If you want to point at one reason for the sales success of modern fourstroke off-road bikes, try electric start. Oh, sure, the smooth, tractable and energetic power is great, but when a bike stalls someplace ugly or you fall over on the side of a hill, you'll be happier to have the magic button than a winning lottery ticket. The two-stroke starter sounds more like a personal watercraft or scooter than the baby-small-block thump of a four-stroke, but you won't care about that after one ride.
This is a great year for KTM to add electric start to its two-stroke woods bikes. The '08 XC-W lineup gained the vastly lighter '07 Sxstyle chassis and bodywork, and the result is so feathery that the e-start 250 is said to weigh one pound less than the old kick-start model!
KTM could easily have sold out the 250 XC-W (e) if it had simply added the starter, because the 250 XC-W was already the Austrian company's best-selling model. Honestly, its engine is the least changed part of the package. The frame is completely new, lighter and less flexy, with a slim profile that's easier to grip with your boots and knees. The shock has a more progressive rising rate and adjustable high-speed compression damping, while a new billet triple clamp features adjustable offset (18 and 20mm) and four handlebar positions.
We had a chance to find out how the new bike compares with the old one at Michigan's Buzzard National Enduro. It didn't take long to tell the '08 apart. Naturally, there is the fact that you don't have to kickstart it, and the seat and tank feel different as well. But all those detail differences fade when you put the engine to work. The '07 XC-W was as smooth and effortless to ride as a two-stroke gets. The motor had plenty of low-rpm pull for technical terrain, and when it was spun up, it ripped on top. The midrange was soft and smooth, and with good traction you had to whip the engine a little with the clutch to get up into the boost. It was a very efficient tool, but lacked excitement.
For '08 the engine is still solid on the bottom and top, but the midrange is much livelier. It isn't zappy to the point of radical wheelspin like a motocrosser, but it has plenty of punch to get the front end up when you need to. Basically the engine has changed to suit the modern off-road riding style, which is more aggressive, tinged with motocross thinking.
The same is true of suspension action. Enduro bikes have the stigma of being soft, even wallowy, with little bottoming resistance, but that was your dad's off-road bike. Dads are still going to love the '08, but the persona of the bike is a bit younger and more hip. Or maybe it just made us feel younger.
The 250 XC-W (e) would shine in the off-road world without electric start, but having the magic button gives it a knock-out punch.