When it comes to the ultimate in dirt bikes, KTM is right at the top of the list of desirability. With more than 280 World Championships won by orange bikes, credibility in the off-road world is not something the Austrian manufacturer needs to prove.
And if you’re a keen trail rider looking to step up to something a bit more serious, either for competing in amateur enduros, or just for weekend kicks – there’s few better bikes on the market than KTM’s stunning 250 EXC-F.
Using a retuned motor from the 250SX motocross bike, the KTM 250 EXC-F is one of the most accomplished dirt bikes on the planet, with race-proven history (it recently won the Enduro2 World Championship), while still being accessible to average off-road riders.
When it comes to riding off-road I’m not expert, but can hold my own on enduro and motocross practice days, raced a bit of MX in the past, regularly ride a mate’s MX track in Wales for fun, and last year I spent five days off-road in the Pyrenees covering some 500 miles off-road in five days.
But when it comes to the 250 EXC-F, I’m absolutely in my element.
Feeling like I’d lost a bit off my off-road love with some of the bikes I’ve been riding on the dirt recently, a few laps on the EXC-F made me feel like an enduro hero straight away, all thanks to the way the KTM flatters average off-road riders.
In the past I’ve owned a 250 EXC-F, 350 EXC-F and 450 EXC-F. All were brilliant bikes, but where the 450 scared me a bit, the 250s and 350s enabled me to feel like I could ride them but still be exciting. This new 250 is the same.
It’s stick thin and tall as you like with a 960mm seat height, cradled in that beautiful bright orange frame. You can check just how much gas it has thanks to the see-through tank and it’s ready to race. Yes, I know that’s KTM’s whole ethos. But this bike really is ready to race. I swear I could get it out of my van and enter a two-day enduro on it straight out of the box, except for moving the levers down a bit.
It’s fast enough – delivering smooth bottom end power from its liquid-cooled motor, decent mid, and a bit of a kick at the top end.
Up steep climbs the bike can find traction while still letting you pop the front wheel up over boulders or tree roots.
It’s really light at 103kg before fuel, and if you’ve stepped off something more trail orientated a proper enduro bike like the 250 EXC-F feels every bit like a lightweight racer.
Of course, the enduro spec means it carries a front and rear light, a speedo, and is road legal – just. It will sit at 70mph and top-out around 85mph between trails.
But really, the KTM 250 EXC-F is at home in the wild. The Maxxis knobbly tyres are perfectly adequate for an enduro tyre, and the suspension is set-up on the stiffer side.
It means the bike can hit jumps hard but doesn’t bottom on the landing. In fact, the WP Explor 48 upside down front forks were amazing, allowing big (ish) jumps, and giving a really nice feeling in a berm.
On tree roots, or climbs, the bike lets you get on with concentrating on what’s coming next, rather than worrying about what it’s doing. The motor will ride single track through trees, using the bottom end, and occasionally making full use of the electric start when I got stuck in a Christmas tree plantation on a steep bank, on soft soil. It’s fuel-injected and the connection between the throttle and rear tyre is bang-on.
Get it on the open track and it hauls. Okay, if you’re used to riding a 450, then the 250 will feel slightly lacking, but I didn’t need more. It flatters and makes even average riders feel like world champions. You can also add a two-stage fuel map as an optional accessory and even add traction-control as a KTM Powerpart upgrade from your dealer. Not that I can see why you’d need traction control though. It finds traction and drives in anything except deep mud. On the Welsh hillside that we tested the bike on the bike was completely at home either riding fast on the MX track, or wobbling through trees. And, unlike some KTMs of old that I used to own, it never overheated under stress when being ridden slowly in a forest, or affected the clutch control when hot.
Yes, it’s a lot of dollar at £8199 but for a full-on enduro weapon few bikes will make you feel like such a hero yet still help your strength and endurance on an enduro race, rather than sapping your strength like a 450 can.
Engine: Single cylinder, liquid-cooled 4-stroke
Capacity: 249.91 cc
Starter: E-starter/lithium ion 12V 2 Ah
Gearbox: 6 gears
Fuel injection: Keihin throttle body Ø 42 mm
Clutch: Wet multi-disc DDS clutch, Brembo hydraulics
Frame: Central double-cradle-type 25CrMo4
Front forks: WP USD Xplor 48
Rear suspension: WP Xplor PDS shock absorber (no linkage)
Fuel capacity: 8.5 l
Wet weight (minus fuel): 103 kg