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KTM 300 EXC Enduro
Big bad BARRY ASHENHURST has just spent two days with the latest KTM 300 EXC. Now he wants one of the damn things. Settle down Baz, the budget's not that good at AMT...
We've done a lot of beedling around in the dirt lately and the latest beedle was on KTM's 300 EXC, a bike that for years topped the best-seller lists and that still has everything a high performance two-stroke is supposed to deliver. The 300 EXC is quick, nimble, it goes where you point it, has terrific brakes and it looks cool.
I know all this because I rode the 300 during a two-day standup comedy routine with Mick Wharton's KTM Trail Tours, 48 hours of raucous misbehaviour, calculated risk, stonkin' great hills, the odd grog or two, and plenty of practice in laughing at other peoples' misfortunes. Mick has a helmet-mounted crash cam that records every bloop and trail blunder, a bonus that makes very amusing entertainment when replayed in the pub and 300 shit-faced strangers get the chance to laugh their guts out while spilling high-octane booze all over you.
But back to the bike. The KTM 300 EXC has been a favourite with Aussie dirt riders for a long time. Itıs always been a potent enduro bike but trail riders have gone for it too, because itıs versatile as well as potent. The 300 has had to evolve though, mainly to keep pace with the growing preference for more race-oriented bikes. Some of the changes not listed in the brochure are very welcome indeed, like the chain adjustment marks on the swingarm, while others merely confirm that this is a very well-designed package. Another thing we'd like to praise KTM for is the EXC owners' manual. If NASA sold rockets they could base the owners' manual on this one. It's a ripper.
Basically, the 300 EXC is everything you'd expect in a classic race/trail bike. It's slim, light (about 110kg fuelled), highly manoeuvrable and certainly fast enough to get your attention. The adjustable, though non-tapered handlebars are first class, the iddy-biddy instrument pack is functional and easy to read if a tad optimistic with an upper limit of 180km/h the switchgear is small and well designed and the blinkers are tiny little things that won't snap off when you drop the bugger on a downhill run through the rock garden.
RACE OR TRAIL
Or do anything else with it. The 300 might take some getting used to if you've spent a lot of time on four-strokes the first time I rode it I hated it like a toothache but the break-in period was certainly worth it.
After a few excursions on my own turf it started to dawn on me that the KTM's neutral handling and wonderfully accurate steering make it a real fun thing to ride, once you come to grips with the two-stroke characteristics.
Its responsive chassis and easy direction changes enable you to do things you might think twice about on a heavier and less agile machine, especially in tight or gnarly terrain where more mass could make a mess.
In the old days, when bin Laden was probably a German beer and viruses couldn't crap in your hard drive, the KTM 300 EXC had a grunty engine that produced enduro-style power. It was a tough bike but not difficult to ride.
Back then the 300 had torque at low revs. It still has torque at low revs, but all that evolving has turned the 297cc engine into a more motocross-style powerplant with a BFM (Big Fat Midrange) and a top-end that tends to drop off at the extreme end of the rev range, although experts are the only ones likely to complain about that. The new 300 feels more like a 250, which means the power is snappier and more aggressive.
That's okay for hotshots but for average blokes it makes the bike more difficult to ride in slippery conditions, especially if your tyres have degenerated into O-rings. If the ground is loamy and offers good traction, like a nice Thumper layout before 200 bikes turn up for practice, the 300 will hook up and deliver and give you the ride of your life, but on mega-dry hardpack where traction is iffy, the 300 leaves tracks like a snake on sand and you need really good clutch and throttle control to manage the wheelspin.
I guess it all comes down to whether or not you like two-strokes. Some guys like sidewinding and some donıt. One thing's for sure, though. If you dig old-fashioned two-stroke power and like to slash and burn your way through Sunday afternoons, this thing has the engine to make it happen.