The first section: (a climb up and around a tight tree followed by a steep descent then a tricky, dusty off-cambered turn and another steep climb out), was followed by the one and only special test (tie-breaker). Both were in sight of the start and I was pleased to clean the first section and secure 9th equal fastest time on the ST, comfortably beating JB into the bargain. Oh happy days, I was gonna whup his lilywhite butt…
Out onto the trail and the KTM was just perfect for bopping along the lanes. It’s a great bike of course, but the addition of the auto-clutch makes it an effortless ride. It really does transform the EXC from a fairly punchy enduro weapon to a much smoother, less edgy and more versatile trailie.
It’s difficult to appreciate the transformation without riding it for yourself, but essentially once you’re moving, every time you roll on the throttle there’s a smoothness to the power build-up that feels quite unlike the conventionally clutched bike. That’s because the initial hit of power is accommodated by a minute slipping of the clutch. It seems to round off the sharp edges of the delivery and provide a perfectly seamless drive. Of course the pay-off is that it doesn’t feel as powerful as the conventionally clutched bike - by quite a way actually. Whether that’s simply a perception is difficult to determine. The only time this smoothness of delivery doesn’t happen is right off the very bottom. And only then if you’re a bit ham-fisted with the throttle. Let me explain…
From a standing start it’s easy to be ultra-smooth with the take-up of drive and the bike pulls away cleanly without any juddering and without the need for the clutch. Just donk it into gear, gently (or otherwise), twist the throttle and the engine picks up and drives. After that you change up and down the gears in the normal way but without using the clutch, and there’s no need to even feather the throttle if you want to make haste. But momentarily twitching your throttle hand to chop the revs is not only kinder on the bike, I think it’s also more intuitive.
However as I was to find out, it’s one thing being ultra-gentle with the throttle when you have all the time in the world to pull away, but when you’re on an off-camber with the bike on full-lock, trying to finesse the drive in order to fit the bars between two narrow trees, it’s actually a tiny bit trickier than you first think. Or maybe I’m just a ham-fisted old hack.
For the second section - a drop into a ditch followed by a tight turn around a tree (avoiding a deep bog), then a fairly slippery climb up a slope between trees, make a U turn and back along an eroded path - I thought to myself, why am I bothering to use the manual clutch over-ride when I can just twist and go. Result…. a dab in the middle of the section when JB went clean. D’oh!
I’m probably being totally unfair blaming the bike when really my own skills were at fault, but I can say this… that as you shut the throttle which you have to do on a full-lock turn, the clutch momentarily disengages (so the engine doesn’t stall), and it takes a nano-second for the clutch to re-engage again as you begin to open the throttle.
In ordinary use - on the trail during normal riding - you simply can’t notice this engagement and disengagement of the drive, but when you’re balancing the bike and trying not to use too many revs so it doesn’t turn too wide, you can occasionally be caught - just momentarily - without drive. At this point the brain responds by sending a message to your throttle hand to open the tap and as you do so, the drive kicks in and the bike kinda’ leaps forward with gusto.
Of course this bike has a manual clutch override so I can’t really blame the bike, but hey, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. The following section I went clean but then a silly three-pointer on section four (compared with JB’s single dab) meant that the difference was starting to add up.