I have a question for all the riders out there who claim that if the Japanese would just build a modern big bore thumper that they would buy one. Why don’t you just buy a KTM and be done with it? If you really want a modern big bore thumper that is currently in production KTM is about the only choice.
When asked that question, the most common response goes something like this:
“My main complaint with the European bikes is the reliability. Just my personal observation, but guys who own KTM’s have easily twice the problems as guys with say Yamaha’s (I’m talking dirt bikes, not much experience with KTM’s street bikes). Yeah, the KTM’s have the performance; they just rule over everyone right off the showroom floor. But I’ve seen relatively new KTM’s (and I’m talking more than one) hit the owner with some fairly major repairs just after the warranty is expired. Where Japanese bikes that were ridden as hard or even much harder never had a problem.
Anyone who says European bikes are just as reliable as the Japanese bikes either hasn’t been exposed to enough bikes, doesn’t know a mechanic who’s worked on both, or just can’t admit that there is a category where his Euro bike doesn’t measure up to the Japanese bikes (9 times out of 10 it’s the last one…just can’t get past pride).” – HansShotFirst, advrider.com
My response to this claim – what Yamaha are you comparing the KTM to? For that matter which other Japanese motorcycle are you comparing the KTM to? The Japanese don’t build any modern big bore dual sport thumpers. So you can only be comparing an old school, low performance Japanese dual sport bike to a modern, high performance KTM street legal dirt bike.
Do you really believe you are making a fair comparison? Is it fair to compare the reliability (and maintenance requirements) of a street legal dirt bike – basically a race bike with lights, blinkers, and a horn – with a low performance dual sport bike?
Let’s classify these types of bikes as either
- street legal dirt bike
- dual sport bikes
based on their design intent and capabilities.
A KTM 500 EXC is a street legal dirt bike. Basically a race bike with lights. The DRZ400, KLR, DR, XRL are all dual sport bikes. They weigh up to 125 lbs more than the KTM and have half the performance capability. Is it really fair to compare these very different types of bikes? It would be the same as comparing a XRL (350lbs) to a GS1200 (525lbs) – they are a completely different category of bike.
Life is a series of trade-offs. Light weight, high performance, reliability – pick any two. You aren’t going to get all three in one package. Physics just doesn’t allow it. Light weight, high performance race bikes simply will not have the reliability of low performance motorcycles. Nor are you going to get serious performance out of a heavy bike with anvil-like reliability. It just doesn’t work that way.
Plus, the harder you ride a bike the higher the probability it will break. Trail ride your DRZ and it will be a nice, reliable machine. Race it in hare scrambles every weekend and you’ll have a different experience with it.
I believe that if you compare dual sport bike to dual sport bike, the difference in perceived reliability won’t be appreciably different. The appropriate comparison to the Japanese bikes is the KTM690, the Husky TE610 and 630, and the BMW X-Challenge, not the KTM 500EXC because the Japanese don’t make any street legal dirt bikes similar to the 500EXC.
I’ve had two Kawasaki KLR650s (one old generation and one new generation), two Suzuki DR-Z400s, a Honda XR650L, and a Husqvarna TE610. All of those bikes are dual sport bikes. None of them are in the same class as the street legal dirt bikes. And I can tell you that after putting 20,000 miles on the Husky it was just as reliable as my KLRs or DRZs – while being significantly better in performance.
If you truly want a more fair comparison for the KTM 500EXC, compare it to the Honda CRF450X. Add a Baja kit to the Honda and make it street legal. Then ride the same miles under the same conditions and at the same pace with guys on the KTM500EXC and see if there is any real difference in maintenance requirements or reliability.
One more thing – do you have any actual reliability data we can look at? JDPowers? Consumer Reports? Motorcycle Industry News? If you don’t have any real data to reference, you might want to keep an open mind. Just sayin’…
The bottom line is this – if you truly make an apples to apples comparison I believe that you will find no significant different in reliability between KTM and the Japanese bikes. Compare similar bikes ridden in similar conditions at similar speeds and for similar distances. If you don’t do that then you really aren’t making a fair comparison.
Note – I do not own, nor have I ever owned, a KTM. I do not currently have plans to buy a KTM. I don’t own KTM stock. My brother-in-law doesn’t work for KTM. I’m just calling it the way I see it.