KTM 250 EXC TPI: Taking it to extremes

Who in the world would turn down the opportunity to race-test a 2018 KTM 250 EXC TPI model as one of the first (one of two) riders? There’s only one snag. The race is the hardest Hard Enduro in the world – the Erzbergrodeo.

Jonathan Pearson (GBR) KTM 250 EXC TPI Erzbergrodeo (AUT) 2017

Given the chance to be one of the first people on the planet to race KTM’s groundbreaking new fuel injected 2-strokes you’d snatch someone’s hand off wouldn’t you? What about if that race was the toughest Hard Enduro in the world? Second thoughts? Too late!

The KTM 250 EXC TPI and I basically meet on the start line and set off on our first date of dancing around rocks, swinging round hairpins and a full speed roller coaster ride on an Iron Giant – the Erzberg quarry in Eisenerz. This EXC is typically ready for it though. The chassis, suspension and brakes are the same as the 2017 model so it’s all instantly familiar – we make a happy couple.

Jonathan Pearson (GBR) KTM 250 EXC TPI Erzbergrodeo (AUT) 2017

Our first date, is a speed date – the Erzberg Prologue. The new KTM 250 EXC TPI engine gets no mercy during 10 minutes of motorway speeds on quarry ledges broken up by hard sketchy braking into rocky hairpins. 1500 bikes and riders get two timed runs up Eisenerz’ famous Iron Giant mountain to sift numbers down to 500 qualifiers for the main race on Sunday. Times are very tight and the familiarity of an EXC is very welcome when your eyes are watering, flat-out in top gear.

Sunday midday arrives – race time – and I´m nervous. The others get away pretty well, but I don´t. Rows of 50 at a time depart from dead engines but when the flag drops for my row (row three), 49 bikes fire away while my TPI engine opts for an extra few seconds sleeping. Maybe it was still smarting from our full-throttle first date.

Jonathan Pearson (GBR) KTM 250 EXC TPI Erzbergrodeo (AUT) 2017

Different shades of madness fill the next four hours and our relationship blossoms. It begins almost immediately with giant hills that take total commitment in third gear. The fuel injected KTM 250 EXC TPI sails up them finding grip with surprising pulling power. You need an easy to live with bike when you’re sailing down these mighty hills too. Feel and consistency from the front brake and suspension mean I have confidence riding down parts where others are walking their bikes.

I’m surrounded by 300cc 2-strokes and wonder for a while if the KTM 250 EXC TPI was the correct choice. Just one of Erzberg’s biggest hills proves the KTM 250 EXC TPI has enough juice. A 300cc 2-stroke is the best tool for the job, that’s why the top riders like Alfredo Gomez use them, but the 300 can also be harder work and this event is hard enough work already. Having stronger power delivery helps in places but it also takes more hanging onto and I didn’t miss the extra zip of the 300 as much as I appreciated the character of the new KTM 250 EXC TPI in my first attack on the Erzberg.

Jonathan Pearson (#339, GBR) KTM 250 EXC TPI Erzbergrodeo (AUT) 2017

The TPI models have two other major advantages in life: fuel economy and consistent fueling. We knew from the world press launch in May the TPI engines were drinking less juice. At an event like Erzberg you must make a plan for fueling but amazingly the KTM 250 EXC TPI needed no fuel top-up during the race. It was easy to see through the tank I was had plenty of fuel left at each fuel stop so I simply sailed through. Sure, there is a lot of riding at low revs in Hard Enduro but this is a big improvement over a carbureted 2-stroke models.

Erzberg is at its toughest in the woods and it’s here the new TPI engine bike is making further differences. Savagely steep and technically difficult climbs through trees pile up riders and we spend as much time lifting bikes as riding – suddenly the reasons why we use 2-strokes and not 4-stroke bikes in Hard Enduro are very clear.

Jonathan Pearson (GBR) KTM 250 EXC TPI Erzbergrodeo (AUT) 2017

The Eisenerz quarry sits at high altitude and the nature of the event means you spend a lot of time at low revs. That takes a toll on carbureted engines and I’m surrounded by smoking 2-strokes. But when I look round at my own exhaust it’s hardly smoking at all. The TPI engine runs clean and also consistent all day as we scale up and down the mighty quarry – even when I turn upside-down in a crash there are no fuel spills from carburetor breather pipes.

The deal was to run a standard bike except for some KTM PowerParts fitted to help the bike through the brutality of the Erzberg: brake disc guards, engine covers, heat protection, hand straps on the front and rear plus the metal wrap-around hand guards – all from the KTM PowerParts catalog.

Apart from those few parts it is very much a standard EXC, boxfresh and with standard suspension settings. To answer the question ‘is the new EXC TPI up for the task of competing in the world’s biggest Hard Enduro?’, the answer is surely yes.

Jonathan Pearson (GBR) KTM 250 EXC TPI Erzbergrodeo (AUT) 2017

Photos: Robert Lynn/Future7Media