2008 KTM 450-525 First Look

2008 KTM 450-525 First Look


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Rumours have been circulating since last year that the KTM manufacturer was working on their own version of a sport quad. These rumours became stronger when Polaris launched their Outlaws which are equipped with a KTM engine. We were just waiting for the inevitable; in a short time KTM would come out with its own sport ATV. The wait was worth it, because these Austrian engineers did their homework and designed two superb thoroughbreds. So imposing that Tim Farr, winner of 11 titles with Honda, left them behind and joined the KTM team as their factory racer. I was invited to the launch and I can truthfully say that it was worth it.
It might seem like this Austrian company is only a few years old, but the truth is that it’s been around for a long time. It has vast experience in motorbikes and has proven its talents on the racetracks. It was founded in 1934, when a certain Hans Trunkenpolz decided to open his own repair shop in Mattighofen. From then on, the company grew rapidly and four years later, the Trunkenpolz Company became one of the biggest motorbike and car repair shops in Austria.

But it was in 1951 that the entrepreneur decided to design his own bike, available to the post-war public. He invented the ultra light 98cc named “R100.” What was really remarkable was that two years later, in 1953, the first series bike launched would climb on all three steps of the podium in the Gaisberg race. That historical day was the beginning of their advancement in the competition circuit. It’s also the time when the name of the company changed to Kronreif, Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen, aka, KTM.

In 1970, things started happening for KTM because the company manufactured its first 250cc engine. The move was a bold one at the time, but it didn’t stop them from winning their first championship. Since then, victories and championships have been won and their reputation has become enviable with both motocross and off-road bikes. Now they’re coming into the sport ATV world. Their goal from the beginning was simple: build a unique sport quad ready to face today’s competition and their only objective was winning. They will accept nothing less and have all the resources to achieve their goals. Let’s look at this unit a little closer.

The “Wow” factor
During the technical presentation, the KTM engineers put a lot of emphasis on the fact that both ATVs are meant for a restricted group of users and not the general public. Why might you ask? Well, it’s quite simple actually. The 450 and 525 are more expensive, and they are truly race-ready, compared to the competition-made models with their after market added cost of equipment. The mission for these two orange monsters is to race and nothing else. Just to  give you a small glimpse of its “on delivery” attributes that make the KTM race-ready for cross-country circuits. You can thank Tim Farr who worked closely with engineers; his contribution comes from 11 championships.

Let’s start by the front. Have you ever seen a factory issued package such as: superior   A-Arms permitting to adjust the angle of the camber and caster? You can adjust these angles to your type of driving or kind of terrain in just a few minutes. If you’re familiar with race models, you already know how expensive A-arms are, but with the KTM unit they’re already installed. They are just waiting to be adjusted, as are the inferior arms. They’re made of very resistant and light chrome-moly. If you examine the inferior arms closely, you’ll notice that they’re at a certain angle. The simple reason is to add to the wheelbase at that point, to avoid damage over rocks, but wait, there’s a lot more, just read on. One of the more impressive aspects is the front brake system. With both KTM ATVs, we’re talking about floating, ventilated 180 mm discs like the ones found on sports bikes. We also get 4-piston brake calipers, thanks to Magura. Braking is so powerful that during the test, I only had to press the adjustable lever lightly with one finger and the rear end left the ground. A first for me on a factory issued bike. The front brakes are so powerful that when I pressed too hard, I almost went flying over the handlebars… it might be just a little too much!

The front suspensions on both KTMs are equipped with shock absorbers having double rate springs and 10.1 inch travel and are fully adjustable for rebound, compression and pre-tension. The piggyback reservoirs are behind the aluminum 36mm. bodies. I really liked the high tech front suspensions. But because I weigh less than 170 lbs., I found them too stiff and even after a couple of adjustments, I came to the conclusion that, in my case, I’d have to modify the springs in order to soften them more. The units were brand new and with a few intensive sessions with me they’d probably work better, this is according to my personal needs. The rear shock absorbers are equipped with Ohlin progressive, fully adjustable suspension and compared to the competition, both KTMs have no linkage to hinder ground clearance. This shock absorber is mounted on a chrome-moly swing arm and a width adjustable axle made of the same material. If you race, it can be widened from 45.5 in to 48.5 in. The rear brake has a large 180 mm ventilated floating disc with 4-piston Magura calipers. Before I forget, I have to specify that the brake cables are made of braided steel.

The frame is an engineering marvel. Usually, engineers will use traditional steel tubing, but with both XCs, the pieces have a hexagonal shape. You have to touch it with your fingers to feel the different indentations on the tubes. They’re not round, so they have a higher level of durability and stiffness.  You also have to look at the soldering quality on the joints. Instead of building the frame in aluminum, as is the tendency, they opted for chrome-moly, which is lighter and more durable for racing bikes. The detachable under carriage is made of aluminum. Because of this design, the engine is situated lower, accentuating the stability, as the centre of gravity is lower. The frame only weighs 32 lbs and be-cause of this, the total weight of the ATV is only 357 lbs., including all the necessary liquids. We can feel the difference as soon as we sit on it. A real featherweight!

The engines are of course the main elements in any ATV, so the important question is: are these as performing as the Polaris Outlaw engines, because they both share the same “heart”? The answer is: NO. Even though the blocs are similar, the Outlaw engines come from the last generation. The alliance between Polaris and KTM is over, so now the Austrian manufacturer sells engines to Polaris and that’s it. The single cylinder 450cc and 525cc engines exist since 1999, but every year the engineers modify them so they are in constant evolution. The engines in both KTV quads are of the new generation. These two liquid-cooled, 4-valve, SOHC engines originate from their motocross bikes. Because the load is heavier on a quad, they increased the oil capacity and made other important modifications.  With the 95mm bore in the 525 and the 89 mm bore in the 450 combined with the very long 72mm stroke on both machines and a compression ration of 11:1, you’d be amazed at the torque deployed by both these engines.

In one of the narrow trails where we tested the ATVs, the 450 was the best choice because the power was easier to control. The 525 had too much torque, too fast. We’ll talk about this a little further on. Instead of imitating the competition with the electronic fuel injection, they decided to use a good old carburetor, very efficient and according to them, fully adjustable to fit the racer’s needs.  They chose the FCR-MX 39 carburetor with a TPS position sensor and an acceleration pump. I must say, that after testing the unit, I really have to agree with their choice.  The response is instantaneous and as soon as the accelerator is pressed, it takes off like a catapult. There’s absolutely no hesitation.

No matter which engine you may choose, it will be caulked to a 5-speed manual transmission with Reverse as a bonus. No other ATV of this kind uses such an easy system. Instead of a lever situated on the faring or any type of system, the KTMs have a small lever next to the gear shift lever so your hands stay on the handlebar. The starting process is rapid and effective with an electric starter if you should choke the engine. They also included in the package, a hydraulic Magura clutch with a fully adjustable braided steel cable for more precision, with a cover that can be off in two twists of the wrist. These ATVs have radiators with a curbed form, which is something quite unique. According to the engineers, curving the radiator lets the air enter more directly to increase the engine capacity and to keep it cool. Furthermore, they’re designed with a winged protector, angled to prevent the accumulation of mud, which would really be disastrous in a cross-country competition.

As added features, there are the ingenious, easy to remove air filters, the competition type exhaust system that respects the strict noise restrictions, the aluminum race wheels developed by Douglas Wheels (which are well known on the race circuit), the large foot rests, the aluminum cone shaped Magura type handlebar and to top it all off: a space where you can install a steering damper. The engineer installed one for me in about five minutes. The reservoir cap has also been designed to save time at the gas tank. All you have to do is press on a button on the cap and with a quarter turn, it comes off. The KTMs are also equipped with a very special cable to be attached to the rider, known as a “kill switch” if the rider is ejected from the ATV and finally if you want to reduce air friction in jumps, the fenders are removable. The title of my article says it all: KTM makes no compromise! Everything has to be perfect when you take possession of your new unit. One of my co-workers asked why they were using so many features specific to race ATVs to create an AVT for the public. The answer was quick and cutting edge. “Our ATVs are not for the general public! They are only and exclusively for real and tough riders!”

Let’s hit the trail
The people at KTM have built a special test site for these two quads, with small jumps and mostly narrow trails swerving between trees, a lot like the type of trails used for cross-country races.  I concentrated mostly on the 525XC rather than the 450. Not because the 450 wasn’t interesting, but because I wanted to test the difference between the KTM 525 and the Outlaw 525, which I’m more accustomed to. I’ve been riding one for the last few months.

I know you’re all waiting to read how it measures up to the Outlaw, well, it does and in a major way. The engine on the KTM is so much more powerful and the traction is phenomenal.  Apparently the rocker arm attachment point to the frame makes all the difference. This ATV reacts quickly, which is something I have never felt before. It grips the ground so rapidly when the accelerator is pressed that if it’s done with too much pressure, there’s an instant wheelie.  Acceleration was sometimes violent and dangerous in the type of test site I was on.  I rarely reached 4th gear because of the overwhelming torque.  Like a slingshot, it propels us at warp speed to the next turn. The ergonomic design is almost perfect and after adjusting the handlebar and levers, I felt perfectly at ease in the sitting or standing position. There are a few things I couldn’t adjust to my riding style: the suspension is too hard and I asked to have it adjusted for rebound and compression, but it was impossible to get it tuned to my specs.

If I had had more time to test it, I could have probably had it adjusted closer to my needs. The shock absorbers reacted with quick and dry spasms and it impeded my testing results. Of course, nothing is perfect and they were brand new, so I’m certain that after a few hours of taming this beast, I could have found a good compromise. The performance is pure heaven and with my extensive testing experiences over the years, I can honestly say that the 525 is a top notch machine and even a little intimidating. It’s like having a telepathic connection with it. You point it in a precise direction, it takes off without the shadow of hesitation.

I must admit that the folks at KTM amazed us all with the launch of these two diabolical ATVs.  Next year, they plan to launch another sport ATV dedicated to the motocross tracks. The KTM machines are more expensive, but the price is well worth it.  They haven’t compromised anything. These machines are equipped to play and might outshine and outdistance the competition. Welcome to Club KTM.