I bought my first KTM, a 1999 KTM 300EXC, new in December 1998. I had wanted to "upgrade" my 1996 Suzuki RMX250 for some time and finally made the trade at Surdyke Yamaha/KTM/BunchaOtherStuff in Festus, Missouri. KTM stands for something Austrian that I can't pronounce, and although not exactly a mainstream motorcycle brand, they are very highly regarded as off-road racing machines. I had owned two RMX's prior to the KTM, and each one required an aftermarket exhaust system and re-jetting of the carburetor to "un-cork" the full performance potential. I decided that I was ready for an out-of-the-box race bike that I wouldn't have to mess with to get the kind of performance I wanted.
Well, I still did plenty of "messing" with my KTM, as any speed/power/performance freak (or guy in general) would do. Check out the mods I did to both of my KTM's. Quite frankly, when I wrote down all that stuff, it kind of shocked me. But hey, I live frugally in every other way, and I enjoy the sport more than any other. It's only money...I'll make more.
The first year I owned the '99 EXC, we had a love-hate relationship. I loved the way it performed but I hated all the broken parts. Part of the problem was learning how to ride the rocks in Missouri after growing up in Illinois and riding mostly mud. My technique was not very smooth, so I would hit rocks that the natives had learned to ride around through years of practice. In the first 6 months of 1999, I bent two sets of handlebars, bent the upper and lower triple clamps, bent both brake rotors, cracked a small piece off the rear hub, tore my seat cover, and dented up the pipe so bad that it had to be replaced at the end of the year. Part of the problem, in my opinion, was KTM's use of out-sourced parts. All of the above items that had to be replaced were manufactured outside the KTM factory. And to be fair, the crash that bent the triple clamps and a set of handlebars also knocked me unconscious. But KTM likes to make their bikes as lightweight as possible, which often means using materials with less strength. I clearly put those materials to the test with my riding style and crashing ability.
Our relationship slowly improved over time. In November 1999 I decided that if I was going to ride safely in the Missouri rocks, then I needed a Scotts steering stabilizer. The stabilizer is like a shock absorber for the steering. When the front wheel makes contact with an unseen object (rocks, tree roots, etc.), the wheel often deflects off the object, rather than travel over the object. When there's speed involved, the deflection can rip the handlebars out of your hands and send you crashing to the ground before you even know what hit you. That happened to me near the end of the Lebanon, Missouri race in 1999 and after that I made the decision to purchase the Scotts stabilizer. At $400, it is a hefty investment, but during the 2000 season it made all the difference in the world. Not only did it keep me going straighter and keep me upright, it eliminated high speed headshake. When I sold the '99 EXC I kept the Scotts damper for the '02 MXC and decided I'd never own a dirt bike without one. Check out the setup I used on the '99 EXC. I had a similar setup on the '02 MXC.
Overall, the '99 EXC was the best all-around dirt bike I've owned, and the '02 MXC was more of the same. At 300cc engine displacement, it had enough power to keep up in the fast Missouri Hare Scrambles Series, but was still light enough to work well in the tight woods of Illinois and Indiana.
My second KTM, the aforementioned 2002 300MXC, was purchased in July '02 from Fay Myers in Denver. Why Denver? Saw the bike on eBay (it didn't sell) and negotiated a decent price with the dealer, and was able to use a business trip as an excuse to pick it up. This bike was very similar to the '99 EXC, with the exception of the front suspension and the transmission. From 2000-02, KTM went back to an "upside-down" 43mm fork. It was much lighter than the 50mm conventional forks on the '99 EXC, but not nearly as plush. The upper three gears on the MXC were lower than the EXC, which meant it didn't have the top speed of the EXC but the transmission was more usable in the woods.
If you've read this far, you're probably wondering why there's a bunch of pages in this website dedicated to a certain green bike. I've fielded many questions on why I switched to a 2003 Kawasaki KX250. Basically, it came down to quality control at KTM. Here's three things about the 300MXC that frustrated me enough to look elsewhere:
1. Race Gas - why? I never was able to get rid of pre-detonation at 1/4-throttle, no matter what jetting combination I used. On an internet discussion group, it was suggested that a 50/50 mix of pump and race gas might help, and that turned out to be correct. However, race gas is a pain to get and a pain to mix, and it's expensive. In September 2003, ktmtalk.com had a lengthy discussion on cylinder manufacturing intolerances as the root cause of inconsistent jetting from bike to bike, and pre-detonation problems. A small company called C&M Motorcycle Machineworks claimed that machining the cylinder head to the proper squish band parameters takes care of pre-detonation problems. I tried it, and it worked. For $40, it was an economical method to fix a chronic KTM problem.
2. Brembo front brakes suck. I tried everything. The front brake was still mushy. Pull on the front brake levers of a line of KTM's sitting on a dealer's showroom floor, and you'll probably find quite a difference. Again, quality control appeared to be the issue. Some front brakes are great, others were like mine.
3. Got Loc-Tite? Sometimes the KTM factory guys don't. Less than 30 hours into its life, the shift drum bolt on the 300MXC's transmission came loose, costing me 4 weeks and $250 to fix. No evidence of thread lock on the bolt, even though the factory parts guide indicates thread locker must be used.