Test Ride: KTM 400 EXC

Words: Andrew Boss/Shane Bruton   Photos: Richard Seck

Intro, by Editor ‘arris

Thanks to everybody who took the time to reply to our request for feedback on part one of this article. We got about 20 emails – all of them positive and asking for more! Here’s a quick selection of responses:

Expect to see more dirt bikes on CMG.

I feel that every aspect of the two wheeled sport is worth reading about, and only helps me to identify with other riders (who really cares what they ride?).
Mark Klunder

The photos are excellent and give a real professional edge to the article. For me, CMGOnline has not offered very much interest up to now since I’ve been a biker for 12 years and never once owned a street bike.
Robert McKellar

Both the KTM test and Seymour’s tentative foray into the Ganaraska are a good first step to attract riders who would rather dodge trees than trucks!
Dave Deeley

KTM showdown; great idea. Off road stuff? More, More, More!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s a ton of fun isn’t it?
Joel Schraven

Please more dirt bike on CMG!!!!!!!
Franois Leblond

I appreciate the fact that probably 98% of the CMG readers are asphalt hounds, but it’s nice to give a sample of what’s going on out there in the woods on two wheels.
Tom golden

I like reading an article written by your average rider. As well, I have ridden with both of these guys, so I can believe their opinions of the bike(s). Keep em coming !!!
Colin McBain

The test pilots don’t work for DIRT RIDER magazine but gave a great impression of the bikes ride. I am sceptical of some test riders who after twenty minutes on a bike, have the nerve to give out long winded descriptions and opinions.
Please keep tests of new Off Road Products coming. As always, you folks offer a refreshing view.
Clinton Smout

I would like to cast my vote in favour of some dirt bike coverage. I enjoyed the KTM test as well as Seymour Trachimovsky’s story about Ganaraska. I’m not a hardcore dirt rider (more of a softcore trail rider), but I enjoy reading about trail rides or the latest hardware. I think the majority of readers enjoy a variety of stories, even if they only participate in one category of motorcycling. I also enjoyed the stories about the BMW racing series, but I don’t plan on making an appearance at a race track anytime soon.
Regards, Ken Muirhead


First View, by Andrew Boss

Electric boot is a welcome bonus.

There’s an Aussie named Shane Watts who has won the AMA Grand National Cross Country Championship (GNCC) for the last two years. When Watts campaigns the GNCC, he lives in his cube van and sleeps in it at the track. Ok, so he’s kooky. Wait, even better, in the 2000 season, he won on 125, 200, 250, 300 and 380cc two-strokes and a 400cc four-stroke. All, apparently stock, save for a pipe and hand guards. His maintenance regimen is hard to believe too: hose it down and change the air filter. He rides for KTM.

Having slept in a few cars myself as well as being lax on maintenance on occasion, I felt very confident hoisting a leg up on KTM’s 2002 400 EXC. The first thing that strikes you is how narrow in appearance and feel this bike is. The next thing is that starter button.

Any of you who have found yourself stalled halfway up a steep hill on a big single and have to try to kick start it off camber knows why small tears, unnoticed by the others, escape under my goggles. With the 400 EXC, there’s no knee ligament damage or having a testicle fall out your pant leg just by trying to kick start it, (unlike my personal bike)! A little dab on the button and the 400 barks to life. And a nice bark too. Subtle at low throttle, and authoritative on the gas.

Mr. Boss is so crap he can’t even burn off Master Rightmyer. You sad man, you (but very CMG).

While camera equipped Mr. Seck, in a state of semi-arousal, chased after Shane on the 200EXC (notice the lack of Andrew pic’s?) at Offroad Cycle’s practice/ test track, I trailed eight year old Cole Rightmyer, breaking in his shiny, brand new SX65 – Lucky kid.

Despite what the photo captions may say, I could’ve passed him in a couple of spots but his whole family was watching eh? I did find in this shakedown that I could lock the front brakes very easily and launch the front wheel at will! Ergonomically, the bike felt ‘right’ right from the start.

From there we hit the trails. In the rough stuff, the WP Suspension shines. Up front there is a 43mm upside-down fork providing 11.6″ of travel, and in the rear, a linkless single shock with 12.6″ of travel. Both provide far more adjustment than I could take advantage of, though serious racers will be very pleased.

EXC 400 takes most things in its stride.

You could take the worst possible line hitting logs, large rocks or a fallen riding companion (beware, Shane) and the bike remained uncannily stable. In fact I got into an unintentional ‘superman’ (feet off pegs, sailing behind bike like a flag) and nailed a mud wall on a weird angle. The bike just righted itself, my feet found the pegs again and my physiotherapy bills were nullified. This would not have happened on my own bike!

The 398cc motor provided very tractable power through a broad range of rpm. Being less than 400cc, it is more free revving then ‘grunt’. That’s not to say it doesn’t have bottom end, but the motor works best when it’s on the pipe. Great sound too, especially from a stock silencer. I found on a couple of occasions I needed a downshift to keep it on the power band exiting a corner where on my own 600 I could just muscle it.

Overall though, owners of this 400 will not utter ‘lack of power’. The front wheel could be lofted at will, even in softer sandy conditions, some throttle and a little tug was all that was needed to clear anything offensive. I can’t say vibration was an issue either, but that may have just been endorphins blocking for me.

Almost as much time in the air as on the ground!

When you swing a leg over the KTM, the 36.4″ seat height seems a little formidable at first as you cramp up trying to get your toes to touch the ground. Underway though, it is less noticeable. I guess the lesson is your supposed to ride ’em and not just sit on them.

On the trails it doesn’t feel top-heavy in large part due to the gas being carried very low in a tank that seems to have been injection moulded to the motor and frame. The seat flows flat as a pancake to the gas cap providing immense freedom of movement. With foam density of a two by four, you are thankful for a wonderful suspension. I however, will take the high road and not stoop to Shane’s ‘ass’ talk in his review of the 200 EXC (see Part 1 – Editor ‘arris).

The controls are top notch Magura, controlling hydraulics for the brakes AND the clutch. Not surprisingly, clutch pull was very light. No shifts were missed on the six speed, wide ratio gearbox.

Sadly we didn’t have time for any high speed runs to test the gearing’s upper limits – Maybe KTM can give us a few days next time. Additional nice touches include the folding shift lever, a plated exhaust header capped by an attractive silencer system and an X-ring chain.

Brembo calipers are standard front and. I got used to the sensitivity I felt initially, as we rode in the trails, and loved the progressive feel from the rear. These bikes don’t lack stopping power.

That all said, $9,599.00 is pricey, but the thing is race ready right out of the box, can be used as a trail bike or even plated with a little creativity. (Not that CMG condones ‘creativity’) and don’t forget that little starter button! So, if you sold tech stocks before the crash, you have no excuse not to go buy one.

Second View, by Shane Bruton

Shane loves that hole.

The 400 is extremely smooth and very easy to ride. Why do you think Andrew rode it all day? The power delivery is very linear and predictable, but is always there when you needed it most. The 400 hooked up extremely well in the corners and seemed to tractor through everything.

Like the 200, it has top-notch components with great fit and finish. Some of the other 4-stroke competition bike manufacturers could take a lesson from KTM with the use of the happy button. By choosing to ride a 4-stroke you’re already faced with a weight penalty compared to a 2-stroke. So why not add the 10 lbs worth of e-start and save all that energy kicking the miserable things over? What a sweet option!

The exhaust system is an absolute piece of art and has the nicest sound. At idle you can barely hear it running, but when you get on the pipe it has a bark that is music to the ears. The great thing about this exhaust system is that it makes big power and isn’t excessively loud. In this day and age of constant battles over land use and land closures due primarily to excessive noise, this is a very important point.

Unfortunately we forgot to bring along the CMG exhaust test equipment, so we couldn’t get a dB measurement on either of the bikes. I’m quite sure that you could hear me giggling like a little schoolgirl over the noise of the exhaust.

200 Vs 400 Comparo

Andrew Boss

KTM is to enduro bikes what Ferrari is to Formula One, almost annoying in their ability to win, especially if you’re not a fan or you pull for the underdog. Conversely, KTM doesn’t have the budgets of the four Japanese manufacturers (or Ferrari) so that kind of makes them an underdog of sorts. As you know, Ferrari’s aren’t cheap but in KTM’s case, the extra dough spent hotting up a Japanese competitor, particularly on the suspension side, would boost the cost of a WR or such, into the same price region as a stock KTM.

Get on KTM’s 200EXC and it feels quite similar to the 400EXC four stroke. They share the same wheelbase, seat height and have a similar steering head angle.

At 214lbs, the 200EXC is 33lbs lighter than the 400EXC and in tight trails it shows it’s best stuff. However, riding this thing on the pipe amps up the concentration level to a degree not really required on the 400.

If I were to race and wanted a reasonable chance at not getting run over by wild-eyed enduro riders I’d take the 200EXC. For my tired-ass self, the 400EXC, while $1300 more, suited me better as it required less attention to go fast

Shane Bruton

It was interesting to ride the 400 and the 200 back-to-back to get a real feel for the differences between the 2 bikes. For aggressive trail riding the 400 is arguably the best bike out there, but for competing in enduros and hare scrambles some riders may find it a tad heavy compared to the 200.

Personally, I preferred the 200 for a couple of reasons – First and foremost, I’m a fairly small guy (read weakling) and any extra weight is like work. Secondly, I found the power hit of the 2-stroke much more fun and required more thought and concentration to keep from piling into the trees.

To make a decision between the 200 or the 400 it really comes down to what you, as the rider, wants to do with these bikes and your personal preference. Let me say this though – All you need to do is try one and you’ll be hooked! You won’t be disappointed.

Some additional shots …

A couple of slim things
400EXC studio shot
400 Motor
400 motor cutaway







398 cc

Engine type

Four stroke single, SOHC, liquid cooled


Keihin FCR 39

Final drive

Six speed, chain drive

Tires, front

90/90 – 21

Tires, rear

140/80 – 18

Brakes, front

Single 260 mm disc with twin piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 220 mm disc with single piston caliper

Seat height

925 mm (36.4″)


1481 +-10 mm (58.3 +-0.4″)

Dry weight

112 Kg (246.4lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours


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