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FOR many riders the decision to go big bore or small capacity isn’t an easy one. KTM has a model to suit just about every rider, with the big banger 500 EXC an absolute power house, and the 350 EXC-F a bike perfectly suited to more challenging terrain.
They might look similar but are quite different in their approach to off-road fun.
Aside from engine’s, most of the bikes throughout the EXC range share many of the same features, and the 350 and 500 are no exception to the rule. Each bike boasts a very similar steel frame, with each one tailored to suit its engine size and mounting design.
On both models, the WP PDS rear shock system mounts off the rear of chassis, connecting the shock directly to the cast aluminium swingarm.
Behind that the aluminium subframe holds together the rear end of the bike.
Meanwhile upfront, a set of 48mm WP USD forks bolt nicely into the CNC machined triple clamps.
Brembo brakes grace the front and rear end of both bikes, with the 260mm front disc and 220mm rear disc providing class leading performance.
CNC machined hubs are laced up to Excel rims which really add a nice touch.
Aluminium oversize handlebars are standard equipment, and do a mighty fine job of setting up a very comfortable cockpit for the rider.
The rest of the controls are as we have come to expect from the Austrian giant, finished off very well and an easy set up to get used to.
The digital speedo and ‘dash’ panel is tucked away in behind the front headlight, a small and sleek set-up.
The big bore 500 is the king of the EXC range, it’s a 510cc SOHC water cooled engine design featuring a complete Keihin EFI management system.
The Keihin Fuel Injection system is both comprehensive yet simplistic to provide unbelievable performance in the bush.
Inside a bit further you’ll find titanium intake valves and steel exhaust valves actuated by the single cam design.
Also a major feature in the KTM engines is the Pankl connecting rod, it is technology that been brought across from our motor sport friends in the F1 world and offers both increased performance and durability.
The 500 may very well be King Kong of the EXC range, but smack bang in the middle of the off-road line-up is the 350cc four stroke. The 350 boasts a DOHC engine which is a completely different design from its bigger brothers the 450 and 500.
It’s a purpose built motor which revs much harder and faster than its big bore counterparts. It also maintains the Keihin EFI system found on the 500, with modifications to suit the much different style of power that the 350 puts out.
The 500 and 350 share some technology however with the DDS Clutch system being found on both bikes. It’s a diaphragm single spring outer, combined with a steel basket which allows the primary gear to be apart of the one piece design clutch basket.
Some may be worried by the sounds of this, however it truly is a genius set up.
The steel design allows the basket to be much stronger than any aluminium basket will ever be. Also, the extra weight generated by the steel basket is counteracted the by the design of a lighter flywheel.
Both bikes also share the electric start system, which is backed up by the manual kick starter option on each model.
On the track
First up, we jumped in the deep end and tackled the big 500. Conditions were a bit slippery first off, but the big bore KTM quickly blew the slops off the top of the track.
The 500 tractors around with very little effort from the rider. It’s got plenty of power down low and stays very strong up through the middle of the power. The 500 doesn’t rev particularly hard, but still has strong top end horsepower and won’t leave anyone disappointed on long straights where it just seems to keep on pulling.
You also learn to be gentle with the power on the big bore KTM, there’s a lot of power under the hood, in the wrong conditions it can be very taxing on the rider if they are not careful.
A rider that is happy to just cruise along and keep on motoring away will love the way this bike goes about its business.
The suspension on the 500 feels great in standard trim. We set the rider sag in the rear end at 102mm and never looked at changing away from that setting all day.
Perhaps with some more time on the bike and a few more different track and trails we might think about fiddling some more, but overall we were very comfortable and impressed with the settings right out of the crate.
On the single trail the 350 is quite a light and nimble machine. It allows the rider to move around the bike a bit easier and when the conditions were a bit wet and nasty we found the 350 was a very controllable machine
It’s a fast revving engine that requires the rider to keep it in the meat of the power more so than on a big bore. But there is still a nice amount of power off the crack of the throttle, and it really sings through the middle and further up towards the higher RPMs.
For an aggressive rider that enjoys tight bush and single trail this really is one of the best bikes on the market.
Once again the handling and suspension on the KTM is great, we never looked to change the standard settings much and always felt comfortable hitting ruts, logs, water crossings and so on.
The suspension was plush over the small bumps yet still remained stiff enough to survive the big blows.
Each bike has its place in the market and it’s really hard to fault either one of these great motorcycles.
If you’re a big bloke that’s into fire trails and open bush, and find yourself giving things a squirt up the tarmac every once in a while then the 500 is right up your alley.
If you’re always heading up the single trail and coming up against some snotty conditions the 350 is perfect, its lighter and easier to handle yet still has more than enough poke to go fast on.
The prices don’t differ that much between the two bikes. The choice really then comes down to the type of rider you are and the type of riding you do. Each bike has its place in the market and it’s really hard to fault either one of these great motorcycles.