MotoOnline.com.au tests the 2017 KTM 500 EXC-F at the world launch.
Words: Guy Streeter
The KTM 500 EXC-F is hugely popular in Australia, ranking as the top-selling off-roader from the Austrian manufacturer in previous years and in 2017 it would be easy to why this will probably continue. And if there’s one person to show exactly what it’s capable of with the throttle wide-open, it’d be Dakar champion Toby Price at the high-speed the Finke Desert races.
MotoOnline.com.au was recently invited to Les Comes in Spain for the world launch of the full 2017 KTM EXC-F and EXC range. The new generation of KTM enduro weaponry has been redesigned from the ground up with a load of new ‘smart’ features that don’t nessesarly improve performance, but rather make your life easier on the trail and improve the overall function of the bike.
Having said that the whole range has been redeveloped entirely. KTM have focused on making the new range ‘lighter, stronger, faster’. If you want to go fast like Ricky Bobby (or Toby Price in this case), the KTM 500 EXC-F is the bike for you.
The MY17 500 EXC-F has a massive 63 horsepower! Five kilograms lighter and more nimble than ever before, this powerhouse easily takes care of business in tight trails, using the ample torque of the engine and lugging a higher gear, then delivers more power than you know what to do with on straightaways.
Upon first impression of the 2017s, you are going to notice a few things are a little different. Let’s start with the plastics. KTM has returned to the orange headlight surround, which can now be removed without the use of tools. The rear fender has a grab-handle built in, which is designed to aid you in tricky situations.
The 8.5-litre white/opaque fuel tank with integrated fuel pump, additional fuel sensor and new 90-degree fuel line connector to help prevent damage out on the trail. It is certainly not the first time KTM has put these tanks on its machines, but one thing is for certain, you are never guessing how much fuel you have left.
KTM has also redesigned the airbox with a multi-directional air filter cage, helping the user get a better seal and preventing dirt sneaking through and causing damage. The seat has been modified for a flatter profile, reduced up to 10mm in height to increase comfort.
Continuing with the cockpit, KTM has designed new ‘no dirt’ footpegs and matching ‘nodirt’ shift lever, which obviously not something that is going to add to performance, rather improve your riding experience and preventing problems on the trail.
Gripping the handlebars you will be wrapping your hands around ODI lock-on grips. If you’re like me and hate messing around with gluing and wiring your grips on, then it’s just going to make your life a little easier.
Another treat we were privy to while riding the new 500 EXC-F was the traction control and mapping switch. An aftermarket PowerPart that can be installed to give the rider a choice of two maps and option of traction control, it’s certainly a feature that will be a useful tool on the largest capacity machine in the range.
Like every other KTM, Brembo brakes come fitted as standard, giving you great stopping power and great overall feel. Brembo, in conjunction with KTM, has developed the rear brake caliper further for better function and feel. Also fitted is a Brembo hydraulic clutch, giving you a constantly light feel.
Once you have moved past the new graphics, plastics cockpit and overall look of the bike, your attention’s going to be drawn to motor. For the majority, it’s exactly why you’re interested in purchasing the 500 EXC-F in the first place.
Down on weight and sheer size, the redesign of the engine is to centralise the mass of the engine within the newly-designed frame. The 2017 KTM 500 EXC-F has more torque than ever before and really loves being short-shifted and cruised around in a higher gear than not.
The 500 EXC-F delivers an enormous amount of power, being fed by an all new Keihin engine management system with 42mm throttle body and new injector positioning, allowing better throttle response and ability to control the big-bore fire-breather better.
The 500 EXC-F sports a six-speed transmission with tailor-made transmission ratios. A clever gear sensor adjusts the engine’s power curve to the selected gear, as well as the trail surface conditions.
KTM has removed the kick-starter to improve weight reduction. With all modern cars doing away with hand cranks years ago, why do bikes still have kick starters? Well I guess battery weight in previous years is a major reason, but with the reduction in weight of modern batteries and increased reliability – this lithium ion battery is only 495g – it’s time to ditch the kick-start.
Helping tame this monster, KTM has developed a mapping switch and traction control as mentioned above, something that is really going to help in wet and slippery conditions. The traction control comes into play when the TC setting is selected, so when the engine has a rapid increase in RPM, the power being delivered is curbed to help maintain grip.
The reason KTM has been able to centralise the mass of the bike is the new chassis. It’s been developed to flex 30 percent more (front to back), providing better absorption and allows the frame to work better with the suspension.
An increase of stiffness side to side provides better cornering performance and giving better feedback to the rider. The redesign of the chassis and swingarm has allowed KTM to move the PDS shock closer to the centre of the chassis, giving a more symmetrical performance.
WP has developed the all-new XPlor 48mm fork and PDS shock to complement the MY17 KTM range – the fork’s lighter and adjustment is improved. The spring forks have compression on the left and rebound on the right, 30 clicks of adjustment to the 300mm travel fork. An aftermarket three-setting pre-load adjuster can be purchased through KTM, furthering adjustability on the fly.
As for the rear suspension, the new WP PDS shock has been improved upon with a different internal design to improve bottoming and giving a more progressive feel towards the bottom of the stroke and for the 500 EXC-F this is a real asset.
KTM prepared a rocky, flowy 12km loop and special test in Les Comes, for media to experience the latest generation of its well-credentialled enduro line-up. It was a fun trail, unique in its setting, that provided the perfect way for us to try them on for size.
The 2017 KTM 500 EXC-F is a bike with some vital numbers at 5kgs lighter which boasting 63hp! More power than Price’s Finke-winning race bike, you can twist the throttle as far as you dare and the 500 EXC-F will keep producing power.
When you step back and take a look at the horsepower of the 450 vs 500, you would think that the 500 would too much. This may have been the case in year’s past, but with a drastic reduction in overall weight and the ability to use the torque of the 500 using a higher gear, it really is an impressive bike and surprisingly agile.
The tighter single trail we were treated to in Spain really didn’t feel like hard work on the 500 EXC-F like I thought it might be, however the handling really did shine on the open, flowing trails using the torque of the bike in a higher gear that took the edge off the power.
The chassis is the main reason for this, centralising the mass, along with the all new WP XPlor suspension. The suspension is plush and confidence-inspiring over the smaller bumps and more than capable on the larger hits we experienced.
The general feel of the bike is comfortable and neutral, plus the footpegs are approximately six millimetres higher than the SX range. Not that you will notice this much or anything, but if you are a taller rider then you can switch out the pegs easily. The handlebars can also be moved to four different settings within the triple clamps to improve rider feeling and position.
The 2017 KTM 500 EXC-F will be hitting Australian shores at the end of July/early August this year with a price tag to be announced. The traction control and mapping switch will also be available for $189.99. Further information on KTM’s complete range and specifications can be found on its official website at www.ktm.com.au.