First person report by Paul Wright
I'll come right to the point - these two bikes are arm stretching fast, do huge power slides, and pull monster wheelies any where, any time. I could almost end the report with that first sentence, because the first thing you notice about these bikes, and the thing you keep noticing, is that they both have been served an overdose of testosterone in the motor dept. They make power differently, but they definitely make the power, and its not just fun, it's addicting. Once you ride these two KTM's for any period of time, everything else seems weak. Both the KTM 450XCF and 300XC are class leading light, and sitting on the 300 gives you the feel of a ultra light and narrow 250 MX bike – mostly because it is almost exactly that. Just add 50cc more for that extra oomph, and suspension tuned for off-road use. The 450 feels like a 250 four stroke when you sit on it, and it is also very narrow and just does not give you the impression you are sitting on a 450 – until you taste what the motor has in store for you!
New and ready for action!
As strong as they both are, the 300XC two stroke and the 450XCF four stroke make their respective power in completely different ways, but probably not exactly as you might expect. The 300XC pulls far lower and better in the RPM scale than the 450 four stroke, and it seems that at times, you can lug the 300 down below idle RPM in second gear, and then just roll open the throttle for smooth and predictable torque from the sub basement of the RPM range. The four stroke 450 can't match that, and like every other big four stoke, you have to use the clutch at ultra low RPM on the 450 to control the power pulses and keep it from stalling. You have to ride modern four strokes higher than just off idle, and the KTM delivers abundant and smooth power once you get a few hundred RPM past idle speed. The smooth ultra low RPM torque delivery of the KTM 300 puts it in a class by itself if you are one of those riders that loves to keep momentum up and RPM low for controlled but fast riding.
But don't be fooled by the tractable and user friendly torque the 300XC has off the bottom. When the RPM's climb, it's a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story. The strong and controllable low end becomes monster midrange that becomes an absolute missile in the upper RPM 's. But it's not like you go from controlled torque to massive horsepower as if a switch was flipped. The 300 just makes more and more power as RPM 's increase, and by the halfway mark, you need to be holding on, because the 300 gets fast – way fast – and it does not quit through the upper RPM range until you decide it's time to get out of the throttle to preserve life and limb. In this respect the 450 and the 300 are similar. From mid RPM into the top of the RPM range, both bikes are incredibly fast and giant wheelies are the norm while huge roost will keep most anyone from trying to pass you – if they actually had a bike fast enough to do that.
Dirty and already seen action!
The 450 feels like it builds power slightly slower, in a normal 4-stroke fashion, but in a drag race, it comes down to which bike is getting just enough traction at the rear wheel to maximize acceleration without too much wheel spin, but not so much that you end up with a sudden and giant wheelie in 4 th gear at 60mph and have to roll out of the throttle. They both accelerate with Apollo booster rocket authority, and no one but Superman can use all the power these bikes have at higher RPM 's 100% of the time. But... it's really fun to have that set-your-eye-back-in-their-sockets acceleration on tap when you want it!
Lean and mean.
Riding on Jeep trails and dirt roads where you can use the mid to upper RPM range on either of these bikes is way fun for you, but it sucks for anyone behind you. Both the 300 and 450 will throw dirt clods, rocks as big as your fist, root chunks, and small mammals at any of your riding buddies trying to keep up. Both bikes wheelie in any gear, and do massive power slides in every turn on a dirt road... or they do both at the same time! The four stroke 450 is a little more predictable in giant power slides, and the taller gearing makes it a nicer ride on those fast sections of dirt roads. The 300XC has tighter gearing and will not pull the same top speed as the 450XCF, but unless you do a lot of super fast dirt roads, it's not a problem. Most riding areas, at least in the eastern half of the country, have very few places you can explore the top speed of either bike for very long, and in the case of the 450, almost never. The far end of sixth gear on the 450 will see close to 100 MPH . The 300 rips on dirt roads, but the 450XCF gets the nod for being the Jeep trail and dirt road King of Fun.
The 300XC is substantially lighter and has less gyro effect from the motor, and both of these traits are noticeable on typical trails where speeds are usually 5 to 35 mph. The 300 flicks left right left better than the 450, and you can get away with more on the 300 because of its light weight and flickability. The KTM 450 prefers you to pick a line and stay with it, however it does change lines much better than you expect from a 450 4-stroke. Much better. It's nothing like the feel of say, a much heavier CRF450X, or even last year's KTM 450XC. The 2008 KTM 450XCF is very good on trails, but as good as it is, the 300XC still works even better on most trails. The excellent ultra low RPM pull combined with the ultra light weight, plus the lower motor inertia, make the 300 rail like a 250 on steroids.
CHASSIS and SUSPENSION
The 2008 chassis and suspension on all the KTM's are, in a word, phenomenal. The new frame and swingarm have a completely different shock leverage ratio, and the shock is new too. The forks are the same as last year's SX and SXF cartridge fork, complete with nitrogen bladder, but revalved for off road duty rather than MX/SX. When you remove the fork cap, it comes off with a nitrogen bladder attached, and the fork spring is no longer accessible under the fork cap. The new chassis and suspension package makes the rear plusher on the small stuff and more settled over the high speed stuff. Both bikes turn better than last year's models, and the 08 bikes just feel more glued to the ground in flat turns and over the rough stuff. The rear of the bike stays planted like it is velcro'ed to the ground. When either end bottoms, it's not as harsh as last year's bikes, and the new chassis does not have the "squirm" felt from last year's bike when the shock bottomed. The new frame and suspension is simply impressive, and you know it 1 minute into your first ride. As with any bike, you need to install the correct springs front and rear for your weight and riding ability. Correct springs make a huge difference in any bike. Both bikes (and all bikes) are sprung too soft for me at 6' and 200 lbs (w/o gear), but I was surprised at how well they worked and the lack of harshness and squirming when I bottomed them out. Did I already mention the new chassis and suspension is impressive?
The 07 250SXF's/450SXF's have the same forks and chassis found on all the 08's, and our service tech and suspension wiz Johnny Barber has been riding a 07 250SXF this season in the GNCC XC2 Pro class, so we already have experience with the new chassis and suspension. The 2008 KTM's are very, very good and are closer to right than any other bikes I have ever ridden, but If you are a fast rider, you will still want to revalve the new forks and shock to suit your individual weight and riding style. There is just no way a manufacturer can make a shock and forks that work perfectly for beginners and pros, light and heavy riders, rooty woods in the east and deserts in the west.
Typical KTM – top quality components and motors that rip!
NUTS and BOLTS
Both bikes have kickstands, and the new kickstand and mount on the 2008 models are about a light year ahead of previous KTM models. It tucks in better, it's less cobby, plus it has a new larger foot and the angle is better so the bike sits on the stand great. The 300 gets the new updated cylinder design from the 2007 250SX, and it makes the 2008 300XC a powerhouse. The 2008 300XC is definitely stronger than the 2007 version. The 450XCF has the new motor design we saw in last year's 450SXF, complete with electric start, and it is both lighter and more powerful than the older 450cc RFS motor design. The new radiator shrouds are stronger and tougher than last year, and the cool graphics are clear laminated to the plastic. The bars are adjustable and have 4 different positions front to rear, delivered in the #2 position. Most average size riders will probably like the #3 position better, and taller riders will find the #4 position (most forward) is a giant help to comfortable stand up riding. Jetting is not too far off as delivered on either bike, but as always, it will need some tweaking for your location – altitude, ambient temps, and humidity – if you want maximum performance. After jetting both bikes, the 300 had the most noticeable power increase. It was a little too rich through the middle, and 2-strokes don't like to be too rich. A crisply jetted KTM 2-stroke will put a smile on your face every time.
The CDI on both these bikes have two maps built in, and unplugging a black/white stripe wire near the top of the left radiator will make the CDI default to an ignition curve more suited for traction in muddy or slick conditions. Pretty cool when you consider how strong both these motors are, and how hard they accelerate the rear wheel. As always, the components KTM uses are first rate, from the Renthal bars to the Brembo brakes to the Excel rims. Overall quality is superb, and the fit and finish on all the 08's is the better than ever.
See the little wire connector next to the top of the radiator?
Keep it plugged in for the performance map, unplug it for the traction map.
AND THE WINNER IS...
Tough choice. Both bikes do so much so well. Both bikes handle better and have better suspension than last year. Both bikes have motors that thrill you 110% of the time. Both have an amazingly high fun factor. But as similar as these bikes are, they feel way different when riding them. The light weight and less motor inertia of the 300 make it better, in my opinion, for general trail use and for woods racing. The 450 is about as good as it gets for playing around at warp speeds on fast trails and dirt roads, but is also a very competent woods racer on courses that are not too tight. The 300 flicks between trees better, the 450 can come out of a turn and with a stab at the clutch lever and clear a jump only 15 ft ahead with more air time than you thought was possible. How do you choose? Hell, buy both! Your wife doesn't really need that nice new expensive SUV she drives, does she? Sell that SUV gas pig, get her a cheaper car, and use the money to buy both the 300XC and the 450XCF!
Well, maybe that's not the best plan, but it may be easier than choosing between the new 2008 KTM 450XCF and 300XC...
A day of riding done – time to wash 'em up