Ringleader: Brian Catterson
MSRP (2011): $8499
Mods: Dunlop Geomax MX71 tires, KTM accessory hour meter
A while back, a friend asked me why Motorcyclist always names whatever motocrosser I've been racing as our Dirtbike of the Year. Huh? I've only had two long-term dirtbikes to date, and only one of those won a MOTY award. So it's not a conspiracy.
I know the magazine's readership is predominantly street riders, so I pick the dirtbike I think will be the most interesting to them. Say, one with tunable fuel injection like my 2009 Kawasaki KX450F, a "backwards" cylinder like my 2010 Yamaha YZ450F or a category-busting displacement like my new 2011 KTM 350 SX-F. If that also happens to be the best dirtbike of the year, so be it!
From the moment I first rode it at last summer's press intro, I'd say the 350 stands a good chance. The story goes that 10-time (count 'em) World Champion Stefan Everts, who's now KTM's race team manager, envisioned a mid-sized motocrosser that made a bit less power than the 450s it would compete against, but which would be easier to ride at the end of a long moto. On the scales, the 350 isn't really any lighter than a 450; at 245 lbs. gassed up and ready to go, it's smack-dab in the middle of the class. But the reduced inertia afforded by its smaller, lighter internals makes it feel lighter, handling more like a 250 than a 450.
Everts' theory was proven at the highest possible level last year, as KTM factory rider Antonio Carioli swept the MX1 world title. But where the 350 really shines is in amateur racing; particularly in the Vet categories which allow any size bike. On the tight and twisty REM track at Glen Helen, many of the competitors in my 40+ Intermediate class choose to ride 250s. Because I'm bigger and heavier than most of them, the 350 should suit me perfectly.
While I haven't raced my new long-termer yet, I did get to ride it at Glen Helen while taking the Donnie Hansen MX Academy, and found it pretty much perfect. But the inaugural re-running of the Catalina Grand Prix is this weekend, so I'll get a chance to race it then. Wish me luck!