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DESERT TEST I 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F | Bike Reviews

KTM have produced another desert weapon, this is easily the raciest 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F we have ridden in this trim in the desert.

KTM launched their 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F a few months back and everyone saw a bike that was basically all-new, I reckon panic set in that this new model was not going to be as good as the current version. Because I live in the desert racing world every day I get to hear all the whisperings and when people started reading that the chassis was all new and the gearbox ratios, they assumed the worst. If there is one thing that racing has taught me over the years is that I do not get too wrapped up with specifications on paper.  I like to do my own real-world testing and ride the bike so I can experience first-hand what these so-called new specifications and claims really mean.

The day I got my hands on this 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F I ventured to a location where I knew I’d be able to get a decent idea about this bike in high-speed racing situations. Unfortunately it rained the day before so there was no desert dust but the high speed, sandy sections were still just as good.

During my first hour of testing my main priority was to see if customers could avoid having to split their new engine to make a gearbox ratio change. The good news is that this new six speed gearbox feels perfect in every gear, no longer is there a big gap between 5th and 6th. It feels like the gap in between every gear is very evenly spaced.

I put the engine under plenty of load in high-speed sections to feel if the new standard ECU settings are safe. Running BP 98 fuel, the engine ran perfectly and never once felt lean or wanted to knock under load. This is awesome for potential buyers as it means no gear ratio or mapping changes before venturing into the desert.

A huge part of the previous 500 EXC’s being so popular is thanks to powerful engines. It took me ten minutes of riding to confirm it is faster than ever in standard trim. Right off the bottom this new engine has a much lighter and free feel that may trick riders to thinking that there is less power than previously. When I compared it to the older model in the same section of track it could easily hold lower revs a lot easier.

Midrange is where this engine starts to come alive and feel noticeably stronger. If you are game to keep the throttle wide open and let it rev that is where you feel the huge power gains over previous models. Before, I have chased a little bit more power over standard when racing a 500EXC in the desert. With this new model I find it more than powerful enough as is, but none of this power means anything unless the rest of the bike does not handle at speed.

Straight up the overall feel is slightly firmer than the previous model. On small to medium bumps it definitely transfers more feedback into my body. In every other decent sized bump or hard impact I found this new chassis to be more planted and stable. I did find during my playing around with the suspension clickers, that if I went the wrong way the overall handling became quite bad, but once I found the sweet spot for my size it was crazy- good how this bike handles.

When I had the setup in what I call a ‘good window’ I found the bike calmer than anything I’ve ridden in high-speed, rough terrain. It allowed me to push a lot faster in every situation. Previously most riders’ fitted larger rally style foot pegs, but the new standard footpegs on the 500SEF are huge and gave me more than enough feel and grip.

The other thing quite noticeable during my day of testing the 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F was how much it settled in during the day. When I first jumped on it had three hours on the clock and by the time I had logged five hours the overall feel was comfier and softer than it began.

The only thing that had me concerned was that the fuel light came on after only 50km of riding. The new fuel tank is 8.5 litres which is close to 600mls less than the last model, but 50km is not much. The new fuel pump and tank requires the fuel to be splashed around to pick up the majority of fuel and the time the fuel light came on I was just riding down a smooth dirt road.

Overall, I think KTM have produced another desert weapon, this is easily the raciest 500 EXC-F I have ridden in standard trim. You no longer need to be changing gearbox ratios and for anyone not chasing more power, the standard ECU settings are now nice and safe. It is definitely a nice feeling to ride a bike that is not far off desert winning spec right off the showroom floor.


It’s no secret that I am running GASGAS EC 500Fs for my VIP Race Experience packages. So, because the 2024 GASGAS EC 500F is similar to this 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F, I headed out to Finke in October to do some testing on the GASGAS EC 500F to see what we are in for with the 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F, 2024 Husqvarna FE 501 too.

Considering the EC500F is basically the same as 500EXC-F regarding all the parts I mention here you are safe to say they translate over to the 500EXC-F as well. The first part/accessory I recommend is the handlebar mapping switch. This gives you the more powerful green map, TC Traction control mode and QS Quick shift option.

There is a noticeable difference in power when using the green map, it definitely livens up the delivery and gives the mid-top end a little more zip if needed. I also liked the feel of QS mode on the hard pack sections as it felt that little bit faster and smoother being able to hold the throttle wide open and shift gears at the same time. I tested an Akrapovic slip-on, apart from looking trick and feeling like it weighs a good kilogram less, the bottom end power felt similar to standard, the noticeable gains were in the mid-top end of the power. To be honest I found this a tad too powerful at times.

Next up, if you are chasing even more power, Vortex has already developed an ECU for this model. I found the deep/sand torque maps to be my favourite as they gave a smooth, stronger overall feel. At the time of my testing GPR was the only steering damper brand with a complete kit that fits and this was not a bad thing, as the GPR worked perfectly for me on the Finke track.