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2023 KTM SX-F Motocross Range – Bike Test

2023 KTM SX-F Motocross Range – Bike Test

Let’s dive straight in and get straight to the point. Whether you like them or not, KTM build fast motocross bikes and can 100% stand by their tag line ‘ready to race’. Nothing has changed on that front, what has changed is that they’re now more ‘ready to race’ than ever. The 2023 range straight from the showroom floor offers the average Joe all you’re ever going to need, no matter your riding ability or size. It really is a case of choose your weapon and of course that’s what KTM do better than anyone. You can argue all you want about the reason’s why KTM produce a wider range of off road motorcycles than most, certainly the leading Japanese manufactures, but fact is fact and the proof is the pudding as it were. In the 4 Stroke MX market alone they offer up more choice with the SX-F 350, and it’s the adult 4 Stroke bikes I got to test on ideal track conditions at Cusses Gorse MX. Here’s what my opinion of the KTM SX-F range.

SX-F 450

When I say ‘choose your weapon’, let me tell you right now, this bike is some weapon! It offers a peak power output of 63 HP. Now, I’d like to think with over 40 years in this game as a rider, racer and test rider I shouldn’t be surprised in how quick this bike is, but I was. Maybe it really is age catching up with me now as I edge towards 50 this year but I just felt it was all too much for me. Like all modern 450 4 Strokes I now wonder if we’ve just gone all a bit too far with the speed and power? I honestly felt like I couldn’t really use a fair chunk of it and in many ways it was therefore pointless having it.

I guess it’s easy to say, ‘you’ve got to be fit to ride a 450 to it’s potential’ because it is easier to say that than actually do it. I honestly believe there’s more than enough power as stock in the KTM SX-F 450 for any top British rider to go out and win on it at national level, so with that in mind, there’s definitely more than enough power to work with for any club rider or amateur and my advice would be to use the softer map setting switch on the handlebars and keep the traction control on. When I switched over to the more aggressive mapping and turned the traction control off I pretty much straight away felt more like a passenger than the rider and was fighting to hold on to it out of the corners. As I was riding round I thought to myself ‘If I was fitter. I need to get fitter’ which I do, but then I thought, even if if I was fitter and back in my prime in my mid 20’s I’m not sure I’d want to race a bike with so much power. Of course many people would tell me to ‘man up’ and how 500cc two stroke in the days were proper bikes and animals, and they were, but you kind of know where you’re at with them. I’m not saying this new KTM SX-F 450 isn’t a bad bike, quite the contrary, it’s so good that it’s deceptive. You get from A to B so quickly and you’re going faster than you realise, but as I mentioned I think with the new modern technology on offer on the KTM it gives you the impression you’re not moving that fast, but trust me you are. Listen, I’m not dissing this bike, it’s quite incredible actually. All I’m saying is treat it with respect and remember your capabilities. If you want that kind of power then fill your boots, you need to be considering this bike, no doubt. What I’m saying is it’s going to need a top, top level rider to be asking for more out it. Why any amateur rider would want to ’tune it up’ is beyond me.

As on all the SX-F range the 450 comes with launch control mapping that you simply switch on by pressing the bottom of the control unit on the left hand slide of the handlebars. With the obvious power of the 450 using the launch control off the start made such a difference for me. I’ve got short legs and struggle to get right u the front of the seat and get my weight over the bars but this 100% helped. Whack the launch control on by pressing the traction control and quick shift bottoms together (yes, they also come with a quick shift!) and it certainly makes the job easier out the gate and eliminates rider error or bad technique. Beyond that, remember to be respectful to your capabilities and the bike beneath you.

SX-F 350

If you rode a 100cc 4 stroke it would seem pretty gutless wouldn’t it? Yet, those extra 100cc’s are so noticeable in the difference between the 350 and 450. It’s most bizarre actually, clearly you can feel the difference between the 250 and 350, but no way near as much as the difference between the 350 and 450, that feels more like 300cc’s! This bike….wow! Now we’re talking. As soon as I got on it I thought, ‘this is the bike for me’ in fact I thought ‘this is the bike for most adults’. For me it’s all you’ll ever need. A fit, hard charging racer can ride the wheels off it, an over weight ex pro can ride the wheels off it to the best of their ability and an amateur can occasionally give it a good twist and build up to riding it more in the high RPM’s. The beauty of the 350 is you can rev it and it’s got plenty for you to work with, or you can hook those taller gears and let the torque do the work and it doesn’t feel like it’s pulling on your arms out thier sockets like the 450. It’s way more manageable and therefore not as tiring to ride and that’s my point here, I felt like I could race the 350 more than the 450 and get more into a rhythm on it.

I could turn the same lap times on the 450 but I was having to concentrate so much harder at hitting all my marks and gear changes and being as smooth as I possible could to do that, once I started to get tired my laps times dropped off significantly. On the 350 I could throw into corners and light it up with more confidence that it wasn’t going to get away from me, I just felt more in control on it and when I got tired my lap times didn’t drop as much. This bike has 57 HP, the 450 has 63. That 6 HP difference is massive. This new 350 just seems to bite and grip more than ever, maybe because KTM have worked on the chassis and suspension and refined it to a level that now clearly works. The balance of the bike feels better than previous models. I found the 350 easier to get into the corners and ruts and just in general felt more comfortable to go faster for longer on it, so if I was making a choice to go racing right here and now I’d choose the 350 over the 450 without any hesitation. When the first KTM 350 came out I though it was going to be a game changer, that never happened. It might never happen, but it wouldn’t come as any surprise if it did. Obviously at high level, the 450 will continue to rule the roost but at amateur and club level the KTM SX-F 350 has everything you need to win in the MX1 class, week in, week out.

SX-F 250

I did three laps on this bike, straight off the bat, by the time I started my third lap I was under no illusion as to why KTM have won so many MX2 world championships! It’s genuinely one of the fastest 250’s I’ve swung my leg over. It’s revs to the moon if you want it too (14,000 rpm’s and 47 HP) and there’s an abundance of grunt from the bottom if like me you like to use taller gears and not be so aggressive and more energy efficient. The transition from second to third is where this thing feels seamless, it just hooks and the power curve keeps rising allowing you to attack coming out of corners and into faces of jumps or down longer straights. Even the shorter straights because you can just hold it in third and let it rev it’s balls off! I found in several areas I could just twist the throttle some more to clear some of the jumps from the inside where maybe on some other bikes I’d have to be working it with a seat bounce or a trigger of the clutch.

Like all three models the quick shift is noticeable when activated and if you really want to be aggressive with your racing you can absolutely rag the s**t out of the KTM SX-F 250 with it on. Coming out the turns just get your right arm twisted back as far as you can chicken wing it and hold it there as you hook up the gears and the quick shift and mapping will do all the work for you. As much as I noticed the advantages of the quick shift on 250 (which only works between 2nd and 5th gear to prevent hitting a false neutral), I also felt a slight negative, and it is only slight. I think the quick shift will be a bit of a marmite deal. You’re either going to love it or hate it and it’s probably going to be horses for courses, but at least the option is there right? I didn’t particularly like the quick shift coming back down the gear box. It sort of lags a bit and seems to give you a slightly delayed bit of engine braking. When it first happened I thought I may have locked up and stalled the bike as it caught me off guard quite a bit, but I soon realised what it was. I guess it’s something you could get used to, but it wasn’t for me. I like the feeling of having a bit more ‘roll’ into the corners, probably because I spent most of my career racing a 2 stroke.


Handling – Across all three bikes, these are the best feeling stock KTM’s I’ve ridden. Some would argue there’s been a bit of a stigma with the handling of the KTM’s down the years compared with some Japanese manufactures but I feel with the new frame and 48mm WP XACT Air forks they’ve made vast improvements. I did find the 450 harder to get into corners, particularly on the front end, but I’m partly putting that down to the speed I was traveling into them and how good the bike was tracking over the braking bumps. The new ‘tool free’ adjustable dual compression rear shock definitely makes the rear end on all three models more stable than I remember and I think helps make all of them track better off and under load through the turns.

The all new forged steering head of the frame no doubt helps with an improved handling characteristic along with the new rear shock mount that is no longer connected to the main frame tube. On all three models the engines have been rotated backwards by 2 degrees, improving mass centralisation. The brakes are brilliant and strong, but then they have been on the KTM’s for years now. The levers are fat with a good shape to grip and that coupled with the good feel of both front brake and a very light clutch add to the overal good vibe of the bike and will probably help with arm pump prevention a little. The throttle on all bikes is stupidly light, to the point it doesn’t feel like there’s a cable attached, which I have to say on the 450 was a but unnerving at first.

Ergonomics – When I first saw the new models I honestly though those long pointed rad shrouds would be a problem even for my E.T legs, but when you get sat on the bike you don’t even notice them, especially when you’re riding. I’m sure Aaron Plessinger with his Giraffe like legs would’ve had something to say about it if they had of been. They’ll actually taper in at the front (the rad shrouds, not Aaron’s legs) and if anything make the bikes feel slimmer than ever before. With all three bikes using the same frame you get a real sense of continuity if you’re jumping from one bike to the other as I was, allowing you to focus on the difference in the power and engines.

The new 2023 KTM SX-F range are slim but not to the point where it’s noticeable on the contact points where you grip with your knees. I mean, let’s be honest here, we all want a little bit of something to hold on to. Granted, you don’t want to feel like you’re riding a Hippo, but then neither do you want to feel like you’re trying to pinch a tennis ball between your legs for 20 minutes or more while you’re trying to race a track and the guys around you. The new footpegs, which are 26% larger at contact with your boot, have repositioned to reduce drag in ruts or if you’re good enough to scrub that they actually catch on jumps are noticeably better and give that little bit more connection with the bike. The new seat is flatter, but the big selling point of it is how grippy it is. So much so I was convinced I’d lost weight as my pants kept coming down. Much to my disappointment I was wrong. Overall the riding position for me felt better than previous models.

Summary – As I said at the outset, the 2023 KTM SX-F range are ready to race and you’ve got choices to suit your ability and what you want out of the sport, which actually is the key factor in choosing a bike. With the 350 now better than ever it’s just opened up more choice and across the range there’s a bike that will suit all levels of rider. The bikes feel lighter and faster than ever, mostly because they actually are and with more refinements like the new frame, footpegs, quick shift, traction control and bar mounted mapping you can tailor the KTM’s to your needs more than ever. I can only give my honest opinion as a test rider and I can honestly say, apart from the privilege of testing full factory KTM’s, these are the best production KTM’s I’ve ever ridden. Just because KTM didn’t win an AMA SX title this year and are looking unlikely to win a US motocross title or the MXGP crown don’t think for one second they’ve lost their way in producing race winning motocross bikes because it didn’t feel like it me after having a shred on the 2023 SX-F range. They’re still ‘ready to race’, more than ever.