The 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F is all-new and we got a chance not ride it at the world launch in Lesotho, Africa. See what ADB Ed Mitch Lees' first impressions are.
I had the opportunity last month to test the 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F in Lesotho a small land-locked country within South Africa. Lesotho is famous for hosting the legendary hard enduro race the Roof of Africa. When I first learnt we were headed for the rock-strewn cliff faces of Lesotho I was excited about logging some laps on the 300 EXC but not so pumped about paddling the 2024 KTM 500 EXC-F through the same terrain.
When we got to the testing facility we were shown the intricacies of the new bike. A new closed chamber WP XACT fork and new shock were the talking points along with TBI in the two-strokes and of course the new frame in all EXCs. The frame had been made lighter, thinner and more rigid. I was most excited to see how this frame would go in the big bikes. I was keen to see if it made them feel lighter, more agile and easier to handle.
As is always the case at these launches, the European journos and in-particular, retired English motocross heroes turned journos, hog the smaller bikes. In his words, not mine, one old English motocrosser said “I’m not riding the 500, that’s scary as hell in this stuff. Why would I need to test a 500, we don’t even ride them at home!” It’s typical Geezer lip, not willing to man up and ride the big girl. No matter how many times I told them that the 500 EXC-F is actually really easy to ride and not very intimidating, they wouldn’t listen. I eventually had to yell at them and use some rather choice profanities to get the smaller bikes off them so us Aussies could at least test everything. The only upside to the English and Europeans not wanting to ride the big bikes was that us Aussie journos got to swing off them most of the time!
It gave me a great opportunity to test the 500 EXC-F in the most challenging terrain you would be willing to take a big four-stroke. While it wasn’t a great opportunity to test the bikes high-speed, sand whoop ability (although we did average 80-100km/h on four-wheel-drive track and fire road for half the day) it did give me a chance to really test the bikes agility and fear factor in the tight, snotty stuff.
The 2024 KTM EXC range is narrower than previous models and also lighter. They’ve been stiffened through the frame and in particular steering head so they don’t feel too lightweight or like they’re going to buck and buzz under the big 500’s engine load. The firmer, closed cartridge WP XACT fork, with mid-valve piston to stop if falling through the stroke, help make the 500 EXC-F feel even more rigid, despite the narrower, lighter frame.
Standing or seated on the 500 EXC-F, it is easier to manhandle that the MY24 model. When paddling between rocks or launching up rock faces, it is more balanced and easier to stay upright without lurching forward, catching you off guard and tipping over.
When combined with the new motor which feels even more central now and also more balanced, the 500 EXC-F feels like a completely different beast. Calling an engine balanced might seem weird but that is the only words I can think of to describe how when I opened the throttle and lost balance a little, it didn’t tip over from out of control inertia drag. If I hopped on the 500 EXC-F blindfolded, it would be hard to tell it and the 350 EXC-F apart until you get to about half throttle.
The extra torque and inertia of the 500 EXC-F lends itself to sitting down and bulldogging through hard sections. It’s now easier to keep upright, which means you can grovel along using the very start of the throttle pull to power along. And the benefit of a 500 EXC-F in this situation is that it has the power and grunt to do so without stalling even with my 100kg frame.
And while on the topic of stalling, that pesky old flame-out on the KTM four-strokes has been drastically improved. New everything, engines, exhausts, ECUs and mapping, means the power distribution is also all-new. The motor feels just as linear in previous years but a little less work just off the friction point of the clutch. I don’t think I flamed out once on the 500 EXC-F.
Just like the rest
As you would have read in my launch report last issue, the 2024 KTM EXC range are all-new. In fact, 95 per cent of the motorcycle across the range is new. The suspension is firmer, the chassis more rigid, the ergonomics more streamlined and the electronics more advanced. Everything that they changed has improved the motorcycle, except for the handlebar, it’s lower and flatter and I think I preferred the old bend. The good thing about parity across the range is that when testing bikes and picking the right one for you, it would be okay to assume they will handle relatively similar to each other. So the only question to answer is which capacity is right for you.
I was expecting the 500 EXC-F to feel heavier and more cumbersome than the other four-stroke models but it didn’t. It felt almost the same in all terrain except when on the fire roads and you wanted to light it up. That’s where it is night and day different to everything else. More power and harder hitting. Once at the halfway point of the throttle it roars into life in a way that would make the 250 EXC-F quiver in its rubber.
It is for this reason that you could in-fact buy a MY KTM 500 EXC-F and tailride it in snotty conditions. The inertia is still noticeable but that’s only if you start to get throttle happy. If you’re grovelling along or only using low revs and all torque, you will struggle to pick the difference between a 500 EXC-F and 350 EXC-F.
And that’s the best part about the 500 EXC-F, my favourite four-stroke bike in the 2024 range, it is just so versatile. Thanks to the new, thinner more agile chassis and a less jerky, easier-to-control motor, the 500 EXC-F is more rideable than ever!
ENGINE Single-cylinder, four-stroke engine, 510.9cc
BORE x STROKE 95mm x 72mm
CLUTCH Wet, DDS multi-disc clutch, Brembo hydraulics
EMS Keihin EMS
WEIGHT (DRY) 108.4kg
TANK CAPACITY (APPROX.) 8.5 litres
FRONT BRAKE Brembo Disc 260mm
REAR BRAKE Brembo Disc 220mm
FRAME DESIGN Central double-cradle-type
FRONT SUSPENSION WP XACT-USD, 48mm. 300mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION WP Xplor PDS shock absorber, 310mm travel
GROUND CLEARANCE 347 mm
SEAT HEIGHT 963 mm
Words | Mitch Lees
Photos | Sebas Romero & Francesc Montero