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KTM 250 EXC-F vs. Husqvarna FE 250 Review

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Some people still question why we compare KTMs and Husqvarnas since they share so many parts. While that is true, every year the Orange and White brands become more and more different from one another and it is apparent when you look at these two machines. Speaking of, both the KTM 250 EXC-F and Husqvarna FE 250 did not exist in last year or any year before that. Or we should say that the FE was pretty much a whole different bike and that the EXC-F is basically the 250 XCW-F made street legal. Confused? While there is a lot of name switching, what you really need to know is that both are the smallest bikes (250cc four-strokes) in their respective brand’s street-legal model lineup.

We’ve already talked about the 250 EXC-F (click here for that story, along with the other EXC-F models for 2017) but this is the first time we’ve had a chance to check out the FE 250. This bike has the same frame, rider geometry, and basic engine package as the FC 250 that was updated in 2016. This overall chassis, seat, engine configuration is about the same on the KTM and Huskies, with the exceptions being how the shock mounts up and the subframes (KTM’s is aluminum and the Husky is carbon composite).

The suspension on the FE 250 is also different than EXC-F’s setup. Both bikes have the WP Xplor 48 dual spring, split function fork yet the FE has preload adjusters on the top of each fork while you have to buy those as an accessory for the KTM. Out back is the biggest difference between these machines. The Husky has linkage, therefore has a different shock than the KTM that has no linkage and a specific Xplor PDS shock (mounted directly to the top of the swingarm). Other differences include different triple clamps (CNC machined on White, forged on Orange), different plastics, mirrors, and lights, different gas tanks, and just from looking at the shape of them, different mufflers.

The first thing we did to both bikes was ditch the stock tires. Continental TKC80s are highly sought after for big adventure bikes, but they don’t do a dirt bike any justice. They roll smoothly on the pavement and are quiet; that’s about all the good things we can say about them. On the KTM we threw on Metzeler’s new MC360 Mid Hard tires and on the Husqvarna we went with Dunlop D606s; both are DOT and we know you are thinking, “The MC360 is more of a real knobby that D606s.” But, to be fair, before we really rode these bikes back to back, the KTM had a lot more miles on it, like over 20 hours of ride time, probably 15 or so on the Metzelers. Being worn down a bit sort of makes them on par with the D606’s bigger, highway-er knobs.

While the motors of each bike look the most similar on paper, the power characteristic was noticeably different on the trail. Starting off by speaking in generalities about both bikes, we rode them for three days in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at the ADV Rally in Gunnison. Starting at 7,700 feet and only going up in elevation from there, the 250cc powerplants were want for more oxygen and had us really stretching the throttle cables to get up any sort of consistent grade. And, unlike bigger/competition models, there wasn’t much torque or snap on tap. When we needed a quick acceleration, we needed to plan ahead and use the clutch to help. To get the most fun out of these motors, we had to do a little frame shift in our minds and pretend that we were riding 125s.

Both KTM and Husqvarna feel like they have the same amount of power and they make that power in the typical Husky/KTM way – smooth bottom, strong mid, and most of the power on top. That being said, when ridden back to back, it seems that the KTM comes on a little stronger, a little sooner, while the Husky’s power is delayed somewhat. Also, the FE seems to have a slightly quicker revving characteristic that makes the power pulses of the motor seem closer together but not actually making more power. Which did we prefer? One staffer (Sean Klinger, 215 lbs.) preferred the KTMs power by far because it could be “lugged” (using that word generously) more than the Husky. But our other staffer (Lindsey Lovell, 105 lbs.) liked the FE more because she could modulate the power easier and with her being much lighter than the average rider, any bike she rides has an abundance of torque to her.

The short answer to the question, “Which suspension it better?” is actually another question: “Where do you ride?” We feel like the Husqvarna is better for the West Coast and the KTM is better for the East, and here is why. We spent a lot of time on the EXC-F and was able to ride it back-to-back with quite a few of our other off-road bikes. Overall, the KTM has a comfortable, plush trail-pace setup. We went five clicks stiffer on fork compression right away and two clicks stiffer on the shock low-speed compression. Interestingly enough, hopping on the FE, we felt that the suspension was overall stiffer and a little more performance based. This could be because of the different clamps in the front and definitely the linkage in the back. We only went two clicks stiffer on the fork comp. and once the sag was set, we left the shock alone.

This brings us back to East vs. West. For wider, whooped out, faster trails (West) the Husky’s linkage helps it stay more balanced and neutral over that sort of terrain. But for slower, techy, tight trails, we would say the KTMs suspension is better. There is a hair more comfort up front, you don’t have to worry about hanging up on your linkage, and the PDS shock allows for a little more weight transfer to pivot turn/pop over stuff.

Neither bike feels heavy taking it off the stand and, once rolling, they feel noticeably very light. These machines feel light even compared to normal, non-street legal machines and it is kind of amazing that they can have all the extras necessary to make them 50-state legal and still handle this well. The transmissions have wide gear spacing that makes them able to have a max speed of just under 90 (comfortable highway speed is about 65) with sixth gear being like an overdrive gear. The other five gears were spaced typically for wide-ratio bikes, first maybe a little taller than some

A lot of people were concerned about the new reed-cage-in-the-airboot thing that these bikes have to help keep engine noise coming back out through the intake. We don’t know how these bikes would run without it, but since they can’t be removed without serious damage/rebuilding, we are not bummed that they are there. Also, if you are a rider that would plan on removing the reed cage – don’t buy these bikes! There are plenty other bikes that don’t have these restrictions on them. No, they don’t have plates but that’s the compromise. Remember that word? Compromise? As responsible riders, we have to do it sometimes. And as for the stock tires, just think of it this way; instead of buying a set of new tires when your stock tires wear out, you are just doing it sooner AND you have a fresh set of adventure tires you could sell, or keep for when your buddy with a KLR650 wants ride 300 miles to a quick weekend camping adventure.

The KTM 250 EXC-F and the Husqvarna FE 250 left us with mixed feelings but most of them were good feelings. The only sad part is that for the diehard XCF-W fans, you’ll have to buy this more expensive machine and take stuff off to make it a competition bike with a PDS shock. On the plus side, for those linkage fans who have been waiting for the Orange street legal bikes to come with it, you now have some White bikes to choose from.

KTM 250 EXC-F (Measured) MSRP: $9,399 Seat Height: 37.1 in. Ground Clearance: 13.6 Fuel Capacity: 2.25

Weight (Tank Full): 252 lbs.

Husqvarna FE 250 (Claimed)
MSRP: $9,499
Seat Height: 38.2 in.
Ground Clearance: NA
Fuel Capacity: 2.25
Weight (Tank Empty): 238.7 lbs.