For years KTM have been acknowledged as the masters of full-on dirt bikes, but they’ve also recognised that not everyone who wants to ride off-road wants an extreme motocrosser, or an equally demanding enduro bike. For us mortals they have introduced the new Freeride range.
The Freerides are very competent off-roaders, unfettered by the need to deliver ultimate performance in the hands of expert riders, as I found out when I joined KTM off-road guru Ady Smith at a recent ‘Try Our Sport’ day arranged by the MCIA.
The key differences between the Freerides and full-on enduro machines are the lower suspension, lower power and lower weight. Yes, the Freeride is a lower spec machine, enduro-lite as it were, but for novice and leisure riders it’s far better for it.
Sure, it’s still got fairly long travel suspension, but it’s not intimidatingly long. Indeed, the Freerides have a seat height that’s the best part of 80mm lower than a comparable model from their full-on SX motocross or XC enduro ranges. Add in a weight that’s close to 10kg less than the comparable enduro (and even 5kg less than the proper motocrosser) and you can see how the Freerides are just that bit more accessible than pukka competition off-roaders.
Of course, expert riders will tell you that the extra suspension travel is needed for the most extreme conditions, but for the leisure rider the KTM Freerides deliver more than enough performance in a very manageable package. Likewise the engines, tuned for maximum torque rather than maximum power, are far more pleasurable to ride than the usual race-developed off-road motors.
KTM offers three flavours of Freeride: the two-stroke 250R, the four-stroke 350, with the electric Freeride E coming soon.
We had an opportunity to test the two current models back-to-back at the MCIA event at Bevercotes and were stunned by the capability of both models.
Both bikes ticked the boxes for me, but it was the 350 that I really fell in love with. I’m no expert off-roader, far from it, but I have ridden enough dirt bikes over the years to know what I like and don’t like.
The 350 has such a luscious engine that it allows the rider to focus on riding, rather than worrying about being in the right gear or getting it singing in the powerband. I suppose that its competencies are to mask my incompetence, which I guess I am ok with. If I was to have one machine in the garage that I could take out greenlaning and on an occasional trip to the motocross track this would be it, no question.
We also had the chance to try out the two-stroke 250 and, although it is probably heresy to say, it just didn’t do it for me, certainly compared to the four-banger. To me, it was unpleasantly buzzy and just harder work but that’s heaven for some, right? That said the instructors, all expert riders with burgeoning trophy rooms, reckon that the 250 is far superior in terms of its handling, as the natural desire of a four-stroke to push into corners makes it less agile, but as the only thing on my trophy shelf is dust, I’ll happily pay the £450 premium and slight performance disadvantage for the 350’s user-friendliness.
KTM has never been afraid to innovate and break the rules. This, remember, was the company that introduced a 150cc two-stroke motocrosser, even though there was no class for them to race in, while the 350cc motor came as a way to make big ‘crossers easier to ride over long world championship races. Up against full 450cc bikes, motocross god Tony Cairoli usually prefers the 350 to KTM’s 450 and still smokes the entire field. Brains over brawn, huh?
For us mortals, the KTM Freeride makes perfect sense. The things I don’t like about full on motocrossers, the extreme height, kickstarting and the peaky engines are all addressed here. They are bikes that can be road registered (vital to go greenlaning) and could be ridden as your daily ride, if you really want. Despite having lights, a functional dashboard and an electric start, both Freerides weigh in at less than 100kg. They are also cheaper than a ‘proper’ enduro bike, at £6,449 for the 350 and £5,999 for the 250R.
Count me in!