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2021 KTM 350 EXC-F: MD Ride Review

You have probably heard the phrase “A dirt bike with lights.“ That phrase is typically an exaggeration when it comes to a street legal dual sport. I said typically, because it is largely true of the subject of this review.

The KTM 350 EXC-F is a dirt bike with lights. Yes, it is certified street legal, has passed emissions and sound standards, and can take you on U.S. highways. It also weighs roughly 240 pounds with all fluids, except gasoline, and has roughly 12 inches of suspension travel at each end. Between my legs, it feels narrower than the motocross bikes I used to race. Quite honestly, it made me think of a bicycle.

So this is probably the most serious dual sport available in the United States, with the possible exception of its 500cc sibling. Serious in the sense that it is focused on dirt riding at a high-level.

The 350 EXC-F is a tall bike. Unless you have an inseam north of 33 inches, you will be on tiptoes at a standstill. Unfortunately, this is necessary when you have 12 inches of suspension travel and the kind of ground clearance serious dirt bikes offer.

This bike is quiet, both while idling and at full throttle. In this sense, it is nothing like a motocross bike or a dirt-only enduro. Although the sound is carefully muffled, engine performance from the 349cc single is extremely impressive.

Throttle response is very good, even from low rpm levels, and power builds in a linear fashion to a strong top end. During trail riding, trying to keep up with an expert rider on a KTM 500, the 350 pulled well out of corners, and helped our test rider stay close enough to close-up on the brakes entering the next turn.

All-in-all, the engine in this bike is a gem. If you haven’t ridden a modern KTM dual sport, it will surprise you with its broad spread of power, and the feeling of twisting the throttle on a larger displacement motorcycle.

Those slim ergonomics include a very narrow seat, which is great for riding in the dirt. That seat is also flat enough that you can move fore and aft, shifting your weight for different traction conditions. Of course, that narrow seat was not made for long distance comfort on the road.

The 350 EXC-F is not a dual sport made for highway miles. A Kawasaki KLR 650, for example, is off-road capable but can also cover large distances on the street and keep the rider in reasonable comfort. It’s worth stating again, the 350 EXC-F is a dirt bike riders’ dual sport. It can get you from home to your off-road riding location and back, assuming that location is within 50 miles or so, without difficulty. That is its purpose.

Once in the dirt, that long travel suspension and tractable engine, together with the slim ergonomics, make this an outstanding dirt bike with virtually no compromises in that environment.

The six-speed transmission offers you a gear for any occasion … from crawling over rocks to blasting down a fire road. Shifts are crisp and positive, with or without the clutch.

The 260 mm single-disc Brembo front brake offers just the right amount of power with good feel off-road. At higher speeds on the street, you can tax the front brake a bit, but it is generally adequate. The single disc brake in back generally does its job well.

The front fork is a WP XPLOR 48 mm unit that is fully adjustable, as is the WP XPLOR shock out back. The suspension is very plush, generally dialed correctly for aggressive trail riding, but a bit soft for hard core motocross. The fuel tank holds just 2.25 gallons, but, once again, is mainly intended to get you where you need to go off-road. Nothing more.

If you love riding in the dirt, but enjoy the convenience of an electric-start, street legal dual sport to get you there, the KTM 350 EXC-F just might be your perfect companion. It feels every bit as agile as a 250, but has the grunt to hang with 450s and 500s on the trails. Although we tested a 2021 model, KTM has announced the 2022 350 EXC-F with no changes other than some suspension tweaks and new graphics. It is priced at the U.S. MSRP of $11,399. Take a look at KTM’s website for additional details and specifications.

17 Comments

  1. Tommy D says:

    I had a 2013 350 EXC-F. It is one of those bikes I let get away. Traded on a pure 2 stroke XC-W as riding these KTM’s on the road really gets old quickly as I was soon trucking the bike everywhere rather than riding to trails. Yet I raced my 350EXC-F in local enduros and did many turkey runs with almost 5000 miles on it when I sold it and I would guess that 80% of those were hard woods riding. The top end was in great shape when inspected at the time it was sold with the 10 hour oil changes. If you are thinking of getting one… DO IT! I have since settled on an 890 Rally. The desire to beat myself up in the woods is now tempered by a bike that tells me to take it easy. The wisdom of older age.

    • motorhead says:

      Tommy, nice to know these EXC-F bikes are fabulous in the woods, tiresome on the freeways. “The wisdom of older age,” is appreciated, but for us please define “older age”…

      • Jeremy says:

        I have a 350 Beta, so a direct competitor to this KTM. At age 45, it isn’t something I’d want to spend a long time on the interstate with. I probably wouldn’t want to at age 25 either. I’m not sure age young or old has much to do with it. The bikes make plenty of power for this endeavor, but you are sitting bolt upright on a bike that offers no wind protection. You may be thinking “naked bike,” but these things are so much narrower and you sit so much more upright that you just feel the wind much, much more than a naked street bike.

        Backroad stuff, though – say 50 – 60 mph – are no problem, even for long intervals IMO, with a good seat. Taller gearing and agreeable tires are recommended if you do this often, though.

        I make no compromises with my bike, however, and that is frankly how nearly everyone here rolls these kinds of bikes. My Beta’s job is to ride mountain and desert single track. The license plate is just there so I can ride it from my house to the base of the mountain or connect trails on forest service roads that for some reason require vehicles to be plated. The tires I choose to run likely wouldn’t last more than 8 to 10 hours of high speed trekking on pavement. It’s a street legal dirt bike, and that’s the way I like it. If I wanted an off-road capable street bike, I’d ride a 690 Enduro.

        • motorhead says:

          Jeremy, thank you for the insights. I’m invited to join a Backroads Discovery (BRD) off-road, fire-road, on-road adventure and I’m wrestling with which bike is right. Me: 63 year old skilled-enough, fit-enough, non-racer rider who is 6’2″, 195 lb.

          This type of adventure: https://ridebdr.com/idbdr/

          • Jeremy says:

            I’ve only ridden the southern portion of the Idaho BDR, but that certainly isn’t challenging. If you plan on riding only the BDR, any adventure bike can handle it, though I prefer a light bike for any prolonged off-pavement stuff. It’s just less tiring and more fun in my opinion getting sideways or launching off of any trail features and whoops you might come across. A 690 Enduro is the ultimate compromise (in the opinion of someone who always prioritizes off-road capability, mind you.) It’s a light-weight, powerful package that offers decent road manners with great ability in the dirt. It can also handle some pretty technical terrain, too – gnarlier than most people have an appetite for – should you guys decide to hit some of the more challenging side trails you’ll pass along the way.

            All of those warrior class dual sports like the EXC-F’s are overkill for any of the BDR routes I’m familiar with save for maybe a few sections of the Utah and Arizona BDRs. Don’t let the “dual sport” moniker imply that these are anything more than dirt bikes with blinkers. I’d use one of these for the BDR only if I planned to ride a lot of the more technical singletrack and black diamond stuff in vicinity of the BDR (which I always do. 😀)

      • Tommy D says:

        In the Jeep world there are people that show up with lifted big wheel Jeeps that never go off road. We call them Mall Crawlers. In the Dual Sport world that’s how I feel about these EXC-F’s being ridden on ADV rides. Sure it can do it but its really made for hard core off road riding and short stints between the trails on the road. I’d rather ride an 890R on those type of rides and get a workout in than be bored by being over biked. I stepped away from hard core trail riding due to my riding style being YouTube worthy of how not to ride a $10K dirt bike. The 890R forces me to have an excuse not to send it. LOL That’s my old age wisdom.

  2. motorhead says:

    With a dry weight of approx. 104 kgs, or 229 lb, this is one beautiful machine! Suzuki DRZ might want to up their game.

  3. Gary in NJ says:

    The KTM 350 is the perfect “tweener”; the lightweight flickability of a 250, with almost the power of a 450. They really are the perfect off-road bike (for me). I would imagine that this platform would work well in a dual-sport as well. I’m sure with some 17″ rims, it would it would also be superior to my DRZ400SM (a 20+ year old design).

  4. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Considering all the varieties of terrain in the American South West, over 50 plus years of off road desert/dirt riding on 200 to 865 cc bikes, I now believe the 350 to 400 cc displacement bike is the best over all size.
    When it gets really gnarly with lava fields, off camber cliff side trails, powdery sand up stream washes, sand dunes, snot slippery ‘dry’ lakes after a thunder storm, humongas whoop dee doos, and washboard sit down go fast dirt roads, a light 350 – 400 has just the right mass and power with easy to lift up after a dump character. The relative fuel economy of a 350 thumper is important for big loop rides too.
    Sometimes the road equipment is very nice at the end of the day in the dark, and or having to cross a legal paved highway.
    Nice dirt bike but an awful lot of money to get scratched and dusty.

  5. Grover says:

    Bike’s like this KTM are why DR-Z’s, KLX’s and Wr250R’s exist. A bike as narrow focused as this 350 are good for one thing and one thing only…dirt! What a lot of riders would like is a light, powerful dual sport that offers more comfort without picking up 50-60 pounds extra weight . Also, longer maintenance intervals while I’m asking is a big plus. No such bike exists, at least I can’t find one in the market. A modernized DR-Z (less weight, FI, 6-speed) weighing about 270# would sell like hot cakes, even with it’s present engine.

    • todd says:

      Everything I’ve read about this 350, the WR250R and the DRZ is that they are also great fun bikes on the street too and make excellent commuters. It seems they are more versatile than most street focused and a majority of the ADV style bikes too. Just don’t ask for high speed mile crunching in comfort.

  6. motomike says:

    Riding my CRF250X on the street brings forth the dreaded “numb nuts” condition. Knowing KTM’s famed 2×4 type seat will no doubt produce the same feeling. I live near the desert but urban sprawl requires a 45 min. ride/drive. My nads say no.

  7. TF says:

    I still put a lot of miles on my 250XCW but I find myself doing a lot more dual sporting (my bike is road legal) and less single tracking. If I ever buy another new dirt bike, it will be one of these EXC-F’s. I just have such a hard time getting my head around $11K+ for a dirt bike. That said, I just heard that the latest and greatest 2022 four seat Polaris RZR will sticker for $45K. I guess that’s the world we live in.

  8. wonder what the maintenance intervals are? its one of the reasons I didn’t get the new CRF 450..also wondering how this bike compares to the CRF? price and performance wise..

  9. Mick says:

    If I had to buy an off the rack street legal DS rig, this would be it. It’s about the only game in town. The 500 is a better street bike. But once the woods get just so tight it becomes a bit of a burden. Suddenly the 350 makes a lot more sense.

    A lot of states are loosening requirements for DS bikes. In those areas you can opt for the full on off-road version. Even then the one of KTMs other 350s is a good choice.

    I gave up on dual sport a long time ago just as a personal preference. I have never lived close enough to a good off-road venue to ride there. And the unfortunate truth about dual sport is still all about tire compromise, or buying and swapping tires constantly. I do like riding dirt bikes on the street. I use a supermoto for that. I have three bikes set up for that right now. One or two will turn into ice bikes pretty soon.

  10. todd says:

    The 350 exc-f is such a great bike that it’s almost the only bike you’ll see on group enduro rides. Yamaha really needs to do a WR350R and Suzuki would do well to modernize the DRZ400. The SWM RS300R is a great contender but nothing really competes with this 350 KTM

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