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By: Jason Giacchino

August 2007 - Off The Pegs

Word from Austria and Time on the KFX

KTM's 450XC Sport ATV
KTM's 450XC Sport ATV

It is fairly common knowledge that utility based ATVs and Side by Sides (UTVs) continually post higher sales figures than their performance-specific cousins. Not so commonly known is that Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM annually invests $40 million, or slightly over 7 percent of its yearly sales revenue, into racing programs. Last month we discussed KTMís recent rash of victories on a pre-release sport ATV piloted by Tim Farr. Since that time KTM North America has become the 12th and latest all-terrain vehicle manufacturer to join the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. This latest partnership will more easily provide KTM dealerships and ATV customers with information about ATV safety and new rider training.

Up until now, KTM has funded off-road motorcycle events and more recently various supermoto and Moto GP competitions on account of its yet young road bike program. Its latest efforts will again emphasize the world of dirt tracks, berms, and triple jumps as production models of the race-quad begin to trickle into dealerships. KTM's eagerness to race and commitment to the vehicles they sell will make this manufacturer's entry into the ATV market a welcomed affair both at home in the United States and abroad. As of 2005, the European ATV market had finally reached numbers to suggest that the ATV segment is actually growing faster than the motorcycle market (which has been the case in America for many years).

Surprisingly, competition quads are proving to be the fastest growing segment of the ATV market. Considering KTMís proven competition engine platform, their decision to join the party makes perfect sense. Riders at all skill levels will benefit from factory-backed racing efforts as a means of funding and R&D that should reach all facets of the sport.

The surge in manufacturer interest can technically be traced back to 1999 when Honda released the 400EX to a world of riders who had collectively reached the limitations of racing heavily modified TRX250R mills from over a decade earlier. While the air cooled 397cc engine didnít exactly set the world on fire, it did set the stage for rejuvenated OEM interest and proved that 4-stroke technology could hang with the, until then, 2-stroke dominated field.

KTM's 450XC
KTM's 450XC

Considering KTMís exciting news comes directly after Can-Amís official release of the DS450, we have hardly a moment to sit back and reflect upon these great times. I finally had an opportunity this past weekend to sample some saddle time aboard the Kawasaki KFX450. To my surprise the machine isnít quite as motocross ready as the Suzuki LTR450 but absolutely rules the roost out on the trails. Cross Country racers are going to delight with the new Kawasaki. It reminded me initially of a throatier more aggressive-handling version of the short-lived KFX400 but proved its charms as the day wore on. My cousin happened to be mounted on his stock í06 Suzuki LTR450 (Cherry Bombed/exhaust baffle removed) which provided an ideal platform for comparison. The Mean Green Kawasaki gave up a little in the corners on the MX track; and while it flew one of the straightest courses of any quad Iíve ridden, the stock suspension isnít quite race-ready. However, once we got into the rough and tumble shaded world of twisting trails, the KFX made short work of the more roost-happy íZook. Having reverse proved priceless on more than one occasion that found my cousin hunched over the front of his quad, straining to push it backward.

I foolishly thought that my mind had been made up in selecting a new race model in the KFX, but fear KTM and Can-Am have done all too well with their marketing campaigns. I would be lying if I said that my appetite to try either of these two beasts hasnít certainly been whetted. Riders and racers alike really have to do their homework when it comes to selecting a performance machine these days--a problem many of us are more than happy to endure.

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