KTM's new 150cc models are filling a small-but-important place in the motorcycle market. A half-step between a 125cc two-stroke and a 250cc four-stroke, they have the weight and feel of the former and the power of the latter.
The XC (for Cross Country) we tested fires up the old-fashioned way, but superb jetting helps it start on the first kick. The top end is identical to its motocross-specific SX sibling, but the gearbox has been revised to better match its intended purpose. First through third are shorter while fourth, fifth and sixth have been stretched.
The handling and feel are all 125, but that extra displacement gives it a good bit more gusto. Roll the throttle open in too tall a gear and the XC steadily builds steam as it makes its way toward a shining midrange. A heavier flywheel softens the hit compared to the SX, but you still have to be ready for it. Power-wise there is always enough grunt to loft the front wheel over logs or rocks.
KTM's "Ready to Race" slogan isn't just hyperbole. Equipped with WP suspension, Brembo bra
The engineers made a few changes to the chassis, most notably a steeper steering head angle and revised triple clamp (with 22mm of offset, up from 20mm) intended to quicken steering and improve front-end feel. The WP suspension was about maxxed out with my 185 lbs. on board, but it took everything we threw at it without issue. We never felt the need to play with the clickers, although setting the sag was essential to get the bike balanced for optimal handling.
The XC is so light and flickable that it puts up much less of a fight than a bigger bike. But where on a 250F you might be able to relax a bit, you'll have to cane the XC if you want to keep pace. That's part of the bike's charm-and a big part of the fun! Get it right and the 250s will be huffing your oil-scented exhaust. The brakes are about as powerful and progressive as you'll find on any production dirtbike, helped no doubt by the 150's light weight. The translucent tank holds enough gas for an hour at race pace, or about 50 miles on the trails.
If you're looking for a great small-bore two-stroke off-road bike, the 150 XC doesn't have much competition. It makes an excellent alternative to a 250cc four-stroke, especially for younger riders coming off 85cc two-strokes. Older guys who used to love riding 125s won't believe how this "cheater" 150 elevates the class! The $6998 price tag may be a bit of a stumbling block, but bikes are all expensive nowadays, and you are getting a lot of performance for the money. We're willing to bet these bikes will be in short supply once KTM sets up a demo-ride program.