Most Canadian moto fans will have their own unique memories of Blackfoot, whether it is a certain rider, a particular bike, a special moment or any other number of possibilities. Blackfoot played a large part in bringing exposure to Canadian motocross and increasing the level of competition. You can't win that many championships and not force other teams to try and emulate your success.
In this edition of Tech Tips, I will cover the basics of pre-ride maintenance that will apply to most current off-road bikes. Depending on where and what condition your bike was stored, you may need to do more or less than shown here. The most important thing you need to do is start with a clean bike.
The clutch is a key component on any motorcycle. It is one of the most important parts in your drive train for effectively getting the power to the rear wheel. If your clutch plates are worn and slipping you are creating excess heat inside the engine and not getting the full performance out of your bike. These are the basic steps to changing a set of clutch plates. It is always important to have your bikes service manual available when performing tasks like this. It contains information such as torque specs and service limit measurements for the clutch plates. While these plates were not slipping or worn out, they are the stock set and the bike is a 2008. I figured I would change them just to be safe.
Project bikes are always a big undertaking. After all the e-mails and phone calls to get things organized, there are the hours spent in the garage cleaning parts, rebuilding stuff and assembling the masterpiece. To be honest, this bike has been a large undertaking but it has also been very rewarding on many fronts.
If you read the first installment, you know how this whole ’08 KTM 250XC-F project got off the ground. What started as a simple big bore kit got all ‘Kuli’d’ up in a big hurry. While I do love a pretty bike, I love a solidly built and good performing bike even more. I decided to go for the whole package on this project and couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
I will begin with the engine since it’s what started the whole project. The modifications include a KTM Hard Parts 280 big bore kit and Bondi Engines head porting. The Hard Parts 280 kit comes complete with the cylinder, piston kit and gaskets. It is a high-quality package that was designed to work with this motor and bolts right on. Bondi Engines is a well-known Ontario-based engine builder who has done motors for some of Canada’s fastest racers. Bondi ported the head to remove any casting flaws and for increased air flow into the cylinder.
To complement the internal work in the engine, I wanted to add an exhaust system. In what can only be described as the biggest stroke of luck in my life, I was offered the new 2011 Akrapovic slip-on exhaust. To say this part was new would be an understatement as it was shipped directly to me from the factory in Slovenia. According to Akrapovic marketing man, Peter Kavcic, this was the first unit in North America. Yes, I felt special!
Some features of the new exhaust, which took two years to develop, include lower noise emissions (for those who need to use quiet mufflers on MX tracks), removable noise reduction/spark arrester insert, weight reduction of 0.53 kg over stock, reinforced titanium end cap, double-welded brackets and a titanium muffler outer sleeve for durability.
The interesting thing is that this slip-on fits all KTM 4-stroke EXC, SX-F and SM models from 250cc to 530cc. The quality of this piece is second to none. From the machined flange at the head pipe connection to the welds, brackets and overall finish, you will not find a better exhaust available to the public. The fitment was perfect and installation easy.
It is available exclusively through the KTM Power Parts catalogue.
All these modifications worked together to make a strong running 250F much better in all aspects. Gopher Dunes is a true test of horsepower for any bike with its deep sand. The new motor would pull a gear higher on most parts of the track and the clutch use needed to get out of corners was almost non-existent compared to the stock motor. Where you needed the clutch to get the motor spinning before, the increased torque from the increased displacement and head mods got the bike on top and moving. While the 280 could still rev, it was more effective and easier to ride using the bottom end pull to get you calmly down the track with out any rev limiter drama.
In order to get a good idea of what the exhaust offered the package, I swapped between the stock XC-F silencer, a stock SX-F silencer and the Akrapovic both with and without the quiet/spark arrestor tip. I did this portion of the test on a loamy track so I would have consistent conditions and feel for each system. The stock XC-F muffler offered nice smooth power and a quiet exhaust note. This, combined with the motor work, put out similar power to the stock motor with the free-breathing SX-F muffler installed. Using the SX-F muffler with the modified motor, the bike was certainly stronger and faster then before the engine changes. This combination worked well but was understandably louder.
I then went to the Akrapovic and the ‘grunt monster’ was born! It was a very noticeable increase in power and the sound registered in between the XC-F and SX-F systems. After the insert was installed, the performance dipped to the SX-F mufflers level while the sound was quieter than the XC-F muffler. To keep myself straight, I had a friend ride the bike in all four configurations to get a second opinion. His thoughts and feelings were the same as mine so I felt confident in my findings.
Big power is great but tends to be counterproductive if your bikes suspension isn’t set up to handle it. A bike that kicks and bucks all around the track isn’t going to be very much fun to ride. Since the 250XC-F is considered a cross-country machine, the suspension settings from the factory are a bit of a compromise.
The bike worked well on the motocross track and in the off-road arena but it was never exceptional. The White Power components that come on the KTM are high-quality units, but the internal settings weren’t optimal. My biggest complaint was always the fork. When I got it to pick up the small bumps well, it bottomed like crazy. Inversely, when I got the bottoming under control, the front end was harsh in the little stuff. I figured that I either needed stiffer fork springs or higher oil levels. Enter Joe Skidd from Superior Suspension Setting (SSS).
Most know Joe from his work at Blackfoot Racing as the suspension/chassis mastermind. A few years ago he started SSS and is sharing his expertise with the general public. After explaining my situation and complaints with my suspension, Joe was confident he could help.
The following procedures were performed: All friction surfaces are improved for less friction. Bleed circuits are modified for better flow character. Compression and rebound valving changed for better damping response, improved small bump ride, improved resistance to bottoming and improved traction. Oil volume in fork is raised to improve dynamic geometry and aid bottoming resistance. Reservoir/bladder kit is installed to replace the less than reliable free piston on the shock. Bigger gas volume reduces fade. Pro Package KTM jobs are $1,079.00. Any additional parts that need to be replaced, including seals, bushings and springs, are extra. In most cases, the stock springs are adequate.
The first thing I noticed was the new SSS shock reservoir. It is a custom-machined piece that is longer than stock and contains the bladder kit mentioned above. Joe includes an installation instruction sheet with each revalve and it is a good idea to follow it. After installing the suspension, I set the sag on the shock and was out for a ride. On the first lap I could already tell it was worlds better than before. The little bumps that used to rip the handlebars out of my hands simply disappeared beneath my wheels. On bigger jumps or flat landing, the harsh bottoming was gone. The suspension was using full travel but the ‘clunk’ was never felt. The bike had a very settled feel to it and it set up for corners better than ever before. The Moncton track has deep ruts in many corners and the bike steered in and through them with little input and never had that ‘stand-up’ feel in mid corner. It was like riding a different bike and I was able to attack the track with confidence. I have gone on a few trail rides with the new settings and have done nothing more than soften up the compression a little for the slower speeds in the trees. It’s the same great action in either discipline.
All of the other products I used during the project worked well. The brake rotors and pads from Magnum Distributing offered great feel and are just as strong as the stock KTM brakes. The Magnum sprockets took a lot of abuse and never caused a problem during a few rather muddy rides. Sicass Racing’s stop/start button is great! I love how it cleans up the handlebar area and offers the ability to do both functions on the throttle side of the bar. Other odds and ends include the KTM Hard Parts tubular rad protectors, which mount perfectly and offer a ton of protection. The Tubliss system has worked perfectly since I first put them in. They do tend to draw attention when people ask me why I have a valve cap on my rim lock.
Most of the project has been about the performance of the bike. Now I want to talk about the look. The orange-powder-coated frame and plastic really looked sharp, but what totally set the bike off for me was the graphics kit by Fuze MX in Edmonton, AB (www.fuzemx.com). Curtis went above and beyond to make this graphics kit happen. I phoned him and gave him an idea of what I wanted and he ran with it. Every weekend I would get dozens of people asking me if the bike was a 2011 model or some sort of limited edition KTM. The layout was a little different but that’s what we were going for and it worked.
The quality of material used in the graphics was incredible and after 15 rides they still look great. A little scratched in some spots but they are still stuck where I put them! And speaking of installation, the material stretches really nicely around curves and corners. Without a doubt the easiest graphics kit I have ever put on.
All the time and effort put into the bike build-up was worth it in the end. What started out as a simple idea got real big in a hurry. The bike is a blast to ride and performs better now than it ever has. It has surpassed all my hopes and I still get a big smile on my face every time I see it in the garage or when someone asks me about it at the track. I certainly need to thank Siert and Greg from Orange Motorsports for spawning the idea in the first place, Chris Bondi for the headwork and jetting advice, Peter Kavcic and Nick Iannitti from Akrapovic, Joe Skidd from Superior Suspension Settings for his magic, Curt Czerniak from Custom Concepts for the powder coat and Curtis Lea from Fuze MX for the graphics and Rick Kotecki from Magnum Distributing. And super-big thanks to everyone who asked about the bike at the track!
In past versions of the tech tips column I have concentrated on maintenance and repair tips for select areas of the motorcycle. This issue, if I may, I would like to diverge a little from the usual format. Sometimes a little change is a good thing, isn’t it? Call it a project if you like. This instalment will be part one, call it “The Beginning.”
The whole idea for this “project” started with a simple phone call. The phone rang; I picked it up and said “hello.” The voice on the other end of the line simply said, “Send me your motor.” I thought it was a prank phone call at first but soon realized it was Siert from Orange Motorsports. It seems that Siert had put a KTM Hard Parts 280 big bore kit on his KTM 250-SXF. He figured it was so good that I needed one too. After about three milliseconds of thought I was running for the garage to get my motor out. Within an hour and a half the bike was stripped to the frame and the motor was ready to go out the door.
My bike is an ’08 KTM 250 XC-F with about 45 hours on it. After a few seasons of use and abuse, the old girl was looking a little beat up, although mechanically the bike is still rock solid. I change the oil every ride, the oil filter every other oil change and am very careful with my air filter maintenance. The valve clearance is checked every five hours and they have never needed to be shimmed a single time. While the heart and lungs were still in good shape, the exterior wasn’t as shinny as I would have liked. The paint on the frame was dull, the plastic was scratched, there was a tear in the seat cover and the chain and sprockets were wasted.
I figured since the motor was gone for its check-up and displacement augmentation I would make a list of wear items that needed to be changed. The “must do” list wasn’t really that long, but the “want to do” list was much longer. Now, you need to realize, just as this whole project was getting off the ground, KTM had the nerve to release the details and pictures of the 2011 KTM 350 SX. That’s where I lost all self-control and took the program from a “freshen up” to a ground up rebuild. The new 350 has an orange frame, black skid plate and a cool new look. Why not try and make an ’08 look like a modern 2011? It was all over but the spending at this point!
Orange Motorsports technician Greg Smith was in charge of the motor work – the same Greg Smith who was Michael Willard’s mechanic in 2005 when they won the CMRC East Coast National Championship by the way. Greg performed a leak down test and did a thorough inspection of the whole motor. While everything looked good in his opinion, he suggested changing a few parts “just because.” With 45 hours on the motor there was no use risking a catastrophe down the road for a few inexpensive things. A new cam chain, valve springs, valve keeper and valve seals where the only parts replaced in the top end. He also replaced the shift shaft that was bent as a result of a rather goofy crash on my part. Greg set the head down long enough for Siert to grab it and deliver it to Bondi Engines for a little porting work. Can you feel the pain I deal with in a day? After the head work, everything was buttoned up with the new 280 cylinder and piston and then returned to me for install.
While the motor was gone I had some time to map out the rest of the project. The main hurdle was to find a powder coater to do my frame in the KTM orange. After an Internet search I found a company in Detroit called Custom Concepts. I spoke with owner Curt Czerniak at length about what I wanted and the colour I was looking for. Curt knew exactly what I needed and is an ex-motocrosser himself. He explained in detail the preparation and coating procedure. Everything needed to be removed from the frame before handing it over to him. That means bearing races, rubber grommets, bolts and anything else that is attached. The frame goes in an oven and is baked to burn off all the dirt, grease and other contamination. Another benefit of the baking is that the existing paint is charred and cracks apart. After the piece comes out of the oven, it goes to the sandblasting booth to have all the remaining paint removed. Only when the frame is down to its virgin metal does it get coated. As you can see in the photos, the frame turned out incredible. Since I was in the “coating mood” I had my Flatland Racing aluminum skid plate powder coated black.
The next thing in line was to figure out what parts needed replacing, either because they were worn out or had suffered impact trauma of varying degree. After two seasons the stock o-ring chain and sprockets were in bad shape as well as the brake rotors that had met a few rocks along the trail. Rick Kotecki from Magnum Distributing told me about their line of sprockets, brake rotors and brake pads. The sprockets are aluminum and available in an assortment of colours for all makes and models. The brake parts are made in Europe and the brake pad are available in either semi-metallic for regular conditions and full metallic for extreme mud.
The stock handlebars were still straight after two years on the bike and that is some sort of new record for me. I have never tried Pro-Taper bars so I figured it was as good a time as any to give their new EVO bar a try along with a set of their grips. All the other controls were in good shape and simply needed a good cleaning.
Speaking of cleaning, this has to be the most tedious part of any bike rebuild. There are a lot of little things that need to be cleaned. Triple clamps, shifter, brake pedal and kick-starter all had to be polished. The swing arm needed to have the bearings cleaned and inspected. While I was working with the swing arm I polished it a little with an angle grinder spinning a Scotch-Brite pad. You can spend hours cleaning just bolts if you want to do it right. You need to be patient and take your time because the effort put in at this point of the project will really pay off in the end.
Since my wheels had seen their share of hard knocks they got a good truing and a new set of All Balls wheel bearings. The All Balls bearing comes with new wheel seals as well so it’s a nice way to freshen up your wheels. KTM Hard Parts offers a special set of hardened wheel spacers that replaced some banged up stockers. I have been running the TUbliss system in my wheels for a while now and honestly can’t say enough good things about them. You can see a full test on them elsewhere in this issue. Since it was time for a new set of tires I went with the Scorpion MX Extra from Pirelli. I had very good luck with the Pirelli XC Mid-Soft I tested last year so I wanted to try a little different compound this time.
Since my bike has electric start, I have a start button on the throttle side of the bars with a kill switch on the left. While the buttons are compact it is sometimes a pain to have wires running up both sides of the bars. Enter Sicass Racing. They make a switch centre that has both the start and the kill button on one small pod. It is mounted on the throttle side of the bars and plugs right into the stock wiring harness.
As you can see, there is a lot of work involved in doing a complete bike build up. You need to do a little soul searching before starting a project like this. Is your bike in good enough shape to invest all the time and money into it? If you have a bike with a motor that needs a complete rebuild it might not make sense to go to this much work. You would be better off selling it and getting a new one. Since my bike was in excellent mechanical shape I figured I could build it up the way wanted for less than what it would have cost to buy a new bike. Come back next time to see the completed project and a review on some of the products.