This year we have what seems to be the usual four suspects. The KTM 350EXC-F, Husky FE350, Sherco 300SEF-R and Beta 350RR all have entered the mid-capacity four-stroke market.
All four have come a long way since they were introduced and it’s pretty obvious to see that the 2018 versions are not here to mess around. I should note that, as one of the bikes is a 300cc machine, this is a comparo, not a shootout.
The 2018 Beta RR350 enters the picture as the bike with the most changes. It seems that the Italian crew have kicked their development up a notch and have put a lot of focus on building a more powerful engine while making it more useable across the rev range.
Along with those updates, Beta has also managed to shave a whopping 5.3kg off the bike. The motor has received a new clutch, new gear selectors, new EFI, new airbox and has lost the kickstarter. Those changes add up to almost 2kg of weight lost just in the motor.
So, do the updates work out on the track? The short answer is yes. The RR has really nice, smooth and linear bottom-end power but it does feel a tad more racey than the Husky or KTM. The motor is surprisingly revvy, yet it isn’t intimidating at all. Out on the trail, the Beta feels light and nimble and, much like its 300 two-stroke brother, it responds best when you are standing up.
Just like the 2018 two-strokes, the RR350 receives a redesigned front-end which is built lighter and offers more flex to improve the feel of the bike. Beta have stuck with Sachs for both the forks and shock and I think for the trail guys out there, it’s pretty solid. It’s plush and compliant and makes for an easy ride.
It does become a bit unsettled at pace and, just like the KTM, it’s all to do with the fork. Something about the fork action at speed makes it feel very active and a tad harsh in the initial part of the stroke. We played around a little and found that stiffening it up quite a lot and slowing the rebound damping helped. The shock has a similar feel but is not as active.
I like the look of the 2018 RR350. The new design for the plastics and the colour scheme really stands out and the bike looks fast. The on-the-fly map switch is a good idea and we preferred the Sun map. The Rain map does mellow the bike out, which would be good for wet conditions.
It also has a tool-less side-mounted air filter which is very easy to change and the subframe comes with a couple of handy tools mounted in it, which is pretty sneaky. The only thing that really bugged the testers was the trials-spec rear brake pedal. The thing feels like it’s under the footpeg – it’s that close.
Beta has beefed up the bashplate to protect the motor and red frame which definitely stands out when combined with the black rims. And it’s the cheapest of the four at $12,990. It’s good going for racers who like a responsive, fast engine.
The Beta took me a bit to get used too. It felt a little cramped and I struggled with that rear brake being so close. I like the motor. It felt strong from bottom- to mid- and was easy to ride. The Sachs suspension needs to be firmed up for me but, for the average guy, I think they would like it.
I like the Beta. I have a RR430 long-termer at the moment and I’m familiar with the feel. The 350 feels light and nimble and it’s easy to ride.
The new motor is nice but I felt like the gear ratios were too close together and I had to make more of an effort to change gears. I played around with the fork and got it feeling better. The bike does feel small and nimble though.
The Husky has had a few changes for 2018, with suspension updates being the main focus, but there were also a few other mods that see the white bikes separate themselves from their orange brothers a little more. As with Kato, the 350 was Husky’s top enduro model here with 288 units sold.
First up, the suspension changes. WP has beefed up the outer fork tubes and altered the internal settings of the XPlor fork to give better feedback and improved bottoming resistance. Husky has also chucked on a fresh ProTaper handlebar and, in a surprise move, swapped out the trusty Brembo brakes for Magura calipers with GSK discs.
Motor-wise, the bike remains the same as last year and it’s not a bad thing as the FE350’s motor is about as good as it gets. It’s strong yet smooth and seems to have power in all the right places. It has a lot of torque and can be ridden aggressively and revved out or chugged away in third or fourth gear.
Now I know what you’re thinking – it’s the same motor as in the KTM – but in the bottom-end, mid-range and top-end it just feels a smidgeon stronger everywhere in the rev range, possibly because of the different airbox. The Husky also comes with a map switch with two maps and traction control and that comes in pretty handy when tackling some crazy hills.
The new fork setting is the same as that on the KTM but the Husky fork has the luxury of external preload adjusters which have three positions. Zero, 3 and 6 are written on the top and you simply put the bike on the pitstand and twist the knob to where you want it. We cranked it to 6, and it makes a difference as it compensates for the KTM’s diving feel when pushing along. The shock has a linkage, unlike the KTM’s PDS, and this gives exceptional drive out of corners.
The new Magura brakes are surprisingly strong and have plenty of adjustment. The rear is super touchy. The Husky has the same brilliant concept for the air filter as the KTM and I really can’t over-emphasis how easy and smart that design is. You don’t even have to think when changing the filter, it’s that easy. The only downside to the Husky is that it is the most expensive bike in this bunch at $14,995. That’s over $2000 more than the Beta.
The Husky was the bike I’d take home. It did everything I wanted it to and I really enjoyed riding it. The motor is strong and versatile and it is just an easy bike to ride. It is expensive but you don’t really have to touch it once it’s out of the shop.
It’s a strong engine that is torquey and easy to ride. I really liked the map switch as it made a big difference. The suspension felt good but I preferred the fork on the third preload setting as it was plusher for me there. The seat is grippy and, even for a tall guy, the bike is roomy and comfy.
I like that the Husky can be ridden in third gear just about everywhere. The motor can handle it no problem and it feels easy to ride. The issues that I had with the KTM front-end are improved by the external adjusters on the fork but it’s still a tad soft. The bike has a comfortable riding position.
The KTM 350EXC-F was one of the first high performance 350Fs to be released back in 2011/12 and has been hugley popular, with 500 going out the door in Australia last year. It is KTM’s highest-selling model here and proves that many people out there want the mid-size rides.
Not surprisingly, Kato hasn’t done a lot for 2018. The 350 had a complete revamp for 2017 so the new model just got a bunch of fine tuning. The motor stays relatively unchanged while the suspension has been given a bit of a tune up.
The motor is as smooth as a babies butt yet strong enough to ride in third gear almost everywhere. The torque that the KTM produces is impressive and it is really noticeable when climbing hills or even just trailriding in a high gear. It has no issues pulling you out of a corner in third. The Keihin EFI works in perfect sync with the motor and the throttle response and power delivery is smooth and linear.
The WP XPlor 48 fork and XPlor PDS shock are what keeps the bike glued to the ground and KTM has tweaked them to give better front-end feel and has also beefed up the bottoming resistance. It’s an improvement but, as with the 300EXC, we found the front was still soft and had a tendency to dive.
The fork springs are firmer than on the 300 at a 44Nm/mm but it probably wouldn’t hurt to go up a few more rates to keep it sitting up in the stroke. The XPlor PDS is night and day better than the PDS back in the day and doesn’t pack down or beat you up like it used to. The bike does feel a tad unbalanced with the soft front-end and it doesn’t have the preload adjusters on the fork that the Husky does, which is a shame.
Other cool features are the lock-on ODI Grips, a translucent 8.5L tank and by far the easiest air filter access and air filter design. It really is idiot proof with its two-prong system that allows the filter to be put in with no tools and it is virtually impossible for it to be installed the wrong way.
The KTM 350 EXC-F is a great all-round trailbike that is better suited to trailriders who would prefer a slightly more forgiving front-end. It has the most useable engine that provides a predictable and reliable ride.
The KTM has a great all-round engine that can be ridden in a higher gear or revved out. It’s smooth and manageable and it is easy to ride. The bike is nice to ride on the trail, it’s plush and won’t beat you up, but as soon as you starting getting some pace up, the fork dives and the bike becomes unbalanced.
The KTM is great for trailriders as it won’t rip out of your hands at any time. It’s easy to ride and smooth and you can ride it all day without getting tired. It’s super plush both front and rear, which is awesome, but if you want to go a bit faster, the front needs a bit of work. I’m a taller guy but the bike felt roomy and I had plenty of space to move.
Anybody can enjoy this bike. The smooth power is very useable and you can leave it in third gear almost everywhere. The XPlor fork needs some firming up as it made the bike dive and feel unsettled on the trail.
As the smallest-capacity bike, you would assume that the Sherco would be at a clear disadvantage. Well, nobody told the 300SEF-R that, certainly not Matt Phillips. The 2018 version has had a host of updates, with the goal being to make the bike faster. Plain and simple really.
A new high-comp piston, crank and conrod have been fitted as well as a new header pipe and silencer and it adds up to a damn fun motor. Naturally, you have to rev the 300SEF-R way more than the other three bikes as it is down 50cc, but it seems that the bike likes to be pushed that bit harder and encourages you to rev it and ride it with more intensity.
Don’t get me wrong, you can still lug it around, but the bike wants you to go all out. You come out of a corner and you give it all you got. It’s not a light-switch kind of power that scares you either which is great news for average riders out there but it still packs a solid punch that will keep everyone happy. It has a map switch on the handlebar and I believe it stayed on Race mode all day.
The suspension on the SEF-R is quite nice. There are three different settings in the manual, as there is with all WP forks and shocks, and we found that if you gave the fork a couple of turns of preload and used the ‘comfort’ setting, it was nice out on the trail. The open- chamber WP fork is easy to work with so adjusting the preload was a two-second job and made it much more rideable. The new WP46 shock offers great traction, especially when you have to rev the bike and you would expect the bike to wheelspin and dance around, but it seems to hold its line quite well.
The Sherco has a huge 9.7 litre translucent tank which is the biggest of those fitted to the four bikes but, with all the extra revving needed, it’s going to use a bit more fuel. The plastics and graphics have been built stronger and there’s a gripper seat. The 300SEF-R holds its own against the bigger machines.
The Sherco engine feels best when you are on the gas and revving it. It revs cleanly and is a fun motor. It is a nice bike to ride on the trail and feels quite balanced. The 300 seemed to me to have less engine braking than the other bikes and I liked that as it didn’t upset your flow out on the trail.
The Sherco doesn’t feel as underpowered as you’d think. It has a nice mid-range and, sure, it needs to be revved more but there is less inertia behind it and that makes it feel lighter. I ran the comfort setting on the suspension and it did everything I wanted it and didn’t beat me up.
When you hop on the 300 after riding the 350s, you definitely notice that you have to ride it harder and rev it more. The motor feels stronger than last year’s as they made some good changes. The bike feels very solid underneath you but I cranked up the preload on the front-end to keep it balanced as it would dive.
Now, as you’ve read over what has been said about the bikes, it’s pretty clear that they’re all good and all have their strengths. You wouldn’t be disappointed by any of these bikes really. If you are on the market for a ‘can do everything’ bike that won’t beat you up or won’t be a huge pain to maintain, then you really can’t go past these mid-caps. They make riding fun in any condition and it almost feels like they want you to ride all day. It’s just that easy.