Off-Road Racer, Supercrosser.
One might not expect a supercross-based bike to make a great woods machine, but KTM has pulled that trick off with the 250 XC-F. Utilizing KTM’s outstanding SX-F chassis and DOHC, 4-valve, e-start motor, the XC-F works as both a single-track race bike, as well as a high-end trail bike.
With a progressive powerband with decent pull off idle and good top end rev-out, the 250 XC-F is magic on the trails. Intuitively reacting to throttle input—thanks in no small part to the superb Keihin 39mm MX FCR carb— a spinning 18-inch Bridgestone only occurs at the behest of the rider, not as an unavoidable by-product of a poorly thought-out powerband. This allows the rider to work his way effectively through the tightest of trails—and we tested on technical trails that slowed things down to a crawl—yet, still be able to rocket ahead when the trail opens up. The motor is unintimidating and does not fatigue the rider, making all-day riding anything but an exhausting experience.
The XC-F also shares its slick-shifting 6-speed gearbox with the 250 SX-F, which is a double-edged sword. With close ratios and a wide powerband, you can always find the correct gear ratio, unless you find yourself on a dry lakebed (there, you’ll be wishing for the otherwise-identical 250 XCF-W, which is equipped with a wide-ratio transmission). On the downside, when flying through the woods, a single downshift often doesn’t offer the desired engine braking, as a click down doesn’t change the ratio all that much. Fortunately, double downshifts are flawless on the XC-F, and we never missed a shift. The hydraulic clutch is rarely needed, but works perfectly when called upon.
The suspension is flat-out spectacular–the same pieces as used on the SX, but set up to be more compliant. The 48mm WP inverted closed cartridge forks are incredibly accurate in turns, while offering a plush ride that ultimately resists bottoming at the end of their 11.8 inches of travel. The clickers are there if you want the suspension, but unless you have unusual weight or performance requirements, you are going to be satisfied with the spring and damping rates right out of the box. In the rear, the non-linkage WP PDS shock with progressive valving floats over the little stuff and sucks up the huge hits flawlessly—it has over 13 inches of wheel travel on tap!
On one ride, late in the day, we were on a brutally whooped out and potholed trail. In the shadows, some squared-off holes were obscured. The forks would slam into the holes, but transmit almost nothing to the rider through the tapered Neken aluminum handlebars. The rear behaved with equal proficiency, absorbing the trailing end of the hit. This is the kind of suspension that makes you feel like a hero on whoops and when aggressively attacking unfamiliar terrain.
As you can imagine, this bike carves with absolute authority. Point the front end where you want it to go—the Bridgestone sticks and takes you there without complaint. The ultra-narrow profile of the bike and relatively light weight (about 245 lbs with a full 2.4-gallon tank) allows you to throw the bike around and never feel overwhelmed, despite the 38 ¾-inch seat height. The combination of the motor and chassis is as forgiving as it is capable of effortless performance.
While the 450s are considered the premier machines off-road, I prefer a 250 for riding technical trails. The XC-F is not a bike for desert racers. It’s a single-track, high-performance race bike that is more than capable of doing double-duty as an incredible trail weapon for riders who have graduated from the 230/250 class of playbikes.
Action photography by Jess McKinley