Real World Testing KTM’s 2024 250 EXC – taking it to the woods
Enduro21 gets hold of a 2024 KTM EXC to test, fit parts, use and abuse (finally) – we take it to the woods and a timecard enduro for a first real world riding test.
It feels like an absolute age since we tested the 2024 EXC enduro models in Lesotho back in May, 2023. So long ago it was like a fresh start when Enduro21 finally got hold of one to test.
The look of them, with the sharper side panels and giant handguards is familiar by now but getting on it seemed like starting over again, learning what was new and different compared the old TPI bikes we’d become so familiar with.
Getting to know the new EXC
Life with a new bike is always interesting. That new feeling needs rubbing off as you make the first scratches and scuffs. Time on the bike beds it in and there’s always a fresh set of things to find – new fittings, different tools, how does that cover come off? When you switch between brands it takes longer but normally between a KTM/HSQ/GASGAS it’s not different at all.
This model year is different though as KTM made huge changes to the bikes and we’ve been ‘getting to know’ this 250 EXC in the garage and between the trees.
First job – first problem
We’ve ridden this bike twice now. Once for an hour or so on a practice track and then straight to a local timecard enduro to, you know, bed it in properly!
First job was to change tyres and fit some mousses and straight up, here’s the first problem: the different rear axle nut size. That expensive 27mm combination spanner (or wrench if you prefer) bought about six years ago, which became basically the only tool ever used to remove rear wheels on countless bikes, is now redundant.
The new rear axle size on the ’23 KTM means a new rear axle nut size of 30mm means a new investment in a new tool for the job.
New stash of air filters needed
There are more problems lurking when you go inside the air box. The new design of the airbox is easier to access through the side panel and so far seems to seal better too. The gap above it allows for better air intake and we’ve seen pro riders using it to stow tools there including Mani Lettenbichler.
But the filter itself is a new design which, again, means a new investment in a fresh stash of spare filters. We reckon we’ve got about 10 filters stowed away over many years of KTM/HSQ/GG bikes running the same part. They no longer fit and a new stash is needed for spares when we go riding – from this point onwards we guess.
Apart from the overall ‘newness’ of the bike which you can’t avoid, and once we got used to the new places to grab and hold the EXC when moving it around, loading it in the van etc. the first thing which stands out it is the bike is standing taller.
It felt like it was that new bike stiffness but it’s stuck and the new close cartridge forks on the EXC really are making a difference whether the wheels are rolling or not. On the track or trail that carries through and we can report straight up, this bike is way better than the old EXC in standard guise.
The first enduro we did is a tough one on suspension. A time card enduro in sandy forest which gets whooped-out big time in places, over a 15 or so mile lap works the suspension really hard.
We set the suspension by hand (all controls are now easy to adjust track side) and went for the KTM recommended ‘sport’ setting from the manual. The only thing we did at home was set the sag lower than it came out the crate. It was around 10mm too tall at the back so we lowered it to static sag of just under 40mm and rider sag of 110mm.
Side note: taking the rear shock in and out is dead easy now and doesn’t require a rear end strip down to remove it (like some bikes) although the top bolt is a little tricky to get at. A preload adjustor as standard on the shock would be quicker obviously but undo the two bolts and it pulls out without problem to adjust the preload (and sag).
The adjusters are meaningful now too. The range to adjustment is wide and you can go through some decent changes in feel from super-soft to suit hard enduro or harder for this kind of riding at the click of a dial.
The open cartridge forks made a big impression on the launch last May. They are the answer to the problems many people find in the older EXC models, chiefly the too-soft handling which worked fine on a trail ride but cannot cope with enduro.
Well, for our money, the new WP kit can cope with enduro just about fine. A second place in the Vets class proves it (not to blow our own trumpet you understand, just to show alongside a load of experienced riders on bikes which all had various degrees of suspension tune, this was the only stocker there we reckon).
Put simply there is much more support for hitting the bumps and jumps in a typical enduro. Combined with the new shock and chassis design, the new EXC is essentially easier to live with in rough riding conditions, more inclined to stay on a line and much less hard work when the going gets beaten up.
The shock wasn't perfect by any means but having raced this same event many times on a stock EXC, life was a LOT easier.
In fact, the KTM manual ‘sport’ setting proved a bit too much still and we back it off a little – 10 clicks out on compression instead of the 7 they state. That was to compensate for not being able to adjust preload in truth – the markers on the stanchions showed it was not going anything like all the way through the stroke which accounts for the lack of feeling in the front grip and losing the front a few too many times.
Less preload and more compression would have been better but there’s no way to adjust that. At present the KTM Power Parts catalogue doesn’t have the pretty cool fork top preload adjusters available for the MY24 models sadly, so it’s not an easy problem to fix.
Although the shock still got hot and the damping went off a bit, the ’24 EXC’s rear suspension performance keeps much more consistent through constant abuse on a hard work trail. Old EXC WP rear suspension goes off terribly at this event, getting hot and losing damping big time but that is cured to a large extent.
It’s still not as controlled as you’d like and everything would be cured with a Trax WP Pro Componants shock, but it is a chunk better.
Overall it’s hard not to think their old slogan, ‘Ready To Race’ (do KTM still use it?) is actually finally true. We’ve been to these woods many times and often on standard bikes. But this is the first time it’s actually been fine to race a stocker EXC without tonnes of blisters and a beaten-up back after three hours of bucking bronco on the going.
There’s still plenty to play with here and we’ll keep fiddling to find a perfect setting on the stock suspension as we ride it across different terrain and conditions.
Side note number 2: the top shock mount bolt quickly developed a some play in it. Enough to be able to feel it while riding, which is a small worry. It can’t really be too many things (yes, we already checked it was tight thanks for asking!), just the bush in the shock where the bolt goes through. We’ll investigate this further.
The stock o-ring chain seems better quality to out the box. It looks tougher and hasn’t stretched badly like many cheap chains can do once you start using it. The truth is we’ve hardly had to adjust it except to in fact make it slacker, as it felt too tight from the factory and we were worried full suspension travel was going to pull on it.
New places to catch the dirt
Finding the places which catch the dirt and water is not a difficult game to play with a new bike. Yep, you still get a small pond where the front fender bolts on top to the lower clamp. There’s a neat little catch area in front of the lower shock mount too.
Overall, its neater and tidier to live with and work on. Narrower between the legs, the new design seems to keep out the way of edges of ruts, rocks and sticking out tree roots better than the old bike. Definitely the old TPI expansion chamber was a whopper so having less width there is an improvement.
The standing riding position is naturally different, taller but not too tall and the new bar bend and footrest position is actually not so far off the mark. Our default for years now has been to fit lower handlebars and footrests to lower the riding position on a EXC but that seems much less necessary now with the new model – a good way of saving money if we’re having to buy new tools and air filters!
A quick note on this because we feel like we need more time and a wider range of riding conditions to get used to it. But two things stood out with the new TBI 250 motor: it feels punchy in the lower and mid-range but also ran out of puff higher in the revs.
Compared to the TPI it sharper and cleaner revving, just as you’d expect and it pull through the rev-range and through the gears strongly.
Like the old TPI 250 motor, there’s a decent amount of torque feeling and you can use taller gears to pull out of corners if you want.
Second run through the timed test at the enduro and it was time to push on a bit and use the top-end power which it doe but a bit too quickly felt like it runs out of steam trying. The punch out the corners is readily there but it was ripping up to a bump-stop at the top of the rev-range and felt like it was running lean (not clean revving).
Hook a gear higher sooner and it keeps on driving but it felt like the second and third gears should be able to carry further. In a way it was better but it was a shame to head for mid-range instead of enjoying a screaming 250 two-stroke at the other end of the throttle cable.
In need of some protection
Enduro21 already took delivery of some protective parts from AXP Racing for the 2024 EXC models. They have been out for a while now and include everything most people need including radiator guards, sump guard, rear disc guard and chain guard.
It needs it because somehow in the sandy woods we’ve already put a ding in the lower frame rail. Quite how in these conditions is a mystery, there were no hard hits all day, but it’s there and a bit of a bummer to be honest. Are KTM making frames out of softer steel?
The clutch cover has also already started to scuff up after just three hours of riding. So far it feels like a hole heap of things have been improved on the MY24 EXC models, and we have genuinely enjoyed riding this new bike and can’t wait to get back out, but there are a few small niggles. We guess that is to be expected with any new bike but paint finish quality on the engine cover should be better shouldn’t it?
This is our test bike to use and stack up the hours on so stay tuned to the “long termer” section of the website for updates. This review is just the first test, getting to know it. More will follow plus, as ever, if you have something to say, particularly if you have something to say about your 2024 EXC, then get in touch at the email below.
Photo Credit: Enduro21 + Michael Clarke