ATV riders are not lazy. They can’t be. If they were, they would have stock quads with big balloon tires, smog equipment and restrictors. In the over-scrutinized world of performance ATVs, manufacturers make you finish building your machine, while many of the very same companies build race-ready, high-performance motorcycles that are ready to ride. Life isn’t fair.
KTM, at least, is doing its part to allow the ATV rider to be a little more lazy. The 525XC needs nothing. It’s a high-performance, cross-country machine that can be ridden or even raced at the highest level as it is sold. You don’t have to remove restrictors, cut holes in anything, buy parts or even install a race pipe. Back when KTM entered the ATV market, the company’s engineers looked around at the existing product pool. They decided to set themselves apart by installing all the best aftermarket components on the machine to start with, from tires and wheels to shocks and motor parts. It was a gamble, because all those items would certainly drive the price up. But in the long run, they theorized, it would be cheaper for the consumer who wanted the best stuff and was willing to buy it one way or another.
The great unanswered question: Do ATV buyers like building their own machines from aftermarket parts? Would they resist being spoon-fed a specific configuration by a paternal factory? That question is still in the process of being answered.
If you wanted to go racing with the XC, it’s already set up with a dead-man’s switch and aggressive setup. It’s sold in a narrow cross-country configuration, but the axle can be adjusted to any of four widths.
At the core of the 525 is KTM’s amazing RFC motor. The history of this powerplant is complicated and can actually be traced to the Swedish Husaberg motorcycle. KTM purchased Husaberg ten years ago in order to learn how to build ultra-light, four-stroke motors. The KTM motorcycles that came about actually had many Husaberg parts, including the head and clutch. Over the next few years, the motor was refined more and more until there was nothing left of the original. By the time that the ATV line was introduced, the KTM RFS motor was one of the most reliable, powerful, lightweight and well-respected powerplants in the world.
KTM reworked that motor into the 450 and 525 cross-country ATVs with a number of changes. Engineers removed the sixth gear and gave the motor a reverse. The sump was enlarged, the gear ratios were altered and there were other changes to beef up the drivetrain, but the power-producing components are the same as those of the motorcycle. It’s still a 510cc, single overhead cam with four titanium valves and a 39mm Keihin FCR carburetor.
Actually, the engineers quickly learned that the motor made more power in the ATV than in the motorcycle. That was mostly because of the airbox, which is much less restrictive. It has a downward-facing element so that debris and water falls off, and all the air comes from the rear, where water rarely splashes.
The chassis was assembled with an Ohlins shocks in the front and a position-sensitive Ohlins shock in the rear. That shock is hooked up directly to the steel swingarm, sans linkage. KTM does this with most of its motorcycles, too, but in the case of the quad it provides a significant advantage in ground clearance.
Beyond the shocks, KTM went a little crazy with high-dollar components. The wheels are by Douglas—they were actually developed specifically for this vehicle. The brakes are Magura, the tires are Maxxis RAZRs and the handlebar is an oversize Magura. The clutch is hydraulic, also made by Magura, and the axle is heat-treated and adjustable to any of four track widths. The machine comes stock with a dead-man’s switch, a front bumper and plastic heel guards.
Ohlins suspension graces both ends of the KTM. In the rear, it has the original Progressive Damping System (PDS) and uses no linkage.
TRACK AND TRAIL
One thing is immediately clear when you ride the KTM. It’s all about racing. This is a machine built by racers with racing in mind. The riding position is very aggressive with low bars and a firm seat. Beyond that, there’s the power. It’s crazy fast. We aren’t talking fast like a V-twin utility quad that goes 80 mph on top. We mean fast like a top-fuel dragster. The KTM will out-accelerate any ATV with the possible exception of a Polaris Outlaw powered by the same motor. The 525 motor has a combination of torque and revs that makes it an absolute blast any time you open the throttle. The KTM is geared to top out at about 75 mph, and it will get there in a matter of seconds.
Part of what allows this 510cc single to outrun an 800cc twin is the weight difference. While other manufacturers grossly understate vehicle weight, KTM’s 357-pound claim is fairly accurate. That compares to over 400 pounds for most 450 sport quads, so the 525’s power-to-weight ratio is incredible. The lack of weight is another factor that lends the machine its racy feel. You can make very quick adjustments on the trail, yet the overall stability is excellent. The KTM has a long, low feel without a hint of high-speed jitters. And as the whoops get bigger, things only get better. The KTM’s suspension is made for a hard, fast pace.
So how much comfort do you surrender for all that? The suspension is somewhat stiff for low-speed trips around the campsite, but in most other ways, the same things that made the quad good for racers make it good for casual rides. No one will complain about the light weight no matter where they go or how fast they get there. Some things just might require a little getting used to. The brakes, for example, are so powerful that they’re downright startling. If you grab a handful without being ready, you’ll wish you were wearing a seat belt. The KTM requires care at both ends of the spectrum—acceleration and braking.
The Motoworks SR4 systems lifts the KTM to a whole new level of performance. It sells for $599.99. Go to www.motoworks.com.
DAY TO DAY
Our test machine came with the axle in its widest configuration, which is almost motocross spec. That was good for desert and western cross-country riding, but it would have to be narrower for the woods. The Maxxis RAZR tires seem good everywhere. We got to ride the KTM in some rare Southern California rain and mud, and were impressed with how well it hooks up. The front fenders weren’t quite wide enough for real wet conditions. But other things are great in tough stuff. We love the hydraulic clutch because it never fades. The motor will get hot if you use it too much, and the automatic fan will come on and tell you so.
We ran into one really strange glitch on the first day of testing. One of our test riders turned up the idle and the motor died. Without thinking to readjust the carb, we kept trying to restart the motor without luck. Eventually, we discovered that it has a safety circuit that kills the spark if the idle is too high—it’s meant to safeguard against a stuck throttle. We readjusted the idle and the motor fired up easily.
The KTM comes with a USFS spark arrester and will blow about 92 dB on a static sound test. That’s louder than most Japanese ATVs, but still below forest service limits. So how much more power is available through a full competition pipe? Our sick curiosity made us call on the guys at Motoworks to find out. The KTM isn’t exactly a mainstream quad, so there aren’t that many aftermarket pipes available. Motoworks has both a slip-on and a full SR4 system. We couldn’t resist the call of even more performance, so we installed the full system. We also rejetted the machine, switching to a OBDTR needle, which is a step richer, position-for-position, and slightly richer in the straight section, too. This would have been a good move even for the stock pipe in order to deal with slight popping on deceleration. With the new exhaust, the KTM stepped up to the next level. Performance increased everywhere, putting the machine in a league of its own. With just an exhaust, the 525 compares to any of the full-factory racers that we have tested from the best race teams in the world. Of course, you pay a price both in noise (it stepped up to 96 dB with the spark arrester in place) and in literal terms (the pipe sells for $599).
That’s the major issue with the KTM: It’s not an economy model stock or modified. It was never meant to be. It’s still a good deal; even though it costs $500 to $1500 more than other large-displacement sport quads, that gap would immediately be eaten up in upgraded shocks, wheels and tires. Which brings us back to the original question: Do you want to do those modifications yourself, or do you want KTM to do them for you? Normally, it would be a tossup. But in this case, KTM did the job really well. It would be pretty hard to do better.