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2016 KTM 350 XCF-W Review


by Pascal Bastien ,

KTM promises the perfect mix of agility and performance with the new 2016 350 XCF-W. Similar to the 350 SX-F dirt bike that won the MX1 world championship as a rookie in 2013, this enduro bike combines a light weight and impressive handling with a high-revving powerplant.

The modern frame design of the 350 XCF-W, comprising lightweight, high-strength, chrome-molybdenum steel section tubes, combines maximum longitudinal stiffness with balance torsional stiffness. The front axle was downsized from 26mm to 22mm to reduce weight and offer better front-end feel. The adjusted offset from 35mm to 33mm increases trail and provides more stability, especially on loose terrain. Additionally, the new front fork protectors have an open design offering the same level of protection while giving easier access to the fork legs for quicker cleaning and maintenance.

Like a big 250
As far as the engine is concerned, the 2016 KTM 350 XCF-W provides more top-end power and slightly more midrange torque than the 250 model. That means you can use a higher gear most of the time, however, you won’t enjoy the superior characteristics and thrills of the next-generation 450. Thanks to a shorter stroke, the engine behaves like a 250cc unit, with surprising explosiveness at high revs. The engine brake is pretty similar, too, except for the cool backfire sounds during downshifts.

You will never lack power, and the wide-ratio, 6-speed transmission will get you to a top speed of 135 km/h. It’s not as sharp as a Japanese transmission, however, so you need to focus when shifting if you want to avoid false neutrals.

More easygoing than a 250, less stable than a 450
The rider’s seat is firm but perfectly sculpted; once your butt gets used to it, the comfort level is decent. The 2016 KTM 350 XCF-W offers an intuitive riding position and squeezes nicely between your legs, while the tapered handlebars allow excellent control and shock absorption. Compared to the 250 XCF-W, this model is significantly easier to manoeuvre over big stones, some of which can be loose and others partly buried. It has a greater obstacle-clearing capacity thanks to more precise front end control. Having all the torque at your disposal at medium revs helps a lot, as does the fantastic WP suspension with PDS rear shock.

Nimble like its smaller sibling, the KTM 350 XCF-W is not as stable as a 450 when hitting jumps or tackling washboards, however. There is a bit of wobble at times that can overwhelm the rider, but luckily, it doesn’t last too long. Plus, a solid ride and precise cornering are always part of the game. When it’s time to accelerate, the machine perfectly puts power to the ground -- in a straight line, that is. You see, the Dunlop Geomax AT 81 rear tire lacks some lateral grip, so shooting your way out of a corner can sometimes prove a tad scary.

KTM 350 XCF-W 2016
Similar to the 350 SX-F dirt bike, this enduro bike combines a light weight and impressive handling with a high-revving powerplant. (Photo: France Ouellet)

Bottom line
The combination of a 350cc engine with the XCF-W package for 2016 will please smaller riders who want to play with the big boys, as well as anyone looking for a high-revving enduro bike with the agility of a small-displacement model. The extra power makes it a bit more physical in tight trails, but the balance of power/weight/handling is just about perfect.

  • Handles almost like a 250 XCF-W
  • Perfect power and torque
  • Front end performance is notably improved
  • Ultra-compliant WP suspension
  • A bit of wobble when hitting bumps and jumps
  • Transmission could be sharper
  • Exposed fuel tank lines could be damaged in a fall