2008 KTM 530 EXCR- More better! When I step back for a moment and think about what I most enjoy on motorcycles, the answer is clear: Long days of hard riding with good friends. Those are the days that I clearly remember in the middle of January when it seems like I'll never be in a high alpine meadow again, those are the days that stand out through the years. My goal this season is to get more of those days in. I have a vague idea of taking it a step further, and doing a big dirt tour around the Southwest from friend to friend, but that hasn't taken shape yet... what is clear is that the perfect bike for these kinds of days wears many hats. It's competent in very technical situations, it's comfortable for easy but sustained sections, it's reliable, and it is capable of holding a good pace in just about anything, without being so committed that it demands a fast pace to work properly. Like many trailriders, I'm a bit of a luddite, a little reluctant to bite on new technology until it is proven. But, I was ready to replace my 4-stroke, and I couldn't see buying an 07 RFS to replace my 05, which I have dialed in so well and I'd just be repeating the same work to wind up in the same place. The decision process of what to get has a few tiers for me. In my eyes, the beauty of KTM off-road bikes is how well they work for hardcore off-roading, the kind of stuff that has slippery roots and high elevation snow all in the same day as deep sand and bermed hardpack. All of the japanese bikes I've owned or ridden wind up either too hard edged, unhappy unless they are being ridden at race pace, and delivering power too harshly, or too soft, having gained flab and showing a fleshy underbelly when pushed. The off-brand Euro stuff (Sherco, Gas Gas, etc) has promise, but questions of parts availability, lack of a local dealer, lack of being quite "finished", and a lack of aftermarket support push them from the front of the list. KTM's hit a target, where they retain an edge and hold up to racepace, but don't demand it, and at the same time have the amenities that get you up the mountain 10 hours into the day in the middle of a driving rainstorm. There seems to be a KTM DNA that offers useful torque, good power, and planted chassis, as everything I've owned that was from Austria fit that bill. So that's why the bike is orange. Then, between models, the process of elimination continued. I knew I wanted the single cam motor, not a 450 or 505 XC-F, because I've ridden them and they struck me as more of a WORCS race type bike than something I'd ride all day through varied conditions. I have a 2-stroke that I'm happy to race, so I was looking for something a bit further toward "do it all" than the XC-F's are. That gets me to a 450 or 530 EXCR or XCRW, any of which I would have been happy with. I compared part numbers for cams, pistons, and so on, and they are the same between the EXCRs and XCRW's, so when I could get a 530 EXCR and everything else was sold out, that's what I wound up with. So, here it begins: This bike is new from the ground up- an updated frame and chassis, different suspension, the XC4 single cam replacement for the old RFS motors, and a bunch of detail differences like improved sidestands and brake cable routing and etc etc etc. I have about 600 miles on the bike now, so before I get into setup and so on, I will say this: The new chassis is absolutely an improvement over the old. I'm usually a bit skeptical when people start talking about how they can feel frame flex and so on, but back to back rides on an oval tubed RFS with the new XC4 leaves no doubt in my mind-- the frame is stiffer and the geometry is better and it all is a real-world benefit. The motor is also an improvement. The gearbox shifts great even before break in (and better after) and the power delivery is very smooth. I have to withhold some amount of judgement until I try the bike with a different pipe- the stocker is very very quiet and doesn't let the motor breath properly. I've ordered an Akropovic that should give me something like 91-92 db (still quiet) but a bunch more horses than stock. Time will tell. The only fly in the ointment is the suspension. When new, it's brutally harsh. With about 5 hours, it had loosened up a great deal, and was very good for everything except a certain kind of square edge where it remains prone to deflection. I will definitely be doing a revalve and getting it sorted out, the good news is it doesn't need much and the spring rates are about right stock. KTM has clearly taken a step forward with the new bikes, and I'm excited to get this thing figured out. Mine has had several good long days that I'll remember for some time to come... it is filling its role as a memory maker quite nicely already. Next up: Bike preparation and setup.