2017 KTM 300 XC-W and XPlor Suspension - Comprehensive Review

Kreft Moto's take on the redesigned 2017 KTM XC-W line, with particular attention given to the new XPlor suspension.

Bike Overview

KTM’s 2017 XC-W line received major design changes for the first time in years.  Among the changes are a new motor, new frame, and most interesting for us, new XPlor suspension.

If you’re familiar with past XC-Ws, you won’t have trouble adapting to the new one.  It retains most of the characteristics of the trail-oriented, wide-ratio transmission KTMs we are accustomed to.

The most significant improvement by far is the engine counter-balancer.  The motor is as powerful and responsive as ever, but has much less vibration than previous years.  I hopped on an older 300 for a quick side-by-side comparison and the difference is pretty amazing.

In terms of ergonomics, I felt completely at home with the new frame and cockpit layout.  It’s comfortable and narrow between the knees, and the bike has a nice lightweight feel. 

Suspension Overview

From a tuner’s perspective, the XPlor suspension looks like a cost-cutting measure for KTM.  The new shock body was downsized from 50mm to 46mm, which reduces fluid volume and could contribute to heat buildup and fade.

The fork is very similar to the previous generation open cartridge fork – the major difference being the split compression and rebound adjustment.  XPlor has a single rebound adjuster on top of the right fork and a single compression adjuster on top of the left fork, just like WP used on the more-or-less universally hated 4CS fork. 

 

XPlor CAPS.png

Dyno testing at our facility shows what the compression adjuster on the XPlor fork actually does.  The first chart shows the XPlor fork with the compression adjuster fully open, at the halfway point, and fully closed.  In comparison, here’s the adjustment range of the old open cartridge fork at the same three adjustment settings.  As you can see, the XPlor compression adjuster has very little impact on compression stiffness.

Most important of all, the XPlor adjuster has NO effect whatsoever in the low-speed range, shown here from 0-500 mm/second.  Your suspension is constantly working in the low speed range, and being able to make adjustments here is critical.  Making the adjuster more accessible doesn’t help if the adjuster doesn’t work properly.

Subjective Evaluation - Test Riding

This chart summarizes our impressions of the 2017 XPlor suspension compared to the 2016 XC-W suspension it replaces.  As you can see, we gave the 2016 model, represented in blue, higher marks overall.

 
 

Balance

XC-Ws are typically setup a little softer in the front than the back, and that setup makes sense for some applications, but 2017 takes that imbalance to a whole new level.  The new XPlor fork is softer than the model it replaced, and the shock is stiffer that the model it replaced.  I found myself constantly hanging out over the back of the bike trying to stabilize the chassis and reduce the effects of excessive fork dive.

Slow-speed impacts

The upside to the super-soft XPlor fork is that it offers good comfort in slow-speed rock gardens.  If you are new to the sport or spend most of your time riding very slow speed first-gear terrain, you are much more likely to appreciate the stock fork performance.

The cushy fork is somewhat offset by a shock that will occasionally deliver a sharp kick to the backside on square-edged obstacles.  Again, this is reminiscent of previous generation PDS shocks.  You’ll want to be sure to maintain a standing position when riding through sharp obstacles at any speed.

Mid/high speed impacts

Unfortunately, the Xplor fork’s slow-speed compliance completely disappears as the speeds increase.  Watch out for unseen rocks when clipping along in third gear, because the fork can feel completely solid on this type of obstacle.  After a couple close calls, I learned to back off and watch closely to avoid hitting anything sharp at speeds over about 12 mph.

Cornering

I give the 2017 300 XC-W low marks in cornering for three reasons:

  1. The suspension setup is unbalanced to begin with (see Balance above).
  2. The XPlor fork has the worst brake dive I have experienced in any modern performance-oriented dirt bike.  Fork dive cannot be reduced by adjusting the clicker due to the problems with WP’s split adjuster system explained earlier.
  3. The Xplor PDS shock still has the same top-out tendency we saw in previous PDS shocks.

Together, these factors cause a rapid and excessive weight transfer onto the front wheel when setting up for a corner, which can make the front end to knife or tuck instead of tracking cleanly.

Whoops

In the whoops, the chassis balance issue continues to haunt us.  The fork completely collapses on the face of every whoop, exaggerating the tendency of the shock to boot the back end of the bike up into the air.

Adjustability

Fortunately, the XPlor shock retains the same adjustment features as the previous PDS shock, with high-speed compression, low-speed compression, and rebound adjusters all working as they should.  The XPlor fork, with its split adjuster design, is another matter.  As we demonstrated in the video and explained with the dyno charts, the fork has very little compression adjustment range, and zero ability to adjust low-speed compression – where we need it the most.

Summary

In conclusion, the 2017 KTM 300 XC-W hit a home run with the new motor, but took some irritating shortcuts with the XPlor suspension.  It’s possible KTM is targeting the bike for beginners, but this is still an expensive, high-end dirt bike and I think a lot of serious riders will continue to buy XC-Ws for the wide-ratio transmission, link-less rear suspension, and headlight.

Kreft Moto is about half-way through our development program for XPlor.  We’ll be finalizing our design updates and fine tuning settings over the next few weeks.  We’ll post updates as soon as they become available. Thanks for reading!

Posted on October 28, 2016 .