2007 KTM 450 EXC, Honda Shadow Spirit 750 And Star Motorcycles V-Star 1300 - First Ride

There was a time when you could buy a new motorcycle, ride it to an off-road race, remove the lights and go for it. That was long ago, when men were men and motorcycles were junk. There was next to no difference between a streetbike and a dirtbike, and nobody knew any better. Since then, motorcycles have made mega-strides in performance and technology. But much of the advancement has come through category specialization. You can go scratching on a cruiser (literally, in most cases, from parts dragging) and tour on a sportbike, but why? Get the right tool for the job.

The same is true of dirtbikes. If you want a dirtbike you can legally ride on the street, the choices are sadly limited. This category has been known as dual-sport, with the inference being that they can be used for pavement and dirt riding. The resulting machines aren't really comfortable on the pavement, and they range from poor to dismal on dirt. At least until now.

KTM's 2007 450 EXC is a new sort of dual-sport machine. It is 50-state street-legal right off the showroom floor, but KTM has no desire to see any EXCs commute to work. They admit it's not a streetbike. It's an off-road racebike remarkably like the one used by KTM star Mike Lafferty to win the 2005 AMA National Enduro title. It remains a true dual-sport machine, but the sports are dirt riding and dirt racing. The street accoutrements are to allow legal passage from one trail head to another.

With that as the sole goal of street legality, KTM chose to add a mere 5 pounds of switchgear, lights, reflectors and sound- and smog-reducing parts in order to keep the government happy. None of these parts aids off-road performance, but they don't hurt it much either. Exactly zero pounds of equipment was added to enhance on-road comfort. Taller gearing was added to satisfy sound regs, and it does keep the engine in a happier rpm range on the road, but that is an accident. A standard KTM off-road 450 runs a 14/48 final-gear ratio, while the EXC gets by with 15/45. Mathematically that equates to well over 100 mph when fed through the wide-ratio gearbox, but with roughly 40 ponies on tap and a barbed and dirty aerodynamic profile, reaching the ton requires a giant downhill and a tailwind. We shifted into sixth at over 80 mph, and the bike actually slowed down.

As a streetbike, let's look at a checklist. Wind protection: nil. Seated comfort: next to none. Vibration: plenty. Lean angle: not really. Come up with a list that rates the EXC as a trailbike and the checklist looks much better. The EXC is super-slim, with a state-of-the-art four-stroke engine, fantastic suspension, great handling, grippy, knobby tires, and it's ready to ride off-road. Suzuki's DR-Z400S is the most comparable dual-sport bike, and the KTM has roughly 10 more ponies, one more gear in the transmission, more wheel travel, a more aggressive riding position and weighs 60 to 70 pounds less.

The number of rigid V-twin customs out there proves there is a market for those willing to suffer pain to evoke a certain style, and if you need discomfort, feel free to commute or tour on this KTM. But you will have robbed a serious dirt guy of his chance to slip from one trail to another without getting busted.

To read more about the KTM EXC 450 and 525, check out the March issue of Dirt Rider magazine.

2007 KTM 450 EXC

MSRP $7998
Type l-c single
Valves OHC, 4v
Displacement 448cc
Transmission 6-speed
Weight 250 lb., claimed dry (114kg)
Fuel capacity 2.1 gal. (8.0L)
Wheelbase 58.3 in. (1481mm)
Seat height 36.4 in. (925mm)

Star Motorcycles V-Star 1300 First RideWhen Honda introduced its sleek, feature-packed VTX1300 back in 2003, it started a whole new modern cruiser class, one that found plenty of success with buyers. And until now, Big Red's three 1300cc models have pretty much had the category to themselves-Suzuki's Intruder 1400-inspired S83 having only marginal sales and excitement impact.

Not one to ignore a lucrative market for long (especially one owned by Honda; the battle scars between the two OEMs are legendary), Yamaha-sorry, Star Motorcycles-has jumped into the 1.3-liter act with its new V-Star 1300, a "middle- weight" cruiser that offers a load of features, styling and performance.

We got the chance to sample the big-inch V-Star recently at a press launch in Asheville, North Carolina, and were plenty impressed with what we found there.

The V-Star 1300's fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, solidly mounted V-twin is altogether different than its sibling's air-cooled, 1063cc vee. It gets its 1304cc from oversquare (100 x 83mm) cylinder dimensions; broad cruiser power with the help of four-valve heads and what Star calls "aggressive" cam timing; a satisfying throb via a single-pin crankshaft; engine durability from its chrome cylinder bores and forged rods and pistons; and its nearly air-cooled look from clever hose routing and a mostly hidden radiator tucked stealthily between the frame's downtubes. Tallish gearing with an overdrive fifth keeps revs comfortably low at cruising speeds, while belt final drive keeps things smooth and quiet on the highways and byways.

Chassis-wise, the V-Star 1300 offers a comfortably low 28-inch-high seat along with a long and low stance bracketed by a 66.5-inch wheelbase. There's a 41mm conventional fork complemented by single-shock rear suspension and dual discs mounted on the bike's fat, 16-inch front wheel. Bar-mounted instruments are stylish (and a welcome change from hard-to-read tank-top items), and overall styling-complete with real steel fenders and a flangeless fuel tank-is handsome in a modern-classic way.

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