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2018 KTM 350 SX-F vs. 2018 Husqvarna FX 350

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As you may have noticed, we have been pitting two different machines together in these mini showdowns, and for this one, you might be thinking that we made a mistake. But no, we put the KTM 350 SX-F and Husqvarna FX 350 against each other at a motocross track on purpose. The SX-F is a moto bike, through and through, but the “cross country” or “GP” category of bikes that are becoming more and more available are supposed to be able to handle a motocross track as well as faster paced off-road riding. The FX 350 is one said machine. Therefore, it really isn’t that weird to put them together and see how they compare and contrast.

The 2018 KTM 350 SX-F is thoroughly explained in our First Ride with the highlights being that it received some internal suspension changes, some minor transmission changes for durability, and, as you can see, a nifty orange frame. The Husqvarna FX 350 only gets bold new graphics for 2018, but we aren’t going to complain. We spent a lot of time on the 2017 FX 350 and we are huge fans of that machine – click here to check out the first ride, and here to check out our project build.

Here are some of our testers unfiltered comments about the two machines after riding both at Milestone MX, a tighter, jumpier track with a few ruts, but stays pretty smooth, and gets dry and hard packed.

“Overall the Husqvarna is a more forgiving bike. The brakes have a little bit more control, mainly with the front brake. The power is a little bit softer, not as powerful. Suspension wise, it is definitely softer. On the braking bumps it tracks great with the stock settings, where the KTM I had to make some adjustments to the fork to get it to do the same. It was riding high [the fork] and then on decel bumps it would drop into the stroke and then just become too busy and it wasn’t tracking real well. I even noticed in the corners, it was diving, like tucking and I would lose traction. We went from 10.7 to 11 bar and that made a huge difference with corning. I didn’t realize it would do that much with cornering. It gave it more hold up and I was able to track through the corners. It helped on the braking bumps but I felt it was still a little bit too quick so we went one slower on the fork rebound, which settled it down even more and made the KTM better everywhere for me. With these changes, the KTM is the better handling bike out of the two, for me at my speed. The harder I pushed it, the better the KTM worked. The harder I pushed the Husky, the worse it worked because it is too soft for me. All around it’s too soft. I need a stiffer shock spring, different dampening. But when it comes to ride comfort, if I’m out doing an 80 percent moto, I could probably go faster and have a more comfortable ride on the Husky. But at 100 percent I’d where myself out on the Husky, because it’s too soft.

On acceleration bumps, I feel like the FX had a little bit more control in the rear, but on g-outs and stuff, it was too soft. It cornered well, just like the KTM cornered well. The motor on the Husky was a little soft, not a bad thing just softer than the KTM was. The KTM has good hit, but it was usable, wasn’t out of control, and it transitioned to the pretty strong mid range and has a pretty strong top end and over rev. Both bikes have good over rev and enough torque to pull the gearing. Both are pretty nimble, but you can feel the weight difference with the tank and the fuel. You feel this in the air and also when you turn one way, then the track throws you from the outside, back to the outside, when you lean it over you feel it going into the turn, it’s a little top heavy. It’s still pretty nimble for having that, just that you can tell the difference between both.

If I only had one bike to ride both moto and off-road with, I wouldn’t be bummed with the Husky. Actually I’d be totally happy with it. I’d be happier with the FX than the SX-F to ride both moto and off-road. Could I use both bikes for both and enjoy it? Yes, but I think I can make the Husky work good here at the motocross track as well as keep the comfort for off-road. I could feel the difference between the 19 inch and 18 inch rear wheels. I don’t know if weight is the right word, but it feels like the rear wheel on the Husky is more significant than on the KTM. I could tell the difference in the sidewall, the Husky is a little gummier in certain turns. Not bad, but just not as precise as the 19.” - Ryan Orr, Age 38, 5’10”, 175 lbs. Off-Road Expert/Former Moto Pro

“Comparing the current 350cc motorcycles produced by KTM and Husquvarna with the Japanese 250cc or 450cc motorcycles, can be a little tricky. Having the opportunity to ride two different 350cc machines, the KTM 350 SX-F and the Husquvarna FX 350 seemed like a fun idea. The Husquvarna FX is geared towards closed course off-road competition such as GNCC and MX-GP type events and the KTM 350 SX-F geared towards MX, they seemed comparable enough that both could appeal to the same buyer. While the bikes are very similar they are also very different.

The obvious differences, other than one being a Husquvarna and one being a KTM, I noticed the FX had Dunlop AT81 tires with an 18” rear wheel, a larger gas tank and OEM hand guards. The 350 SX-F comes with Dunlop MX3S with a 19” rear wheel. One thing you can’t see is the gearbox, the 350 FX has a 6 speed and the 350 SX-F has a 5 speed. Sitting on the bike they are almost identical, with the exception of the gripper seat on the Husky.

After riding the bikes back to back I noticed significant differences. As expected, the FX suspension was noticeably softer than the SX-F. On a motocross track there was no doubt the stock FX 350 settings were quite soft however, the jump up to the 350SX-F suspension was almost a little too rigid especially, if you were on a tight rocky trail. The fork gave me the sensation that the fork springs were too stiff (both these bikes have air forks) and felt like it rode high in the stroke. When jumping the FX, you wanted to be fairly smooth on your landings or else you will feel significant bottoming. In contrast, you could over jump on the 350 SX-F and feel confident the suspension would absorb most of the impact. There is no doubt I would prefer the FX 350 suspension over the 350 SX-F if we were on a tight rocky trail.

One thing I didn’t notice before riding was the front brake. The FX has a Magura caliper and the 350 SX-F has a Brembo. It was immediately noticeable when going from bike to bike. The FX’s Magura brake was much easier to modulate over the 350 SX-F’s Brembo. The Brembo was too sensitive initially, making it easy to lock up the front wheel.

The area that I was not expecting to offer much of a difference was the engine. However, I was quite surprised. My initial thought was how quiet these bikes were. First, I rode the FX 350 and the lack of exhaust and engine noise made me think the bike was slow but when I grabbed a handful of throttle to jump a slightly blind double I found myself unexpectedly over jumping the landing. This confirmed the suspension was soft for aggressive MX. I would describe the engine feeling of the FX closer to a 250-type power. Riding the 350 SX-F the engine had more of a noticeable hit and an unexpectedly significant amount of engine braking. It was certainly more of a MX type power-band. I would say it leans closer to a 450-engine feeling. Both bikes had fantastic seemingly endless over-rev.

My overall impression of the FX 350 was that it offers a softer smoother engine/chassis combo that is noticeably more suited for off-road type ridding. Although, in stock form, it still has some ability to be ridden on a motocross track with enjoyment. The 350 SX-F is much more rigid and more at home on a motocross track. It might not crossover to off-road competition as well as the Husqvarna crosses over to moto. With some suspension personalization, you could make either bike work well for you. Based on our mini test, if I was going to chose one over the other, I would prefer to start with the FX 350.” – Allan Brown, Age 47, 5’10”, 175 lb, Vet A

“I like both bikes to begin with. I’ve spent a lot of time on the FX 350 and have ridden older iterations of the 350 SX-F in stand-alone tests and in a few 450 MX shootouts. In the power department, the KTM has more excitement, especially in the aggressive, second map. I had a hard time telling the difference between maps on the Husky. That being said they have a very similar power delivery (mellow bottom, strong mid, tons of top end and overrev) with the KTM seeming to have more response at all rpm.

I would say the SX-F has an edge over the FX in the handling department as well, but not by much of a margin. They both have a very neutral cornering characteristic allowing the rider to decide if he/she wants to slide up and ride the front or lean back and use the throttle to turn. If you want to do the latter, you need to be pretty high in the rpm because neither machine are huge torque machines. The Husky has a little less precise handling because of the softer suspension, more weight higher up, and the 18-inch rear tire. Yet, again, not so much that I couldn’t have a blast on the track on the FX.

The suspension is the biggest and most noticeable difference. Unlike the super-fast guys, I actually went down in air pressure on the fork, to 10.4 bar which is sort of the informal recommended ‘vet/mellow rider’ setting. This was just to get the fork to ride lower in the stroke overall. I don’t go fast enough to get that ‘diving fork’ sensation in turns. I also slowed down the rebound on shock because the rear end was kicking out coming out of corners. Hopping on the FX, the first think I noticed was that I really had to grease the landings on jumps. On the SX-F, an OJ or case was absorbed with moderate complaint, but on the Husky, I bottomed hard when going too long on a few of the bigger jumps. But, I prefer a softer, more off-roady set up even on my track bikes so I felt right at home. With more I would dial in the fork and shock to be overall stiffer but not too much because the comfort-oriented suspension soaked up sharp hits beautifully and stuck to the ground so well I felt like I could make the bike turn any which way I wanted.

Overall, the FX is just a more versatile machine. I would rather have the Husky and have a track suspension setting and off-road suspension setting AND get the big tank, hand guards, kickstand, and 18-incher which didn’t bother me much on the track.” – Sean Klinger, Age 31, 5’8”, 215 lb, Vet Novice

“I’ve never so much clicked with a slow-revving four-stroke before but the FX 350 and I got along great. The most startling thing to me was the bike’s handling. I could stay standing in a sweeping berm with total confidence. Even though the suspension is very soft, I it gave excellent feel of the track and what the bike was doing. The 350 SX-F let me feel the track but didn’t give the same communication of the tires’ traction. Both bikes turned great, and maybe on a softer track the SX-F’s more precise chassis feel would have been better, but on the hard pack vet track at Milestone I just never felt that same sureness of what the tires were doing on the ground.

The FX’s suspension was extremely plush. Since I wasn’t launching any serious jumps the set up suited me great. The landings were plush but a little spongey, where it leaned to comfort too much over precision. Maybe this is where the FX’s plushness works against it in terms of control when you’re charging. The SX-F had a more serious feel; it had firmer and a more rigid ride. I dialed out the KTM’s compression clickers front and back, and a few clicks improved things, but once I was six clicks beyond the stock settings the bike got a loose feel that took away what connection the bike had to the track.

As for the engines, the FX on Map 1 felt strong and moderately aggressive down low in the rpm where I ride. On Map 2 the power smoothed too much, even for a slick track; it just took away too much of the responsiveness and fun down low. The SX-F felt strong and smooth on Map 1, and more aggressive on Map 2. It was more fun to ride on Map 2 and had plenty of boost in the bottom end without that weighty feel that a 450’s torque creates. As for other details, I heard some of the other testers comment that the SX-F’s front brake was touchy but to me it felt very easy to modulate and never once bit too hard. As for the FX, thinking back after the ride, I had no complaints about the seat, notable because last year’s FC’s seat was uncomfortably hard.

I shouldn’t have been surprised the less-serious bike better suited my less-serious speed. The FX just worked for me. I felt confident leaned over while sitting, but the most impressive thing about the bike was how connected I felt to that tire/track contact and how comfortable I felt standing later into corners or just staying up the whole way through.” - Pete Peterson, 49 years old, 5”10”, 175 lb, Vet novice