First Ride - 2018 KTM 500 EXC-F

By Adam Waheed

By Adam Waheed

When it comes to hard core enduro riding, nothing tops a KTM. But what happens if you need a motorcycle that can do more than romp in the woods? Something that climbs like a mule across steep rocky terrain, yet has the ability to jet across town, on the road, to grab your favorite six-pack. Enter the 2018 500 EXC-F.

The Orange Brigade has a knack for erring on the side of off-road. And that’s what makes this it so special. Where other brand’s dual-sports try to balance road and trail duty— doing neither well in the process— this orange machine feels like a purpose-built motocross racer, only with lights, license plate, and small backlit LCD instrument display.

At its heart is a giant, oversquare 510cc four-valve Single. Compared to a smaller capacity engine, that likes to run hard at high rpm, the 500’s engine is all about low-end, hill climbing torque. Sure you can make more noise revving it out, the fact is: it performs best when short-shifted. Let its massive torque curve do the heavy lifting for you. It drinks fuel from a 2.3-gallon fuel tank which goes quickly considering the big gulps of fuel the motor consumes. We noted a range of 70-80 miles between fill-ups.

Fuel-injection and electric-start make it simple to get out riding, and of course, the kickstand comes in handy when its time to take a break.

A six-speed transmission puts power to an off-road friendly 18-inch rear wheel shod in Continental’s versatile TKC80 rubber. Folks that ride more off-road than on, will want to spoon on a pair of meatier knobs, like Dunlop’sD606 tires. There’s a 21-inch rim up front, so you can roll up and over logs, curbs, and maybe even a small car… kidding.

The gearbox is spaced appropriately at trail speeds, so you’ll rarely need to work the clutch lever. Remember: let the diesel truck-like torque carry you over obstacles. At highway speeds, things do get a tad buzzy through the controls. But what do you expect? You’re riding a real dirt bike that’s capable of going off good sized jumps!

Instead of air suspension, the 500 relies on tried and true coil spring suspenders. The shock mounts directly between the frame and swingarm, sans linkage. This elevates ground clearance as well as providing more direct feel between rear tire and chassis. Some folks love it, others don’t, but the fact of the matter is it performs well in this configuration. 

KTM’s signature tool-less damping adjusters atop the fork make damping changes easy. Another plus is how simple it is to change the air filter, without a single tool. 

If you’ve spent time on the previous generation 500, you’ll find the suspension far more composed than past years. Where the old 500 was squishy, this year’s suspenders are far more robust. The chassis as a whole is sharper and more racy-feeling as evident by the taller seat. Fast guys will still push the suspenders beyond their limits, but for the majority of us, the suspension performs admirably.

For adventures seeking a racy-feeling dirt bike that can go anywhere and do anything than you’ll have a tough time finding something better than KTM’s 500 EXC-F. And the Austrian brand knows that, hence its lofty $10,999 MSRP. But as your grandpa use to say, “you get what you pay for.” And that could’t be more true with this one.


Chris Glaspell

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