This year we had five 500 four-stroke enduro bikes at our disposal with a big price difference between them. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this all pans out!
How they’re scored
The winner is crowned using ADB’s coveted shootout scorecard. For decades this scorecard has been the key for many shootout victories. The scorecard is broken into three weighted sections: suspension and handling (50%), motor (40%) and ergonomics (10%). The bike with the highest weighted average score from all the testers is the winner. The scorecard incluces price, the bikes design-brief and performance. When scoring each bike, the tester is required to think like a 500 enduro rider. Weighting the scores means personal things like ergonomics, do not account for much of the total score.
First and foremost, the SWM RS500R retails for a crazy price of just $8990 plus on-roads. That’s an astounding $6805 less than the more expensive 500s. On paper, that just looks ridiculous and as I’d never seen one in the flesh before this test, I assumed that the bike must be made cheaply and have cheap components. Damn, was I wrong!
The SWM is fitted with KYB suspension, Brembo brakes, hydraulic clutch actuation, dual mufflers, Michelin tyres and the same quality Italian-made motor as the old-school Huskies from before KTM took over the company. All that for $8990?! Not bad, huh!
Visually, it is quite a big-looking bike and once you sit on it, you do notice that the bike is fatter through the seat and tank area and that the switches and instruments are a little bulky and kinda old school. After I ran over the updates for the 2019 bike with Bob from SWM, which includes new plastics, new LED headlight and surround, new graphics, new subframe, new seat and Euro 4 ignition map, I took off down the trail and right away, I found myself enjoying the ride.
Motor-wise, the SWM is very smooth yet it has plenty of grunt to just get you moving through the trails at good speed and will happily chug around in third gear just about anywhere. It doesn’t rev up as quick as some of the other bikes but it doesn’t really need to. It’s torquey and just seems to have nice power wherever and whenever you need.
In the handling department, the 48mm KYB fork is plush and, just like the motor, it seems to cruise along and soak up whatever gets thrown at it. Small rocks and tree roots are eaten up and the feeling is quite forgiving at trail pace.
The gas-oil KYB shock, much like the fork, offers a comfortable ride and it soaks up little chop with ease. The bike is a tractor on the trail and the power delivery works really well with the suspension settings that SWM and KYB have come up with.
I was very surprised by this bike. For the price, you get a really solid package. I especially see the SWM being a hit with the long-distance trail guys who like to spend long days on the bike. It is a really comfortable ride with the new saddle, the motor has good, strong power yet it is very smooth, the suspension is plush and forgiving and best of all its only $8990! Bravo SWM. I’m impressed.
MITCH LEES: Best value for money bike in the test. The engine is just like a diesel, it just chugs away and it is strong. The bike is a big lounge chair with suspension that is plush and it is a bike you could ride all day.
BEN GRABHAM: Surprise package for me. To look at the bike, you think it is going to be big and heavy but out the trail, I couldn’t fault it. The motor is strong and the suspension did everything I needed. Having two kids at home these days, I would seriously consider this bike for the price. I could buy my sons bikes with the savings!
SHAUN LONERGAN: For the price, it’s a great value machine. The bike is comfortable to ride and the motor is torquey. If you’ve only got 9K to spend, then the SWM is the bike for you.
CHRIS Springett: This bike would make a great all-day trailbike. It’s comfy to ride with its bigger seat and smooth motor. Sure, it’s heavier than the others, but for $8990, it’s great value and it surprised me out there.
After undergoing some substantial upgrades last year, especially in the motor department, it came as little surprise that the latest model just got some fine tuning. The $13,395 RR480 has a new throttle designed by Domino specifically for Beta which, combined with updated ECU mapping, offers riders a smoother and more accurate throttle response plus improved fuel economy.
If you are into riding tight and technical trails, then you’ll enjoy the bottom and mid-range power that the Beta produces. Being a 480, it is a little softer off the bottom than the full 500s from Kato and Husky and, of course, doesn’t have the same top-end power but the motor is very smooth and useable and I feel like you could ride it all day with ease. It does, however, rev up fairly quickly when you need it to and that would be due to the smaller mass of the 477.5cc piston. You also have the dry/mud map switch on the handlebar, which is a nice touch and makes a noticeable difference. All of the riders on our test preferred the more aggressive dry map.
The big news for this year’s RR480 is the introduction of more up-spec ZF Sachs suspension. The fork is a 48mm unit with compression on the right and rebound on the left leg. The comp side also carries the adjustable preload, which you don’t need tools for, can be adjusted on a pitstand and offers up to 10mm of extra preload. The shock is a new ZF Sachs unit that is around 350 grams lighter than last year’s.
Trailriders will love this suspension as it is very plush and won’t beat you up. However, for me, I found the Beta’s suspension too soft and a bit unsettling on the track at speed and, while the new ZF Sachs gear is better than ever, it still has that soft overall feel. If you are into faster trails, you’ll want to crank up the clickers a bit just to avoid bottoming out. In the tighter, slower trails, the ZF fork and shock soak up everything and the shock especially will allow you to drive up the snottiest hills, no problem.
The Beta was the only bike in the test with Nissin brakes and they had a slightly more aggressive feel than the Brembos. The trials heritage that Beta is famous for is still very much alive in their enduro bikes as the bike feels small between your legs, is very agile on the trail and, due to the lower seat height and tallish ’bar, the whole bike seems to work better when you’re standing up.
Mitch Lees: I found myself over-riding this bike due to it being smaller in size. I was revving it more and I made some mistakes because of that. The power is nice no doubt, but it just doesn’t have the torque that the others do. The suspension is better but I found it still to be on the soft side.
Ben Grabham: Like the Sherco, you notice the lower capacity. The engine is very smooth and useable and trailriders will love that. The suspension still needs a bit of work as I found myself riding more cautiously over the rough stuff than on the other bikes.
Shaun Lonergan: The Beta was the bike I enjoyed the most. Out on the trail, I really enjoyed the way it felt light and nimble and the power was very user friendly. I’d never ridden a Beta before and I was pleasantly surprised.
Chris Springett: I enjoyed the Beta a lot. The motor has good bottom-end power and I found there was a big difference in power between the two maps. I preferred the dry map as the wet map was too mellow off the bottom then revved up quick. The suspension was nice on the trails.
This year saw the introduction of a new contender for the V8 title and that is the Sherco 500SEF-R (and SEF Factory edition). Designed and built for the Australian market, the $13,990 SEF-R is the bike that Sherco Australia has been waiting for. Using the same motor platform as the 450, the 500 gets its own cylinder, bigger piston, stronger clutch and, to top it off, a custom ignition setting.
The French also have updated the chassis and triple-clamps to save almost 500g. Sherco has high hopes for this model and I believe it is already running well ahead of sales expectations. So, what’s it like to ride?
Well, as soon as you sit on the bike, it feels small, smaller than the other bikes and that is due to the fact that it is has the lowest handlebar-to-seat distance. The handlebar has a very low bend and our taller testers found this hard to get used to. Me being the Special Test bandit that I am was all about the low ’bar. Like the Beta, it has a dual map switch and again, all the riders preferred the aggressive map, as the mud map zapped to much power.
Engine-wise, the Sherco feels racey and revs up quickly. This is due to the fact that technically, this bike is a 478cc machine like the Beta, not a true 500. Still, the bottom-end power of the Sherco is very strong and it carries through the mid- and top-. It does, however, feel like the Sherco wants to give the rider more of what it’s got and both Grabbo and I thought that the exhaust might be holding the motor back and that it needed to have an aftermarket pipe fitted to free it up and show its full potential. There is also very little engine braking, which is a huge change compared to the bikes a few years back.
Sherco has also swapped suspension for 2019 and gone to the WP Xplor fork from the old Factory model rather than the old-school, open-chamber WP unit the Racing models had in the past. The Xplor 48 has Sherco-specific settings and has a different feel to the KTM/Husky Xplor units.
The Sherco one has a slightly firmer feel to it, which is good for when you’re having a good go on the trails. The other guys mentioned that they softened the fork up a tad to give them a better feel. The shock is the same WP46 unit as last year and it really gets the power to the ground.
The Sherco is a great addition to the V8 class. It’s light, has a strong, punchy motor and feels small between your legs. The Brembo brakes are strong and progressive and the 9.7L tank is the biggest of all the bikes so you should outrun everybody. It will be interesting to see how the Sherco 500SEF-R Factory version will stack up against the other big-bores in Australia’s brutal desert races of 2019.
Mitch Lees: I struggled to gel with this bike. mainly due to the super-low handlebar and, with the bike feeling so small, it just threw my whole riding style off. The power is quite racey and revvy and you have to be on your game to get the most out of it. The suspension is more race-orientated. Would be a great grasstrack bike.
Ben Grabham: I noticed right away that the bike isn’t as powerful as the others. The engine feels restricted and could do with the Factory’s pipe. Out of the five, it definitely feels like the most racey of the bunch with the low ’bar and the punchy power off the bottom.
Shaun Lonergan: The handlebars are really low, I struggled to work with that. I like to stand up and it’s difficult to do that on the Sherco. The engine is good, I found it revved fast and I didn’t really notice it being 20cc down on the other bigger bikes.
Chris Springett: The power of this bike is aggressive. In the open stuff it was great, but I found it a little much in the tighter stuff. The suspension is plush. I had to roll the ’bar forward as I just couldn’t get comfy on it with it in my lap.
I am supposed to tell you about all the upgrades and updates that KTM has made to the 500EXC-F but, well, KTM doesn’t believe it needs any. Bold new graphics, a new seatcover and a stronger battery is what you get for your $14,695. There you have it folks, KTM is sticking by the 500EXC-F with an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach and, to be honest, that’s okay with us. After all, the 500 is currently the world’s fastest enduro bike thanks to Daniel Milner and his ISDE Outright-winning ride and also let’s not forget Toby Price dominating Finke for years on a 500.
The 500EXC-F (actually 510.4cc) has easily the strongest motor of the lot and the five hunge we had for our test was running particularly well. Not only is the motor strong, but it is incredibly useable and you can select third gear and chug that thing around like it’s got cruise control. Low down, mid-range, top-end, this bike just has oodles of power at every step of the range. It is no wonder that those boys win on these bikes, they are just so easy to ride. But don’t be fooled by the torque, if you give the bike a handful of throttle, you’ll be at the next corner quick smart.
The KTM also has a WP Xplor 48 fork taking care of the front end. This year it has firmer settings and, while the fork is soft at pace, it is very forgiving on the trail and complements the power very nicely. The PDS Xplor shock also has revised specs, with a re-designed piston, and it’s probably one of the nicest PDS rear-ends that KTM has done. It drives through the nasty chop no problem. The power this bike gets to the ground, especially if you’re riding along in third gear, is very impressive.
If you had to describe the KTM in a word, it would be “easy”. Everything about this bike is easy, the motor is strong and user friendly, the suspension even though its soft, works nicely and the general feedback you get from the bike is very promising. The Brembo brakes are powerful, the air filter design is genius, and they are simple and easy to work on.
It’s a shame to see the KTM not come standard with a map switch like the Husky does. That is something that should come standard these days. The orange beast is also the second-most expensive bike of the lot and is over $1300 more than the Beta, which is a better comparison than the SWM.
Mitch Lees: For me, the engine on this bike is close to faultless for a 500. It’s linear, so easy to use and I just never felt out of control with the power. I liked the updated suspension although I think I prefer the linkage on the Husky. The handlebar is a bit low for my liking.
Ben Grabham: Like the Husky, the KTM is just so easy to ride. Great motor, good components and I prefer the PDS over a linkage as I like the more active feel on the trail.
Shaun Lonergan: Very nice bike, predictable on the trail. The engine is very strong and super useable. I never got into trouble but would like to see a map switch.
Chris Springett: The motor is very nice, it’s powerful yet useable and I really like it. Would like to see a map switch fitted standard as I like playing around with the power.
Much like its orange brother, the Husky FE501 also received minimal changes for 2019, with new graphics, seatcover and stronger battery as well as the same upgrades to the Xplor fork and shock.
The motor is obviously the same as the KTM but the Husky has a different airbox as part of the carbon composite subframe. The airbox actually gives the motor a slightly different feel to the KTM and, during our test, the Husky was ever so slightly slower than the KTM. Don’t get me wrong, the motor is still super smooth and strong but these days, we are seriously picking out the smallest differences to produce a winner for the shootout. You could notice the Husky was just not as free-revving as the KTM.
The Husky chassis is different to the KTM and runs a linkage rear-end. The linkage offers a different feel to KTM’s PDS and in short the linkage has a ‘less-active’ feel. It feels more planted on the ground and there are those who like that feeling and those who like the PDS. Personally, I like the active feeling of the PDS as you feel like you hop around on the trail and switch from side to side more easily.
The 48mm Xplor fork on the Husky has on-the-fly preload adjusters similar to the Beta at the top of each leg and they are numbered 0, 3 and 6mm which is how much extra you can reload the spring. That little feature is great when tracks get a bit rougher and faster. The overall balance of the Husky is pretty solid and you have great feel on the trail.
The FE501 comes standard with a dual map switch which also includes traction control. It is a very handy little tool when the going gets tough. The Magura brakes offer great power and feel and, like the KTM, the air filter access is idiot proof and fantastic. Biggest issue with the Husky? It’s $15,795 price tag! That’s $6805 more than the SWM. You could almost buy two SWMs for the price of one Husky.
Mitch Lees: I like the taller ’bar on the Husky as I am a taller guy. Again, the engine is just so easy to use and its almost like an electric motor in the way it rolls on. I prefer the monoshock linkage as I find it remains a bit more settled. Adjustable preload on the fork is handy too.
Ben Grabham: This bike is generally a nice package. There is nothing really that stands out as it does everything so effortlessly. The power is awesome and the suspension, while soft, is solid and overall, they’re just a really nice bike. It is expensive, though.
Shaun Lonergan: Like the KTM, the engine is very strong. Suspension is nice. I like the map switch. The bike is very fast, especially on the fast map and the traction control is a nice touch if you were to get stuck on a snotty hill.
Chris Springett: Like the KTM, it’s just easy to ride and I never really had any issues on it. The map switch is awesome and the fast map blew me away. Being a heavier guy, I need heavier springs than the stock ones.
500 Enduro Shootout WINNER! KTM 500EXC-F
I say this after every shootout but these bikes are almost getting too close to call. There isn’t a bad bike in this batch. Each has its own strengths and it’s surprising how similar they all feel while testing. There is, however, a winner and that is the KTM 500EXC-F.
We know, not a lot has changed on the KTM for 2019 but KTM sold more 500s than any other brand in 2018 (according to the FCAI) and it was the most popular four-stroke in their range. It has an amazing engine that is so damn strong and easy to ride. It is a little pricey but we feel the value in perfromance justifies it. It does everything you want it to do, regardless of the terrain and for that reason, it takes the cake!
It is closely followed by the Husky while, rounding out the podium is the Beta RR480. Part of our scoring criteria was price, which is what held the Husky back, aside from that it is excellent. The Beta offers great value for serious riders while the Sherco suits smaller racers. We have a Sherco 500SEF-R Factory as a long termer and the KYB suspension and Akro pipe make this bike a different beast and possibly a class winner.
And how could we not mention the SWM, because, for $8990, you won’t find better value for money. We couldn’t believe how well it did against a group of brands that have spared no expense in the pursuit of perfection!
Second – Husqvarna FE501
Third – Beta RR480