2011 KTM 350 SX-F | Doin' Time

Staffers’ Rides

Photography by Brian Catterson, Joe Bonnello

Wrist: Brian Catterson
MSRP (2011): $8499
Hours: 54.5
Mods: Acerbis handguards, Driven Racing chain/sprockets, EBC brake pads, Splitstream fuel filter, Trail Tech map switch, Pirelli tires, Powersports Grafx

Conventional wisdom holds that European motorcycles are unreliable, and that one should never buy a first-year model because the bugs haven’t been worked out yet. Personally, I’ve never subscribed to those theories, and have seldom experienced any such troubles. Sadly, that wasn’t the case with my 2011 KTM 350 SX-F.

First things first: I loved riding this motorcycle! And I won’t amend that with a lame “when it was running” because it ran perfectly most of the time. I put more than 50 hours on the 350, competing in weekly motocross races, the occasional Grand Prix and numerous practice days.

In all that time, I had two problems: First, around 30 hours, the left-side lobe on the exhaust cam was galled after an oil jet clogged, spitting a shim and requiring a complete teardown. And second, approaching 50 hours, a clogged fuel-injector nozzle necessitated a douching with a special KTM tool. While this was being attended to, Z Racing owner Mark Zoller (www.zracinginc.com) updated the EFI to 2012 specs, giving the motor a few more ponies. Also, because there have been reports of throttle position sensors going bad due to corrosion from pressure washers, he installed the rubber cover that was introduced on the 2012 model.

But in the beginning, everything was rosy. After giving the 350 a highfalutin' debut at the reborn Catalina GP, I prepped it for my regular REM MX races. First order of business was replacing the pretty Red Bull-sponsored numberplates with some custom Powersports Grafx featuring the Motorcyclist logo ($69.95; www.ridepg.com). Later, when the stock decals started to look tattered (blame my knee braces), I stuck on some PG factory race team graphics ($199.95). That’s when I discovered that the stock graphics are “in-molded,” a relatively new technique wherein the decals are laid into the molds before the plastic is injected, effectively bonding them to the part for life. You can put your custom decals on over the stock graphics, but it might be smarter to use aftermarket plastic and save the stock stuff for when you sell the bike.

The hard-terrain Dunlop MX71 knobbies I ran at Catalina also needed to go, replaced with Pirelli Scorpion MX Mid-Soft 32s (around $75 apiece). These worked great for wet, deep-disked practice sessions and first motos, if not quite as well for sun-baked second motos. I used just four sets the entire year, which is an affordable contrast to roadracing.

One Saturday morning at the REM riders’ meeting, announcer Tom White was thinking of a trivia question when one of the assembled masses belted out, “How many rocks are on the moon?”

“Less than at Glen Helen,” I shouted, which got a good laugh. That may well be true, so I bolted on a set of Acerbis Uniko handguards ($39.95; www.acerbis.com), which proved utterly resilient.

After the first few races, I changed the gearing, too. The 350 comes with a 50-tooth rear sprocket, which is too tall. I went up to a 52, which made it easier to keep the high-revving DOHC single in the powerband. When the OE chain and sprockets wore out, they were replaced with a Power Up Kit from Driven Racing ($173.35; www.drivenracing.com).

Aside from the aforementioned issues, maintenance was straightforward with oil/filter changes every three to five outings using the recommended Motorex 10w-40 synthetic. Valve clearances were checked several times and always found to be in spec. Minor problems included a cracked front fender and one blown fork seal, which oiled the front brake pads. These were replaced with a set of EBC MXS sintered pads ($40; www.ebcbrakes.com), which worked at least as well as the stockers. One other issue, which wasn’t really a problem, was the stock Excel rims flattened at the bead locks—something we haven’t seen on other Excel wheels.

Brainchild of 10-time World Champion Stefan Everts, the 350 has been a huge success in Europe, where Italian Antonio Carioli won the MX1 world title in 2010 and ’11. It hasn’t been nearly as successful in the USA, Mike Alessi’s second-moto win at Hangtown in ’10 its sole professional victory.

In an amateur’s hands, however—and, in particular, a vet’s—it’s a weapon. Nearing the end of a long moto, the 350’s melding of 250 handling and 450 power lets its rider hunt down and pass weary competitors. Not that the 350 gets bad starts—I was pleasantly surprised to nab just as many holeshots as on 450s. The 350 isn’t physically lighter; it just feels lighter thanks to the smaller engine parts whirring around inside.

If that sounds appealing, the KTM 350 SX-F is the bike for you. Just make sure to get a 2012 model so all the bugs are worked out.

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