Riding Impression: 2009 KTM 450 XC-W

Forget about niches, KTM’s 450 XC-W covers the gamut.

2009 KTM 450 XC-W - Riding Impression

2009 KTM 450 XC-W - Riding Impression

Sometimes I think KTM has too many off-road models. It's not enough for the Austrian manufacturer to build bikes for every imaginable dirt discipline; KTM even has segments within those segments. One of those is the jack-of-all-trades XC-W lineup.

These machines are perfect for riders who don't want to commit to just one type of off-road motorcycle. Built for enduro competition and tight woods riding, the XC-Ws are equally at home on a motocross track or in the desert, but they feature wide-ratio six-speed transmissions, unlike the five-speed XCs and four-speed SXs. The XC-W line also offers a broad range of displacements with both two- and four-stroke engines. It's the 450 XC-W tested here that is the most popular—and for very good reason.

Significantly updated last year, the 449cc engine features a single overhead camshaft operating four valves via lighter rocker arms instead of the twin-cam setups on the 450 SX and XC. Tamer in peak output than its revvy cousins, the XC-W provides smooth, tractable power that is perfect for tight technical riding, yet strong enough to make short work of sand washes or steep, loose inclines. The Keihin MX FCR 39 carburetor, in conjunction with the new cam, provides consistent throttle response. A revised decompression system and updated jetting ensure better starting, especially when cold. A kick-start backup is retained, unlike with the five-speed XC line.

To withstand the harsh environment of woods riding, the clutch has been updated with thicker friction plates and perforated steel plates for improved oil retention. Feel from the hydraulic system is crisp and light. Ratios in the first two gears are slightly shorter than those of the XC and get progressively taller, significantly more so for that additional top cog.

Revised suspension components easily tackle the terrain for which the bike was intended. The new inverted 48mm, closed-cartridge WP fork sucks up rocks and roots with far less deflection at lower speeds than before but doesn't bottom out harshly due to new bottoming cones. Black-anodized machined triple-clamps with 19mm of offset secure stiffer and stronger fork stanchions. The WP PDS shock has been improved, as well. This is the best-handling KTM I've ridden to date; the suspension never did anything unpredictable and provided good balance front to rear.

A great engine and stellar chassis are enough to make a good enduro, but the inclusion of handguards, 2.4-gallon fuel tank, spark arrestor and California green-sticker-legality make the $8798 450 XC-W an enduro ace.