More than just the ultimate woods racer
Photos by Dan Paris
Off-road racing is huge right now, throwing the moto-media into a cross-country and Endurocross-racing frenzy. In those stories, look closely at the photos. Chances are you’ll see one bike more often than anything else: The KTM 300 XC, or its wide-ratio transmission brother, the 300 XC-W.
Despite the four-stroke revolution, KTM has remained committed to improving the two-stroke engine, and for good reason. Low cost, low noise, simplicity and the good old-fashioned power to weight ratio are the strong selling points that KTM has cashed in with their extensive line of two-stroke machines.
The 300 starts easily, but in case you are really lazy it has the magic button. Yup, E-start on a two-stroke! That may sound pointless at first, but as you’ll find out we loved that feature!
This machine has always been a huge seller for KTM, but for 2010 the bike still received updates to the airbox, cooling system and exhaust.
The hydraulic clutch has a light pull and decent feel, but it will fade when it gets hot. After abuse on the motocross track by a Pro test rider the clutch began to creep, which was corrected but not entirely cured by bleeding the system. Shifting is slick, with the gaps in the wide ratio transmission of our test bike easily overcome by the torquey engine.
We’d prefer the close ratio XC version for motocross and Eastern woods racing, but honestly the wide-ratio transmission is a minor issue with so much power on tap.
Speaking of motocross, this bike would kill in age or ladies classes where there is no displacement rule. It will run with the 450s, starts with a push of the button and is lighter and easier to ride than a 250F but much more powerful. Still, the suspension is purposely ‘middle of the road’, aimed more at cross-country racing more than motocross.
Our 175-pound Pro was constantly fiddling with suspension settings at our two different test tracks, one hard clay and one deep beach sand, never coming to a happy setting and eventually concluding that the bike would need professional help at both ends. In the woods the suspension fared much better. We heard very little complaining about the back end or forks from most of our testers, but our Pro rider still wished for stiffer compression damping and more bottoming resistance.
Everyone, slow or fast, whined about having to fuss with settings so much at each different test location when some other bikes we’ve tested lately worked so well everywhere right out of the box.
Some other weak points reared their heads in the forest. We overheated the rear brake several times; on one occasion so badly we had to cool the caliper with water so the wheel would turn. The belly of the pipe hangs way out there in the wind, requiring a guard in the worst way. While you are armor plating the KTM you’ll need a skid plate and hand guards too.
Woods race ready? Not quite, but the KTM is a little bit cheaper to prepare for off-road racing than converting a normal motocross bike.
Handling at speed was improved over previous KTMs, with less of the famous KTM headshake and general nervousness. Cornering was quick, light and accurate when the suspension was set up properly, but again the bike was very finicky in that department. In the woods we eventually slid the forks up in the triple clamps until they were touching the underside of the handlebars, which we had mounted in the furthest forward position.
That helped the 300 flick through the trees with more precision, at the expense of some stability.
What we have here is a bike that needs very careful setup, but is totally capable of winning any type of racing you throw at it. Confidence inspiring, the 300 XC-W is light and responsive – making the rider feel invincible. It doesn’t stall easily, but if you do screw up a flick of the thumb has it running again without losing any time.
Our Pro motocross tester, who normally races a Honda CRF450R, was so smitten with our test bike that he attempted to buy our test bike from KTM…not just for woods racing but for motocross racing and teaching his motocross schools. Personally, I hated to give this bike back.
Other testers, intermediate and novice level, were less enthused. They liked the bike fine overall, but fussy setup issues and simply not being used to riding a two-stroke gave them fits.
Bottom line? This is a bike can win – anywhere and anytime. That fact has been proven over and over again all over the world.
Take the time to dial the 300 XC-W (MSRP $7,998) in for whatever you want it to do, learn to deal with its idiosyncrasies and you will be rewarded with the most versatile and competitive two-stroke race bike you can buy.
- Quick Test: 2008 KTM 690 Supermoto R CycleOnline.com.au
- KTM 300 MXC Dirt Bike Refresh: Off-Road.com
- 2013 KTM 690 R Enduro question – Page 3 – LC4 400/610/640/690/950/990…
- Small-Bore Motocross: KTM 150 SX vs. KTM 250 SX-F – Dirt Rider Magazine
- KTM 690 Duke Track B4Bike