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There is nothing quite like ripping up some single track on a 2021 KTM 500 EXC-F…eventually.
We picked up this particular bike about 70 hours of use ago, as a brand new machine. It lacked armor in some much needed locations for enduro riding (read that as we are not afraid to smash our bikes against a rock or six), the tires were designed more for the street crowd, and while we replaced those, why not go tubeless? You know, the usual suspects.
New bikes are only new until that first ride, so we like to think of bike ownership as more of a journey. Ultimately it is the time you spend with the machine that should bring you the most joy, so why not make it fit your riding style and enjoy the trip.
With six months under our belt, we felt it was time to give an honest “as equipped” review. Watch our first ride impression of this bike for a bit more background.
The "Kick Til Monday" reputation that some years/models of KTM seems to be non existent with this machine (more on that in another blog soon).
First off, it has a magic button, so there is no kicking required. If enough dust gets into the switch however, starting takes a little finesse but it has never left us stranded. The bike comes with a lithium battery stock, which not only saves a bit of weight, but has been hammer reliable in my six months of ownership. The bike also has an auto shut off feature that detects if your motor has been off for a set amount of time, which is a lifesaver if you happen to leave the key and/or kill switch on. KTM seems to design features based on rider feedback, and sometimes it is the little things that make us smile. For example, everything electronic - fuses, relays, ECU- is under the seat, making troubleshooting such problems (or swapping the ECU) easy.
The motor is rideable with a stock ECU and exhaust, but to get the most out of things we went with an FMF exhaust and a GET ECU. It just made the bike better over the entire rev range. We have pushed the oil changes to about 15 hour intervals at times, over the 10 that is recommended, and while we have checked the valves, there has been no need to adjust anything in our six months of riding. Oh yeah, the oil level indicator actually tells you how much oil is in the bike, so add that as a feature (hear that Beta!!).
Fuel injection is often given the side eye by enduro purists, but this bike has never left us stranded so get over your “carbs are king mentality”. There is no power loss when climbing from 2000 to 6000 feet and you don’t have to stop to change jetting, either. Ride more, wrench less.
We thought about adding a bigger gas tank, but so far we have not had any issues with range. We did Big Bear and had ⅓ tank left on the bike at each fuel stop with 50/60 miles traveled between. The extra fuel (and weight) might be useful in Baja, but for our needs it does not seem worth it.
The KTM500 Clutch Stack
The clutch has been equally heroic, despite our best efforts to crush its spirits riding enduro the way that we do, which as you know by now is as hard as we need to in order to get the job done. For six months we have abused the clutch to the point of other riders in our group threatening to call Clutch Protective Services (but Jarvis told us it was ok!!), we have revved to the moon and back, and unlike the Beta, the clutch has yet to turn into a maraca…did we mention that we are still using the stock plates? Clutch pull is heavy but with a good amount of feel that is consistent throughout the ride. There is a strong chance that we will be swapping out the stock clutch whenever it shows signs of wear for a Rekluse, more because of arthritis than anything else.
We have heard from other people that the WP suspension was not up to the task, but we disagree The suspension is fine for enduro riding, maybe those complaining are taking more big jumps than we are. As we get faster we will be tightening things up a little bit, but we have no plans to change anything out just yet. The bike has good trail feel without being harsh, and there have been quite a few times that we thought we were going to hit the deck based on past experiences, and faster than we could brace for impact the suspension absorbed our mistakes.
Another concern that has made it to our ears is about overheating. We have never had an issue with this, and since we have the Trail Tech dash we can see that our temperature readings hit 260 degrees on the high side in the middle of the summer. That is with us absolutely pounding the throttle and clutch with no loss of power. Obviously you can feel heat radiating from the bike at those temps, but it has never boiled over.
The brakes are, well… they are there. While that sounds like less than a glowing review, the stock pads have never not stopped us when we asked them to, which honestly is what their job is. There is nothing spectacular about them either, unless working perfectly adequately for six months of fairly intense enduros should be considered spectacular? We feel that front tire choice is just as important in stopping things anyway, so if it ain’t broke…
Fitting a rear brake guard
Enduro bikes tend to take a bit more of a beating than some other dirtbikes. For good measure we have spiked the 500 EXC-F on the ground like we were celebrating a Super Bowl winning touchdown on more than one occasion, and finally we have uncovered some weak spots.
First, the stock shift lever seemed to be designed to punch a hole in the case. It has a weird chisel-like squared off back, that did indeed punch a hole in my case, and later a hole in the case cover that I added. Fortunately the second time the case was left unscuffed. We have since swapped that lever out for one made by Hammerhead that has less aspirations of becoming a can-opener, and have been problem free since.
Another weakness is the rear fender has a tendency to break if you loop your machine a couple times. If it was just the fender breaking it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but KTM has a sub frame that extends out to hold some of the bits to make the bike street legal, and that was a bitch to replace…So we swapped it for something a little more forgiving. Granted our solution comes at the cost of making it so the rear fender is no longer weight bearing, so if you like to carry things back there our solution is not for you.
Speaking of street legality, it feels a bit like if KTM spent a year developing this bike, they spent 35 minutes of that on the bits to make it road-legal. Specifically the switch pod that holds the turn signal and high-beam switches. As already covered, we use the clutch a lot when riding, and the switch is just in the way. Eventually we will swap it out, but for now it has just been “relocated”. The headlight is adequate for us, but if you are into more night gooning, you might want to either upgrade or invest in a helmet mounted light pack.
Getting stopped by the forest service
Much like the clutch, we will likely swap the bars out for something a little more forgiving for our arthritis, but there is nothing wrong with them, minus that pesky switch placement of course. We did replace the stock ODI grips with some softer ones from the same brand.
If you want to pick nits with us, the seat height is about an inch taller than the Beta we replaced, but it also has more ground clearance, so the height is not an issue, especially if you are 6’ or taller. We also poked a hole in the seat when in close quarters with a tree. While less than ideal, seat fabric toughness isn’t that huge of a priority for most riders.
There also wasn’t a direct plug-and-play Trail Tech dash at the time that we added it, but that happens sometimes with new bikes.
For those of you that like a simple Good/Bad here ya go.
- There is no shortage of parts, what with so many of these things being out there.
- It is a race bike with enough refinement and sophistication to make it less cold blooded.
- 4 year warranty, what with it being new.
- Street legal, so you can go just about anywhere.
- There are so many of these out there, you look just like everyone else on the trail.
- Fucking expensive. You are going to end up shelling out about 20 grand on a proper build. Could you do it for less? Of course, but you are going to have an older model that may have some quirks that ours does not.
- Plan on upgrading some of the street legal stuff, as it is often an afterthought.
We are quite happy with the journey so far, and are looking forward to where it takes us next.
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