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Middle ground is hard territory to defend. You always have combatants from either side trying to ram home their opinions. So when rumors began to surface a year ago about KTM's non-conformist 350 SX-F, we, like many of you, wondered if it just might prove to be the perfect combination of power, light weight and handling. On paper, it appeared that a 350cc motocross bike would offer 250-like handling with near-450-like engine performance. Who wouldn't be dying to ride that?
Apparently, we weren't the only ones making such assumptions. Every time we unloaded our new Katoom testbike from the back of the truck, we got a full inquisition from curious MX riders. Without fail, the first question was: How does the power compare to a 450 or 250? So, it's pretty obvious where the motivation for this test originated.
Our objective here wasn't to determine the best motocrosser; we've already given Yamaha's innovative YZ450F that title for 2010, and Honda's sweet-handling CRF250R won our 250 MX comparison back in May. We instead set out to answer a few basic questions: How does the KTM compare to the establishment? Does the 350 concept have a future? Should other manufacturers follow suit? Should you buy a 250, a 350 or a 450?
We conducted our testing at two different riding facilities and four tracks over the course of four days. Staff testers included pro-level Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek and Vet Intermediate to Expert riders Mark Cernicky, Blake Conner and photographer Jeff Allen, with added input from Cernicky's 15-year-old nephew, Nathan—an amateur Lites-class racer.
All three bikes have really good chassis—some better than others—and with a little fine-tuning or revalving, each could be optimized for any rider's capabilities. Our goal was to compare the different engine displacements, their characteristics and how they affect handling. To back up our subjective opinions, we conducted lap times with Dudek in the seat of each bike on three of the four tracks. We also ran the bikes on the CW dyno to see what the power curves look like in graph form. What follows are our collective opin
Suspension performance on these ranged from good to great. Braking was much the same. Combine those attributes with "aftermarket" bars and other generally high-quality components, and there wasn't much to distract us from concentrating on engine performance.
ions about each bike, starting with the smallest and working our way up.
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