It’s been nearly seven years since KTM first gave us the Freeride (in 2011 for the 2012 model year, if you’re struggling with the math!). That first Freeride borrowed its engine from the 350EXC-F, and two years later was followed by the Freeride 250R – a two-stroke (which in turn was borrowing and modifying the 250EXC unit). Now, both of those are consigned to history as KTM have replaced the pair with just the one model, the Freeride 250F (borrowing its power plant from the latest 250EXC-F). But more than a new engine, we’re also getting a fair redesign – not huge changes on the face of things but some relatively small changes that have, in fact, made a big difference. There was no world launch for this model but when KTM invited RUST to a test at the Tyn Twll Farm in the Berwyn Moun – tains in North Wales, we were all the more delighted – this is exactly where KTM filmed the new Freeride’s promo-video and is a world-class venue for extreme-type riding.
Of course with adjectives like ‘worldclass’ being bandid about it was prudent to send our latest, and most talented tester – Tom Sagar. As a former European enduro champion and top-ten finisher at the Scottish Six Days Trial, Tom has an exact match for skills to that of the Freeride. A match made in heaven?
TOM GETS VERY EXCITED
When RUST’s JB phoned and said ‘your next job is to test the KTM Freeride’ I was very excited. I have never ridden any of the Freerides that KTM have previously made, although I’ve heard so much about them and, given my ‘dual-nationality’ (y’know enduro and trials background) I was keen to find out what this bike was all about, for myself. I was hoping to put the bike through its paces on as many different terrains as I could, and so I was doubly pleased to hear the venue for the launch was an old training ground that I’ve spent a great amount of time at, Tyn Twll Farm, the perfect place to test this machine with everything from rocky streams to high trails leading across the top of the mountains. Of course I had my preconceptions, and like many I’ve found myself from time to time asking just what the bike is made for; if you’re a competitor in either trials or enduro then like me you probably think the last Freerides’ design and styling kind of left the bike between stools, neither fish nor fowl. But I must say when I arrived at the launch venue, the small cosmetic changes have made the new bike much more appeal – ing. The first thing you notice are the new headlight and mudguard that have made the bike look more EXC. This has definite – ly improved the styling – adding a touch more aggression – and with the new colour scheme of the 2018 bike, this new Freeride is most definitely an eye catcher. Also fitted are EXC hand guards and a plastic sump guard which come standard, so for people that just want to buy and ride this means that this new Freeride is ready to ride (as against ‘race’) straight from the shop
TOM CAN REACH THE GROUND
Aboard the bike, the cockpit is very enduro-like (as against trials-like), but the obvious first dynamic impression is being able to touch the floor flat-foot (with both feet) which can be a great confidence boost for those who are new to riding off-road – or are short in the leg, like me. This gives you great confidence when tackling tricky conditions, and I would be thankful for this throughout the day as we pushed the Freeride to conquer more and more extreme terrain. With a nod to street riding, KTM has now installed an ignition key/lock allowing the rider who likes a bit of gentle trail riding to leave his Freeride fairly confident in the thought that it won’t be hijacked the moment he turns his back to pay for fuel at a garage. This change of course prompted me to make a few futile pushes of the starter button, and pulling on the clutch, before realising that there is more to starting the Freeride than just the button. The ignition key is neatly tucked away on the side of the headlight, so turn the key, starter button, GO. And with the Freeride using (and adapting) the new DOHC 250F engine from KTM’s EXC range the bike has no problem when it comes to the GO. That said, while twisting the throttle you can tell that the engine has been restricted to better suit this new role, but it can be derestricted from 20bhp to a punchier 26bhp if you so want. For this test we worked with the standard 20bhp setup.
LESS, OF EVERYTHING
We took off down the road and immediately you can feel how nimble and lightweight the Freeride is compared to a normal enduro bike, only with a lot less power. Everything felt quite normal as I entered what I would call a typical Welsh motocross track with lots of berms and tabletops. This is where you would think the Freeride would be out of its comfort zone. And I have been around this track a lot in my lifetime, so knowing what an enduro bike rides and handles like here would make it a perfect comparison test. So I’ll tell you it came as some surprise to find it was actually coping quite well. The Freeride was a lot of fun, and it responded well to nailing it around berms and hitting some sizable tabletops, which it cleared and landed quite comfortably. The 2018 Freeride has been equipped with new WP Xplor 43mm forks which are a massive improvement on those of the old bike. You see, at this test I was lucky enough to take a ride around the same track on a 2016 Freeride and on that the forks never stopped bottoming-out. The other noticeable difference is the frame geometry; a longer steering head on the 2018 bike provides increased rigidity for better tracking stability and this has given the bike its biggest transformation. w The old Freeride 350F seemed to be very unstable, twitchy, and the forks would bottom out just looking at a bump, but KTM seems to have ironed these problems out. From a personal point of view – and being a rider who pushes the front hard when racing – I still thought the front end was a little soft. When sat on the bike, the front of the bike worked more than the rear and felt like it was on its nose all the time. A small revalve or maybe some stiffer springs would change the bike completely, but that’s me being super picky, I’m sure beginner and club level riders will find the set-up more than acceptable.
THE TRICK IN THE TRAIL
After having a blast around the motocross track it was time to test the bike in something more akin to its own territory. There is a lot of technical stuff at this venue that can be a real test on an enduro bike, and it was over this that the Freeride shocked me as to how good it was, hitting some
fairly tricky trials climbs and cambers and coming away faultless. The Freeride is equipped with Formula brakes – now upgraded to a radial four-piston caliper – and Formula hydraulic clutch system which were both surprisingly good and clearly better, stronger performing than the previous setup. One gripe I had was that the rear brake pedal was tucked underneath the clutch cover and with Alpinestars Tech 10s this was quite difficult to get on, a situation which could be rectified with either a bigger end on the pedal or a more sensible choice of boot! Anyway, the trials terrain is where you find the reduced power really comes into its own, being mellow and useable with plenty of torque. The retuned 250F engine – even with its 10,000rpm rev ceiling – proved itself to be the perfect block for this bike, and tuned up to the 26bhp that KTM say it can be, it would be some bike. But if I’m honest, its good enough standard for playing and trail riding.
TICKING THE BOXES
As the day continued we took to the hills on a long trail ride across moorland, grass land and mountain tracks. This is where this bike’s name ticks the box, being able to take it places that an enduro bike may be a bit too powerful for, or too heavy to manoeuvre (es – pecially if you had to pick it up or got stuck). As we rode the trail we came across a small uphill streambed which looked good to ride. So I rode down it first, which proved a touch slippery, then turned around and attacked it uphill. And after a couple of attempts I was riding it the whole way feet-up.
One thing that did help while riding the rocky conditions were the tyres. Fitted as standard are Maxxis Trialmaxx tyres which, as the name implies, were very good while tackling the rocky trials conditions. Only, as good as they were on the rocks, when riding the grass slopes I would find no grip at all. This is where normal enduro type tyres would come into their own, but the Maxxis tyres weren’t entirely horrendous and I wouldn’t change them straight away, unless you were going to ride an enduro race. Fact is, though, I was more than pleased with the Freeride’s performance – being able to ride trials type terrain while riding on a trail ride, that (for me) is what this bike is really about.
At the end of day it was time to answer all-important questions: what is the bike made for and who is it aimed at? KTM have built the Freeride to be the ultimate all rounder and, to be honest, they have achieved that. The bike coped with everything I threw at it. Only that does make it a jack of all trades, for a trials bike would be better at the trials and same goes with the enduro bike riding better in enduro conditions. Can a compromise bike ever win? For sure, when we went for the trail ride over the mountains and saw technical bits on the side of the trail, there was none of my usual thinking ‘I wish I had my trials bike’. With the Freeride it’s a case of just get your head into trials mode and attack, within reason.
This is where the bike came into its own; and to answer the question on people’s mind, the bike is what it says it is, a FREERIDE. Would I buy one over having one trials bike and one enduro bike? Personally, no. I would prefer to use a bike that is made for the discipline it’s intended for, niche players for niche markets. But the Freeride is not aimed at me. Beginner riders would love it. I think would this would be one of the best first bikes for someone to learn on and still find enough performance potential in it to be able to ride decent events – enduro, extreme or even trials – at a sensible level. It’s also great for gaining confidence and learning to ride tricky terrain before moving onto a big size bike. It’s also great for green lane (public trail) riding, being comfortable, inoffensive to other country users and easy to ride – and it comes ready (ie legal) for the road. And, without trying to offend anyone here, it can be an awesome bike for older riders. For those past their 60th birthday who find serious competition bikes too powerful, too tall, and who don’t want to fall all the way back to cheap and cheerful small-capacity trail bikes or old twinshocks for their kicks, the Freeride must be manna from heaven.
And for Long Distance Trials (very popular still in the UK) this machine is a proverbial weapon. So the Freeride can suit the young beginner through to the aging veteran. One size can, to a surprising degree, suit all. And at the end of the day, it left me with a big smile. Overall, though it shocks me to say it, this bike is absolutely mega!