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KTM 450 EXCs on a track

Studio shot of KTM 450 EXC By James Holter

In many ways, KTM's EXC line has revolutionized off-road riding. Although the Austrian manufacturer certainly isn't the first company to build a serious dual-sport model. It is the first company in the modern era to do so in such a big way.

In 2007, with the prior generation model to the current bike, KTM rolled out a 50-state legal version of its top-of-the-line off-road four-stroke race bike. Although some performance compromises were made to meet the legality requirements of all U.S. states -- basically, final gearing, exhaust, tires and add-ons such as turn signals, a horn and DOT lights -- the motorcycle remained enormously capable off-road. Indeed, while some other manufacturers were touting the trail worthiness of their 80/20 off-road/street dual-sport bikes, KTM came out with a model that could be described with a 95/5 ratio. No question: Off-road racers and serious trail riders took notice.

For 2011, the 450 EXC got mostly new graphics and some minor internal engine updates to improve reliability. But there wasn't much that needed fixing on the bike, which still shares a great deal of its parts with the more competition-oriented XC-W line. The aggressive soul of the EXC is clear when you look it over. The dual-sport equipment has an almost aftermarket feel to it. But while that might come across as chintzy on any other bike, on the EXC, that's fine -- and probably the point. Everything is there, it works, and it will keep you from getting a ticket for riding your dirtbike down the street, but that's about it. When it comes to the rearview mirrors and taillight, this bike is not necessarily pre-occupied with aesthetics.

I've put in significant miles on both the previous generation and current generation of KTM's dual-sport lineup. For local off-road competition, the only performance mod anyone from the back of the A class and slower will need to make is gearing. (For some locales, jetting may be an issue. If your bike runs lean from the factory, raising the needle a couple clips can make a big difference.) The stock bike is geared pretty tall to help with federal drive-by sound testing standards. (Drop a tooth on the front sprocket and add three or four on the rear and you're good.) For closed-course competition (e.g., hare scrambles), you may want to consider an aftermarket exhaust, but, honestly, it's probably not necessary.

Yes, you would save a few pounds and, with accommodating jetting changes, gain some performance, but only slightly. What you'll lose is probably the reason you bought an EXC in the first place -- the freedom to ride on the open road without the risk or worry of an inquisitive police officer taking an extra long look at the legality of your motorcycle. Do yourself a favor, save a few bucks and just ride the bike as close to stock as possible. The bottom line is a loud, straight exhaust won't make a bit of difference in how you finish the next race, but if you're convinced it will, then consider something from the XC-W or XC-F lineup because you're probably good enough take advantage of the slight performance benefits.

Wrap-around handguards are a great idea, as is a brake snake. The 2.5-gallon stock tank is large enough, and I've easily gone 60 miles without hitting reserve. If you want to pass the gas stops, however, there are several aftermarket and KTM optional fuel tanks available.

The power, as you would expect, is smooth and electric. With the gearing change, the bike chugs well and will torque its way up hills and over obstacles. It's easy to ride, and doesn't demand a significant level of aggression from the rider. If you want to go faster, though, the 450 EXC will happily oblige. This bike makes a lot of linear power. It really enjoys life in the midrange, where you have a lot of flexibility and margin for error. If you really screw up and find yourself two gears high in the tranny, a quick slip of the clutch will usually give you the RPM you need to get out of most situations without stalling.

KTM 450 EXC riding across waterThe EXC's suspension is equally impressive and spot on for its intended audience. The bike soaks up rocks, logs and ruts easily, and both ends are quite responsive to adjustments in the rebound and compression damping clickers. Crank up the compression damping, and it's even capable at light motocross duty. (Just don't over jump any doubles, and blitzing through a set of Supercross-inspired whoops is out of the question.) Again, familiar advice applies, you could drop the money for a revalve, but if you really need it, you probably bought the wrong bike in the first place. For the vast majority of those of us who ride and race off-road, the stock suspension works great.

There is very little that's "dual" about the street-legal KTM 450 EXC. Despite the horn, lights, blinkers, etc., this bike is all sport. This is an aggressive woods machine that just happens to be legal for any public highway in the United States. As cool as that is, it's not something you'll easily remember when you loft the front wheel over a downed log or weave through the trees on your way to fourth place in the 30B class at the local enduro.

MSRP (2011): $9,299

More info:



Engine type Single cylinder, 4-stroke
Displacement 449.3 cc
Bore x stroke 95 x 63.4 mm (3.74 x 2.5")
Compression ratio 11.9:1
Starter/Battery Kickstarter/E-Starter/12V 4 Ah
Transmission 6 gears
Carburetor Keihin FCR MX 39
Control 4 V/OHC with rocker levers
Lubrication Pressure lubrication with 3 Eaton pumps
Engine lubrication Motorex, SAE 10W50
Transmission oil Motorex, SAE 10W50
Primary drive 33:76
Final drive 15:45 (14:52)
Cooling Liquid cooled
Clutch Wet multi-disc clutch, operated hydraulically
Ignition Kokusan


Frame Central double-cradle-type 25CrMo4 steel
Subframe Aluminium
Handlebar Neken, Aluminium Ø 28/22 mm (1.10/0.87")
Front suspension WP USD Ø 48 mm (1.89")
Rear suspension WP PDS shock absorber
Suspension travel front/rear 300/335 mm (11.81/13.19")
Brakes, front/rear Disc brakes 260/220 mm (10.24/8.66")
Rims, front/rear 1.60 x 21"; 2.15 x 18" Excel
Tires, front/rear 90/90-21"; 140/80-18
Chain X-ring chain 5/8 x 1/4
Main silencer Aluminium
Steering head angle 63.5°
Wheel base 1475 ± 10 mm (58.0 ± 0.39")
Ground clearance (unloaded) 380 mm (15")
Seat height 985 mm (38.78")
Tank capacity approx. 9.5 liters (2.51 gal)
Weight (no fuel) approx. 113.9 kg (251 lbs)