Despite the four-stroke revolution, KTM has remained committed to improving the two-stroke engine, and for good reason. Low cost, low noise, simplicity and the good old-fashioned power to weight ratio are the strong selling points that KTM has cashed in with their extensive line of two-stroke machines.
The 300 XC is lighter, at 216 pounds, than just about any 250F. The 300 XC-W, W denoting a wide-ratio transmission, is a tad heavier at 221. It’s reliable too; it’s not unusual for racers to get 200 hours from a top end on the 300. Try that on your racing four-stroke!
The 300 starts easily, but in case you are really lazy it has the magic button. Yup, E-start on a two-stroke! That may sound pointless at first, but as you’ll find out we loved that feature! This machine has always been a huge seller for KTM, but for 2010 the bike still received updates to the airbox, cooling system and exhaust.
The 300 is slim, light and simply feels like a racer when you are sitting on it in the garage. KTM markets the machine as a ‘do it all’ bike, so it has minimal off-road frills but the wiring to run enduro lighting, the off-road racer’s preferred 18” rear wheel, an X-ring chain, a big quiet muffler and adequate fuel capacity (Three gallons) for a typical enduro loop. It even has an electronic odometer, important if you are racing timekeeping style enduros. The other stuff is all ‘normal KTM motocross bike’, with the suspension set up somewhere between motocross-stiff and enduro-squish.
The minute the 300 warms up you realize you are aboard the ultimate two-stroke. Bottom end power is smooth; with more torque off idle than most 450Fs. The meat of any off-road race bike powerband is the midrange, and the KTM pulls hard enough to keep up with, if not out-pull, most 450s. On top the power flattens smoothly, but by then you instinctively know you should have already shifted. Our test facilities are about 500 feet above sea level, with air-temps in the low 50s. Running on 91-octane pump gas, premixed at 60:1, the stock KTM jetting was nearly spot-on. Of course, being a two stroke, it is sensitive to weather and altitude changes. It has the old two-stroke buzz too, you know, that raspy ‘hit and run’ nature that two-stroke riders love and four-stroke guys loathe. That snappy nature is probably the number-one reason the 300 has ruled the woods for so long, and continues in this age of politically correct thumpers to be one of KTM’s best selling bikes.
The hydraulic clutch has a light pull and decent feel, but it will fade when it gets hot. After abuse on the motocross track by a Pro test rider the clutch began to creep, which was corrected but not entirely cured by bleeding the system. Shifting is slick, with the gaps in the wide ratio transmission of our test bike easily overcome by the torquey engine. We’d prefer the close ratio XC version for motocross and Eastern woods racing, but honestly the wide-ratio transmission is a minor issue with so much power on tap.
Speaking of motocross, this bike would kill in age or ladies classes where there is no displacement rule. It will run with the 450s, starts with a push of the button and is lighter and easier to ride than a 250F but much more powerful. Still, the suspension is purposely ‘middle of the road’, aimed more at cross-country racing more than motocross. Our 175-pound Pro was constantly fiddling with suspension settings at our two different test tracks, one hard clay and one deep beach sand, never coming to a happy setting and eventually concluding that the bike would need professional help at both ends. In the woods the suspension fared much better. We heard very little complaining about the back end or forks from most of our testers, but our Pro rider still wished for stiffer compression damping and more bottoming resistance. Everyone, slow or fast, whined about having to fuss with settings so much at each different test location when some other bikes we’ve tested lately worked so well everywhere right out of the box.
Some other weak points reared their heads in the forest. We overheated the rear brake several times; on one occasion so badly we had to cool the caliper with water so the wheel would turn. The belly of the pipe hangs way out there in the wind, requiring a guard in the worst way. While you are armor plating the KTM you’ll need a skid plate and hand guards too. Woods race ready? Not quite, but the KTM is a little bit cheaper to prepare for off-road racing than converting a normal motocross bike.
Handling at speed was improved over previous KTMs, with less of the famous KTM headshake and general nervousness. Cornering was quick, light and accurate when the suspension was set up properly, but again the bike was very finicky in that department. In the woods we eventually slid the forks up in the triple clamps until they were touching the underside of the handlebars, which we had mounted in the furthest forward position. That helped the 300 flick through the trees with more precision, at the expense of some stability.
What we have here is a bike that needs very careful setup, but is totally capable of winning any type of racing you throw at it. Confidence inspiring, the 300 XC-W is light and responsive – making the rider feel invincible. It doesn’t stall easily, but if you do screw up a flick of the thumb has it running again without losing any time.
Our Pro motocross tester, who normally races a Honda CRF450R, was so smitten with our test bike that he attempted to buy our test bike from KTM…not just for woods racing but for motocross racing and teaching his motocross schools. Personally, I hated to give this bike back.
Other testers, intermediate and novice level, were less enthused. They liked the bike fine overall, but fussy setup issues and simply not being used to riding a two-stroke gave them fits.
Bottom line? This is a bike can win – anywhere and anytime. That fact has been proven over and over again all over the world. Take the time to dial the 300 XC-W (MSRP $7,998) in for whatever you want it to do, learn to deal with its idiosyncrasies and you will be rewarded with the most versatile and competitive two-stroke race bike you can buy.