PROJECT BIKE: 2019 KTM 500 EXC
BY: ADAM BOOTH
PHOTOS: SIMON CUDBY
As an off-road rider who has lived in Southern California for the last 20 years, the KTM 500 EXC seems like a one-way trip to the slammer. The current crop of EXC bikes from KTM are enduro race bikes with a license plate hanging off the back! In other parts of the US, getting a dirt bike plated and street legal isn’t a big deal. Those who haven’t dealt with the wrath known as California laws, don’t understand our pain and suffering when it comes to having a legal dual sport machine that is actually off-road worthy.
KTM might have just announced the 2020 EXC’s, and while there are some changes, that doesn’t negate the potency of this 2019 500 EXC. The Upshift crew, along with some cool companies, further improved this KTM through suspension mods, a Yoshimura slip-on exhaust and other beneficial goodies.
The biggest modification to the Upshift KTM 500 EXC came via the suspension. KTM has worked to improve the stock suspension on the EXC line. However, because the bikes still come super plush and squishy from the factory, the suspension was reworked by 3 Brothers Racing. They stiffened the front spring rate, installing a WP 4.8 N/MM spring and a WP progressive shock spring (66-72). On top of re-springing the suspension, 3 Brothers re-shimmed and re-valved both the shock and forks with comfort in mind, offering the rider the ability to step up the trail speed and to be more aggressive when needed.
Complementing the suspension work and adding to the overall comfort of the KTM 500 EXC were the Fasst Flexx bars. If you’ve never ridden with Flexx bars and want more comfort and cush, look into a pair. The responsibility for protecting the hands and not interfering with the movement of the Flexx bars fell upon the Flexx Simple Solution hand guards. They were easy to mount up and worked well.
While we ran the Yoshimura RS-4 system on a bone stock ECU, it would be best to map the ignition to accommodate the more open exhaust. The power was improved throughout the power curve, but we had substantial pop on decel due to the lean mapping. With a re-tuned ECU, power would improve even further. It should be noted that the Yoshimura system is pretty aggressive in the sound department, especially when hard on the gas.
This was my first introduction to Shinko tires and I left Idaho a huge fan of the 505 Cheater rear tire and the 216 front. The 505 Cheater rubber compound is super soft, much like a trials tire and hooked up great, especially on roots and rocks. There were a lot of water crossings and the larger size and compound was nice. The Shinko tires combined with NitroMousse inserts equaled awesome traction. I personally loved the feel of the Nitromousse, plus I never had to worry about a flat, which meant I didn’t steer around crap in the trail, I just plowed into and over it. The Nitromousse inserts on the Upshift KTM 500 EXC gave the sensation of about 10 psi, offering a lot of plushness.
Upshift utilized the Trail Tech Voyager Pro, which has an easy to read touch screen, even in direct sunlight. Also, the buddy tracking system makes keeping track of your riding partners super easy. The Pro Moto Billet Evolution 4 stainless steel footpegs with the F7 cleat looked scary yet offered up excellent boot grip. The ultra-tough Chromoly sprockets where made in the USA by DDC. Upshift went up two teeth from stock to a 47 tooth rear sprocket. The gearing was a good compromise between on-road and offroad capability. Spinning the sprockets was an O-ring RK EXW 520 chain; O-ring is the only way to go offroad.
To get more light out of the stock headlight set up, Upshift swapped out the stock bulb with a Cyclops bulb. A nice feature about this LED bulb is the ability to run high or low beam so you don’t blind cars out on the roads. There are a few accessories that are guaranteed to make it onto Upshift bikes because they are simply great products and vastly improve the comfort level of longer riders: Double Take Mirrors are hands down the best mirrors on the market. Seat Concepts seats transform any bike into a more comfortable ride without sacrificing performance. Finally, the look of this Upshift build was completed with Acerbis plastic and Upshift graphics.
When you drop a lot of dough on a bike that is going to take abuse, you want to protect it the best way possible. To do that, Upshift went with a black Cycra skid plate that wrapped up and around the engine more than stock. Bullet Proof radiator guards help protect the radiators from a frontal attack and offer extra support from a side hit. They are aluminum and very stout. To ensure the KTM could go plenty of miles before a refuel, an IMS 3.2 gallon tank was installed- this much fuel will easily get the bike 100 miles.
Each item that was added to this build served a purpose. The suspension work offered up the most significant performance gain, helping to balance the ride and allow the 500 to be ridden more aggressively without losing the plush feel through rough terrain. The tires, Nitromousse inserts and Flexx handlebars helped further that overall comfort level. The fuel range was extended, the comfort was improved via the Seat Concepts seat and the look was taken to the next level. Overall, this build was a super success. Now I just wish I could take it back to California with me! To see and hear more about how the bike performed, be sure to check out our Youtube video here.
KTM - 2019 KTM 500 EXC
3bros.com - WP Suspension/Tail Kit
Seat Concepts - Comfort Seat
Shinko - 505 Rear/216 Front Tire
Nitro Mousse - Nitrogen Charged Mousse
Acerbis - Orange Plastic Kit
Faast Company - Flexx Handlebars
Faast Company - Hand Guards
IMS - 3.2 gal. Fuel Tank
ODI - MX V2 Lock-On Rogue Grips
DDC - Chromoly 47 Tooth Sprocket
RK - GB520EXW-120 Chain
Cyclops - LED Headlight Bulb Kit
Bullet Proof Designs - Radiator Guards
Fastway - Pro Moto Billet EVO 4 Footpegs
Cycra - Skid Plate
Trail Tech - Voyager Pro GPS
Yoshimura - RS-4 Exhaust
Polisport - Swingarm Guards