Perhaps there’s no tougher job for a motorcycle than serving an entire season as the primary sweep bike for GNCC Racing. Sure, there are bikes that are ridden harder, definitely ridden faster, and some put through even more physical abuse but I would venture to say that there are not many machines that aren’t ridden every single week that could amass more seat time in a single season.
As of October 30th, 2020 I’ve put over 130 hours on my 2020 KTM 300 XC-W since the beginning of the year. Other than tires, chain, sprockets, and of course oil and air filter changes, this bike needed virtually no work and hopefully it stays that way as after the final GNCC event of the season, it’s going to a new home… My parents home; because my dad is buying it. So, I better not screw it up.
After riding some sweep laps on and off for a number of seasons at the GNCC events, I stepped up to being the primary sweep rider at the GNCC events in late 2017. No, I don’t ride every single lap of every single race like some people seem to think, but I do put an average of 10 or so hours on a bike in a single GNCC weekend. This really gives me the opportunity to “become one” with a bike and just about the time I start to get attached to it, the season ends and the bike goes to a new home.
Since 2017 we’ve gotten KTM 300XC-Ws as our sweep bikes and these have become my favorite two-stroke machines. This is also interesting as I’ve made the transition from the carbureted 2017 and 2018 300XC-Ws and onto the TPI models in 2019 and 2020. KTM actually sells the crap out of these bikes each year as there are so many average guys who love these bikes. You really don’t see a ton of them at the GNCC events, but on the enduro side, at the local level, and among casual trail riders these bikes sell like hotcakes.
Now that we’ve established an introduction, let’s start breaking these things down in my own fashion… By being really random and all over the place!
XC-W vs XC vs SX vs EXC vs MXC
KTM offers a wide range of bikes, and have done so for many years. From the SX model motocrossers to the competition-oriented XC and to the trail-oriented XC-W, there’s a lot to choose from. The XC-Ws are wide gear ratio bikes, which seem to excel in tighter, technical and slower terrain compared to the XC models featuring the close gear ratio which are more oriented to off-road competition. If you’re not familiar with the KTM brand it could be a little confusing but here’s the most simple breakdown:
SX: 2-stroke motocross bikes
SX-F: 4-stroke motocross bikes
XC: 2-stroke off-road bikes with close ratio transmission
XC-F: 4-stroke off-road bikes with close ratio transmission
XC-W: 2-stroke off-road bikes with wide ratio transmission
XCF-W: 4-stroke off-road bikes with wide ratio transmission
Furthermore, it can get a little confusing with the US models versus the models everyone else in the world gets, as well as older models.
2006-Current EXC: In USA these are 4-stroke dual sport bikes with wide ratio transmission. In other parts of the world, the XC-Ws are called EXC, so in Europe a 2021 KTM 300EXC is actually an XC-W whereas a 2021 KTM 300EXC does not exist in the USA.
2005 and Prior EXC: 2-stroke and 4-stroke off-road bikes with wide ratio transmission
2005 and Prior MXC: 2-stroke and 4-stroke off-road bikes with close ratio transmission
When KTM switched from the MXC and EXC models to XC and XC-W models in 2006, the availability of the XC was based off MXC sales and XC-Ws were based off the EXCs. Well, this was a turning point in east coast off-road riding as racers suddenly had the desire to change from the wide ratio transmission to the close ratio transmission. So, the early XCs became a little harder to get than the XC-Ws but that didn’t last long and since then demand among racers has been higher on the XC versus the XC-W.
Other than the gearbox, the biggest difference in the XC-W vs the XC is the suspension. The XC-W models still feature WP’s PDS suspension and a spring fork, which has been the Xplor model fork for several years now. If you’re not familiar with the PDS suspension, this is basically the shock that goes directly to the swingarm, IE: there’s no linkage. I grew up riding PDS model KTMs for many years and actually really like the PDS shock, so that’s an added bonus for me.
I also still like spring forks. There are obvious benefits to the air forks that come on many new models but for me there are just too many variables in a long weekend of sweep riding that can go wrong. For the average guy, whether it be a racer or just a trail rider, the PDS Xplor shock and Xplor forks are absolutely more than capable. Some folks competing at higher levels would benefit from the linkage and air fork on the XC models, but I believe that even top tier A level riders could make the PDS and spring fork work just fine.
The XC-Ws do come with a headlight and taillight. There are still some enduro series in the country that require lights and tags for certain events, so to come stock with a lighting setup is a nice little addition. Now, as with the stock lighting setup on, well, pretty much any off-road specific motorcycle the headlight isn’t something you just turn on and head off into the night. However, it is better than the lights have been in the past. So if you happen to get caught out in the trails late or even come into some thick, dark woods with huge shadows late in the day, the stock headlight will help you get back.
2020 XC-W Updates and Features
It seems as if these machines get a few tweaks every few years and KTM keeps them updated to the same body styles and technology as their other machines with a few key differences. 2020 saw some of the biggest changes as the 300XC-W was updated to the newer chassis which allowed for a few small tweaks to the bike that helped to make big changes. For one, the motor is rotated one degree downward. You may say “ok, what does that one degree do for me?” and the answer is simple: it puts a little more weight towards the front wheel and helps it to stay a little more planted and end up with better traction.
This minor detail is something I actually have noticed on the 2020. The 2019 and previous bikes all turned really well but on occasion I felt like it could have turned better or just simply faster. I chocked this up as rider error and a lack of suspension set up, but once I got on the 2020 version, I realized that the one degree downward rotation of the motor actually made a significant difference. I feel like the 2020 version turns much better than the previous models and feels a lot more planted in corners.
An additional aid to this could come from the radiators. KTM also lowered the radiators 12mm, which actually ended up helping with the center of gravity, and is another contributing factor to a better cornering machine. Then of course there’s the TPI. This was first featured on the XC-W machines in 2018, alongside a carbureted version. I had the carb bike in 2018, so 2019 would be my first experience with the TPI. Waiting until 2019 for the TPI was nice as it allowed them to work some of the bugs out. I didn’t have any real issues with the 2019, but when I got on the 2020 I realized pretty quickly that KTM has continued to refine the TPI system and just make it better and better.
The throttle response on the TPI bikes is incredible and nearly lightning quick. Don’t expect it to hit overly hard as the 300s are most famous for delivering smooth power, but when you want the throttle to respond, it’s right there with the TPI. If you’re unfamiliar with the TPI, in super easy and non-mechanical terms, you simply put your premix in one tank, put straight gas into the gas tank and then the TPI system handles all the mixing for you. No need to mix gas, which is nice for me on a long GNCC weekend. I top off the oil tank in the morning and just pump gas straight out of our service truck into the bike.
The big question I seem to get from folks is how long will a tank of oil last? KTM says a full tank of oil will last through five full tanks of gas, but I believe it will go a little longer than that. The TPIs seem to run pretty lean, therefore they hardly use any oil. There is a “minimum” light that comes on if you start to get too low on oil but I’ve never seen it come on while riding. If you were to run out of fuel, and oil at the same time by some odd occurrence, and believe that you could just put a tank of premix gas straight into the tank, that’s a bad idea. The crankshaft bearings won’t get the needed lubrication this way and you could hurt the bike, so, if you’re planning to be overly far away from anything and may somehow run through an entire tank of oil, be sure to have more oil with you.
Beginning in 2017 the XC-Ws started coming equipped with a counterbalancer, which basically takes away all of the vibration from the machine. They’ve continued putting this feature and the 2020 version has been the best so far. This has been a really nice addition to these machines as by the time a full day of riding comes to a close, you’ll actually find yourself a little less worn out. Such a small thing makes a huge difference. In 2020, the pipe was updated to a newer version using a 3D stamping making for a ridged look to the pipe. This actually makes it a little stronger, and it’s noticable.
The 2017-2019 300 XC-Ws I had all ended the season with some minor dents and dings in their pipes. There were multiples in each, just from small hits throughout the season. None of them were big enough to really effect performance, but with the updated pipe and over 130 hours of riding I only have 1 minor ding in the pipe of the 2020. Obviously this new design works pretty well!
In it’s stock form off the showroom floor, the XC-Ws are outfitted with Dunlop AT81 tires. In my opinion, the AT81 rear is the best off-road competition tire on the market at the moment so to come stock with it is really nice. The AT81 front is a good tire but I prefer Dunlop’s MX3S for the front. However, I tend to use up the 81 front first before switching to the 3S because, well, for some reason it seems to me like the stock tires tend to last a fair amount of time. It could be because the majority of my first rides on these bikes are always down south and out of any overly rocky areas, so it’s easy wear for the first part of the tire’s life.
Making An XC-W My Own
For me, I’ve been able to get on these bikes in their stock form and make very few tweaks. The only real changes I make is the addition of XCGear’s Mako 360 bar mount and their Spurz footpegs. These, coupled with the counterbalancer eliminate nearly every bit of vibration from the machine. Additionally, the Mako allows your bars 360 degrees of flex on the mount which also helps reduce arm pump and make for a more comfortable ride overall. The Mako is the one thing that has become a must-have for me on all motorcycles moving forward, and if you want to learn more about it, check out my review HERE.
I also swap out the fork guard to a set of ProTech Guards. These guards provide more wrap around coverage of the fork stanchion, which greatly reduces your chances at nicking or damaging them and causing leaky seals. You can read my full review of those HERE for more info. I’ve used these the past two seasons and they’ve been a great addition. With these I’ve basically eliminated any leaky seals. On muddy days I noticed the that stock fork guards would get a lot of thick mud packed in behind them, which eventually resulted in leaky seals. The ProTech Guards force that mud out and pretty much eliminate all those issues.
Additionally, I’ve come to really like Phoenix Handlebars and always put on a set of DP Brakes. These are just small personal preferences but both of these are great products that I really like using on all my bikes. The Phoenix Handlebars are a newer brand that are really nice. They tend to have a fair amount more sweep than stock bars, which I’ve learned I really like. The DP Brakes are always nice pads, especially when you’re working them hard all weekend long.
For the 2020 XC-W, I added a KTM Powerparts Fan Kit, which I would recommend purchasing from Appalachian Offroad. Install was fairly simple but when I installed it in December of 2019 the directions for the kit were still a 2019 version. These directions told you to install the fan relay in the only empty slot inside the airbox. Well, after looking and looking I figured out that this was updated for 2020. The fan relay actually plugs in next to other relays under the seat.
Other than that, I run these bikes pretty much stock because they work so well in their stock form that an average person really doesn’t need anything extra, outside of maybe the help of a silencer. Sure, maybe a little suspension work would be nice but I unfortunately don’t have the time to send off a set of suspension because this bike gets ridden so much, and I don’t exactly have anyone nearby. I find a good, basic setting myself and just go from there.
Riding The 300 XC-W
Finally, the part you’ve likely been waiting for; what its like riding these bikes. If you get a brand new 300 XC-W TPI, the motor is going to have more than enough power for any normal human being. The 300s work best when you’re simply lugging them and using the power down low. You can ride them on the pipe in the open stuff, but by and far the most usable power is always down low. This lets you ride it more like a 4-stroke making it really easy to ride and you’re able to be a little lazy with it at times and still have efficient power.
One thing some folks who aren’t familiar with the 300s may not realize is that they don’t rev like a 250 does. You can pretty much rev a 250 to the moon and back but the 300s tend to rev out at a certain point. This tends to push some top tier riders away from a 300 when they’re being used in faster, cross-country style competition but in slower and technical trail, or for a normal rider this isn’t a deal breaker.
The biggest thing people always talk about with the 300s is the traction. As I said earlier, these machines make their best power down low. This means you’re not doing a lot of spinning and still making good power, therefore the 300s are probably end up getting better traction than any other two-stroke on the market. When they transitioned to the TPI models, I feel like this just got even better and after my initial ride on a TPI version, my first impression was that it tracks like a four-stroke.
Running sweep on these bikes at the GNCCs I do a little of everything from riding behind the last rider at the end of the race, to trying to chase around some of the top riders for a few turns at a time. So, I get to ride it really slow and really fast. When you’re going slow and easy, everything I’ve previously mentioned about throttle response and traction really comes into play. When you need to wick it up just a little from slow speed to make it up a hill or through something technical, the bike is more than capable of making it happen. When you’re trying to go fast, even with a limit to how far a 300 will rev, they still make plenty enough power for an average, or even a little above average guy to go as fast as he wants.
The bike does seem to get a little on the hot side when you’re going slow and working the clutch a lot. This actually became an issue on the 2019 version as I boiled it over a few random times. I got ahead of the curve for 2020 and got the fan kit I mentioned in the previous section. It still tends to run a little on the hot side, but the 2020 seems to be significantly better than 2019 and with the addition of a fan, I haven’t boiled this bike over once all season.
Overall, it’s easy to see why KTM sells so many 300 XC-Ws. These bikes are nearly perfect straight off the showroom floor and with just a few minor tweaks can live a double life as a perfect trail ride bike, and a really great race bike as well. Honestly, I feel like its a shame that we don’t see more folks actually racing these XC-W models out at the GNCCs because they still work really, really well in such a variety of terrain.
Yes, they might not be quite as competition-oriented as the XC model but as I’ve said time and time again a regular, average guy and the slightly above average guy is going to feel right at home on the XC-W. Coming from a racing background, I wasn’t entirely sold on the W models at first but after riding them for several seasons now I don’t want to switch back to a different model.
Another thing people talk a lot about with these bikes is how simple it is to work on. Like I said at the beginning, I’m at more than 130 hours and outside of some routine maintenance, this bike has needed nothing! KTM does an incredible job of making these machines as bulletproof as possible and they’re easy to work on as well.
With smooth, usable power, great suspension and an awesome chassis that feels and turns really well there’s no doubt that if you’re considering picking up a 300 XC-W, any year model, but specifically a 2020 or newer, do it! You won’t regret it.
Pros and Cons
|Smooth Power||Occasionally runs hot|
|Amazing Traction||$9,999 MSRP|
Here’s the Star Thing
Motor Performance: 4.9/5
Suspension Performance: 4.9/5
Used As a Race Bike: 4.8/5
Used As a Trail Bike: 4.9/5
Ease of Maintenance: 4.9/5