2016 KTM 250 SX-F, 350 SX-F, 450 SX-F - FIRST RIDE

Significant engine and chassis improvements for KTM’s 2016 four-stroke motocrossers, plus an all-new 350 SX-F

KTM 350 SX-F off-road action

Manufacturers typically release a single all-new machine each year. But KTM isn't just any manufacturer. For 2016, the Austrian company has revamped the entire SX-F line with numerous improvements.

The 2016 KTM 250 SX-F and 450 SX-F machines are fine-tuned second-generation versions of the popular Factory Edition bikes that were released late in 2014. But the 350 SX-F is completely new. It shares all the features and advancements that the 250 SX-F and 450 SX-F enjoy.

Across the board, the SX-F bikes have significant chassis, suspension, and motor updates. The frame is new, and KTM says it’s 20 percent stiffer torsionally while having a steeper steering head angle and a shorter wheelbase for improved handling. Complementing the new frame is a shorter and lighter subframe, plus a revised swingarm with new flex characteristics. The WP 4CS fork carries over from the previous year, but with revised settings. In the rear, the shock and linkage are new, designed to work more harmoniously with the revised chassis. KTM says these changes make these 2016 models lighter and more compact, which improves handling. The engines, for the record, have also been updated with more compact cases, revised combustion chambers and ports, plus new Keihin engine management with 44mm throttle bodies. KTM says these changes improve power, performance, and overall durability.

KTM 250 SX-F static side view

KTM 250 SX-F

On the track, the SX-F models impress. The handling characteristics of the 2016 250 SX-F are great, but we still made some adjustments to the suspension. Initially, the fork felt harsh, so we upped the compression a bit and added a quarter-turn of high-speed compression on the shock. This change allowed the fork to ride in the sweet spot and perform how it’s designed. We found that the adjustments improved the straight-line stability immensely, allowing the bike to remain straight over big braking bumps and rough chop. The 250 SX-F engine felt great; it’s strong off the bottom, but comes to life in the midrange to top-end where it continues to pull and produce power without falling flat. The 250 SX-F is going to be a tough bike to beat this year.

KTM 350 SX-F static side view

KTM 350 SX-F

We were equally impressed with the 2016 KTM 350 SX-F. Over the years, the 350 has seen steady improvements, and 2016 continues that tend. Of the three new SX-F models, the 350 is the most fun to ride. Its power is exactly what you would expect—smack dab in the middle of a 250 and 450. From bottom to top, the power is strong, yet it isn’t too much to handle. If a little extra boost is needed, all it takes is a quick flick of the hydraulic clutch. And although the suspension on the 350 SX-F is very well balanced, we found ourselves yearning for it to be a little stiffer. A few clicker adjustments made us happier with the setup, but serious racers might consider a re-valve.

KTM 450 SX-F static side view

KTM 450 SX-F

Like the 350 SX-F, the 450 SX-F has seen steady improvements over the years. Of the 450s we’ve ridden, the 450 SX-F is among the fastest. The power is excellent, coming on strong right off the bottom, transitioning into a healthy midrange, and pulling into a very robust top-end. While powerful, the 450 SX-F is a bike that isn’t overly aggressive or difficult to ride. Power delivery is smooth and easy to control. As for the suspension, it’s also good. However, we found that the shock feels softer than the fork. We improved this a bit by changing the sag from 108mm to 105mm, altering the weight balance of the bike. However, we feel that further clicker changes and testing are needed to totally dial-in the suspension to our liking. In spite of this minor gripe, the 2016 KTM 450 SX-F handles exceptionally well, and we can throw it into any corner with confidence. With a little fine-tuning, the 450 SX-F will become an even better race machine.

KTM 450 SX-F off-road action

FINAL THOUGHTS

All these new 2016 SX-F KTMs benefit from a buttery smooth hydraulic clutch, flawless electric starting, and Brembo brakes that are strong yet progressive. New for 2016 is the Launch Control on the 350 SX-F and 450 SX-F, which reduces engine speed during the start and is activated by a switch on the handlebar. In our testing, we found the Launch Control worked well, allowing the bike to track straighter while still putting plenty of power to the ground.

All told, this trio of new 2016 KTM SX-F machines was a blast to ride, each bike a noticeable improvement over its respective 2015 model. We plan to spend more quality time with these 2016 KTMs soon, so check back with Cycle World.

KTM 250 SX-F static side view.
KTM 350 SX-F action #1
KTM 350 SX-F action #2
KTM 350 SX-F action #3
KTM 350 SX-F static side view.
KTM 450 SX-F action #1
KTM 450 SX-F action #2
KTM 450 SX-F action #3
KTM 450 SX-F static side view.