Bikes 28 May 2019

Impression: 2020 KTM 500 EXC-F

MotoOnline.com.au tests the 2020 KTM 500 EXC-F.

KTM recently hosted it’s 2020 EXC-F and EXC international media launch in Bassella, Spain, where the new generation enduro models were showcased for the very first time. MotoOnline.com.au had the opportunity to sample the entire range, including the big-bore 2020 KTM 500 EXC-F.

2020 ktm 500 excf review

Image: Supplied.

Where we rode:
The media launch took place at Bassella Experiences, about two and half east of Barcelona in Spain. The venue is a dedicated off-road park, and a unique 12km enduro loop, including a special test, was put together for the international press to put the bikes to the test. The trail offered varying surfaces and obstacles, including challenging rock sections, steep ascents and descents, tight and technical trail, plus fast and flowing trails. It really was the perfect venue to experience the entire collection, especially the 500 EXC-F.

2020 ktm 500 excf review

Image: Supplied.

Technical features:
A new generation means a complete overhaul of the predecessor, and for 2020, KTM’s target was to make the range, and the 500 EXC-F, more rideable, and they’ve achieved this by reworking key components. The engine is more efficient and produces greater power, the chassis has adjusted stiffness, the cooling system has been refined and the exhaust system is completely new to compliment the engine and electronics updates. All-new bodywork immediately catches the eye, however there’s more to it than just aesthetics – the panels have been intelligently designed to maintain strength while cutting down weight, while they’ve been reworked to slim the bike down, particularly on the exhaust number plate, which is now symmetrical with the left-hand side. The airbox has also undergone a makeover to improve airflow, and despite the adjustments, it still utilises the same air filter as its predecessor. As always, the KTM is fitted with only best componentry, including WP XPLOR suspension, Brembo brakes – which are clear standout – hydraulic clutch, Giant rims, Neken handlebars and electric starter.

2020 ktm 500 excf review

Image: Supplied.

Chassis feedback:
Years of development have gone into the new generation EXC-F chassis, and it’s evident riding the 500 with just how agile it is in the most tight and technical of trails. For 2020, it retains the same geometry as it’s predecessor, although stiffness levels have been adjusted in key areas of the frame, resulting in a more playful, yet stable, ride. With an abundance of power on tap on the 500, the frame and its workings really come front of mind, and it ticked all the boxes. Navigating tight trails was a breeze, overcoming obstacles was seamless, and the stability of the bike just injects confidence to stand up on the pegs in any situation, regardless if that’s in wide-open or narrow sections of trail. All-new for 2020 is the WP XPLOR fork and WP XPLOR shock. The fork is 48 mm diameter, and is a split fork design developed by WP and KTM. While each side is fitted with springs, they have separate damping functions – compression damping is on the left and the rebound on the right. At 75kg and intermediate skill level, the fork felt a little stiff in standard trim, although in saying that, I didn’t alter the clickers at all. You can really feel the potential with the fork, and I think additional time on the bike with some fine tuning would be all that’s needed to settle on a comfortable setting. The shock utilises KTM’s PDS (progressive damping system) design, unlike its motocross siblings – this is where the shock is directly linked to the swingarm without an additional linkage system, reducing weight and lowering the chances of hooking on rocks. The WP XPLOR shock offered a comforting feeling in standard trim, once again, I didn’t adjust the clickers. Straight off the bat, the bike tracked exceptionally well, particularly in the rougher and rockier sections of the trail, and provided plenty of confidence to push the limits further. The suspension package really compliments the reworked frame, and I felt comfortable and confident in just matter of minutes.

2020 ktm 500 excf review

Image: Supplied.

Motor characteristics:
At 510.9cc, the 500 EXC-F is a big-bore machine with an incredible amount of power, and for 2020, the contender has received a boost in rideability, efficiency and power. The 500’s powerplant is fitted with a newly-developed SOHC cylinder head which is much more compact, 15mm lower and 500g lighter, enhancing mass centralisation and handling, while the crankshaft is located in an ideal position close to the centre of gravity, utilising a short connecting rod, which makes for an overall compact and lightweight engine with a snappy power delivery. The torque of the EXC-F seems endless and is felt right throughout the rev-range, and while it’s known for it’s wide-open, desert racing-style qualities, the 500 emerged as a surprise favourite of mine in the trails, which I think is thanks to the ability of switching between maps while on the fly. The ECU features new maps for 2020 adapted to the new exhaust, airbox and engine configuration, and it regulates the unique traction control feature as well as the smooth and aggressive maps. Personally, I rode with the smooth map in almost all circumstances, which made the bike such a pleasure to ride – there was plenty of power there when I needed it with an obviously smooth delivery, but it wasn’t to the point where the bike was a beast to ride. Surprisingly, the 500 EXC-F offered me the most enjoyment and put the biggest smile on my face at the end of the day.

2020 ktm 500 excf review

Image: Supplied.

Final thoughts:
Overall, the 2020 KTM 500 EXC-F is my personal favourite in the four-stroke enduro range. The chassis and suspension work together seamlessly, offering confidence in all the conditions we faced, while the engine delivered a smooth and torquey power delivery that made it a real joy to ride. The ability to switch between maps makes this bike even more versatile – for someone wanting plenty of power without the hard work that goes with it, then the smooth map caters for that, while the hard-charging enduro or desert racer can take utilise the aggressive map, where the abundance of power is ready to be taken advantage of.

Vital specifications

Engine type: Four-stroke, single cylinder
Capacity: 510.9cc
Bore/stroke: 95mm x 72mm
Transmission: Six-speed
Seat height: 960mm
Weight: 105.6kg (dry)
Fuel capacity: 9.2l
Price: TBA
More details: www.ktm.com/au

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