We have to take the good with the bad, and while it is good that the 250 EXC-F now exists when it didn’t previously, it is bad (depending if you were a fan or not) that there are no more XCF-WS in KTM’S lineup. There are still XC-WS (250 and 300 two-strokes), but if you want a linkage-less, headlighted, wide-ratio four-stroke, the EXC-FS are your only options from Big Orange.
You can think of the 250 EXC-F as a hybrid between the SX-F and the former XCF-W with a plate. The frame, seat, and a majority of the engine are the same as the SX-F model, meaning the motor is more compact and 3.3 pounds lighter than the ’16 XCF-W. The WP suspension is unique to the ’17 EXC-FS. The Xplor 48 fork is an open-chamber design that is claimed to be almost a half a pound lighter than last year’s EXC’S fork. The Xplor shock is shorter, smaller (46mm from 50mm piston diameter), and a claimed 1.3 pounds lighter.
Another unique innovation is the inclusion of a reed cage… We bet you didn’t see that coming! But it isn’t in the same place or for the same purpose as reed cages on two-strokes. The 250’s reed cage is located in the airboot, before the throttle body, and it is designed to stop engine noise from coming back through the intake tract, which it does really well. All of the EXC-FS are really quiet, and out of the three models, the quarter-liter bike is downright stealthy.
Now you must be wondering how all of this works, and we can definitively say we were impressed with the 250 EXC-F. Starting with the few cons, on the street, the bike pretty much maxes out at 65 mph, so you don’t want to use it as a commuter unless you live in a small town with low speed limits. Second, the Continental TKC 80 tires are not for dirt-only use. They work on the “not” side of okay on the trails but are great for long stints on gravel roads.
With the motor, we were a little nervous about the reed cage hurting power, but to our surprise, the bike has a considerable amount of pep. Its SX-F pedigree shines through more than we had thought it would, but there is still a difference: It’s almost as if each power stroke of the engine is blunted where the motocrosser is sharper. Likewise, the EXC-F has a smooth bottom-end, a hearty mid, and it still pulls impressively far on top. When climbing loose hills, the slightly tamed-down power had us worried at the beginning of the ascent, but the top-end just keeps pulling and you can really scream it like the trackonly bike.
The Xplor suspension wasn’t much of a surprise, which isn’t a bad thing. As with EXCS of the past, the fork and shock lean much further in the comfort direction than they do in the performance area. The Xplor fork has plush, soft action that is pretty active feeling; slowly picking through creek beds and rooty single-track would make it, and its rider, really happy. Once you hit a G-out or point down a steep, rough descent, the front end has a hollow or empty feeling, blowing through the stroke easily. Fortunately, the Xplor fork has a whole different internal damping system that responds much more aggressively than the previous fork to clicker changes. To change the whole feel of the fork, we went five clicks in (stiffer) on the compression, and this helped a lot; we got the hold-up we were looking for without sacrificing too much comfort at low speeds. But this setup also gives the fork a feeling like we were only using the top half of the stroke, though it was our best setting for the rest of the rides on the EXC-F.
The PDS shock is similarly soft but more consistent through the stroke. PDS shocks in general are more accepting of a sitdown style of riding (grass-track-ish), and this new Xplor is no different.
We tested the bike in low- and highspeed trails and its very nimble, lightweight feeling had us looking for the tightest routes we could find. And while it will never be a desert racer, it held its own in some sand washes and fire roads. Handling-wise, the weakest link is the tires. The bike’s agility is present (via its low weight and SX-F geometry), but the ADV rubber doesn’t like to be leaned very far in the dirt and especially in sand. When we think about the question, “Who is this bike for?” a cool answer pops into our collective mind. Almost everyone. We’d be just as happy teaching someone to ride on this bike as we would riding it to an enduro, racing it, and riding it home. If you have any inkling that you’d like to do some globe-trotting or think a windscreen would be cool, this isn’t the bike for you, but if you like tight trails, agility, all-day comfort, and waving at cops as you ride on the street, the KTM 250 EXC-F fits that bill nicely.
As far as 250F dual-sports go, we are hard-pressed to name a better bike.
Not quite electric-bike quiet but pretty darn close. We could easily talk over its idle without raised voices.
The Continental TKC 80s are a compromise. Not horrible in the dirt but definitely
not our first choice.