Long Term Review: 2016 KTM 250 XCW

By Rowan Page | Published on 2020-06-29

Long Term Review: 2016 KTM 250 XCW

A few years back, I came to the oh-so-boring conclusion that the KTM’s two-stroke line-up of enduro bikes were the best in the business. After owning two 2015 200 XCW’s, I made the decision to size up. The 200 is a great bike, but more is always better, right? A 2016 250 XCW was on the menu.

R59 000 (at the end of 2019) bought an almost mint condition bike with around 70 hours on the motor. All original plastics, and only minor signs of wear in the typical spots showed that it had definitely not been ridden hard. The bike came with the manual, power-valve springs and spare jets; all the tell-tale signs of a diligent owner. Welcome home, Katie III.

Getting into the details

One of the benefits of buying 2nd hand is often the extras already fitted to the bike. In this case, it had the following:

  • Wrap-around hand guards
  • Aluminum bashplate
  • Exhaust header guard
  • Zeta unbreakable levers
  • Full FMF exhaust system
  • Tubliss front and rear

Since I enjoy riding technical, rocky terrain I also fitted the following:

  • Radiator braces
  • Front disc guard with fork shoes
  • Swing arm guards

I set the suspension to ‘standard’ settings, adjusted the handlebars, and got the jetting redone to be sure she was running right. The parts and re-jetting came to R5 300, bringing the total cost to approximately R64 000. All-in-all, a fair price for the bike.

Getting the jetting just right
Getting the jetting just right

Love at first sight

The 2016 KTM two-strokes are truly refined bikes. If you are familiar with the KTM’s of this era, you will not be disappointed by this bike. I felt immediately at home, with the welcome addition of some serious extra power over the 200’s I had ridden in the past. The FMF exhaust is just the cherry on top; it is honestly one of the best sounding two-strokes I have heard.

So, is it any good?

The chassis and suspension setup on these bikes is really excellent. When set to ‘comfort’ you have a soft and compliant setting, perfect for hard enduro but without flopping about like some “trail” bikes do. ‘Sport’ setting is race ready and corners like a dream. A lot stiffer, but still surprisingly good in the technical stuff. I pick the ‘sport’ setting to compensate for my lack of talent on the fast bits.

I am still always blown away by these motors. They chug along just barely resisting the urge to stall, but then will rev to the moon and back. You can click into 6th gear at around 30km/h then roll on the throttle until you chicken out at around 140km/h. Absolutely amazing motors. But not without fault; plenty of vibration and they can overheat quicker than I would like in the slow stuff. They don’t come stock with a radiator fan, so it is an upgrade I am definitely considering. The ballpark cost would be around R3 000.

The 6 speed, wide ratio gearbox is buttery smooth and perfect for enduro riding. In the twisty bits you might find yourself wishing that 3rd/4th/5th were a little closer together, especially if like me you tend to get lazy with downshifts. And obviously forget about finding neutral when you need it urgently, but luckily no false neutrals in about 50 hours of riding.

The KTM two-stroke lineup saw a complete remodel in 2017, so as you would expect with the final iteration on a design things like the clutch, brakes and throttle are thoroughly refined. Both levers can easily be pulled with 1 finger and the brakes are more than good enough to save you when running out of talent.

The starter motor misses a beat occasionally, and doesn’t usually fire her up from cold. But luckily one purposeful kick will get her going every time. And when jetted right the carb is brilliant - absolutely zero issues and never a fouled plug. It takes some work to get right, so pay someone who knows what they are doing.

A better bike than I am a rider!
A better bike than I am a rider!

So, what is she like to live with?

I got the bike at around 70 hours and like I mentioned one of the first things I did was a carb service. At 85 hours I did a full top end rebuild and at 105 hours a gear oil change. Now at 111 hours I am redoing fork seals and oil, fresh coolant and gear oil, and a new stator cover since the old one had a small leak from being gouged by rocks.

Other than popping a fork seal (which I admittedly left far beyond recommended replacement) I have had no mechanical woes and scheduled maintenance has gone exactly to plan. The size A piston still fit perfectly when the motor was rebuilt and the piston rings were just at the end of the wear range. In the future I plan to do another rebuild at around 150-160 hours, and probably some wheel bearings sometime between now and then. I have been very impressed with the reliability and still maintain full confidence in my trusty steed.

Cost wise, the parts for a top end are around R3 500 and you can roughly double that to have a good mechanic do the work for you. Fork seals will be around R2 000 once fitted. I have had my heart broken by motorcycles in the past, which has left me nervous of long-term commitment. I have a tendency to sell bikes before they even get a chance to show me whether they can be trusted or not. But with Katie III, I am cautiously optimistic. I currently have no plans to give her the boot; I’ll reassess when its time for her next top end rebuild.

Who is this bike for?

I bought this bike for two specific reasons; to ride on weekends with my mates and race my local enduro series. For these purposes the bike is brilliant. I have even started racing the local off-roads / harescrambes (something a 450 four-stroke is much better suited to) and it does the job well. I dare say you could even hit the motocross track and not have a completely terrible time.

It’s not a bike for a beginner though; too tall and highly-strung. But for someone with a bit of experience, right up to the veteran racer, it’s an excellent choice.

Final thoughts

This is a brilliant bike. Not perfect, but that’s a good thing. I like that she won’t always start with the button when cold; it feels like I am willing her to life. And I don’t care that the motor isn’t counter-balanced. When you feel the vibration through the grips it reminds you that this bike isn’t playing. It has just as much peak power as a 300 and it doesn’t want to let you forget that. When you don’t shift properly and the motor bogs down, it reminds you how it is meant to be ridden; grabbed by the scruff of the neck. Ride it like a 125 and it will love you for it. And then when you are too tired to carry on it will be the tractor you need to get home.

PS. I still think this is one of the best looking dirt bikes KTM has ever made. Then again, I am a bit biased here.

Check out some GoPro action and hear that FMF sing.


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