After getting my foot in the dirt bike door with my early-1960s Honda C100 (aka the Super Cub 50) beater that featured a knobby rear tire and a hard-as-rock ribbed front tire, the larger world of off-road motorcycles opened up to me. All of a sudden, I noticed that there was a Husqvarna and Penton motorcycle dealer across the street from the dog grooming place our toy poodle frequented. Once inside the doors of the tiny shop, my eyes widened, and my head started spinning with possibilities. I was immediately drawn to the 1971 Penton 100 Berkshire, igniting a life-long love affair.
When it came time for me to step up to the 125 class, my dad and I discussed what I should ride. The Husqvarna had put out its first 125; it was a beautiful machine, and the first 125 that cost over $1000 (about $7500 in today’s dollars). Although the Penton 125 Six-Day was completely redesigned for 1972, it still had the Sachs engine, which featured a transmission with more neutrals than gears.
Given the lack of mechanical acumen of my father and me, we decided to play it safe and get a Yamaha AT2-M motocross bike. All things considered, I preferred to ride all weekend when our family was camping, rather than lamenting a mechanically sidelined motorcycle. The Yamaha 125 MXer was the right choice, and it never let me down.
Despite that, the Pentons stuck with me as aspirational motorcycles. However, my skills as a mechanic—changing spark plugs and oil, lubing and adjusting the chain, cleaning the air filter, and premixing fuel—remained limited. So, I never fulfilled my dream of owning a Penton.
Thanks to the motorcycle magazines of the day, I did learn about the Penton legacy. In 1968, after a successful racing career and the tragic death of his wife, enduro legend John Penton hired KTM—then unknown in the United States—to build two-stroke enduro bikes to his specifications. They were sold under his name and distributed from the Penton headquarters in Lorain, Ohio. His sons Jack and Tom and other enduro legends, such as Carl Cranke and Bill Uhl, established the Penton as a winning motorcycle.
After selling 25,000 off-road bikes in 10 years, the Penton brand name was retired. In 1978, KTM bought out John Penton, and the championships started piling up with the Austrian founders’ initials on the tank and engine.
Just 45 years later, I find myself in Millfield, Ohio, at Sunday Creek Raceway, the site of The John Penton GNCC National, suiting up to ride the 2024 KTM XC-W two-stroke enduro lineup, along with the four-stroke 450 XCF-W. I can’t image a more fitting location to test the all-new XC-Ws. I have dreamed of riding through the Ohio woods, and now I am finally realizing that fantasy on three motorcycles that are direct descendants of the Pentons that had captured my imagination.
While the 2024 KTM XC-Ws are all-new bikes this year—motor and chassis—they are inheriting designs that previously debuted on other KTM dirt bikes. While some may bemoan the delay, it gave KTM a year to work out any bugs before the XC-W lineup got updated. Rather than rehash all the changes, and pretty much everything changed, check out our 2024 KTM XC-W Lineup First Look coverage for 20 fast facts worth of detail—there’s quite a bit to consume and digest.
The 2024 KTM XC-W lineup has three models—the 300, 250, and 150. To keep it short, the 150 is something of the odd man out. The 300 and 250 are virtually identical other than the bore and tune of the motor. The 150 has a different powerplant design, and the WP suspension is set up softer from the factory. Despite the similarities, riding the three motorcycles results in six highly distinctive experiences. Did I say six? Yes, I did.
Arriving from Austria, the three 2024 KTM XC-Ws have a single standard power map—Map 1. However, add an accessory switch for about $150, and you get access to a high-performance map—Map 2. That changes the personality of all three XC-Ws, almost as much as switching between models.
With an abbreviated version of The John Penton GNCC National course at my disposal, a condensation that includes all the salient challenges of the area, I set out to identify the personalities of the three XC-Ws, along with the changes afforded by the different power maps.
My testing process was to do a lap on one model in the standard Map 1, then up the ante with another lap at Map 2. Then, I’d jump on another XC-W and repeat the process. This went on all day long, as it was hard to keep me off the bikes. The weather was terrific, and a Biblical rainstorm a few days earlier meant the traction ranged from perfect to sloppy—ideal testing conditions, and I wasn’t going to pass up a moment. I’ll take the three XC-Ws in displacement order to keep things easy to follow, then compare the bikes at the end.
2024 KTM 150 XC-W
Displacing 144cc, this model is closest to the 125 Six Days I coveted 50 years ago. Of course, everything is different, but the idea is the same—agile handling with a motor that doesn’t overpower.
Using Map 1, the 2024 KTM 150 XC-W is a sweetheart. You can hit the throttle hard without suffering terrible consequences. The motor is by no means slow, though the power delivery feels completely controllable. There’s good power off the bottom, so you have to be a couple of gears off to even get it to think about bogging.
Shifting is excellent on the 150, with the transmission and power delivery feeling a touch more direct than on its more-powerful big brothers. Because it puts out less power, KTM engineers left the damping function out of the clutch basket, while retaining the diaphragm steel spring design. It’s a good thing the 150 has a fantastic transmission, because you definitely have to shift more frequently with the smaller motor. Without any doubt, the feel of the Brembo hydraulic actuation is outstanding.
There is one disappointment regarding the two-stroke XC-Ws compared to the 450 XCF-W thumper. The two-strokes don’t get traction control and the up-only quickshifter—maybe next year.
Clicking up to Map 2 gives the 2024 KTM 150 XC-W a clearly more aggressive feel. Because you’re only working with 144cc, the bike is still easily managed, even in the technical sections with roots and rocks while threading through the trees. The course has a few tight turns before steep uphills, and Map 2 allows hitting the uphill hard, rather than relying on torque to sneak your way up, as you do in Map 1.
In Map 2, the 150 revs up more quickly, so you can get into the meat of the powerband, which does rely on revs. The torque curve isn’t flat—torque and horsepower increase as revs do, with precious little overrev. So, it’s all about dialing in as much power as you and the terrain can handle rather than focusing on counting revs. With the electronic power valve, you don’t get a hit in the powerband—the output increases linearly, making throttle response endearingly consistent. All this also happens in Map 1, though at a much slower pace.
In all situations, the new throttle body injection EFI is flawless. The power never hesitates or comes on too sharply. Especially in Map 1, the 2024 KTM 150 XC-W is a bike you could put a beginner on, as long as the seat height isn’t an issue.
The handling of the 150 XC-W is perfectly neutral. It doesn’t feel the need to dive into corners or dispute you when it comes time to turn. Stability is impressive for a dirt bike this light, though getting into the higher ranges of sixth gear will have you thinking about a steering damper if the terrain starts getting rough.
The suspension is plush, so you don’t get beat up on the rougher trails. On the grass track, the suspension didn’t bottom out on the jumps—admittedly, I wasn’t getting big air—or g-outs. While some people aren’t thrilled with progressive-damping suspension rather than linkage, I had no issues with the WP Xplor shock. The WP Xact spring-equipped fork never jolted me, and had plenty of bottoming resistance. The suspension seems to come from the factory dialed in for my weight and ability, so I didn’t spend much time fiddling with the damping, even though no tools are needed, and spring-preload is spot-on straight from Austria.
The 2024 KTM 150 XC-W is a seriously fun motorcycle to ride, letting you pick the level of commitment. The chassis is more than capable of handling the 30-or-so horsepower the slightly oversquare mill puts out. You feel like Superman as you test its limits, and yours.
2024 KTM 250 XC-W
Now we’re getting serious. The 250 is the racer of the three, but there’s more to it than that.
Should you buy the 2024 KTM 250 XC-W without the map-switching button, you could be tricked into thinking it is simply a very strong-running trail bike. In the standard Map 1, it’s an aggressive ride, yet still easily managed. Power is there from top to bottom, matching the ratios of the six-speed transmission perfectly. A damped clutch slyly smooths off the sharper edges of the undersquare two-stroke’s power delivery, helping you find traction when a snappier hit would send the rear Dunlop Geomax AT81 spinning—remember, no traction control yet on the two-strokes.
With the performance significantly increasing as you move from 144cc to 249cc, you appreciate the slender ergonomics of the new chassis and plastic even more. The 2024 KTM 250 XC-W just feels perfect, with all controls where you expect them, reacting as you anticipate they will. On some past KTMs, I’ve had the occasional boot-top grabbing issue with the plastic—that seems to have been banished on the 2024 XC-Ws.
Put the 2024 KTM 250 XC-W into the furious Map 2, and prepare for a competitive ride. The motor spins up like the 150, but with 250 power getting put to the ground.
In Map 2, things happen in a hurry. As I was swapping between the maps, a bit of adaptation was always required. Going from Map 1 to Map 2 on the 250 magnified the change more than on its two brothers. I found myself blowing through corners, or spinning up the Dunlop unexpectedly. Recognizing this, I occasionally snuck in an extra lap on the 250 in Map 2. The more I got used to Map 2, the better I could exploit it, and the faster I went.
However, harnessing all that power and its unbridled delivery makes the 250 XC-W in Map 2 more fatiguing to ride than any of the five other options among the three bikes. Although the XC-Ws are enduro bikes rather than cross-country racers, the 250’s Map 2 still is a potent beast. Thanks to the electronic power valve, it can be manageable with a light throttle hand, but there’s no point to that—just use Map 1.
Moving through the woods and on the grass track at a race pace, the 2024 KTM 250 XC-W lets you learn the limitations of the chassis. Sure, expert and pro riders will undoubtedly want firmer suspension damping and higher-rate springs. However, for my regular-guy intermediate race speeds, the stiffer-than-150 settings for the WP suspension worked perfectly.
The chassis settles in nicely to absorb impacts and put power to the ground, yet it resists bottoming impressively, even when hard on the brakes at the bottom of a steep downhill; this is something the WP suspension guys worked on for the new bike. Even off the showroom floor, the no-tool clickers have a range of adjustment that will satisfy a broad range of riders—only outlying riders who are especially light, heavy, or aggressive will be looking for different springs. No matter how hard I rode, the damping refused to flag due to heated oil or cavitation—thank the closed cartridge design.
If I were serious about racing, the 250 would be my 2024 KTM XC-W of choice. I would get the magic switch so I have access to Map 2 when I’m fresh, and know that I have the smoother Map 1 available should I start to get tired at the end of an enduro or cross-country race. Trail riders who like to ride like they’re racing will be drawn to the excitement on the single-track that the 250 XC-W affords, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see someone ripping around a vet motocross track on one when no one is looking.
2024 KTM 300 XC-W
It’s common knowledge among trail riders that a 300cc two-stroke is a formidable powerplant, whether in the hands of a novice rider or with an expert at the controls. The 2024 KTM 300 XC-W reinforces that perception, as the 293cc engine is as powerful or docile as you like.
Of the three 2024 XC-Ws, the 300 is the version where you might consider passing on the $150 button that brings Map 2 to the table. For single-track trail riding and senior-class racing at less than breakneck speeds, the 300 XC-W is a fantastic mount in the mellow Map 1.
The power comes on in a highly controllable manner in Map 1, and there is more than enough torque from just off idle to the upper midrange to satisfy a vast majority of riders. It’s virtually impossible to make a mistake with the throttle or be in the wrong gear, as the tractor-esque power keeps pulling and putting the power to the ground without any argument. You’ll find yourself using the gearbox and the fine Brembo hydraulic clutch much less frequently—pick a gear with a top speed that satisfies you and go.
Riders who frequent fast dirt roads or the desert will find Map 2 desirable. When no obstacles or tight corners face you, letting the 2024 KTM 300 XC-W wind up without much restraint is fantastically fun. It ripped in the faster grass-track portions, happily finding traction as the two-stroke slingshotted me across the field. Wheelies are easy and fun, as is drifting through turns, easily modulating wheelspin with the throttle.
The chassis and suspension setup that serves the 250 so well, also suits the 300. With the increased rotational mass, the 300 doesn’t turn quite as well as the 250, but it’s close, especially in Map 1. The KTM 300 XC-W can be a bit of a handful during direction changes in Map 2 in the tight stuff—the fine Dunlop Geomax MX33F can only do so much—and that’s why Map 1 is the default map that all buyers get. Power drops off when overrevving, so the way to ride the 300 fast is to keep the engine in its magnificently meaty midrange.
Ripping through the woods in Map 1, the 250-spec suspension isn’t taxed by abrupt power inputs, making for smooth sailing over ruts, logs, and rocks, while taking on mud and hillclimbs confidently. When you have a motor as good as this 293cc two-stroke, you feel like you can do whatever you like—and you can. All this is aided by a wet weight of just 236 pounds with the 2.4-gallon fuel tank filled, and the wonderfully slender ergonomics. The seat height sniffs at 38 inches unladen, yet is manageable in action.
Braking is especially important on the 300, and the Brembo units are top-notch. The initial bite is never abrupt, and it’s easy to modulate the brakes effectively so neither tire locks up, even in slick conditions. I only suffered rear-brake chatter consistently on one rough downhill, and the issue appeared across the KTM XC-W line—clearly, that spot had KTM’s number. Otherwise, the braking is exemplary in both feel and power.
With a big two-stroke motor, features such as electric start, EFI, oil injection, and an electronic power valve all earn their keep. It’s great to push a button to get going, have unblemished fueling, consistent lubrication, and enjoy the manipulated exhaust ports for smooth power delivery throughout the powerband. As much as we have enjoyed 300-class two-stroke in the past, the 2024 KTM 300 XC-W elevates the fun factor to a new level.
Which One Is For You?
KTM has done a fantastic job of targeting the three 2024 XC-Ws to different riders—all you have to do is be realistic about who you are, what you want, and what you need.
Riders looking for a snappy, light-feeling ride will gravitate to the 2024 KTM 150 XC-W. The 150 appeals to lighter, smaller, and younger riders, while still enticing senior riders who don’t want to be challenged by power or weight. Established trail riders will be rolling the 2024 KTM 300 XC-W out through the dealership’s front door and into their trucks’ beds. It’s easy to say the 300 is all about the motor, but that would be overlooking the impressive chassis the three bikes share. That leaves the 2024 KTM 250 XC-W for a rider looking for the most aggressive ride, and a mount for the 250cc class at GNCC races and enduros.
It took me decades to get to the American ancestral home of KTM dirt bikes, but I made it. I wasn’t the least bit disappointed, and that was certainly helped by having the 2024 KTM XC-W lineup at my beck and call. While readers will want me to pick a winner, you shouldn’t care which XC-W I like best—it doesn’t matter for you. Still, I don’t want to leave anyone too disappointed, so I’ll say that the 250 isn’t aimed at me, so I’m left hopelessly torn between the grunting 300 and the zippy 150—it will depend on my mood at the moment.
- Helmet: Alpinestars SM5
- Goggles: Progrip 3450 Light Sensitive and EKS Brand EKS-S
- Pants + jersey: Alpinestars Fluid Narin
- Gloves: Alpinestars Full Bore
- Body armor: Alpinestars Bionic Pro V2 Jacket
- Knee braces: Alpinestars Bionic-10 Carbon
- Socks: Fly Racing Knee Brace
- Boots: Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro
2024 KTM 300 XC-W, 250 XC-W, and 150 XC-W Specs
- Type: Single-cylinder 2-stroke
- Displacement: 300: 293cc; 250: 249cc; 150: 144cc
- Bore x stroke: 300: 72mm x 72mm; 250: 66.4 x 72mm; 150: 58 x 54mm
- Fueling: Keihin EMS w/ 39mm throttle body
- Starting: Electric
- Cooling: Liquid
- Exhaust: Electronically controlled power valve
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: 300, 250: Wet-multiplate Damped Diaphragm Steel w/ Brembo hydraulics; 150: Wet-multiplate Diaphragm Steel w/ Brembo hydraulics
- Final drive: 520 X-ring chain
- Frame: Double-cradle chromoly steel
- Subframe: Polyamide reinforced w/ aluminum
- Handlebar: Neken tapered aluminum
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 48mm inverted WP Xact fork; 11.8 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-less, fully adjustable WP Xplor piggyback-reservoir shock w/ progressive damping; 12.2 inches
- Wheels: Giant
- Front wheel: 21 x 1.60
- Rear wheel: 18 x 2.15
- Front tire: 80/100 x 21; Dunlop Geomax MX33F
- Rear tire: 110/100 x 18; Dunlop Geomax AT81
- Front brake: 260mm disc w/ Brembo caliper
- Rear brake: 220mm disc w/ Brembo caliper
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 58.6 inches
- Rake: 26.1 degrees
- Triple clamp offset: 22mm
- Seat height: 37.9 inches
- Ground clearance: 14.7 inches
- Fuel tank capacity: 2.4 gallons
- Wet weights: 300 and 250: 236 pounds; 150: 230 pounds
- 2024 KTM 300 XC-W Price: $11,449 MSRP
- 2024 KTM 250 XC-W Price: $11,099
- 2024 KTM 150 XC-W Price: $10,099