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KTM 520 EXC
The state of the four stroke art. For now, anyway.
I thought I’d share with you folks my first ride on my KTM 520 E/XC.
Over the last several months, I came to the hard realization that I am not a two-stroke person. I had been riding my 2000 KTM 300 E/XC for about a year and was trying desperately to like it.
Now, this isn’t because it’s a bad bike or anything. Quite the contrary, in fact. It was the finest 2-stroke motorcycle I had ever thrown a leg over. It was light, tractable and the power band hit like you were stepping off a three-story building. It would be the perfect bike for somebody who remains 100% focused while they ride. (Mike Lafferty and Shane Watts come to mind.)
Unfortunately, my thoughts tend to wander when I’m just trail riding. When I’m not doing something fast or technical, my internal narrative goes something like “Look a pilliated woodpecker” “Empty Coors Light cans and spent shotgun shells. What a sensible combination,” and “Wow, that’s a pretŠOh *#*&@, TREE!.”
I was afraid the mixture of this wandering intellectual jibberish and the 300’s power band would conspire to make me one with a Western Red Cedar. That, and I’m a wiener.
So, I sold it.
I wanted a four-stroke. I wanted something that was like my WR400. A bike that could be relaxed when you wanted and a rocket when you felt more aggressive. But different.
There were a lot of choices such as Honda, Suzuki, Husaberg and Husqvarna.
They were all either too heavy, too slow or from Sweden.
Of course, I had read about the KTM Racing Four Strokes. About how light and fast they were. Unfortunately, I had also read that they were harder to find than a jelly donut at a Weight Watchers meeting.
Anyway, I was driving back from Vantage with a sweaty wad of money I had been handed from a very excitable young man for my 300. I think I’d had the money for a total of 90 minutes when I saw a KTM dealer on my left and I thought to myself “Hey, what the heck.” And there, in the corner, was a 520 E/XC. It was dressed all slutty silver and orange plastic. I walked to a salesman like I still had free will. I walked out dizzy, confused and the new owner of a KTM.
But what a bike. The spec sheet read like a letter in Forum . 520cc. 248lbs. And, wonder of all wonders, electric start. Hoo-boy!
(An absolute Godsend to anyone who has owned a YZ/WR400F Yamaha. On a bad day, Suzanne Summers could market the kickstarter as a work out machine. Call it the “SwearMaster.”)
Well, the first thing you notice when you get on it are the un-500-like dimensions. It feels more like a 250. It’s narrow-waisted with a low center of gravity and roomy ergos. A million light years from the sumo-inspired XR650L I used to own.
One touch of the “happy button” and it produced a sound nothing like the ring-dingy leaf blower on steroids I was used to riding. This was every bit a thumper. Throaty and amazingly quiet.
I broke it in on some fire roads. The ample torque and wide ratio transmission made sure there was a gear for every circumstance. (Second or third, take your pick.) And power slides and fourth-gear wheelies were a twist of the right hand away. Unlike the Yamaha’s high-rev horsepower, the KTM engine makes its power more like a traditional big thumper. It pours it on from the bottom through the upper middle of the rev range.
In tight, technical stuff, the weight of the 520, or lack there of, really makes itself apparent. It’s positively nimble for a “big” bike. You can grunt it over practically anything. If you make a mistake and kill it, just punch the button and you’re on your way.
Ain’t technology great? What’s next, a bike that loads itself on the trailer?
Another benefit to this brand is that KTM doesn’t show up on the Department Of Licensing computer. So a license plate is only a couple of forms away.
Sure, there is a gripe or three. Changing the oil is a royal pain. (two filters, two screens and a bunch of gymnastics to get it done.) It ate the odometer cable in the first day of riding. (The Austrian engineers must have been hung over that day or something.) And the price. Eeesh. (They did everything but turn me upside down and shake me for change.)
But, overall, complaining about this machine like making fun of the mole on Marilyn Monroe’s face. You run out of adjectives to describe it.
My recommendation is that if want the lightest, fastest woods bike money can buy, the KTM is it. If you want to save about $1.500 and want something nearly as good, go get yourself a Yamaha WR426F. If you want something even lighter or faster than even these two, wait about six months.
That’s about as long as it will take for Honda or someone to make them seem obsolete.