bike Freeride 350
Social Ian Hancock
eep an open mind about this bike – it might just surprise you,” appealed KTM’s National Marketing and Communications Manager, Greg Chambers, to the assembled Australian press. We were geared up and ready to throw a leg over KTM’s new Freeride 350 at Newnes State Forest (in the NSW Blue Mountains) for the launch of the all-new bike, and everyone was eager to see just how this ultra-light concept would perform on Aussie soil. KTM set the Internet alight with the release of two videos of the Freeride variants – the Freeride 350 (which we were just about to ride) and Freeride Electric (which seems to be stillborn at the moment). Now we just needed
‘Enduro riding has never been easier’ is KTM’s bold claim for their all-new Freeride 350. Combining agility, easy handling and low maintenance, is this the face of off-roading for a new generation of riders? ikapture images
to work out who this $9995 blend of downhill mountain bike, enduro and trials machines was aimed at. With the near-silent bikes warming up behind us, a run through the bike’s spec list with KTM’s tech guru, Rob Twyerould, doesn’t provide any immediate answers to that speculation. The mix of components is as interesting as it is varied – a heavily restricted 350EXC-F engine that puts out only 23 horsepower (but with impressive service intervals), an ultralight composite chassis that brings the bike in at 99.5kg, soft trials tyres front and rear, 43mm WP forks, and brakes and wheels supplied from a mountain bike manufacturer is certainly a bold move from a company that is deeply
proud of its ‘Ready to Race’ ethos. But it doesn’t scream any one category of buyer. With Chamber’s words ringing in our ears, we clicked first and immediately began a steep and technical ascent towards the start of the singletrail. Like stepping out of a stiff, fire-breathing V8 Supercar that demands serious respect and climbing straight into a spritely, light and fun Lotus or MX-5, the Freeride – with its low seat height, torquey donk and soft suspension – brought an instant smile to our faces, and made us want to jump, wheelie and roost off everything in our way. Clearly, wanting to have fun will have to be at the top of any potential buyer’s list.
bike Freeride 350
At a glance, the Freeride 350 looks completely unlike any other bike on the market – it’s not an enduro bike, it’s not a bike for farmers or children, and it’s certainly not a trials bike. Instead – with its long and slender seat, sharp plastics and graphics and aggressive stance –it looks most like a 350EXC-F that has gone on a serious diet and lost 20% of its bulk. Think rugby halfback who’s lost 15kg in the transition to AFL. Being fully road-registrable and designed to have minimal impact on the environment, the Freeride is a particularly versatile, goanywhere machine.
leaves you with no doubts that you’re in cockpit of a 350cc thumper, but the under-slung header and dual exhausts mean that there’s nothing like the bark you’d get from the bike this engine originated from. With a steeper steering-head angle and shorter wheelbase in comparison to its EXC cousins, the Freeride feels more mountain bike than dirt bike in a quick lap around the carpark, and the similarities with a pedalpowered machine don’t end there. On the trail the weight, torque and agility of the bike instantly give you the balls to try things you’d always imagined doing on
than on bigger bikes, and you can easily able to catch the front-end if it begins to push. In ruts or berms, the trials tyres provide plenty of traction, but they begin to reach their limits on flatter turns. However, if you’re thinking about fitting enduro tyres, you’re starting to step outside the bike’s intended purpose. As well as agility, the Freeride’s other biggest asset is that it demands minimal rider input and exertion, meaning that – as well as being perfectly suited to someone getting into the sport – it can be ridden harder for longer by an experienced rider. Throughout the day, we
“When the trail becomes more technical the Freeride is so easy to ride that it feels like you’re cheating.” This lightweight theme strikes you immediately when you climb onto the saddle. The tank and plastics feel like a knife between your legs, the Formula front brake and hydraulic clutch master cylinders look small enough to be off a pushie, and the headlight and front plate seem miniscule. At standstill, you can bounce and manhandle the frontend around like you would an 85cc motocrosser, but the cockpit feels refined. KTM’s normal speedo sits neatly beyond the bars, the controls are tight, the cables flow neatly from the bars and the only ‘luxuries’ are fuel injection and low-fuel warning lights that sit on the frame below the triple clamps. It has no kick-starter, but breathe on the button and the bike fires effortlessly into life. A twist of the throttle gives a muffled howl that
a bigger bike, but never quite had the confidence to attack. This is most evident when the trail tightens and becomes steeper and more technical – then it becomes so easy to ride that it almost feels like you’re cheating. Let the pressure down in the tyres and the Freeride seems to find traction where you’d least expect it. Stopping midway up a steep and slippery hillclimb that would usually require you to turn around is no longer a problem – you simply click first, lean forward and feather the throttle. Log-crossings or steep rock ledges that require you to pop the front-end become effortless, as you are able to manhandle the bike and avoid wheelspin. The Freeride is still in its element on freer-flowing singletrack and tighter firetrails. You are able to brake later and attack corners faster
had a minimal number of stops and rode for longer intervals than usual. Those on Freerides were significantly less exhausted than those on a caravan of bigger bikes that accompanied the test, and we weren’t buggered climbing into the car at the end of the day. The torque, predictability and reliability of the engine play a central role in the Freeride package, and is the main reason why KTM opted for their 350cc donk over the higherrevving 250cc engine. With a heavilyrestricted airbox and exhaust, significantly different engine mapping and steel valves (rather than titanium valves in the SX-F and EXC-F), the Freeride is notably down on power in comparison to its race-oriented siblings, but bucket-loads of torque means you can tractor up hills or pull out
The Freeride’s braking system is provided by mountain bike parts manufacturer, Formula. The bike runs a solid 240mm wave front disc and radially mounted four-piston calliper, and a 210mm disc with twin-pistons at the rear. While not providing the same awesome stopping power of the Brembos on the EXCs, the Formula system is very progressive and should provide enough grunt for most riders. KTM also offers a beefier 260mm front disc in the extensive Power Parts list for more aggressive riding.
The forks are 43mm WP units that are similar to those found on the company’s current 85SX motocrosser and older EXCs, but with significant spring and damping changes to suit the new bike’s characteristics. They’re firmly held in CNC-machined black triple clamps. At the rear, a newly developed and fully adjustable PDS shock was specifically designed, and avoids the need for a linkage. It can be easily lowered for shorter riders. Travelwise, there’s 250mm up front and 260mm at the rear.
The seat unit hinges forward below the triple clamps at the push of a button, revealing the innovative air filter cartridge and transparent 5.5 litre tank. The foam air filter cartridge simply ejects out of the airbox with a strong pull, and allows you to check its condition. On a particularly dusty ride, you could carry a spare filter and change it in seconds. Although the fuel tank’s volume is small, the detuned engine is very efficient, meaning fuel range is similar to a 450cc enduro bike.
n EXC-F guise, this 349cc engine produces more than double the power of the Freeride’s donk, so the obvious question is what can be done to bring the power up to a more respectable level? With the air intake and exhaust freed up, there’s no doubt that a power increase of around 10-15 horsepower would be easily achievable. But the official line from KTM is that the bike – especially the frame – was designed as a package that specifically takes
into account the engine’s standard characteristics; if you’re seeking more power, you’re missing the point of the bike. Furthermore, KTM says that the joy of the bike is its torquey hit that allows you to pull up hills and gain traction where an enduro bike would spin up. But a slight increase in power is available through removal of the pre-filter that sits around the main air filter cartridge (this can be safely removed in normal conditions). On the
exhaust side, the diameter of the header flowing down under the engine is significantly smaller than that on the EXC, which flows into two heavily-restricted mufflers. This system brings the bike within all current European emissions laws. Being such a new bike, it will be interesting to follow the aftermarket trends and modifications that become available and see how far they go. And it’ll also be interesting so see how far is too far…
bike Freeride 350
of a corner two gears higher than you ought without a problem. In addition, KTM has set the rev-limiter at 10,000rpm – down from 13,400 in the SX-F variant – and fitted the Dampened Diaphragm Clutch from the new EXC, meaning service intervals are more aligned with that of a Suzuki DR-Z400 than a hardnosed enduro bike. A tiny 11-tooth front sprocket gives plenty of snap in the trees, but only offers a maximum comfortable cruising speed of around 90km/h.
electrics. However, it is unclear what advantages the aluminum elements offer. Designed for technical riding, the suspension is at the softer end of the spectrum, and undoubtedly plays a large role in achieving the sort of traction that the Freeride catches. Combined with the compliant frame, this is an extremely confidence-inspiring package that will allow new riders to quickly find their feet, and allow experienced riders to push their limits in tech
traditional enduro bike. Reflecting after a long day in the saddle, the types of riders who would suit having a Freeride 350 in their garage had become a very extensive list. KTM believes the bike will appeal to Honda XR400 or Suzuki DR-Z400 owners, but the Freeride could also be the perfect tool for a newbie through to a second play bike for a Pro, or a great option for an experienced rider with a tight and technical backyard. Also, with the Freeride making less noise than
“The Freeride could be the perfect tool for a newbie through to a second play bike for a Pro.” The composite chromoloy/ forged aluminium/high-strength plastic frame and featherlight 3.2kg swingarm are noticeably thinner than those found on hard-nosed enduro bikes. KTM claims that, as well as reducing overall weight, this allows the bike to flex to a limited extent for improved traction. The frame is largely similar to that of the electric variant of the Freeride – that is yet to be released – and allows you to tear the bike down quickly and provide great access for maintenance. The plastic subframe appears strong, provides great grab-handles and neatly houses the 82
terrain. Faster riders will soon find the suspension’s limits when the trail opens out, and – although the Freeride doesn’t feel fragile – you’ll want to avoid bigger hits to avoid breaking the lightweight componentry. The low and slender seat provides unrestricted mobility around the bike, and the footpegs can be moved a further 8mm back by rotating their brackets, offering greater traction for those wishing to do some trials-style riding. With four handlebar positions, most riders should be able to find a comfortable setting, though the cockpit isn’t quite as roomy as a
the tappet sound of one of the 500EXCs that accompanied us, and the trials tyres being extremely gentle on the ground, the bike flies well under the radar. We can only hope that more and more riding areas open up for similar machines. To really put the Austrian-built Freeride through its paces and see how it holds up in the real world, we bundled one of the test bikes into the tray of the Transmoto ute and will be putting it through the Torture Tested program over the next six months. Keep an eye on the Transmoto website and future issues for updates of this game-changing machine.
TM sees the Freeride as being ideally suited for a whole range of different riders. Because of the low seat height and light weight, it’s a fantastic learner bike and is perfect for someone getting into trailriding. As it’s a bike that can be ridden in really extreme conditions, the Freeride is also a lot of fun for experienced riders. Also, we’ve had a lot of interest from older riders who don’t need a hard-nosed bike, but still want to go trailriding with their mates. It was important for KTM to price the Freeride under $10K, as we want to bring people over to the brand that would otherwise be looking at bikes like the Yamaha WR250R or Suzuki DR-Z400. The Freeride is significantly more competitive in price than the EXC range for that reason, as well as the fact that it runs lighter-weight components. It was important for KTM to keep the Freeride registrable, as the whole purpose of the bike was to be a fun, go-anywhere machine that can be used close to the urban environment. The arrival of the Freeride Electric will take this concept a step further, and we see it forming another market sector again and attracting new people to motorcycling – especially those currently on pedal-power.”