First Ride: 2016 KTM 350 EXC-F Dual-Sport Motorcycle

What Off-Road Really Means

2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, sliding
KTM’s message about the EXC is clear; this is not a streetbike.©Motorcyclist
THEY SAY: "Best in class."
WE SAY: "We wouldn't want anything else."

Especially with the swelling tide of adventure touring (ADV) models to be had, there have been plenty of stories written about the off-road capability of streetbikes. But realize, please, that when we journalists rave and gawk at the relative ease with which a 500- or 600-pound behemoth plods down a two-track road, it's all relative. They are amazing feats of engineering, it's true, but genuine dirt bikes they are not, and nothing makes that more evident than riding an actual off-road machine.

2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, wheelie
The 12 inches of WP suspension is wholly competent (and fully adjustable) straight out of the box.©Motorcyclist

We like to think we're all-arounders here at MC, in that we like two-wheeled transport in every shape and size, and to do that it pays to stay abreast of the latest and greatest. For a quick refresher on the state of the dual-sport art we swung a leg over the 2016 model of KTM's 350 EXC-F and wandered off into the Sierra Nevada Mountains just south of Yosemite National Park. Juicy EXC country, if you know where to look.

2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, side view
KTM is proud that it’s not perfectly at home on pavement because of what it means about how it handles off the asphalt.©Motorcyclist

It’ll be easier, by the way, to swing that leg over if you’re as lanky as the EXC, with this 350’s seat listed at slightly more than 38 inches. That’s not a typo: The seat is just a couple inches shorter than the roof of a Ford GT40. And nearly as stiff. It’s fuel injected so there’s no choke, but there’s a high-idle stem that helps the fairly cold-blooded 350cc single warm up and transports those of us who grew up on a little dirt bike to memories of our youth.

On the smooth, black tarmac the EXC is poised and stable enough without ever feeling totally comfortable. To its considerable credit, KTM’s message about the EXC is clear as a mountain stream; this is not a streetbike. In fact, one anecdote from inside Orange corporate tells of KTM refunding one buyer’s money who bought an EXC thinking the license plate and blinkers meant it was a good commuter. KTM is proud that it’s not perfectly at home on pavement because of what it means about how it handles off the asphalt.

2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, engine
In addition to a few cosmetic updates, the 2016 350 EXC gets a plastic skid plate and 2mm less offset for the 4mm-smaller front axle.©Motorcyclist

Where 260 pounds of tall and narrow felt skittish on the road, it’s brilliant when the skinny Metzelers get to sink their knobs into soft dirt. It’s incredibly agile, with just enough weight to stay composed and steady in rough terrain. The 12 inches of WP suspension would benefit from some adjustment if you owned one, but it’s wholly competent (and fully adjustable) straight out of the box. It’s almost like your eyes are deceiving you, when a plot of gnarly roots or strewn rocks in the trail simply dissolve under the bike.

2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, sprocket
The orange rear sprocket is a nice touch too.©Motorcyclist

KTM's philosophy with the 350 powerplant was to create "250 agility with 450 power," and as far as we can tell they hit the target. There's no wringing the 350 out to stay in the power like you might do with a two-fiddy, and yet it's docile enough for riders who might not feel ready for the monstrously torquey 500 EXC. We find it to be the perfect balance: approachable in the dirt with enough steam to keep up with traffic on the pavement—not that you'll want on-road trips to be too long, with the fractional, knobby contact patch and small fuel tank.

Incidentally, 2.3 gallons of gas might not seem like much, but we managed around 80 miles of riding, 90 percent of it in the dirt, without feeling like we were close to fumes. After careening through the Sierra National Forest on this latest 350 EXC we sat muddy, dusty, and thoroughly impressed. To a mostly pavement rider, the EXC will feel like it was built for a martian: insanely narrow, tall, and light. But after leaping over water bars, crossing streams, and scampering up devious slopes it’s hard to come up with any complaints about the 350.

2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, headlight
Tucked neatly behind the KTM flyscreen is a spartan but functional dash.©Motorcyclist
2016 KTM 350 EXC-F, dash
Dual tripmeters and ride timers sit to the right of the speedo and basic warning lights.©Motorcyclist

Actually, there is one. The area where the 350 EXC story gets a little sticky is price. The $10,199 price tag is imposing on its own, but it’s the fact that the 500 EXC is only $200 more that always makes our noses wrinkle. Being that the 500 is only 9 pounds heavier and has so much more power on tap, it’s hard to look the other way. Still, we can’t help but come back to the feeling we had after riding the 350 all day of pure amazement—tired, but not depleted, and shocked at how much better a rider you can be on the right equipment.

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Just a few tweaks from last year’s bike, heavily updated in 2012.
RIVALS
[Husqvarna FE350S and FE501S][], [KTM 500 EXC][], [Suzuki DRZ400S][]
2016 KTM 350 EXC-F  
PRICE $10,199
ENGINE 350cc, liquid-cooled single
BORE x STROKE 88.0 x 57.5mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.3:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 4v
FUELING EFI
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Tubular-steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION WP 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 11.8-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION WP shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 13.2-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 260mm disc
REAR BRAKE Brembo one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
FRONT TIRE 90/90-21 Metzeler 6 Days Extreme
REAR TIRE 140/80-18 Metzeler 6 Days Extreme
RAKE/TRAIL 26.5°/NA
SEAT HEIGHT 38.0 in.
WHEELBASE 58.0 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 261/247 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 2.3 gal.
WARRANTY 6 months
MORE INFORMATION [ktm.com][]
VERDICT  
Unmatched off-road performance for a street-legal dual-sport pays the price in street comfort.