Kevin Cameron could write a book about how racing helps funnel technology to production motorcycles. That book would be very informative, but he hasn’t written it, so we can’t read it. Luckily, all that motocross racers have to do is just look at KTM’s new 450 SX-F Factory Edition and see that it’s purposely built for professional racing but available for the eager consumer. Only 400 are being sold in the U.S., though, so if you don’t already have one, you may be too late.
You probably want to know about the Factory anyway, because it is nothing like the standard 2012 450 SX-F; in fact, it more closely resembles an XC-W off-roader. The basic engine was robbed from the 450 XC-W to make full use of that motor’s new die-cast cases. (KTM previously used sand-cast cases on all off-road models and continues to do so on a majority of them.)
Despite boasting the luxury of electric starting, the engine is 4.4 pounds lighter than the standard 450 MXer’s. It also has 1.8 lb. less rotating valvetrain mass due to the use of one overhead cam instead of two; a single shaft drives both the counterbalancer and the water pump. The gearbox is all-new, and the clutch cush drive has been moved from the outer basket to the inner basket for increased oil capacity and less force needed at the lever. There’s also a new Keihin EFI system that injects fuel at the bottom of the 44mm throttle body instead of at the top; KTM says that improves throttle response and overall power.
On the track, fueling is spot-on and the spread of power is exceptionally wide—enough so to let you run either one gear high or one gear low. The delivery is smooth off the bottom, but if you’re not careful with the throttle, the rear tire will spin out of control. I preferred to ride the Factory a gear high, going through the turns smoothly using barely any throttle.
Overall, the FE is 5 lb. lighter than the standard SX-F, but in certain aspects, it carries its weight the same. Soft corners take some work to get the beast turned, so you have to be very intentional in your corner execution. But in harder-packed sections, the FE nails the turns and is able to change direction quickly no matter how the corner is shaped or angled. The engine’s massive power helps for steering with the rear end.
The chassis is a bit on the stiff side, which is good for going fast, but the WP fork lacks the plushness of the high-end KYB or Showa suspensions. Neither was the front-to-rear balance perfect, though I only had a few hours to ride the bike and didn’t have enough time to dial it in. But there is nothing unpredictable about the handling; it’s a solid overall package.
Compared to typical KTM ergonomics, the Factory’s riding position is slightly changed. The seat is flat and firm with a good width. The frame now has a cross brace on the steering head to improve lateral rigidity, thinner cradle tubes and a new engine mounting arrangement. There also are new radiator shrouds that give the rider’s legs a larger contact area for a better sense of control.
The factory graphics are a nice touch, including Dungey’s number 5 on the plate. Not a bad way to show up at the track, even with a bike that, at $9599, cost more than my truck. But if this Factory Edition is any indication of KTM’s next generation of motorcycles—and the company insists that it is—there should be some impressive orange years ahead.