Suspension this good really has to be felt to be believed. No matter how I describe it you can only get the measure of it when you ride the bike. Despite hitting every obstacle as fast as possible (God bless mousses) I never once felt either end bottom out, yet a tell-tale on one of the fork legs revealed the bike was using up all its travel. That’s the way suspension ought to be…
The KTM also has a comfortable seat, and though there wasn’t much opportunity to sit down, at least when I did so on the road I didn’t get that horrible numb-bum feeling that you do on so many other bikes. I must admit I couldn’t feel the damping effects of the PHDS (handlebar damping system) Clive had fitted - to me the bars felt no different to conventionally mounted ones, but the Pivot-Pegs are a godsend. Fit them to your bike and don’t even question why. They are the business.
One of the great things about the ‘400’ was how easy it was to reel-in other riders. Because of the great traction provided by this motor, if ever I found myself dropping back, it was only a question of being a bit more brave with the loud handle. I’m not exaggerating this at all, the power delivery is so linear and so easy to utilise, that whenever there was a short straight you could immediately use it to close right up behind the lead rider. Awesome.
It also used significantly less fuel than the two-strokes I was riding with. In fact when the going was fast and we missed our refuelling point and had to ride a double-session, all three strokers ran out of gas, yet the KTM still had nearly half a tank left. By itself I don’t think that’s a reason to own one, but it’s nice to know that the fuelling costs with a bike like this are relatively modest.
By the end of day one we’d covered 260km in the worst weather imaginable, the KTM had never missed a beat and I couldn’t have been happier about how it was riding. In fact I was looking forward to getting back on it and doing it all again on day two. That evening we ate at 10.30pm and staggered into bed after midnight.
Up early for the start of day two, after a hearty breakfast consisting of a tiny yoghurt and a black coffee, I was all set for the second part of the Grappe! It was disappointing to find it was still raining as we set off, but the forecast was ‘mainly dry’ and with a freshly cleaned set of goggles that had spent the night cuddling up to the radiator, I was really looking forward to getting going.
Once again the petrol station revealed a huge discrepancy between the bikes: 6.3 litres for the 250 two-strokes whereas I could barely cram a further three litres into mine, and once fuelled up we were straight into the first of the day’s trails. This time they weren’t as muddy as the day before and although there’d been plenty of overnight rain, the sandy soils around Montignac (where we’d overnighted) meant that the tracks were drier, easier and a whole lot faster.
Day two started in a rush. It was great to be able to use the ‘400’s’ power rather than the torque and as we pushed on towards the first checkpoint I really let the KTM rip. Everything’s just so easy and seamless on this bike, even when you’re revving it hard. In fact like all good machinery the faster you go the better it all works, though you do notice the additional weight (of a four-stroke) as you up the pace. It’s easy to go fast but it’s harder to stop and turn than a two-stroke and occasionally that can catch you out if a corner tightens up on you.
I was pleased to discover that the 400 had lost none of the 350’s peppy top-end surge tho’, that hurtles into view once you get the motor singing a happy song, but you need to watch out for the front end rising off the ground in the first three gears when you’re using it like this.
At the first of the optional hillclimbs the ‘400’ thundered up without issue, whilst none of the two-strokes made it to the top without stopping and pushing. It wasn’t so much a power issue as the way the ‘400’ puts its power to the ground. Still… I was smugger than Simon Cowell’s accountant that I had made it up in one go. And the 400 was proving to be even better in the dry than it had been in the slop the day before.
As we sped down fast single-track, through woodland and along stony trails the ‘400’ just worked its magic over every type of terrain. For certain it was slightly slower to get turned than the two-strokes and on the descents the lighter bikes had the advantage, but when the trail opened up or there were stony, bumpy hills to climb, the thumper just put its power down and left them for dead. I can’t remember ever riding a middleweight four-stroke that gave me so much fun as this one did.
By the time we arrived back in Bergerac at the final extreme special test, the crowd watching the race had swelled to a couple of thousand people. Music was blaring from a giant rig, the Tannoy was blasting out a constant stream of babble and the team celebrated another finish by inveigling ourselves into the Ipone hospitality suite and stuffing our faces with all their free food and wine.
‘Perfection’ I thought to myself, as I sat there with a stupid grin on my face watching the final races unfold in the slowly setting sun. The perfect bike for the perfect enduro. But was it more perfect than a stock 350 would have been…? I’ll let you decide…
Tri-County Bike Shop KTM ‘400’EXC-F
If you fancy testing out a version of this bike for yourself then give him a call on 01344 424282 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Clive occasionally runs trail riding days out of his shop in Wokingham in Berkshire, and might even let you have a brief spin on his bike on the lanes. Alternatively, if you own or fancy owning an overbored ‘400’ conversion then the cost of the work including parts and labour is about £1000-1100 all-in (depending on specification), including a service. Gas flowing is extra, but is highly recommended in order to make the most of the kit’s benefits. They do a variety of other modified bikes including a 250EXC to 310 conversion which according to Clive is the best combination of lightness and power you can get. Call him for more details of his conversions, and don't forget to tell him RUST sent you!