While assisting Cycle World with its 2019 450 dual-sport shootout in Moab, Utah, we had the opportunity to ride the 2019 KTM 350 EXC-F and 2019 KTM 500 EXC-F back to back for a comparison test. Both of these bikes received only a few changes for 2019 with a stiffer fork setting, updated main piston and revised settings in the shock, new lithium-ion starter battery, new seat cover, new graphics, and the frame color being switched from black to orange.
Before leaving for Moab, we mounted a street tire on the rear wheels and ran both KTMs on our in-house dyno. The 350 EXC-F produced 34.74 hp at 8,840 rpm and 22.43 pound-feet of torque at 7,250 rpm, while the 500 EXC-F cranked out 41 hp at 7,800 rpm and 29.51 pound-feet of torque at 6,690 rpm. We then mounted a fresh set of Metzeler 6 Days Extreme tires for better dirt manners and to ensure consistency in traction between the two bikes through the duration of the test.
The 350 EXC-F has minimal bottom-end, decent midrange, and plentiful top-end and over-rev. The 500 EXC-F engine makes broader and more usable power with moderate bottom-end, good midrange, and impressive top-end. In technical areas of the trail, the 350 EXC-F requires more clutch work, while the 500 EXC-F engine fares better in the tighter areas due to its ability to be lugged lower in the rpm. The 350 EXC-F engine revs quicker and continues to pull higher in the rpm range than the 500. As a result, the smaller-displacement engine feels more at home in areas that are more wide open where it can be revved out. With the meat of the powerband being higher in the rpm, the 350 EXC-F is a bit more fun to ride, especially in the hands of an aggressive rider.
The Brembo hydraulic clutches work flawlessly with a smooth engagement, easy pull, and no-tools adjustment. The six-speed transmissions on both bikes are very usable and the gears are well spaced. First gear is very low and almost acts as a “granny gear.” We encountered plenty of technical trails on the red rocks of Moab, and first gear gave us the feeling we were riding a trials bike through these challenging areas. Second gear is still low enough for tighter areas while third gear works great in slightly faster, flowing sections. Fourth, fifth, and sixth gear serve their purpose on fire roads and when cruising at highway speeds.
Both EXC-Fs are equipped with a WP Xplor 48 fork and WP Xplor PDS shock. The forks excel at low speeds, offering plenty of comfort and absorbing small trail obstacles such as rocks, logs, and bumps well. Being that the forks are set up for dual-sport and comparatively softer than a motocross or off-road bike, we were impressed with their decent bottoming resistance on higher-speed trails with whoops and G-outs. The forks remained plush through the entirety of the stroke as well. The PDS shocks maintain traction remarkably well. On trails littered with obstacles, the rear wheel stays glued to the ground and doesn’t have the tendency to bounce or deflect, making it easy to hold your line in technical terrain.
Benefitting from years of motocross and off-road motorcycle development, the KTM dual-sport bikes handle exceptionally well. There is a 3-pound weight difference between them, with the 350 EXC-F weighing 255 pounds and the 500 EXC-F coming in at 258 pounds. When riding the two bikes back to back, the 350 EXC-F feels just a bit lighter than the 500 EXC-F and is slightly easier to maneuver and put where you want it, especially in slower-going areas. As the speeds increase, the two bikes feel more similar as far as weight feel. The EXC-Fs react quickly, yet predictably to rider input, making direction changes nearly effortless. As far as straight-line stability, the two Austrian machines are predictable and confidence inspiring. The Brembo brakes are phenomenal with excellent stopping power and predictable modulation. The ergonomics are comfortable and easy to get used to. The EXC-Fs are fairly thin from front to rear, but not quite as slim in the radiator shrouds and number plate area as the 2019 SX-F and XC-F models. The rider triangle is good and the seats are comfortable, making long days in the saddle that much more enjoyable.
The 2019 KTM 350 EXC-F and 500 EXC-F are excellent dual-sport bikes. Choosing which orange machine is best for you depends on rider preference and what you plan to use the bike for. The 350 EXC-F’s lighter feel and quicker-revving engine make it a bit more fun to ride. However, it requires more clutch work in tighter, slower-going areas. For the dual-sport rider who spends a fair amount of time on the street, the 500 EXC-F is an ideal choice as its larger-displacement engine is more comfortable cruising at highway speeds than the 350 EXC-F. The 500 EXC-F is a slightly better all-around option for the majority of dual-sport riders as it offers extra power with a more linear delivery and requires less clutch work than the 350 EXC-F. In terms of pure fun factor, the 350 EXC-F is hard to beat and will put smiles on many dual-sport riders’ faces. It sure did for us.