing helped us find our preferred settings, too, with map two being our go-to for its more “450-esque” power character. The electronics are fun to play with, especially traction control when it gets slick, but they weren’t a must-have for our riders.
The only big changes we made were to the suspension, where we softened the fork and slowed the rebound. With the new ‘23-and-up chassis being stiffer than before, our orange-blooded testers wanted some added comfort like the previous generations. Softening the fork and slowing the rebound helped the front end stay planted and gave our guys extra confidence out on the track.
The 350 is the do-it-all track bike as it fills the void of a black-and-white 250 versus 450 scenario. Many of our riders said it would be their choice if they could only have one bike in the garage. Riders can push it hard like a 250 without totally sacrificing the open-class power needed to keep up with the larger 450s. The fact that it feels light on the track inspires confidence and doesn’t wear down the rider as fast. While there is no replacement for displacement, and likely never will be, the 350 SX-F offers a fair trade of power and performance.CN
2024 KTM 350 SX-F Specifications
|Bore x Stroke
|88 x 57.5mm
|Fuel injection with Keihin EMS
|Wet multi-disc DS clutch, Brembo hydraulics
|WP Xact 48mm
|WP Xact Monoshock with linkage
|Weight (dry, claimed)