2020 KTM 450 SX-F
With major changes to the 2018 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition that transferred over to the standard 2019 KTM 450 SX-F, it is unsurprising that the latest version of KTM's premier motocross model is light on changes. For a full list of specs and changes for the 2020 model, check out the First Look. The abbreviated version is as follows: new piston with different coating for better durability, new suspension settings, new fork piston, new shock adjuster for more precision, a 49-tooth rear sprocket (up from 48-tooth) and mapping changes.
To drill down a little deeper on the changes to the suspension, KTM explained that the new fork piston is what they call 'calibrated,' which is a fancy term to explain that it doesn't need to be machined after it is made. There is a small ridge in the piston that allows for better breakaway and less suction, thus making the fork have a smoother action. Out back the shock adjuster has switched from fine thread to course thread for better durability.
What has stayed the same from '19 to '20 is all the major changes to the chassis, engine, and body work. This 19/20 frame is torsionally (twisting motion) stiffer than the previous frame, which is designed to give the bike a more precise cornering feel. The motor is more compact and lighter in weight that previous models, and the body work is updated to match the new frame.
On The Track
As far as the power goes, KTM did make some substantial mapping changes to the 2020 450 (If you read the 2020 Husqvarna FC 450 First Impression, this is going to feel like deja vu). Map one is now just the standard map and map two is the aggressive map. They've simplified the choices and by doing so, have made two very distinct feeling engine maps. Map one is very smooth and linear without any surprises or ramps in power. Throttle response is pretty good in the mid to top end, but it seemed a little lagging on bottom in map one. Pro level tester Steve Boniface actually preferred map one to map two, similar to the Husky that we rode last week, but I surprisingly preferred map two once I got warmed up and got used to the track, which was the opposite on the FC 450.
While map one is very rider friendly and controllable I found that it lacked some excitement that I got out of map two. Boniface must twist the throttle more and ride higher in the rpm - map one worked for him the best and he could ride faster and more controlled with the more linear power delivery. Moving to map two, it is snappier and has more torque feel on bottom and seems to rev quicker with a crisper throttle response. While on the Husqvarna I felt like this made it a little harder to control, the KTM just seemed more responsive and made riding more fun. To be fair, we were on two different tracks on two different days, which is a factor.
In both maps, the overall typical power character of KTMs shone through - more of a rever than a lugger. You can still rev this machine to the moon and it keeps making scary power. I think that is why I liked map two the best because it had enough bottom end grunt and snap to be lugged, but it still revved out, where map one didn't really respond well to short shifting or being lazy.
The suspension setting changes where a little more subtle. While Husky is going more comfort oriented with their 2020 450, KTM is staying the course with their "Ready To Race" slogan. The suspension still has a solid compromise of comfort and performance but is closer to a race setting than comfort setting. At first I softened up the fork three clicks to help it settle into turns more but the bike still felt a little nose high overall for me. After adding high speed to the shock, I went back to the stock fork setting and it worked well for me without diving too much. Boniface, on the other hand added compression to the fork and high speed to shock right away. At his fast riding pace, the stock settings were on the soft side.
One thing both of us noticed on the WP XACT 48 mm air fork is that bottoming resistance is a little lacking. During most normal riding, the fork action is pretty smooth and worked well on small to medium impacts, but when over-jumping or slamming through rollers, it felt as though the last 1/4 of the fork action blew through quickly.
Handling wise, to me the 2020 KTM 450 SX-F felt on par with last years model. I'm not the biggest fan of the turning character of the bike as I feel like the added torsional stiffness was unnecessary and preferred the supple forgiveness of the previous frame. Yet the overall lightness of the bike helps in all situations, including turning. Most riders comment how they can pivot the bike easily in a rut, through an outside berm, or even in a flat, sweeping corner.
There isn't much we can't like on the 2020 KTM 450 SX-F. Fit and finish are top notch as usual, with braking and clutch duties being handled masterfully by Brembo components. With the changes to the mapping it is almost like you have two bikes available. Map one can be for when you are learning a track for the first time, or when there is low traction in slick, dry conditions. Map two is for when you are feeling spicy and want to get after it, or when the track is ripped deep and you need more pop. Either way, the KTM is hard to beat. We look forward to seeing how it stacks up against the other contenders in its class.