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Article and Videos By: ATV

KTM 450 & 525 XC -- "ATV's First Impressions"

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Nuts & Bolts
The motorcycle industry has been spoiled by KTM’s incredible attention to detail for some time, but we ATV riders are finally getting a taste of the goods. The XC quads are no exception when it comes to trick bits, odds, and ends. Take the front brakes for example. Instead of mass produced stock stoppers, KTM mounts up Magura four piston (180mm) floating hydraulics with wavy rotors to boot. In the rear we again find a high quality Magura system, only this time a single piston caliper slows a more massive 200mm rotor.  All of the brake lines are steel-braided.  Lightweight aluminum Douglas wheels are found all around and mounted to them are Maxxis Razr tires.  If all of that weren’t enough bling for a stock machine, KTM goes a few better by including an aluminum Magura handlebar that mounts to an adjustable aluminum stem. That’s right- no one size fits all logic to be found on this machine. Other goodies that come standard off the showroom are fully adjustable A-arms (caster and camber adjustable), Magura hydraulic clutch (steel braided lines naturally), performance-oriented aluminum exhaust system, kick-up foot pegs, gripper seat cover, clear coated graphics (not just stickers), 3.5 gallon fuel tank, easy-to-remove warning & safety stickers, and a stock tether cable/ kill switch.  Never has a stock ATV come quite as race prepped as the KTM from the showroom floor.  We’re sincerely hoping all of the other manufacturers take note.

Now the Good Stuff

Any true rider will tell you that races are won and lost by man and machine, not by spec sheets and product brochures.  In keeping that in mind, we were forced to ignore the mouth-watering specifications of the KTM XC and to take it out in the real world for testing.  Going into the torture-test, we were already well aware of the fact that these quads had the hype, they had style, they had the backing of a proven company, and they certainly had the spec sheet to go along with the anticipation emanating from everyone involved. But would they deliver where it matters most- out in the dirt? To find out we had to treat this test as if we were riding any other ATV.  We couldn’t go in with any premeditated biases or prejudices.  The KTM XC would have to stand or fall on its own merit and performance on the trails, in the woods, and on the track. It is a dirty job, we know, but somebody had to do it.

The KTM 450XC is a high-flying machine and is very maneuverable once in the air.
The KTM 450XC is a high-flying machine and is very maneuverable once in the air.

Climbing On
From the saddle, even at a dead standstill, it’s quite clear that the KTM means business. While not quite as squatty, long, and flat feeling as the Suzuki LTR450, the KTM XC feels pretty thin around the knees.  The gas tank is much less intrusive than its 3.5 gallon capacity would indicate.  The reach to the bars is especially natural if not slightly higher than usual; this results in an elbows-bent posture and a very welcomed attack stance from anywhere in the saddle. With the touch of the handlebar mounted button, the XC fires to life nearly instantaneously with an exhaust note quite reminiscent of an aftermarket equipped 450 race bike. It purrs very steadily at idle, with a smooth hum that almost convinces the pilot that there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Touching the throttle, even with the slightest flick, sends the engine screaming. This kind of throttle-response quickens even the pulse of the most confident riders, and had us leaned over the side of the quad to make sure we didn’t misunderstand the press data claiming these things are carbureted!

The clutch is smooth and one-finger steady throughout its entire throw. We stepped it down into first with a bit of apprehension that accompanies all first-rides on a high performance model.  Easing the clutch out, power begins pouring into the wheels immediately and continues to build until the clutch is fully released. The throttle isn’t nearly as light-switch sensitive as it appeared at idle but stabbing the rubber-coated thumb lever is a lesson in humility regardless of what gear you’re in. The bottom end is short and punchy and leads to a mid-range that is downright violent.  Holding gear too long results in ample over-rev but to reach the limits of the power spread in each gear means having nerves of steel as you pass through the meat of the powerband (the mid-range). This machine builds revs so quickly that it can become a real challenge to keep all four wheels planted in technical terrain. The quad simply wants to pop off of every terrain imperfection. We took a few laps around our outdoor track then parked the twin orange XCs for a little tuning.

If you happen to come up short, the KTM's suspension is excellent in soaking it up.
If you happen to come up short, the KTM's suspension is excellent in soaking it up.

In case you missed it earlier, the KTM XC quads are some of the most customizable machines we’ve ever encountered (stock or modified)! Everything from the camber and caster of the A-arms, to the width of the rear axle, to the positioning of the handlebars, to the nearly infinitely tunable suspension.  The bottom line is that if you are not happy with the way the KTM feels beneath you, you have only yourself to blame. After setting the sag, we fooled around with the suspension until we took enough compression out to make it small-bump sensitive. In doing so, the machine’s personality changed dramatically. The XC would hug the ground more effectively without giving up any of its brutal (yet addicting) bursts of power. Regardless of the terrain, it never took more than a slight blip of the throttle to get the back end to break loose. This is a quad that likes to be steered from the rear.

On the track, the KTM is a surprisingly stable flier. It simply does not require excessive body-English to stay level and bringing the front end down for smooth transition-landings required little more than a tap of the rear brake. We used (and abused) the clutch for several laps without a hint of fade. The brakes too, are absolutely spectacular at bringing these beasts to a halt. They took a bit longer to burn in than most test-quads we’ve ridden but afterward, the modulation and fade-free performance was incredible.

450 VS 525
You may be wondering why this test lumps the two machines together into a single report. To that we must confess that physically it is nearly impossible to tell the two apart. If it weren’t for the displacement stickers on the sides, more than one test rider would be uncertain as to which machine they were mounted atop. The 525 engine makes a bit more torque from the bottom and sounds like it is revving more freely on the top. To be honest, however, it is not a night and day difference going from one model to the next as we had initially anticipated. We suspect that the difference may be far more apparent once top speeds were involved (something our test didn’t get into). The possibility of sneaking the 525 into the 450 class is definitely a legitimate concern.  Race facilities will need to pay careful attention during registration.


We are no stranger to performance ATVs. In fact we've ridden modified LTR450s, KFX450Rs, and even a Yamaha Banshee for comparison sake. There is little doubt that the KTM XC can be picked up from the dealership and successfully raced before making it home. It is truly a competent racer in fully stock trim. While our time with the 450 and 525 XC was limited, it appeared to favor a run-and-gun style of riding. In other words, riders who aren’t afraid to wring it out hard before slamming it into a corner, only to get back on the throttle quickly, will benefit most. The mid range is so strong on both models that there are few quads we’ve sampled that will be able to drag race the KTM into the next corner. The only negative to the new KTM quads (if it can be considered one) is the simple fact that KTM has not taken beginners, recreational-riders, or even intermediate racers into consideration when they decided to get into the ATV game. These are race-bred performance quads, make no mistake about it.  Even our amateur racers commented on the brutal nature of the power delivery and the overwhelming tuning possibilities. If you doubt your skills on any other 450, steer clear of the KTM! This is a purpose-built machine that makes no apologies for its intent.

After even a short ride on either the XC 450 or 525 it becomes alarmingly clear that KTM didn’t simple come to play, they came to win.

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