There is an inherent “hope gene” in every person that believes things will get better, that tomorrow is a better day, that good things come to those who wait, and that this year’s new model is better than last year’s new model. And so it goes with motocross bikes. Even when we have positive proof that a bike hasn’t gotten better, people still run out and buy the new bike because it must be better—it just must be.
Take the 2009 Honda CRF450 as an example. It was not as good as the 2008 CRF450—or the 2007 CRF450 for that matter. It had a mellow engine, useless clutch and weird handling. In 2010, Honda didn’t make any significant changes; it was still a mellow bike with a bad clutch and strange handling. But people said, “Oh, the 2010 Honda is much improved over the 2009.” It wasn’t, but they wanted it to be—and they were still saying the same thing in 2012, even though the engine was still weak, the clutch was still pitiful and the handling was odd. Now that the 2013 Honda CRF450 has been released, they are saying the same thing, except this time they are right.
Which leads the MXA wrecking crew to KTM. We must admit that with each passing year, KTMs just keep getting better. They have avoided the dreaded step backwards that has hindered almost every other manufacturer at some point in history.
WHETHER BY DESIGN OR ACCIDENT, KTM HAS FOUND A WAY TO DEFEAT THE AMA PRODUCTION RULE, WHICH REQUIRES ALL AMA SUPERCROSS BIKES TO START AS OFF-THE-SHOWROOM-FLOOR MODELS.
And whether by design or accident, KTM has found a way to defeat the AMA production rule, which requires all AMA Supercross bikes to start as off-the-showroom-floor models. Whether nefarious or accidental, Roger DeCoster is on to something. He never liked the production rule in the first place. And why would he? When the 1986 production rule was first implemented, Roger DeCoster was Honda’s World Team consultant—and his riders were sitting on exotic, one-off, custom-made, $50,000 works bikes. They shared almost zero parts with the production CR250s and CR125s of the time, and Roger liked it that way. What team manager wouldn’t?
In one fell swoop, the AMA production rule banned Team Honda’s works bikes and sent Roger and his HRC minions back to the drawing board to try to turn the production bikes into semi-works bikes. Don’t cry for Roger; he still had David Bailey, Ricky Johnson, Jeff Stanton, Jean-Michel Bayle, Doug Henry, Micky Dymond, Steve Lamson and Jeremy McGrath in his employ. They were good workers and got the job done on the production-based bikes.
2013-1/2 KTM 450SXF-FE: The Big Four are amazed that KTM is willing to not only invest heavily in dirt bikes in a down market, but to make special limited-edition production runs at the same time.
Most factory teams try to defeat the production rule by cheating—oops, did we just say that? We mean by creative interpretation of the rule book, lobbying for rule changes and scouring the fine print for loopholes in the language. It is a time-honored racing tradition to try to get away with whatever you can get away with.
But, as the head honcho at Team KTM, Roger has found the key to the Holy Grail of production racing. By utilizing the poorly written AMA homologation rules, Roger has been able to provide star pupil Ryan Dungey with a full-blown works bike for both the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The magic of what Roger has done lies in the fact that it is totally legal for Dungey to get an exotic, one-off, custom-made bike for his own use.
Here is how the rule—and KTM’s use of the rule—works. Under the AMA homologation rule, no one can race a bike that isn’t produced and sold to the public. All good. The manufacturer must produce bills of lading to prove that the correct number of bikes have been made, shipped and are for sale. All good. At least 400 bikes must be offered for sale to the public (this number is selected to keep the factory teams from building 10 bikes and giving all of them to the race team). Under the current AMA rules, only eight of the 400 bikes can be used by the race team (although if they make more than 400 units, they can get as many of the overrun as they want). All good. To be homologated, the bike must be presented to the AMA, along with a check for $3000 and a handful of parts and diagrams. All good.
Relative: The big news on the Dungey Replica was about the new engine cases, but that change was only to save weight.
Where the AMA homologation rule goes wrong is that the AMA does not demand that the 400 bikes be available to the public before the racing season starts. Instead, only 200 of these bikes have to be available by March 1, 2013 and the second 200 by June 1, 2013. Not good. That means that for the majority of the 2012 and 2013 AMA Supercross series, Ryan Dungey was the only rider to have access to a factory replica. In fact, the Supercross season is over, and the AMA Nationals are started before the second half of the production run has to be in the showrooms.
THERE HAVE BEEN CASES WHERE FACTORY TEAMS HAVE RACED A BIKE UNDER THIS RULE AND THEN NEVER PRODUCED THE 400 UNITS REQUIRED BY THE AMA.
There have been cases where factory teams have raced a bike under this rule and never produced the 400 units that were required by the AMA; it wasn’t KTM. Guess what? The AMA didn’t lift a finger to penalize them.
Bolt on: Buyers of the Factory Edition not only get the new engine cases and orange frame, but also a front rotor guard.
Last year, before the 2012 season started, Roger DeCoster was between a rock and a hard place. He needed a fuel-injected 450cc motocross KTM to fulfill his commitment to Ryan Dungey, who had left Team Suzuki on the promise of a new machine. Luckily for Roger and Ryan, KTM had built a fuel-injected 2011 enduro bike with a new engine design. It wasn’t offered as a motocross bike and didn’t even come in a linkage frame, but it was a starting point. Roger cajoled KTM’s management into giving him carte blanche to take the enduro engine, revise the running gear, put in a five-speed tranny, build a new frame and, before the start of the 2012 Supercross season, have a one-off race bike ready for Ryan Dungey. KTM accepted the challenge and not only got one bike ready for Dungey, but nine others to use for testing and promotion.
What KTM achieved was a Herculean feat. They had built a totally new bike, promised to make 400 of them, and did it in time for DeCoster and Dungey to get it race-ready by January 5, 2012. In essence, the first Factory Edition was the stalking horse for the 2013 production bike. But it couldn’t be called a 2013 model for administrative reasons, so it was named the 2012-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, or “Ryan Dungey Replica.”
Eventually, but well in time to beat the deadlines set by the AMA rule book, KTM produced over 400 Factory Editions, sold them for a premium price, and that was that. It was thought to be a one-time deal, never to be repeated.
Power: Because KTM removed the kick starter bosses on the engine case, they had to go through homologation again.
Surprise! Now, 12 months later, KTM is introducing the 2013-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition, or “Ryan Dungey Replica 2.0.” We know what you are thinking, because we are thinking the same thing: KTM was so successful with the 2012 Factory Edition—winning four Supercross events and the AMA 450 National Championship—that they are going to build a brand-new works bike and repeat the process. You, and we, can be excused for thinking that KTM is just doing this to beat the production rule and give Dungey a leg up on the rule book—but it’s not true.
Even if we are conspiracy theorists at heart, here is the real reason that KTM is going through the homologation process again in 2013. KTM is totally committed to electric start on their race bikes, and because the engine that Roger DeCoster adopted last year was borrowed from an enduro bike, it was equipped with both a kickstarter and an electric starter—although DeCoster had the kickstarter bosses plugged up to save weight. It is possible that someone in the KTM engineering department asked Roger what he would like changed on Dungey’s engine for 2013—and Roger might have said, “Well, since we don’t use the kickstarter, we really don’t need the extra weight of the kickstarter bosses on the center and clutch case.”
The desire for purity in their motocross bikes and to give Roger what he wished for led KTM’s engineers to cast all-new engine cases that did not have the vestigial remnants of the enduro kickstarter. And, in essence, that is the major difference between this year’s Factory Edition and last year’s Factory Edition.
No big deal, you think. KTM only removed the kickstarter bosses. Why would that require a whole new round of homologation and a limited production run of 400 bikes? The answer can be found in the AMA rule book under Section 1.4, subsection F, which reads, “Material and castings of cylinders, cylinder heads and crankcases must be the same as the originally approved model of the same manufacturer.” Parsed to its simplest interpretation, that means that you cannot change the cases without reapplying for homologation.
Trickery: The Ryan Dungey Replica does not come stock with an X-Trig preload adjuster. We put it on.
And, that is why there will be a 2013-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition for Ryan Dungey to race. Oh yeah, and KTM will make 555 replicas for consumers to buy. (Actually, they will make 705 machines, because this year they are making 150 versions to sell in Europe.) Why 555 bikes? Ryan Dungey is #5, and thanks to the sidesplitting Austrian sense of humor, they will make 5-5-5.
NOW THAT WE HAVE CLEARED UP HOW RYAN DUNGEY GOT HIS OWN PERSONAL ONE-OFF RACE BIKE, LET’S LOOK AT HOW THE FACTORY EDITION DIFFERS FROM THE 2013 KTM 450SXF.
Now that we have cleared up how Ryan Dungey got his own personal one-off race bike for the second year in a row, let’s take a look at how the 2013-1/2 Factory Edition differs from the 2013 KTM 450SXF production bike.Cases. Every Factory Edition will come with Dungey’s kickstarter-less engine and clutch cases. The benefit? A 1/2-pound weight savings.
Last year Ryan Dungey had a special 280 psi clutch spring for his diaphragm clutch. The 2013-1/2 Factory Edition will have this stiffer clutch spring installed (and we believe that it will come as standard equipment on the 2014 450SXF later this year).
The Factory Edition has slightly different mapping than the current 2013 model, but more significant, it comes with a two-position switch on the handlebars that allows the rider to switch between stock and aggressive or stock and soft maps, but not between aggressive and soft. You can switch maps with the engine running, but not on the fly. You have to bring the engine down to an idle before flipping the switch.
Groove: The KTM 450SXF-FE is a no-nonsense machine. It tracks like it’s on rails and runs like it’s powered by a locomotive.
The 2013-1/2 Factory Edition gets an Akrapovic slip-on exhaust, which means that it keeps the stock head pipe and mid-pipe. The Akrapovic has a USFS spark arrestor installed, plus a sound-reducing wire screen buried deep down inside.
Compared to the stock 2013 KTM 450SXF, the Factory Edition has special blue/orange Red Bull graphics, an orange frame, orange fork guards, orange radiator grill, orange Reikon triple clamps, orange Supersprox rear sprocket and orange handguards. Non-orange accessories include a holeshot device, hour meter, disc guard (not installed), Selle Dalla Valle ribbed seat cover, black Excel rims (with silver spokes) and an assortment of KTM Red Bull race team decals.
The stock 2013 KTM 450SXF retails for $8999. The Factory Edition goes for $9899. That is expensive, but you do get added value. The Akrapovic slip-on alone retails for $750.
With a small dose of common sense, even the most infatuated motocross racer can see that the 2013-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition is an emotional bike. It is specifically designed for one man—and 554 common folk get to come along for the ride. KTM doesn’t have to justify the high price tag, because what they are offering is worth the price of entry—a limited-edition, customized, specially painted, accessorized race bike that not only has the cachet of being Ryan Dungey’s race bike, but also comes out five months before the 2014 version (for which the Ryan Dungey Replica 2.0 is most likely a precursor).
Maybe common sense doesn’t tell you this, but the MXA wrecking crew will: there aren’t a lot of mechanical differences between the 2013-1/2 Factory Edition and the 2013 KTM 450SXF (the 2012-1/2 Factory Edition was night-and-day different from the 2012 production bike). We listed the add-ons above, but at its core, the Ryan Dungey Replica is a cotton-candy version of the current production version (save for the new engine cases, 280 psi clutch spring, slip-on Akrapovic exhaust and two-position ignition switch). The rest of the bike—suspension, frame geometry, rolling chassis, spring rates, ergonomics, bore and stroke, transmission and brakes—is identical. As we said, the decision to buy a Ryan Dungey Replica 2.0 is not based on performance but on emotion.
Value added: Dungey Replica buyers get an Akrapovic slip-on exhaust. Don’t get too excited. A slip-on for a KTM is just the muffler.
ALTHOUGH WE LIKE THE IDEA OF THE AKRAPOVIC PIPE AS AN ADD-ON, MOST RIDERS HAVE THEIR FAVORITE EXHAUST SYSTEMS. UNLESS AKRAPOVIC IS ON THEIR LIST, IT IS NOT VALUE ADDED.
How does it run? The power comes on soft off the bottom and builds into a crescendo of horsepower as the rpm climbs. It is the most powerful 450cc motocross engine on the track, yet it is easy to use. The breadth of the powerband makes it a great engine for riders of all skill levels. The rider chooses the thrills by choosing to twist his wrist or not.
Given that the biggest powerband change was the adjustable ignition mapping, we tried all three maps, selecting the stock map in most cases, largely because the difference between the “aggressive” map and stock map wasn’t dramatic and the difference between the stock and “soft” map was too dramatic.
The 280 psi Belleville washer in the clutch is a big plus, but we already knew that because we borrowed one of Dungey’s clutch springs many months ago. Your KTM dealer can order you one from the PowerParts catalog for your 2012 or 2013 450SXF. The stiffer clutch engages firmly and has a snappy return that makes it easier to manipulate.
Although we like the idea of the Akrapovic pipe as an add-on, when you think about it, most riders have their favorite exhaust systems. Unless Akrapovic is on their short list, it is not value added. It’s not like people who can afford the big price tag of the Factory Edition will have to pinch pennies to buy a complete system from FMF, Pro Circuit, DR.D or Yoshimura. Most MXA test riders didn’t think that the Factory Edition ran better with the Akrapovic than it did with the stocker.
As for the new engine cases, they don’t mean as much to the average racer as they do to Roger DeCoster. Given that the stock KTM weighs 240 pounds, saving 1/2 pound doesn’t really ring any bells. But for DeCoster, who has spent considerable time and energy to get Ryan Dungey’s bike down to the AMA’s 220-pound minimum weight limit, that 1/2 pound was a blessing. With enough titanium, weight-shaving, miniature batteries, exotic Pankl parts, factory foof and small engine cases, the KTM team can rejoice in the weight savings. To the rest of us, it’s nice, but not a deal maker or breaker.
As for what didn’t change, we are happy that KTM didn’t touch the chassis, except to paint it orange (which we love), because once you have the KTM chassis balanced front and rear, it is a sweet-handling machine. It can go anywhere without effort. It doesn’t oversteer or understeer—it tracks.
Yeah, we would have loved to see some suspension upgrades on the Factory Edition, but we will have to wait for the 2014 450SXF to see if WP can come to terms with their wanky mid-speed compression and rebound damping. As it sits, the Factory Edition has the same spring and valving as the production bike.
SOME THINGS WE CAN'T LIVE WITH. WELL, WE CAN, BUT THEN WE WHINE A LOT. HERE IS THE LIST
Some things we can’t live with. Well, we can, but then we whine a lot. Here is the list.
It breaks down too quickly. We do like the Factory Edition’s pleated seat cover, but we want firmer foam. Until then, we either run an Acerbis X-Seat, which is too firm, or put a seat cover over the stock seat cover to stiffen up the feel.
. We are not fans of nylon, except on Betty Grable. Obviously whoever designed the shock’s nylon preload ring never had to use it. It doesn’t work. Given our druthers, we run the X-Trig worm-drive adjuster.
We know what gearing Ryan Dungey runs on his works bike, and 14/52 isn’t it. We run a 13/50. It is 1-1/2 teeth lower than the stock gearing, which puffs up the low-end throttle response and gets us to third gear sooner. Love it. Maybe it will come on the 2014 model.
Brake rotor guard.
KTM includes a brake guard in the crate, along with its mounting ring. We don’t like front disc guards.
What do we really think of the 2013-1/2 KTM 450SXF Factory Edition? It is another example of how dedicated KTM is to the American consumer—and how lackadaisical the Japanese manufacturers have become as the economy has shrunk the market. KTM’s sales are up 15 percent. We like to think that gain in market share is a byproduct of putting out maximum effort. And, the 2013-1/2 Ryan Dungey Replica is a step that no other manufacturer was ever brave enough to take. Kudos to KTM for going the extra mile.
MXA'S 2013 KTM 459SXF-FE0 SETUP SPECS
This is how we set up our KTM 450SXF-FE for racing. We offer it as a guide to help you find your own sweet spot.
WP FORK SETTINGS
The WP forks lack mid-speed damping—in both directions. They move too fast in the middle of the stroke, which makes them boing around in consecutive bumps. We know that KTM has some ideas in the works for new fork designs, but they aren’t ready for prime time. Until then, KTM riders will have to make do. It is raceable suspension, but it is nowhere near as good as it needs to be.
For hardcore racing, we recommend this fork setup on the 2013 KTM 450SXF-FE (stock specs are in parentheses):
12 clicks out
12 clicks out
KTM’s forks come with different oil heights for each model. The 125SX and 150SX have their oil set at 360cc, the 250SX has 380cc, and the four-strokes roll out of the factory with 390cc. Unless you are a bantamweight, we don’t think you will find the WP forks to be too stiff. KTM increased the compression damping for 2013, but they could go firmer.
WP SHOCK SETTINGS
It is strange that the rear suspension and front forks suffer from the same lack of mid-speed damping in both directions. That makes us think that it isn’t a shock design problem but a setup issue at the factory. Valving is just metal shims, and the difference between good and bad valving comes down to the shim selection process. KTM’s test riders are choosing the wrong ones.
For hardcore racing, we recommend this shock setup for the 2013 KTM 450SXF-FE (stock specs are in parentheses):
1-1/4 turns out
12 clicks out
12 clicks out
We don’t think that the average 450SXF rider will need a stiffer shock spring, unless he is over 210 pounds. Smaller riders (those under 150 pounds) might opt for a KTM 5.4 kg/mm rear spring.