KTM motorcycles seem to be a lightening rod for discussion and controversy in the dual sport adventure community. For example, critics often claim KTM bikes are noticeably less reliable than comparable Japanese bikes. Or that the maintenance requirements are excessive and time consuming. Fans counter with their own personal experiences, noting that their KTM bikes have not generally been less reliable than Japanese motorcycles. They also point out that the maintenance requirements printed in the owner’s manual are often based on using the bike in race conditions, not real world riding which typically is much less intensive and stressful on the motorcycle than racing.
Personally, I hesitated getting a KTM 500 EXC due to concerns about reliability, longevity, and maintenance intervals. My preferred riding consists of longer distance mixed surface riding – basically paved roads and dirt roads. I no longer do any racing, nor do I ride single track. Would the 500 be a good choice for the type of riding I do? Would the motor be up to relatively mild but long distance riding? Could it carry a week’s worth of gear without breaking the back of the bike? Or would I be asking the 500 to do something it just wasn’t meant or designed to do?
The persuading factor for me was my friend Tricepilot Bob. He bought a 500 a few years ago and has ridden it on lots of our trips, including our long distance Mexico rides (the longest of which was 1500 miles or so), without blowing up the motor, having to change the oil every day, or breaking the bike in half from carrying a week’s worth of gear. For me, the proof sure seemed to be in the pudding – the 500 appeared to be quite capable of handling the type of riding I envisioned for it.
So, I pulled the trigger and bought a lightly used 2105 model and so far it has exceeded my expectations.
But, still, how far can you ride a 500 before it needs motor work? The manual says to change the piston, valves, valve springs, valve spring seats, connecting rod, conrod bearing, and crank pin every 135 hours (70 if racing). For everyday riding, 135 hours equals about 4000 miles for me. Which brings up the question – what happens if I don’t do it every 135 hours? Is the motor going to throw the rod, seize the piston, or drop a valve seat at 136 hours?
I don’t know the answer yet since I don’t have that many hours on my motor. However, there is a guy named Aaron who has that and more and he has written a very interesting ride report on advrider.com that is well worth reading, especially if you are interested in how the 500 works for long distance, light weight adventure touring.
Aaron, on a 2015 KTM 500 EXC, stared out by riding the length of New Zealand. Once that was complete, he shipped his bike to the Santiago, Chile, South America and rode it from there all the way to Alaska. All in all he has covered more than 37,000 kilometers and has more than 510 hours on his motor. Other than changing the oil regularly and keeping the air filter clean he has done no motor work. He did have the valves checked when he made it to San Diego, CA and they were in spec. He says the motor is running good and not using oil.
Pretty impressive, I’d say.
While I freely admit that his is an experiment of one – it’s possible that his 500 is exceptional and far outside the norm – it is also possible that his 500 is representative of the species. In other words, the motor in the 500 could be quite robust and not likely to need an overhaul every 135 hours.
After reading Aaron’s story, I am less concerned about the need for motor work every 4000 miles. I think I will just change the oil on mine regularly, keep the air filter clean, and see how things go.