Deciding on the KTM 450 EXC

2011 KTM 450 EXC MotorcycleAs I’m approaching 15 engine hours on my 2011 KTM 450 EXC, the first major service interval, I thought it was time to give a detailed review of my first thoughts on this motorcycle. I going to write this review in three parts. I’ll give a little background on how I came to decision to purchase the KTM 450 EXC. Then I’ll set some expectations about what you will get from the dealer, compared to what is really needed for serious off road riding. Lastly, I’ll talk about my riding experiences with this bike, on and off road.

The Road to the KTM 450 EXC

A little background about me, and my experiences with dual sport motorcycles. My first dual sport motorcycle was as a teenager back in the mid-1970s, and it was a Yamaha DT400.  It was a very nice bike, if you wanted something equally good on and off road. But, I quickly discovered that dual sport means compromises, especially back then. The DT400 was big and heavy for off road, and the suspension bounced all over the place in rough ground. I eventually traded it for a Yamaha IT175, a pure off road enduro bike. The IT175 was basically a bored out YZ125 motocrosser with lights. In those days you could easily plate any off road motorcycle by adding lights, mirror and horn. It was everything I wanted at the time, an off road motorcycle I could ride to the trails. After college, I got more into street riding and traded the IT175 for a street bike. So, that ended my off road riding for many years.

About four years ago I decided to get back into off road riding. I went out looking for a current equivalent of my old IT175. I looked at Yamaha WR250R and XT250, Honda CRF230L and Kawasaki KLX250S dual sport bikes. I also looked at what it would take to plate an off road bike, such as the Yamaha WR250F, in California. I was a little intimidated by the thought of getting a pure off road bike due the more intensive service requirements. I decided to go the dual sport route. The Yamaha WR250R had just been introduced, and was getting rave reviews. It was described as a dual sport motorcycle with serious leanings toward off road riding. Best of all, it was fuel injected and had the service requirements of a street bike. It sounded ideal. I won’t get into any other details of why I choose the WR250R over the Honda and Kawasaki in this article. If you are interested, post your question in the comments section and I’ll give you more details.

After over a year of riding, and a couple thousand miles, I still thought the WR250R was quite ideal. Especially for a dual sport, off road bike. I have a street bike, so plating the WR250R was purely for getting to the trails, not riding around on the streets. The bike’s off road emphasis suited me fine.

Deja Vu all over Again

The WR250R was a nice way to get back into off road riding. I had about a 40 minute ride to Metcalf motorcycle park. I could ride around for a few hours. Then ride home. And, that’s exactly what I did for over a year. As I got better riding off road, I started to notice some of the compromises of a dual sport bike for off road riding. One day after wiping out three times, I concluded riding it off road wasn’t ideal. I started to consider beefing up the off road capabilities. A friend who rides an off road bike took my WR250R for a ride and came back with the following observations and recommendations. The bike is a little heavy for off road; it could use more power; the suspension was okay, but not great; and, the stock dual sport tires didn’t have enough traction for off road. His recommendations were to strip off all of the street components (e.g., turn signals, etc.) to make it lighter, install a big bore kit to give it more power, beef up the suspension, and get better off road tires. That was starting to sound like a new bike.

And then there was the other side of the coin. Riding it home after several hours of trail riding wasn’t much fun anymore. The seat wasn’t all that comfortable after several hours of riding off road. Also, the 35 inch seat height made me cringe at every traffic light or stop sign. Although I could reach the ground, I couldn’t get the weight off my butt. The dual sport compromise was once again rearing its ugly head. I realized that I’d been to this decision point before. This time, do I want to put all this effort into the WR250R, or get a pure off road bike?

Revisiting my Purchasing Decisions

When I was researching dual sport bikes and bought the WR250R, I hadn’t seriously considered the KTM 450 EXC. I had looked at it, but it didn’t seem like the right bike at the time. It had the maintenance intervals of a pure off road motorcycle. I’m not incredibly mechanically inclined. So, the idea of doing a lot of maintenance on a bike wasn’t appealing. I could probably live with changing the oil every few hours of riding, but checking valve clearances and other stuff was downright intimidating. I also considered the fact that I’d be burning a lot of my engine hours, and therefore service schedule, just riding to and from the trails. So, I had quickly eliminated the KTM 450 EXC as an option.

Now I was at a point of needing to reconsider my options. What was really important? Did I really need a dual sport, or was a pure off road bike a better choice? I already had a motorcycle VersaHauler motorcycle carrier to haul the bike to the trails. Would a green sticker, or even red sticker bike be okay? I decided that I wanted a no-compromise off road motorcycle for trail riding, even if I had to haul it to the trail. If that meant learning to do maintenance on it, so be it. I wanted to ride year round, so it had to be at least green sticker. I wanted a better bike than I was a rider, so I could grow into it. If it could be made street legal, that would be a bonus since many trails were interconnected by public roads, and I may need to go into a town for lunch or gas. New decision points in mind, I was again off researching. This time I explored the Yamaha WR250F and WR450F, the Honda CRF450X, the Kawasaki KLX450R and the KTM 450 EXC.

Enter the KTM 450 EXC

As a long time Yamaha rider, I kept leaning toward the WR250F or WR450F. In early 2011, I could still get a really good deal on a new 2009 Yamaha WR450F, Honda CRF450X or Kawasaki KLX450R. It was very tempting, especially with the premium I would already pay for a KTM. After many dealer visits, sitting on the different motorcycles, asking endless questions, I still couldn’t make up my mind. However, I had read a couple of good reviews of the KTM 450 EXC, and read many discussion boards comparing the bikes. The  450 EXC was a pure off road racing motorcycle that KTM managed to get approved as street legal. Even as a dual sport, it was winning head-to-head against these pure off road bikes. I was sold, and my local KTM dealer had a new customer.

In the next two parts, I’ll get into more detail on the 2011 KTM 450 EXC: what you need to do once you get it home from the dealer, and my riding impressions after about 15 engine hours. If you are interested in more details on my KTM buying decision, or why I didn’t buy the Yamaha, Honda or Kawasaki, post your questions below. They are all great bikes, so I’ll try to give a fair assessment of my decision.

Parts two and three can be found at: KTM 450 EXC Enhancements, and KTM 450 EXC Review.




  1. Hi,

    happy to have ended up here. Your history is pretty much like mine, except when I was a teen I would only ride “full cross” as we call them here. I didnt like the dual sports bikes (I ride them quit a bit too back then, my older brother had a DT125 1978 (yak I hated it, compared to my KX80 1979) and then bought an IT175 (liked it much better then his DT).

    Anyway, I started again at looking at motocross as I moved to the country. But after quite a lot of researching/thinking, I came to the conclusion that I needed a street legal bike, but as close as possible to a “full cross” (SX, CR, KX, RM, etc). I I think the 450 exc would be the best choice for me too.

    I’d like to know what influenced your decision to go for the exc instead of a Yam, Honda or Kawa ?

    • Sorry for the slow response. I’m on a motorcycle trip across the US and Canada. There were a few factors that had me choose the EXC rather than the Yamaha, Honda or Kawasaki. The primary one was the desire for it to be street legal. I have a friend with a dual sport and I wanted to ride with him in the Sierra Mountains. You often need to ride public roads interconnecting trails. Having a license plate also makes it easier to ride into towns for lunch or gas. I explored what it would take to get any other pure dirt bike licensed in California. It didn’t seem promising. I talked to one guy that was successful. He said it took him several tries, but finally got it licensed. I didn’t want the hastle, so I got the EXC which is street legal in stock form. There were other factors. The Honda/KTM dealer pushed the KTM saying the Honda 450X hadn’t been updated in years. He claimed the KTM was a better bike, with much newer technology. I’ve never ridden the Honda, so I don’t have any real comparison. I didn’t know anyone with a Kawasaki, so I didn’t have any first had recommendation and feedback, so I didn’t seriously look at it. When I bought my 2011 EXC, I could still get new 2009 Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki for about $6000 to $6500 out the door. That was considerably less than the KTM. I debated the value of being street legal in my head several times trying to justify the extra expense. I did seriously consider the Yamaha WR450X, and almost bought it. I went back and forth between the KTM and Yamaha dealer trying to decide. I suspect the dealers thought that I’d never make up my mind. In the end, I decided that I would be very happy with the KTM, I wasn’t sure if I’d regret buying the Yamaha for not being street legal. So I went with the EXC.

      • One other quick comment. I have a friend that races a KTM. He also has a KTM 450. I figured it would be handy knowing someone that could help me if I had any problems with my bike.

  2. Hi again, another question: why did you choose the 430 cc over the 530 cc ?

    Thanks !

    • That’s an interesting question, because my KTM dealer told me most people coming into their dealership were buying the 530cc. I did some research on the internet and it seemed like people bought the 450 cc in the east, where there were tighter trails, and the 530 cc in the west, for more open desert riding. I’m in northern California, and don’t see myself doing much desert riding. Even if I took my bike south to the desert, I didn’t see myself riding across the desert at 70 mph. Also, a friend of mine has the KTM 450 Six Days. He said it had more than enough power for where I would be riding. He also said that a friend of his has the 530 cc, and they joke that it is a stump puller. Incredible amounts of low end torque that I probably didn’t need. Since I’d already been told by several 450 cc owners that I’d want to lower the gearing for off road (rather than the stock dual sport gearing for on road), buying the 530 cc for higher cruising speeds seemed a contradiction. Hope that helps. Where will you be riding, and what type of trails?

  3. Hey, great story and info. Do you know how often (hours) do you need to overhaul the engine? Are there any other major maintainance work that I need to watch out for, other than oil changes? I am looking at purchasing a used bike, with 140 hours on it. I dont know if this is a wise decision, I am still researching. I come from a street biking experience, my cbr 1000rr has been a good companion for over a year now. But I desperatly want to make the shift to offroad, I live in Egypt and we have more desert than good roads, so this seems to be the sensible choice.

    • The KTM 450EXC is a great off road bike. Although I have it plated, I don’t use it on the street. I have a BMW R1200GS I ride for anything but single track. I’ve even ridden the Mojave Desert and Death Valley on it. A very different off road riding experience from the KTM, but much nicer on road and for long distances and carrying gear.

      As for maintenance on the KTM, I think that varies considerably depending on whether the bike has been raced or ridden really hard. A 140 doesn’t seem like much on a street bike, but it can be a lifetime on a bike that’s been raced. I haven’t had any major maintenance on my bike, but I’m still under 100 hours. However, I don’t anticipate needing to do anything major for a long time. However, the KTM manual suggests that you change the piston every 90 engine hours, or 45 hours if you race it. So, depending on how the bike has been ridden, it could be in need of some engine work. Unfortunately, that may be difficult to tell without taking the engine apart.

      There is a big difference in moving from a street bike to what is basically an off road racing bike. The KTM off road performance is amazing, but you need to accept that doing regular maintenance, including some serious mechanical work, becomes a big part of owning the bike. If that isn’t for you, then something like a BMW GS with more street-bike like maintenance may be better. A big dual sport isn’t as much fun off road, but you need to decide where you want to compromise.

      Hope that helps,


  1. […] is part two of my 2011 KTM 450 EXC review. In Part 1, Deciding on the KTM 450 EXC, I talked about my research and decision process that lead me to buy the KTM 450 […]

  2. […] is Part 3 of my 2011 KTM 450 EXC review. In Part 1, Deciding on the KTM 450 EXC, I discussed my research and evaluation behind the decision to purchase the KTM 450 EXC. In Part 2, […]

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