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Test Ride: The Factory KTMs of Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings

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Who hasn't dreamed about trying out a pair of bikes belonging to a couple of the fastest MXGP aces? OFFROADPro's Sami Salonen got that chance recently...

Right after MXGP season, the Red Bull KTM team invited us to ride a few laps on the race bikes of Antonio Cairoli and Jeffrey Herlings. These factory machines may look the same, but they represent two completely different worlds.

There’s no doubt that both bikes are capable of winning. Cairoli took his ninth FIM World title by the end of the season, and Jeffrey Herlings was second overall in MXGP standings. Also, we saw Herlings showing his speed in the final round of the AMA Motocross series and at the MXoN.

Both KTM Factory race bikes were in the exact setup that Cairoli and Herlings had used.

The track for our test ride was in Holland, close to Eindhoven's airport. It’s a typical Dutch sandpit; flat land with sand originally from the bottom of North Sea. The heavy sand creates deep ruts in only a few laps, and is a very demanding to ride.

Both KTM Factory race bikes were in the exact setup that Cairoli and Herlings had used. We weren’t allowed to make any changes; the idea was to ride bikes just in the form that the riders preferred.At first glance, they look the same. Akrapovic exhausts, Kite Factory wheels, Motomaster brake disks, Brembo Factory calipers and clutches.

The Selle Dalla Valle seats are quite different. Herlings uses a higher shape, and Cairoli has a low seat with a step. They each have different bends in Renthal bars, and Herlings has his levers hanging really low. Cairoli uses Raptor titanium footpegs, which are 5mm higher than standard. Herlings has OEM steel pegs. On both bikes, the front suspension is a WP 52mm Factory Cone Valve spring fork, and rear damper is WP Trax shock. They run a shortened shock to lower the rear of the bike slightly. Cairoli has factory linkage, while Herlings uses an OEM setup.

Herlings has different geometry in his frame. How different? That’s something the mechanics kept as a secret. Cairoli has a modified OEM frame, and both run titanium subframes.When checking the bikes and listening about these small differences in millimeters and degrees, both factory bikes look pretty much the same. But after a few proper laps on both bikes, I’m blown away. On track, these two represent two different worlds. They are so different in almost every way that it’s a bit difficult to even think of them as race bikes from the same team.I’m 5’ 7” and 154 pounds, which means that I’m more of a similar stature to Cairoli. Herlings is a taller and stronger guy, which explains his setup. Herlings has his Renthal 997 bars quite high and forward, and the sag in the rear is smaller than with Cairoli’s bike. When compared to Cairoli’s bike, Herlings sets his bike balance clearly more to a front bias.

Cairoli has a lower, soft seat. His Renthal 827 bars are in a neutral position, even slightly toward the rider. The levers and pedals are also neutral. Suspension setup is super-balanced, and the bike is extremely stable to ride.

On Jeffrey’s bike I really needed to work hard. The powerplant hit so hard right from the low RPMs, and the torque pulled monstrously. Jeffrey’s bike has instant response to throttle input, had tons of torque, and it revved quite strongly.

It’s a beast to ride.

Herlings uses two millimeters less offset on the triple clamps than Cairoli. This, combined with smaller sag in the rear, made the bike turn quickly, but was also slightly unstable.

It’s a beast to ride. Now and then I got decent flow to my riding and in those moments Jeffrey’s bike seemed easier to ride. But it needed to be hammered through bumps and corners with determination and muscle.Mechanics say that Jeffrey’s years aboard a 250 still show a bit in his setup. The bike is definitely fast, but it needed a lot from rider. If I had the skills, physique, raw talent and countless days of training behind me like Herlings has, I could probably use all that his bike can offer. But since I don’t, I’ll just have to say that Jeffrey Herlings rides an uncompromising bike that is built only for maximum speed.

On the other hand, nine-time FIM World Champion, Tony Cairoli, seems to like a simple, linear, and well-balanced setup. I hardly can compare these two machines. Even the rough track of Veldhoven feels tolerable on board Cairoli’s bike. For sure there was punch in the engine, but the power delivery is also very smooth. Throttle control is confidence-inspiring and precise. Third gear was good thru a whole lap, and the most powerful pull comes in the mid-range.

Thanks to the smooth power, the bike feels hooked-up all the time. The suspension is highly progressive, but also responsive. This, together with the mid-range motor guaranteed awesome acceleration from corners.Through the bumps and ruts, corner after corner, Cairoli’s bike is stable and predictable. It built my confidence and allowed me to add some speed to my laps and even try odd lines.While Herlings bike mostly suited an aim and shoot style of riding, Cairoli’s bike gave all the possibilities to play with rhythm, lines and body control.I’m not a man to say which one of these lightning-fast race bikes is better, but for sure Antonia Cairoli’s bike was ten times more rideable for me.

Words: Sami Salonen
Photos: Ray Archer, Juan Acevedo