Ringleader: Brian Catterson
MSRP (2011): $8299
Mods: Dunlop Geomax MX71 tires. FMF Factory 4.1 RCT titanium exhaust, KTM PowerParts hour meter, map switch, fork and shock springs
I haven’t been as excited about many long-term testbikes as I have about this new KTM 350 SX-F. Especially since my first race on it was the inaugural re-running of the Catalina Grand Prix!
Back after a 52-year absence, the December event promised a course faithful to that which the racers faced a half-century ago, meaning paved roads in town and dirt fireroads up in the hills. I suspected differently, so wasn’t entirely surprised when the course turned out to be about 98 percent dirt. Truth be told, aside from its exotic island setting, Catalina was just like any other AMA District 37 Grand Prix, encompassing a motocross track, singletrack trails, fireroads and two short stretches of pavement.
Before handing over the bike, KTM’s Tom Moen installed a PowerParts accessory hour meter ($39) to keep track of run time between oil changes and valve adjustments, plus a map select switch ($49) that gives a choice of soft, aggressive and standard ignition curves. While he had the seat off, he zip-tied the main power relay in place to keep it from slipping off its mount, a problem on some early models.
Because I tip the scales at a tick over 200 lbs., I had Tom install KTM’s accessory fork and shock springs ($172.76 front, $173.24 rear). These raise the rates from .48 to .50 kg/mm up front and from 5.4 to 5.7 kg/ mm in the rear. My bike even arrived wearing non-stock Dunlop Geomax MX71 hard-terrain knobbies—perfect for Catalina’s blue-grooved fireroads.
The only mod I made myself, I wouldn’t have at this early stage except that Catalina required a spark arrestor. So I ordered up an FMF Factory 4.1 RCT titanium full exhaust system with a MegaBomb header and a trick, blue-anodized silencer ($899.99; www.fmfracing.com). This met the letter of the law while boosting upper-midrange power and shaving off nearly three-quarters of a pound.
Catalina Grand Prix bib? Check. Catalina Grand Prix numberplate backgrounds? Check. Catali
There’s no practice at a GP, so after participating in a parade lap of downtown Avalon, I was dismayed to find that many of the competitors in my Senior Heavyweight B class had headed straight to the starting line. Thus I was relegated to a position on the far outside.
Even so, despite spotting my fellow competitors 100cc on the uphill start, I arrived in the first turn just outside the top 10. Unfortunately the leaders went down in a heap, forcing me off-course as I took evasive action.
“Great,” I thought, “racing finally returns to Catalina and there won’t be another because I damaged some endangered species of plant!”
I regained the track near the back of the 57-rider field, passed a whole bunch of guys over the course of the 45-minute moto and eventually finished 24th. Not bad considering the calamity at the start.
The Catalina Grand Prix was certainly special, but now it’s time to get back to my regular REM Saturday-morning motocross races. I’ve already got some soft-terrain tires on order, as well as some hand guards to ward off the rocks. Bring it on!