XR650R vs. EXC450 for Travelling

The only constant is change

Wait what, is this actually a reasonable comparison? To be honest, not really but then for me yes! Note that all the considerations below are very unique to my use-case and bikes and are not generally applicable.
I’ve been riding these bikes for quite some time now and I know their characteristics both well. I did some extensive travelling on the XR650R as well as shorter day trips with the KTM. Adventure Enduro Travels is just my thing and I constantly try to improve and adapt in regards to that. I recently decided, that I want to do even more extended trips in the future and questioned myself which bike I should be using for those. I love both of them, as they are epic rides and have their very own temperament, pros and cons. So here’s a short rundown of my thinkings.

The Big Red Pig XR650R

Oh I love her....but sometimes I also hate her! Piece of mind is a very important thing when travelling solo in unknown, remote areas. The XR always gave it to me and I adore the bike for doing so. It’s simplicity and robustness makes all a trustworthy travel companion needs. Barely electrics, no battery, no magic button (electric start), built bulletproof for Baja, a bike for real men right?! That’s definitely the pig’s character and this is a big pro for me but also has its downsides.
I love kicking the bike...when it starts with the first kick! Often times I found myself in a situation where I was alone in a foreign country blindly following some tracks that eventually became harder and harder over time. The pig is called pig because although it’s great capabilities, it’s not made for slower technical riding and can become a quite heavy tank in such situations. The bike just wants the Braap and actually requires it for functioning well. It is made for blasting through the desert in 5th gear and one can feel it. So what happened to me is that the bike would plopp off when I’m not carefully with the clutch and more importantly in rough terrain the carb would overflow. The combination of these traits, in many cases, made it hard work to get the pig up and running again. I had to kick lots and lots of times or more practical find a little hill to push it down and get the engine running. When you’re tired, exhausted and have to fight the elements this really is the least thing you need and can even end in putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Another point is the weak alternator and bad lighting (if one can even call it so). Charging your nav or other equipment might not work until you rev the engine quite bit.

In conclusion, these are the points I wanted to fix/improve after many thousands kilometres of riding:

  • No electric start
  • Weak alternator
  • Weak lighting
  • OEM Carburetor
  • More comfy seat
  • Quite old and exotic, spare parts hard to get
  • Exhaustive to operate the bike, vibrating, bad seat comfort, tight to pull levers

In addition, these are points of work I wanted to invest before taking the XR650R to another bigger trip:

  • Suspension revision
  • Engine revision to make sure it would still last a bigger trip
  • Renew all bearings

The KTM EXC 450

And then I thought, wait, you have the EXC450 sitting in the garage with only 2000km on the clock! Nearly all the weak spots I would criticize on the XR650 are kind of already fixed on the KTM:

  • Magic Button!
  • Proper alternator
  • Proper (compared to XR) lighting
  • Fuel Injected
  • Easy to get spare parts (2016 model)
  • Smooth as silk to operate
  • An additional 6th Gear
  • Definitely more comfortable

In addition, these are points of work I wanted to invest before taking the KTM 450 EXC to a bigger trip:

  • Bigger tank
  • More comfy seat
  • Change gearing
  • Cush hub drive

In terms of complexity and easier to fix on the road I think and hope it’s not a big difference. The XR has CDI and is also liquid cooled. If CDI breaks, shit hits the fan same as with the KTM. The Carb vs. FI discussion is an interesting one for sure but too big to fit into these lines. I don't like the idea to take apart a carb in dust and rain and try then to figure out how all those tiny parts get together again. I think FI is superior to carb and has less chances to break down. If it breaks down it might get tricky tho. In terms of maintenance and oil changes on the road I consider the bikes very similar. The biggest con of the KTM, for me, actually is the piece of mind and trust that I do not currently have. The XR650R is well proofed and I know it can take me everywhere. I’m not sure about the KTM but I eventually will find out.


After carefully debating and probably having too many thoughts, I made the decision to switch to the KTM as my travel companion and therefor will adventurise the bike, working on the points mentioned above. It’s just an amazing bike and I love riding it, having endless fun. There are not many ride reports out there besides the ones of The Rolling Hobo and Aaron @braaping_kiwi . I’m overly excited and full of curiosity how the experiment turns out and can’t wait to bring my adventure travels to the next level. The only constant is change!

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