Here is my brand new 2014 KTM 350 XCF-W in my trailer at the dealer’s parking lot. It will never be this clean again – it rained all the way home. But, it is a dirt bike after all.
KTM’s slogan is “KTM – Ready To Race”. That may be true, but the first thing to do is get it “ready to ride”. Let the modifications begin…
First Ride Impressions
Three years ago I bought a 2010 Husaberg FE450. Not because it was the exact bike I wanted – but because the XCF-W version of the KTM 350 was not yet out and I couldn’t wait another 9 months. The FE450 has been a really great bike – and still is – but it is too heavy for me when the going gets tough. Having just turned 60 years of age, I am finding it very difficult to manhandle a bike of that size.
So, I decided to pull the trigger and buy a 350 since it is about 20 lbs lighter. I decided to get it now so I could get in a few rides before winter and then have all winter to fine tune the suspension, etc.
For its maiden voyage, our family decided to do a fairly easy loop in the Uinta mountains and enjoy the autumn colors. The weather was quite good, although there was a stiff breeze so the air wasn’t as clear as I had hoped.
After unloading the trailer at the trail head, I started warming up the bikes. I “knew” my bike would start right up since it is fuel injected. After all, my Husaberg always does. Wrong. The darn thing wouldn’t start. I was surprised at how quickly we drained the battery. But not to worry – it has a kick starter.
We eventually got it started (turns out I had the idle set way too low).
The first thing I noticed was the engine vibration in the footpegs. Not as much as a two-stroke, but more than my Husaberg. I got used to that in about two minutes. The only time I would notice it was on boring stretches of road.
The next thing I noticed was that it didn’t have the low-end torque of the 450 – but that was expected. I needed to down shift a little more often, but not much. I think it has all of the power that I will need.
The suspension was not as plush, but that was expected too. I had the Husaberg re-sprung for my weight and the valves changed for my recreational trail riding style (no racing for me). The 350 seemed kind of harsh, but as the bike got broken in and as I picked up the pace, it felt fairly good. I need to test it in the whoops and deep sand before deciding what modifications to make.
The bike certainly felt lighter and more maneuverable and nimble. This was very obvious on steep, rocky, hill climbs. A few times I likely would have dropped the Husaberg due to its weight, but I was able to regain control with the lighter bike. I also found that the lighter bike was much easier to balance when doing the “slow ride” balance exercise. And when I needed to lift the rear end to swing it over a log, I could do it. I would have needed someone’s help to lift the Husaberg.
The more I rode it, the more I liked it. I let my daughter try it out and she instantly liked it better than her Honda CRF250X. She thought it felt more nimble and inspired confidence. Even though it is a little tall for her, the height didn’t bother her because of her confidence.
Here are some of the updates to the bike after my first ride…
I have also now installed stiffer springs based on my weight. Now to take some time and try to dial in the clickers…
As a winter project, I added blinkers and a horn so that I could make the bike street legal. I have another post talking about that project.
The Magura clutch cable sticks out a long ways before the cable is allowed to bend. This makes it challenging to install hand guards. It got even more difficult when I added the left hand rear brake (LHRB).
At first, I wanted to have the LHRB in line with my front brake lever so that it would be similar to riding my mountain bike. This forced me to move the clutch lever way up, and I had to run the cable over the top of the hand guard, as seen here:
I didn’t like that cable routing, and I found it difficult to ride other bikes with a standard clutch. I therefore decided to switch the levers and put the LHRB on top. This also allowed me to get a shallower angle between the two levers due to clearance issues.
By moving the clutch back down below, I was able to route the cable under the hand guard.
With all of the dual sport controls and the LHRB, it is really tight fit on the handlebar. I had to move the kill button over to the right side. As you can see in the above photo, I have, moving left to right; the light control switch, the LHRB, the clutch perch, my mirror RAM ball mount and my push-to-talk button. There is 2.5″ of space between the hand grip and the clutch perch.
The stiff exit of the clutch cable from the clutch reservoir makes a very tight bend in the cable, as shown here:
The Fastway FIT hand guards mount directly to the bar clamps. Hand guards that have a separate clamp would be very challenging to install. I just installed a set of Cycra Pro Bend hand guards on another 350. I was able to get it to fit, but it was tight. If I install the light control switch and a LHRB on that bike, it may not fit.
I thought the bend in the hand guard would allow plenty of room, but as you can see, the Magura clutch cable goes very close to the center of the bike before it begins to bend. Here is another view:
Here it is with the plastic guard installed: