KTM 500 - 10,000 km Review as an Adventure Bike

Over the last 10 years I have been fortunate enough to clock up over 220,000 km of amazing rides through some of the most epic places the South Island has to offer. The majority of these rides were GPS logging trips for the RemoteMoto website using a Suzuki DRZ400E. 

All of the routes, campsites, huts, fuel stations and Mototokens logged for RemoteMoto while adventure riding over the last 10 years

The DRZ400 was chosen as it has a reputation for being a capable and reliable adventure bike. It certainly proved itself to be that, however there was one minor downside. The technical terrain I prefer to ride meant I would often be left pretty beaten up after a long day of hard riding. To be fair, the DRZ400 can be considered a fairly lightweight bike in the adventure riding scene, however it is a far cry from a modern lightweight enduro bike that can effortlessly scamper over technical terrain.

I never really had indecision about the DRZ400E as to me the most important thing about adventure riding is the adventure itself; not whether you have the latest and greatest bike. I've always been able to ride the DRZ400E over challenging grade 5 terrain, albeit with a lot of sweat on some of the really technical sections. It wasn't until I was sitting around a campfire after a seriously tough High Country ride that something changed. While watching the campfire’s flickering flames, the idea to buy a lightweight enduro bike for the tougher trips unexpectedly spawned in my head. Surprisingly, it only took a few minutes for this impromptu idea to switch to a plan of buying a new bike.

The High Country trip where the decision was made to buy a lightweight enduro bike

Some of the candidates shortlisted included the Husqvarna 501, Beta 480, Sherco SEF450 and the KTM500. Riders familiar with these bikes would likely consider all four of them to be worthy candidates. 

After lengthy research and long deliberation, a 2018 KTM 500 EXC-F Six Day was selected based on a few favourable features.

The tall seat height of a typical enduro bike is normally one of the largest obstacles for shorter riders like me who only stand around 175 cm tall. This meant one of the KTM500’s appealing features was the availability of off-the-shelf WP internal lowering kits. This allows the seat height to be dropped while still retaining the WP suspension performance. Out of the 50mm and 20mm options available, I found the 20mm to give a manageable seat height while still retaining ample suspension travel.

A technical trip up the South Island High Country where a manageable seat height makes all the difference

The ability to carry a large capacity of fuel played a major part in choosing the KTM500. IMS produce a 17 litre tank and Rebel X Sports produce a 14.5 litre inner subframe tank. Combined that equates to 31.5 litres of fuel. The 17 litres is perfect for the High Country trips and the 31.5 litres is essential for an upcoming return trip to Australia for some of the lengthy desert crossings. Both bases are covered.  

17 litre IMS tank
View This Tank

Because the KTM500 comes with high end componentry off the showroom floor, there are very few upgrades required to get it ready for adventure riding. It is simply a case of throwing on a larger fuel tank, a bash plate, a comfy seat, some RAM mounts for the GPS and then strapping on some soft luggage. While there are many other adventure riding upgrades that can be added to the KTM500, the whole goal was to make it a lightweight adventure machine so nothing unnecessary was added.

So after 6 months and around 10,000km on the KTM500, what are my thoughts? For me, the KTM500 can be summed up in one simple word; FUN! The High Country is most certainly one of my favourite places to ride. When the KTM500 is poked up a High Country Valley, the way it glides through boulder fields, crosses deep rocky rivers and effortlessly climbs steep loose terrain is seriously impressive. It makes each ride a continual rush of adrenaline.

To try and retain as much of the bike’s performance as possible, the volume gear I carry on the KTM500 has been reduced to the bare minimum. While I still carry all of the key items for safety and practicality, this weight reduction means the bike whistles through technical terrain without really noticing the load being carried.

There are a number of engine performance upgrade options for the KTM500 however I really don't have any interest in going down this path. The factory 63 horsepower on a 107 kg bike provides all the power any adventure rider would need, and then some. The power mixed with the bike's beautiful balance means that even at 100kmph, it is all too easy to pick the front up and sit on the back wheel. I've laughed to myself inside my helmet on a number of occasions as I pass my riding buddies on the back wheel and catch the look in their eyes as I fly past. This bike brings out the kid in me and I absolutely love that!  

One question that comes up often when discussing the KTM500 is what it is like on the open road. Naturally the ride is nowhere near as smooth as a placid single or twin cylinder engine, however it would be wrong to make such a comparison as that’s not really comparing apples with apples. The 500 EXC-F Six Day is KTM’s flagship performance enduro bike. It is designed to race. However, my expectation that it would be viby and unpleasant to ride on the open road was quickly dismissed. It is surprisingly comfortable on the long stretches and exceptionally good fun in the twisties. Riding sections of tarmac to link up the off-road tracks is simply a nonissue.

So in closing I can confirm I am very happy with the KTM500 for the style of adventure riding I enjoy. It not only devours technical terrain with ease, it is actually a really good all round adventure bike. I believe KTM have produced a brilliant machine with the new 500 EXC-F and it is easy to see why it is becoming so popular for adventure riding worldwide.

Author of this article: RMOTO