Little big bore – KTM 280 EXC-F Reader Feature

RIDING with your mates is something most of us enjoy. And meeting new friends is part of this mateship factor.
A group of trail riding enthusiasts in the Newcastle area of NSW thought exactly the same, kicking off the Trail Mates website ( to organise rides, publish ride reports, offer a place for motorcycle businesses to show what they had to offer and so on.

It’s been gaining popularity in the area, and when Newcastle KTM gave Trail Mates a bored out 250 EXC-F to test, the crew thought Cycle Torque’s readers should see it first. First thoughts When Newcastle KTM rolled its KTM 280 EXC-F off the trailer my first thought was ‘what’s the point?’.

Thirty cc won’t lift the 250 from obscurity to a world beater. I’ll come clean and admit I’m not a fan of the 250 four-stroke class. Sure, they are light which makes them nimble and pretty easy on the body but they couldn’t pull a sailor off your sister. And if I’m honest, this makes them rather dull. They’re the enduro bike equivalent of having a flash dinner with an accountant. Sure, all the ingredients are there but it just doesn’t gel into a good time. The other interesting point is that it’s slotting another bike into the range of the manufacturer that is clearly number one when it comes to offering choices.

KTM offers eight models in its EXC/EXC-F range, four each of the four-stroke and two-stroke models. Is there really a need for one more? Big bore The 280 EXC-F is just the 2010 model fitted with a Vertex 280 kit. This kit simply replaces the standard barrel and piston with one having a slightly bigger bore. This is a simple power-up. Without modifications to the head or crank ensures that it is quite reliable as well as being cheap and easy to install. The bigger barrel has the capacity to suck more in so the guys a Newcastle KTM decided that they would let more out with a Pro-Circuit full Ti competition pipe.

The cockpit is well laid out. Sitting on the bike, everything falls to hand easily. At 180cm I felt comfortable and transition from sitting to standing was natural. On previous KTMs there have been occasions when I’ve felt hunched standing but happily not with this one. A good first impression and I haven’t even hit the button. It’s no wallower The button is one thing that cannot be complained about on the 280. It’s freakish! You don’t hear the starter motor at all. The instant the button is hit the motor fires into life, hot or cold. I’ve never experienced this with any motorcycle. I can’t comment on whether it’s this good after a spill because the little KTM never spat me off but that is another positive as far as I’m concerned. The suspenders were set up for someone a little heavier than me but it was only a few clicks softer to find my sweet spot.

We were riding in a fairly heavily travelled and rocky section region of the Watagan Mountains. The trails were rutted and root infested with an abundance of rock-inspired hazards. First impressions weren’t ‘Wow! How great is this suspension?’ It just did the job and let me get on with riding. It wasn’t until I arrived home that I realised it had inconspicuously plugged along without any deflections, spikes or any other nasty business. Letting me place the wheels where I wanted. Handling and suspension are unusual qualities. They are not measurable, in fact they’re quite unscientific qualities. Over the last few years I’ve ridden many bikes where the whole is greater than the sum of the individual components.

Any physicist will tell you that isn’t possible. Thank the heavens physicists don’t ride trail bikes because the little KTM is another package that works better than its individual attributes would lead you to believe. No individual characteristic is outstanding in its own right but the overall result is a winner. The bike is precise and agile. It is predictable in flat, sweeping corners but is most at home cutting the inside line or darting through the trees like an Exorcet missile on its way to an Argentinian battleship.

The brakes are seriously good. It has been a long while since I’ve ridden a KTM with bad brakes. The rear was strong with good feel but the front was astoundingly strong, true one finger braking. If anyone can show me better brakes this year I’ll drink light beer for a week. How good does it really go? The motor is what you’ve all been waiting to read about, which is why I’ve left it till last. Equipped with the Vertex 280 kit and the Pro circuit Ti muffler, the engine had a definite thump to it. Once underway you are left with no doubt that the extra 30cc makes a big difference.

The bottom end is not strong but it’s useable and tractable. More than you can say about any 250F. It’s considerably stronger than the standard 250. It’s not in 450 territory but lobbing the front wheel over unexpected obstacles is as easy as twisting the throttle. Head into the midrange and the 280 comes to life. It’s beefy but smooth and it heads into a top-end with plenty of over-rev. When asked what the motor was like I commented that it was nice and useable without being overly powerful and that fourth gear power wheelies weren’t in its repertoire. Just to prove me wrong it pulled a forth gear wheelie on the next fire trail, no clutch required.

The jump to a 280 doesn’t transform it into a fire breathing dragon but it gives the EXC-F solid useable power across the rev range and it makes the little KTM fun with a capital F.

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