Thursday, March 10, 2011

2010 KTM 150 XC First Ride

He’s been called dirty for plenty of reasons, but Hilde always likes it best when it involves two wheels. Riding crappy bikes since age 13 and devouring every moto mag in sight, he’s an off-road enthusiast through and through.

2010 KTM 150 XC First Ride
The 2010 KTM 150 XC offers a between-class displacement that makes riding and racing a whole lot of fun for several reasons.
Stepping outside of the displacement racing categories can be daunting or unfamiliar. It can also be extremely rewarding which is what I’m coming to enjoy most about riding KTM dirt bikes. Japanese manufacturers don’t offer the same variety, and even though KTM has dropped models from its lineup, it continues to offer bikes like the new 2010 KTM 150 XC for those who compete based on skill level or age, or simply like to ride something different.

Though it’s the first time KTM has offered the 144cc machine in the XC trim, the overzealous 125 has been around as a SX model since 2008. This cross-country version is based off the motocross version, but with specific tweaks to make it function better and more reliably as an off-road bike. Yes, it gets a kickstand, but it doesn’t get an electric starter - the only 2-stroke in KTM’s lineup not to have one. It’s not like you need it anyway since it lights first kick every time, but the conversion wasn’t so simple.

Switching to an off-road application necessitated some changes in the transmission as well. The final 13/50 gearing is shorter to help compensate for the taller top three gears in the six-speed, close-ratio box. First through third are the same ratios as the former SX model, but first has been reinforced to help boost durability.

The triple clamp is all-new and a major factor in the bike’s attitude. With a fixed 22mm offset compared to the adjustable 18-20mm version in 2009, the new XC gets added stability. After over-developing rigidity into the chassis, designers are trying to put some of that flex back in to the front end. Dropping from three to two pinch bolts on the lower clamp helps accomplish that. Overall we felt very comfortable with the new chassis geometry, including the half-degree steeper steering head angle which is intended to put more emphasis on the front tire for better feel and cornering ability.

2010 KTM 150 XC First Ride

2010 KTM 150 XC First Ride
The new triple clamp highlights
the front end, but it doesn't allow
for the handlebars to turn very far.
A nimble chassis and spirited
motor make the restrictive steering
much less obtrusive.
If there was one thing we noticed about the handling it was that the steering locks are very close together, leaving little room for the oversized aluminum handlebars to turn. Compared to the 250 XC and 300 XC, there is a very drastic reduction in handlebar movement. The 150 still has a very small turning radius on the trail, much aided by its thin, lightweight dimensions, but slow, tight sections where the bars are turned lock-to-lock bring out this weakness. It was our biggest complaint, and other testers on hand nodded in agreement about the observation.

As part of the revised front end, a new closed-cartridge fork from WP is bolted on. We found that the initial setup was a bit stiff even for the tester’s 180 lbs at B-level speed. The White Power components added to a slightly nervous feel during the ride. However, light, zingy 2-strokes tend to have that sensation regardless. Our testing did not allow for a lot of adjustment time and we’d anticipate making strides if given the time to tinker with compression and rebound clickers. New seal and bushing in the fork and tighter tolerances reduce friction between the upper and lower tubes. Engineers were then able to increase the amount of available damping which leads to better bottoming resistance. We only taxed the fork on the motocross section during our test at the Olympia, Washington WORCS race. The rear shock was also adequate for our tester and added to the surprise that neither end was undersprung.

The motor gets a new cylinder with different casting techniques and higher-precision porting. A thinner Twin-Air air filter sits inside a reworked airbox which has better protection against water entering – a problem more common to the off-road world. Another concern for enduro riders is changing elevation over the course of a ride, but the 150 doesn’t get any fancy fuel injection to compensate. The premix is dispensed via a Keihin carburetor which ran well at Straddleline ORV Park’s sub-2000-foot elevation. It did load up a bit coming from low rpm before smashing into the powerband, but we were more interested with how willing it was to lug down. The 56mm x 58.4mm bore and stroke motor doesn’t have the low end of the 250 XC, but it does pull better than a standard 125. It doesn’t work well enough to be the desired riding style, but it was enough to get through some sections with improper gear selection or simply to avoid spinning the tire in nasty stuff.

However, the bike really comes alive once it starts to get on the pipe (which has a thicker gauge steel for the sidewalls moving from 0.88 to 1.0mm). The jump isn’t violent, but it definitely comes on with authority and makes for a seriously fun kick. It’s enough to make you squeeze that skinny chassis with your knees because it has enough motor to run with 250F machines in the right conditions, especially X model 4-strokes.

A 1.8 bar radiator cap replaces the previous 1.4 and helps keep the steam in check when pushing the engine temps to maximum levels. One of the features I appreciated most, though seemingly small, was the translucent fuel tank. It really is great to be able to check fuel level without having to remove the gas cap. This is the perfect example of how refined the KTM machines are.

2010 KTM 150 XC First Ride2010 KTM 150 XC First Ride
Riding or racing, the KTM 150 XC is damn good and even more fun.
Once the bike gets up to speed, hauling it down again is just as much fun. With a claimed tank-empty weight of 200 pounds, we couldn’t stop ourselves from doing stoppies at every chance we got during the photo shoot. Even though we couldn’t feel a direct change in the brake performance courtesy of the new Toyo brake pads, we can say that these are some of the best brakes you can buy. The front especially impressed us with its progressive feel. Equipped with the SX brake caliper which was new in 2009, the XC has amazing power yet not a single hint of grabbiness. The rear was also especially easy to get a feel for under our Sidi Crossfire boots.

If there’s any downside to the 150, it’s that KTM has opted to let it replace the popular 200 XC. While not necessarily a high-profile race winner, the 200 has plenty of supportive followers. Known for more midrange grunt, these bikes are similar, but significantly different. However, the 2010 KTM 150 XC carries on the Ready to Race tradition of a lightweight, extremely fun 2-stroke. It offers more than a 125 with the same attributes that make riding tiddlers so much fun. The 150 is an exceptional bike for all around purposes, but once you figure out how to fit it into your racing program, the $6998 KTM really starts to show its benefits. We haven’t found a 2-stroke recently that really got us interested enough to request a long-term unit, especially with a wet and slippery winter right around the corner, but the 2010 KTM 150 XC made us say the word “fun” so many times that we’d love to have it in our garage, whether we race it or not.

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