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Track Tested | 2020 SML 450 MX Shootout



Fourth Place: KTM 450 SX-F

Test Rider Scores: 5-3-5-1-5-3

Brother to the Husqvarna FC 450, the KTM 450 SX-F boasts the same new map 2 settings, an optional vented airbox cover, and revised suspension settings with a new fork piston designed to improve initial plushness and comfort. The KTM, however, maintains its “Ready to Race” theme with aggressive valve settings in the fork and shock that are aimed towards riders who desire pure racing performance.

Like the Husqvarna, the KTM mapping gives the engine a broad, powerful feel, but it lacks excitement and “snap” when you crack the throttle. The new map 2 setting has a more powerful feel but maintains the same slow-revving feel.

Suspension action is firm and well-balanced, and the bike is stable and confidence-inspiring at speed, yet quick and nimble in the corners. The KTM tips into ruts extremely well and enjoys plenty of front-end traction that inspires confidence in all situations. The bike enjoys a very planted feel that is connected to the track surface, but thanks to the engine’s slower-revving character the bike feels much heavier on the track than it really is. The WP air fork is excellent as far as air forks go, but the reintroduction of mechanical spring forks on all of the Japanese bikes push the KTM and Husky down to the bottom of the class as far as fork performance is concerned.

The vented airbox provides a distinctively different feel down low than the non-vented cover, with more throttle response and better top-end pull. Both the KTM and Husqvarna also come with an optional quick-pull throttle cam that can get things happening a lot quicker. Better throttle control is required, though, and especially so in super rough conditions or slippery sections of the track.

The KTM’s Brembo hydraulic clutch has an “on/off” sensation in comparison to the Husqvarna’s Magura unit, and its Neken handlebars have an odd bend with too much sweep at the ends. Furthermore, the bars have a more-rigid feel that transmits much more track feedback to the rider’s hands.


  • Two EFI maps and traction control: all operated with a bar-mounted switch
  • Great suspension balance and performance
  • Predictable handling that inspires confidence in all conditions
  • Class-leading Brembo brakes that have superior power and an excellent feel
  • Superior cornering abilities


  • EFI mapping produces a slow-revving powerband that translates into a heavy sensation while riding
  • Handlebars have a strange bend and do little to dampen vibration and track feedback
  • Brembo hydraulic clutch lacks feel
  • Transmission action is notchy at times

Kyle Puerner on the KTM 450 SX-F

Test Rider Props

The KTM has versatile and controllable power. It’s easy to roll back on the throttle and short shift, but it is still a rocketship when you want to go fast and be aggressive. The bike has a solid feel and great connection with the track.” – Connor Ericsson

The KTM makes big, strong, heavy power that’s delivered in a long, broad manner. It is very rider-friendly. It has a very planted feel and cornering is predictable and consistent.” – Pat Foster

The KTM corners very well and it has great bottoming resistance and control when you really overjump a landing.” – Rene Garcia

The KTM is built with high-quality components and the brand has led the way with electric start and a hydraulic clutch. The bike has a very race-bred feel.” – Donn Maeda

The SX-F has great stability at speed and the bike responds well to rider input. When the track is beat, the broad, smooth engine character and predictable handling make it an easy bike to go fast on.” – Kyle Puerner

I like the way the bike handles: the cornering is great and the high-speed stability is excellent, as well. I like the way you can be in the wrong gear, but the engine will still pull you through.” – Mike Sleeter

Test Rider Chops

I liked the KTM so much that I have no complaints at all.” – Connor Ericsson

I still feel more engine inertia and rotational mass than on Japanese bikes. The bike is improved but still has a heavy feel and could be harder hitting for my tastes.” – Pat Foster

The slow-revving engine makes the bike feel heavy, and the bike lacks some low-end response and torque. I am not a fan of air forks. At all.” – Rene Garcia

Bring back the 2017 EFI mapping and the bike will feel 15 pounds lighter and will be more exciting to ride and race. I hate the bars.” – Donn Maeda

When the track is loamy and deep, I wish for more engine response and overall power.” – Kyle Puerner

I’d love more snap and response out of the engine. The efi mapping is a little off, and the engine character makes the bike feel heavier than it really is when you are riding it on the track.” – Mike Sleeter


Donn Maeda

Donn Maeda is a 30-year veteran in moto-journalism, having worked at Cycle News and Dirt Rider before launching MXracer Magazine and TransWorld Motocross Magazine. Maeda is the Editor-In-Chief at Swapmoto Live and you can catch him on a dirt bike or in the saddle of a mountain bike on most days.

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  1. Isaiah September 9, 2019

    I’d like to see someone really short ride these bikes and leave a camparison. Someone like 5’5″

    1. Pop Tarts September 16, 2019

      or 5’4″… either one. either one is good.

  2. Shane B September 9, 2019

    I have a few different set up points I would love to know . For example , I would love to know some torque specs for my bikes handling and feel . I own the 2020 kx450f , I always play with my triple clamp bolt torques and axle lug bolts . Different nm for different tracks but an overall nm for better feel would help on a guide for testing .
    Recently when I visited America , being from Australia , I noticed the USA Kawasaki 450f standard motor and exhaust was a lot different from my Australian model . Any idea what that could be why ?

    Thanks 👊🏻
    Blinksell 27

    P.s – Ac helmet would look good in the pool room !

  3. Bill M September 10, 2019


  4. Evan Nystrom September 13, 2019

    Love the shoot outs. I’ve always read and followed the sugesstions the testers give.