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2021 KTM 500 EXC-F | First ride review, initial impressions | Monster Torque, but needs pipe and ECU

2021 KTM 500 EXC-F | First ride review, initial impressions | Monster Torque, but needs pipe and ECU

I took all my “notes” about this first ride on my first ride - verbally - using one of our custom helmet chin mounts and my GoPro. I was also just getting over the Beta and its propensity to eat clutches like Girl Scout cookies, so please forgive the direct comparisons that I make. You can check the video out HERE.

The first thing that I noticed about the bigger-than-the-Beta KTM was that it of course had more torque. Being a plated dirt bike, the KTM 500 EXC-F was tuned for street riding and the emissions requirements that come along with that task, so a Vortex ECU and FMF pipe were on order before the first ride.

Power delivery was different than the Beta, but I could tell even on the first ride that there was a ton of potential just waiting to be unlocked. The gearing felt a little tall out on the single track, but as mentioned this bike is tuned for the happy medium of “dual sport” riding, not the enduro tasks that I put it through.

The brakes were on par with the Beta, but the suspension was quite a bit different. With no rear linkage, there was more clearance in rock-crawling situations. In addition to that, the whole suspension setup felt more plush, and absorbed just about everything I threw at it on the low-speed technical trails where I typically ride. There was no bounce back when I took the KTM off of some 2-3 foot drop risers, just giggles and stuck landings.

A taller bike usually brings with it some balance issues due to a higher center of gravity, but the 500 EXC-F did not display anything of the sort. KTM seems to have spent some time sorting out every detail before putting this bike on the market.

Take the clutch for example. The factory installed clutch on the KTM had a firm feel when it came to lever pull that was just a bit stiffer than the aftermarket, strongest springs, clutches on my former Beta where clutches lasted as long as a box of kleenex during allergy season. I had no issues feathering the KTM clutch through even the toughest hill climbs, with lever pull being reliably predictable in every aspect of the ride, and there was zero fade.

The controls on the KTM are also on another level than the Beta. The kill switch, for example, is a rocker style that can be left in the kill position making it easier to shut the machine down in case of a get-off. It also seems to start easier than my former bike which had an upgraded battery. Sometimes it’s just the little things.

Even in the stock form, throttle response is impressively crisp, especially up off the bottom end. That said, the KTM did flame out quite a bit, but I am certain that with the Vortex ECU and FMF pipe this will not be an issue. The torque that I mentioned earlier is evident across the power band, but it was so much more than my old bike that I had to adjust my riding style to keep the front wheel from wanting to loft some crowd-pleasers. (I have had worse problems in my life.)

In stock form it is not as “revvy” as I am used to, but that didn’t stop me from being able to blaze my own trail to go around friends that had fallen in front of me. Getting the front to lift over most obstacles was just one little blip of the throttle away, and then the bike just turned into a tractor. With a pipe and ECU, this thing is likely to evolve into a fire-breathing dragon.

TL;DR Version:

Exceptional ground clearance and suspension, good brakes, well thought out controls, predictable and usable clutch, a bit “wheezy” due to street-based tuning, enough torque to make you wonder if you got on a tractor.

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