2015 KTM Freeride 250R First Ride Review

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It’s been said that no single dirt bike can fit every rider’s needs, and I would agree. However, after riding the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R I have to say the Austrian manufacturer has come damn close. Take one part enduro, mix with another part trials and season with lightweight components and you get a dirt bike that not only spans different types of riding but also different rider skill sets. In short, it’s a mash-up of dirt awesomeness, and both experts and novices alike will enjoy what the Freeride 250R has to offer.

The Tech

The Freeride 250R’s chassis consists of a modular frame with the central forged aluminum section bolted to a front steel perimeter frame and a polymide ABS plastic subframe. The non-US electric Freeride and the 4-Stroke 350 version share the same center aluminum section but have different front frames for each. Overall the entire chassis is lightweight and very compact, leaning to the trials influence.

The 2015 KTM Freeride 250R’s frame consists of three parts.

Suspension componentry is also lightweight with a rear swingarm that tips the scales at just 7.7 pounds. A WP PDS linkless rear shock handles the damping while WP 43mm fork does work up front. The front suspension strokes through 250mm of travel and the rear arcs through a bit more at 260mm. Rolling on a 21-inch Maxxis TrailMaxx front tire and 18-inch TrailMaxx rear gives the Freeride a ground clearance of 15 inches and a seat height of 36 inches.

The 2015 KTM Freeride 250R gets a cylinder without a power valve.

The 2015 KTM Freeride 250R uses a conventional clutch design for a light and connected feel.

The 2015 KTM Freeride 250R’s engine weights 4.4 pounds less than the XC-W engine it is based on.

A 2-stroke Single powers the Freeride 250R. The engine is based on KTM’s 250 XC-W but tailored for an easy-to-control power delivery. KTM shaved 4.4 pounds from the powerplant and fitted a non-powervalve cylinder matched to a new piston and combustion chamber shape. A smallish 28mm Keihin PWK carburetor meters the fuel. An electric starter fires up the 250R and the kickstarter has been ditched to shave pounds.

The gas tank and air filter of the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R is located under the seat.

A six-speed transmission features shorter first through fifth gear ratios than the XC-W but has an extra tall sixth gear for fast trail riding and fire-roading. KTM went with more conventional coil clutch springs in the Freeride rather than the one-piece Damped Diaphram Steel (DDS) spring found in some of the SX models. This gives a light clutch feel with precise control.

A flip-up seat hides the fuel tank and an easy to access air filter that looks more at home on a Dyson vacuum. Nevertheless it’s a very slick system that makes filter service a snap without any tools. Keep an extra oiled filter element on hand and you could change your filter in less than 30 seconds. There is also a small storage space next to the fuse block and starter solenoid to fit a wallet or a couple granola bars.

The rider’s area is compact but has options for adjustment. The tapered aluminum handlebars are 4-position adjustable and the footpegs can be moved to the rear 8mm by flipping the mounting brackets.

Braking is handled by Formula master cylinders and calipers that are similar to the units found on the 85 SX. A front 260mm front rotor and 210mm rear rotor are both wave style and thinner than those found on most large dirt bikes, another weight-saving measure.

The Ride

Thumbing the electric start easily brings the Freeride 250R to life, settling into a muffled and very trials-like idle. Cracking the throttle brings a bit more noise but still this is a “quiet” 2-stroke. Once underway, the engine character is all about that torque. It pulls right off the bottom and makes peak power where you’d expect most 2-Strokes are just starting to making power.

The 2015 KTM Freeride 250R is all about torque and traction.

There is now real hit from the Freeride and this takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve never ridden a trials bike. Early in the day I struggled, without much success, to conquer technical hill climbs and obstacles with sheer power and revs. KTM reps suggested riding at lower RPMs.

The 2015 Freeride 250R is sprung soft so big jumps are not its forte.

Once I began to lug my way around, I discovered the Freeride’s wealth of traction and control at low revs. It’s possible to nearly stall the engine and just with a tug at the throttle get the bike to move up and over anything in its way. Both experts and novices will get along famously with this powerplant, as it’s so smooth and easy to use.

Going up or down, the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R works well.

And speaking of traction, both the front and rear TrailMaxx tires worked excellent on variable surfaces. These tires were specially developed for the Freeride and are spaced out a bit more than conventional trials tires. When we first hit the trails, tire pressures were set just above 10 psi, but on the advice of 10-time AMA Trials Champ Geoff Aaron we dropped down to 8 psi and found even more traction. Velcro is less tacky.

Novice and expert rides will both engine the easy to ride character of the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R.

While the engine and traction are impressive, the chassis is just as stellar. Like the engine, it took some time to get used to the narrow frame and short wheelbase. It’s quick to react to rider inputs and felt twitchy at first. But once I calmed myself and rode smooth, the ride is nothing short of epic. I’m not the best when the path ahead goes into billy goat territory, but in a short time I was tackling sections I would never attempt on an enduro or MX bike. The Freeride feels even lighter than its claimed 202 pounds dry weight, making it easy to muscle when needed and less likely to push you around when the going gets tough.

Changing directions is easy on the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R.

While the suspension is too soft for hardcore desert blasting and whoop-slaying, it’s a Goldilocks set-up for trails and extreme enduro situations. Not only that, it won’t pound a novice rider into pulp in rocky or rough terrain. For more experienced riders the suspension is communicative with an excellent feel for what is going on underneath you.

The 2015 Freeride 250R is light and nimble.

KTM touts the 2015 Freeride 250R as a new segment of motorcycle, one that allows the rider to enjoy playing in technical terrain with the ability to go where traditional enduro bikes can’t. They wholly succeeded. Really I could’ve penned this review with just one word, as it not only describes the motorcycle itself but the experience riders will get out of it – EPIC.

The 2015 Freeride 250R begs you to test the limits of your skill. The 2015 Freeride 250R is sprung soft so big jumps are not its forte. Changing directions is easy on the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R.
Tight trails are a blast on the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R. The 2015 KTM Freeride 250R weighs in at 202 pounds. Going up or down  the 2015 KTM Freeride 250R works well.




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