2017 KTM 250 EXC-F

Dirt Rider - - Long Haul: - STORY BY MICHAEL ALLEN PHOTO BY DREW RUIZ

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, le­gal rid­ing ar­eas seem to be dis­ap­pear­ing, so I jumped at the chance to ride the 2017 KTM 250 EXC-F dual-sport. There is some­thing spe­cial about be­ing able to gear up in the com­fort of your own garage and ride onto the streets and into the hills. Upon re­ceiv­ing the new KTM, one of the first things I no­ticed was the choked-up-look­ing ex­haust tip with a thick screen at the out­let. I’m sure this is EPA re­lated but nev­er­the­less ham­pers the bike’s abil­ity to breathe, which is very im­por­tant, es­pe­cially for a 250.

The first ride I took the EXC-F on was in­tended to be an easy trail ride, but as rides of­ten end up when I lead, it soon mor­phed into an ex­treme en­duro-es­que ad­ven­ture. On the faster-paced trails lead­ing to the hard rid­ing I no­ticed that al­though the KTM is heavy when pulling it off a stand, it feels nim­ble on the trails. When they are tight, this is a good trait, but when speeds pick up, the bike has a slightly ner­vous/twitchy feel­ing. I’m sure DOT tires didn’t help the sit­u­a­tion, but this feel­ing is still present when cruis­ing on the high­way at higher speeds. The stock tires are ba­si­cally ad­ven­ture bike tires, so we swapped them out with Dot-ap­proved Metzeler MC360 units that proved to be much bet­ter than stock, though they’re still not as good as full off-road tires once in the dirt.

Once into the more tech­ni­cal rocks, the PDS rear sus­pen­sion soaked up sharp hits com­fort­ably, but if a rock was hit a lit­tle off cen­ter, the rear end seemed to get bounced off line eas­ily. I added four clicks of re­bound, which seemed to some­what rem­edy the is­sue. It was when the trail started to go up­hill that the street-le­gal side of the EXC-F be­came more ap­par­ent.

Keep­ing in mind the bike had DOT tires, it was still pretty poor when it came to stop­ping and start­ing on hills; in my opin­ion, this was mostly due to the stock tall gear­ing com­bined with a fairly choked-up en­gine. First gear was tall, which called for quite a bit of clutch slip­page to get the bike into the rpm range where it made good power. Al­though the bike never boiled over, the stock ra­di­a­tor fan was work­ing over­time, which was fine with me since there was still a long ride back af­ter the long climb. Once the ride was over the only thing dam­aged was the bot­tom of the li­cense plate where the tire kissed it on hard bot­to­mouts. The stock li­cense plate mount was sur­pris­ingly strong, as well as the turn sig­nals, which took plenty of abuse with­out break­ing off.

Since that hard ride I have mostly rid­den the bike on the street and on easy trails near my home. On the street, the gear­ing is quite nice, with first through fifth gear be­ing fairly close to­gether and sixth gear act­ing as an over­drive for free­way rid­ing. Al­though it’s only 250cc, the KTM cruises quite hap­pily at speeds around 70 mph with­out feel­ing like it’s be­ing abused; of course I needed to find out the top speed (in a le­gal, con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment, nat­u­rally), which was 85 mph.

To­ward the end of my time with the EXC-F I in­stalled an FMF Pow­er­core 4, which greatly helped the bike breathe and made a con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ence in horse­power. Al­though it pro­duced more power, there are two down­sides to the af­ter­mar­ket muf­fler. One is that the bike is now not le­gal to ride on the street be­cause the fac­tory ex­haust has been re­moved, and two is that the Pow­er­core 4 is a lit­tle too loud and an­noy­ing for long-dis­tance rid­ing. I would rec­om­mend the Q se­ries muf­fler for the EXC-F in­stead of the Pow­er­core 4.

Af­ter rid­ing a lot of miles on the 2017 KTM 250 EXC-F it’s clear that KTM con­tin­ues to be the leader in the dual-sport class. The dual-sport cat­e­gory has been miss­ing a small cc bike that’s great for any­one who doesn’t feel the need to have a large cc bike. Even for the ex­pe­ri­enced rider this bike is still a blast; I mean, af­ter all, it’s much more en­ter­tain­ing to ride a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slow.

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