The 500 EXC-F is one of the best large-displacement dual sports available, and back when we compared it against the Husqvarna FE 501 , we had positive first impressions. The bike was great in stock form, but as we racked up the hours, we decided to do a bike build on the 500 EXC-F to fully unleash its off-road abilities and see how capable it really was.


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Watch our video to see the bike in action, and keep reading to get all the build details and a list of components.

In Stock Trim

The 500 EXC-F comes from the showroom as a street-legal enduro that’s surprisingly capable and comfortable on both dirt and asphalt. The 510cc engine is fuel injected, tied to a wide-ratio 6-speed transmission, and comes standard with electric start. The suspension is some of KTM’s best, with the WP Xplor 48 fork up front and the Xplor PDS shock out back.

ktm 500 excf 2018 profile

The 500 EXC-F also uses Brembo parts for all hydraulic brake and clutch components. The stock tank holds 2.25 gallons, the rims come mounted with Continental TKC 80 tires, and KTM is even nice enough to include a kickstand.

Overall, we think the 500 EXC-F is well set up and amazingly capable off road, especially considering it’s 100% street legal. The motor offers plenty of power, and despite the amount of horsepower on tap, it’s delivered in an approachable way.

With a bike this good, initial changes were few. But once our COO, Ray, got a few months of riding the 500 under his belt, he had a good list of changes to get started.

Protection & Durability

Typically, the first accessories added to our bikes are ones that promote durability. For the 500, that meant a new set of Tusk Impact Wheels and an Acerbis skid plate. The stock wheels are good, but we think the Impact wheels are on another level. They look great, and their additional strength will help the 500 hold up on high-speed trails and extreme terrain. The Acerbis skid plate has an exceptional amount of strength as well, and it’s large enough to cover the bottom of the frame, engine, and a good portion of the engine cases.

ktm 500 excf skid plate

Next, we adjusted the gearing by swapping out the stock components with a Primary Drive chain and sprockets. Since the 500 EXC-F is a road-legal bike with taller gears, we lowered them by moving to a larger rear sprocket. This effectively shifted the gearing to a lower range that better matched the type of off-road riding we do. The bike still handles high speeds well, so while this change could be categorized as a performance mod, we also gained additional parts longevity from not having to slip the clutch as frequently and running the engine at a more comfortable rpm on the trail.

ktm 500 excf rear brake guard

A Tusk rear brake rotor guard was a great addition for the peace of mind it gave us. With the guard in place, we had insurance against the 500’s brake disc getting mangled by a rock and ruining a ride. The Tusk Billet Clutch Cover also paid for itself with the confidence it inspires. It’s common for brake pedals to push through stock clutch covers during tip overs and slides. With the durability of a billet cover, brake pedals, obstacles, and flying debris have a harder time causing damage.

ktm 500 excf billet ignition cover

Finally, we added the Tusk D-Flex Pro Handguards. These full wraparound guards are nearly bombproof when it comes to protecting the rider’s hands and the bike’s controls. The version we gave the 500 EXC-F also has built-in LED turn signals that dramatically clean up the front of the bike and eliminate the larger stock blinkers that risked getting ripped off on the trail.

Performance

With a 510cc mill, the bike had plenty of power, and our mods focused on usability. We addressed the exhaust first, and while the stock components work, we thought they were too restrictive and not as adaptable as we wanted. The Lexx MXe silencer was our solution because it flows more air and offers several different end cap configurations. The assorted end caps are customizable for sound output on the street, track, and trail, but additional sound baffles and spark arrestors are available, and that’s incredibly important for the forest & mountain trails we ride.

ktm 500 excf spark arrested silencer

The GPR steering stabilizer kit is another accessory worth its weight in gold. When you’re really moving on the 500 EXC-F, there’s a lot of power still left on tap, and steering can get squirrely on loose terrain. GPR’s stabilizer is the ideal way to get high-speed steering back under control. It also worked especially well for taller riders, like Ray, since the kit raises the bars around an inch and improves cockpit ergonomics.

ktm 500 excf steering stabilizer

Performance was markedly increased with some Bridgestone X30 Intermediate Tires, and since our 500 mainly sticks to dirt, we appreciated the all-around traction and increased response they offered. The Baja Design XL Pro LED Headlight was another mod to increase control. The 500 EXC-F comes with a headlight, but the stock unit leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of going with auxiliary lights, we kept the factory look and installed an XL Pro light kit. Installation was simple and only involved attaching the connectors since the kit uses the factory headlight housing. The result was a dramatic increase in light output and nighttime visibility.

2018 ktm excf 500 bike build led headlight

We paired the new headlight with an oversized Acerbis fuel tank, and the two made it even easier to log miles on the 500. The increased range is particularly important when it comes to cross-country racing and riding across the desolate areas we encounter in the American West.

2018 ktm excf bike build engine covers

All our mods up to this point focused on versatility, but we’re also racing this bike, and we had one mod strictly for closed-course racing. When it came time to race, we removed the 500 EXC-F’s stock air boot from the intake assembly and replaced it with the air boot from the XC-F. The XC-F is an off-road model, and its air boot flows more air. The greater air volume gives the 500 EXC-F an extra edge when racing, just remember that this mod is not legal for road-going machines. If you do this mod, make sure to reverse it before you hit asphalt, or keep your bike off road.

2018 ktm excf 500 bike build extended oversize gas fuel tank

Lastly, we topped everything off with a Tusk High Pressure Radiator Cap and Temp Gauge so we could monitor the bike’s performance at a glance. Pop the cap on the radiator, and it only takes a second to see if the bike is running in the green or ready to boil over.

Personalization

Our final step of the build was personalization, and we started with a custom set of graphics from Attack Graphics. The new graphics look fantastic, but more importantly, they allow us to customize our number plates for racing.

2018 ktm excf 500 bike build hand guard trail mirror

Instead of leaving the stock mirrors and risking them getting ripped off by branches and trail obstacles, we picked up a Double Take Trail Mirror and were surprised by its performance. The mirror is a low-profile, convex design that mounts directly to the bars and offers a surprisingly clear view behind the rider. We also streamlined the bike by swapping out the stock license plate mount for the inner fender and taillight assembly of the XC-F. Ray had some problems with the stock plate assembly hitting the tire and breaking the mount. After swapping plate assemblies and installing heavier springs, the problem was solved. The springs drastically improve ride quality for Ray, and the assembly cleans up the back of the bike while retaining street legality.

2018 ktm excf 500 bike build seat concepts seat

We also replaced the seat with one from Seat Concepts. The complete seats from Seat Concepts are some of the highest quality options available, so while the stock unit isn’t bad, the Seat Concept’s option completely changes how it feels to sit in the saddle for hours on end.

2018 ktm excf bike build sprocket rear wheel

A new set of bars tied in nicely with our seat and went a long way towards improving overall comfort. We picked the Fasst Flexx bars because they’re known as some of the most comfortable and versatile bars on the market. They’re well built with quality materials, and they have a design that functions like suspension for your hands. The control portions of the bars are mounted on polymer dampers that have a controlled amount of flexibility. Since the connection is not absolutely rigid, these dampers are free to flex and absorb the impact from large g-outs, the harsh feedback of chatter, and the vibration that contributes to arm pump.

2018 ktm 500 excf bike build handlebars brake reservoir

Last but not least, we made the bike stand out with an extra bit of bling and sparkle. We didn’t go overboard with the small accessories, but we did pick up billet anodized pieces for our brake reservoir covers, rim locks, engine plugs, oil fill cap, and other assorted places on the bike. The end result doesn’t drastically change the look or performance of the bike, but it does give it a finalized, polished appearance that stands up to even the most discerning eye.

Comment

Tell Us What You Think

How does our KTM 500 EXC-F build measure up? Do you like the off-road approach we took, or would you give the bike a more street-oriented bias? Leave your thoughts and comments below.

Parts Available at Rocky Mountain ATV/MC

Tusk Impact Wheel Kit Acerbis MC Skid Plate Acerbis Fuel Tank
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D-Flex Pro Guards with Signals XL Pro LED Light Kit GPR V4 Stabilizer Kit
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Fasst Flexx Bars Lexx MXe Silencer Bridgestone X30 Int. Tires
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Attack Graphics Custom Kit Double Take Trail Mirror KTM License Plate Holder
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Primary Drive Xring Chain Primary Drive Aluminum Rear Sprocket Primary Drive Sprocket Bolt Set
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Primary Drive XTS Front Sprocket Tusk Billet Bling Kit Tusk Billet Clutch Cover
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Seat Concepts Complete Seat Tusk Billet Gas Cap Tusk Billet Rear Brake Disc Guard
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Tusk Radiator Cap with Temp Gauge Tusk Kick Stand Tusk Mini Flush LED Signals
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Tusk Rim Lock KTM Slim Taillight Kit
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