It doesn’t look like a bike that’s just finished the Dakar – it’s clean and there are only minimal signs of wear. A closer look tells you that the built to order factory KTM 450RR has seen some action but for a bike that’s been raced for 5600 miles across Argentina, Chile and Peru – it’s looking sweet.
It belongs to Stan Watt who claimed an impressive 34th place in the 2012 Dakar, which finished in January.
It’s a big moment for me. Anyone that even enters the Dakar on a bike is a hero in my eyes and here I am about to be let loose on a factory built KTM Dakar bike that’s been ridden to a top result in the epic race.
I’m getting the rest of my riding kit on while Stan loads the bike up with fuel. He wants to give me a genuine experience of the bike so instead of running it light he puts in 30 litres of fuel divided between the two nine litre front tanks and the 18 litre rear tank.
"You might find the fuelling is a bit out for this weather in the UK (clear but cold) as we had to make a lot of changes to get it working right in South America where it was really hot," Explained Watt.
Normally when you ride an enduro bike there is nothing in front of you, no screen, no fairing, nothing. You can see the ground and more importantly your front mud guard so you know what your front wheel is doing.
On the Dakar bike the lack of visibility is off putting, as is knowing that you’ve got all that extra top heavy weight of the navigational equipment and fairing located way out in front of the handlebars.
The result is that the front feels initially vague, but as you ride you soon realise it’s still working and digging in the same way as a regular competition enduro bike. The combination of harder suspension to cope with the extra weight gives a plush sensation and a set up that absorbs bumps and whoops on our lap.
But the way in which it carries the extra weight remains particularly impressive. I’ve ridden Dakar bikes before, but they had always been a strengthened, reconfigured 450 enduro bike, loaded down with close to 70kg of extra fuel, spares and navigational equipment.
As a result they essentially feel like a seriously overweight 450, but this KTM 4500RR is different. Built to order and one of only 80 produced for the 2012 Dakar – this is a dedicated rally bike from the ground up.
Yes, it shares the same 450cc single cylinder base motor as used in KTM’s enduro and motocrossers, but chassis, swingarm, subframes, suspension, wheels, fuel tanks, fairing and wiring loom etc. are unique.
It’s the same base bike that Cyril Despres rode to Dakar victory and KTM won’t even take your order for one unless you are a regular rally rider competing in events around the world.
Blipping the throttle there’s no mistaking it’s a race ready engine and the revs pick up and drop away lightening quick. Riding a mixture of fast open tracks and rutted sandy trails the first impression is just how high geared it is.
Normally on a 450 enduro bike you’re throwing gears at it, but not on this one – first gear is seriously tall and used to tackle anything remotely technical.
The reason is that it’s still a 450cc single with only five gears, yet to race the Dakar it needs be able to sit at over 100mph flat out for long periods of time.
By using gears more sparingly, you soon get used to its long legged-ness and smooth engine character and it becomes easy and forgiving to ride. If you can carry a bit of speed it feels like nothing can get in the way.
Its extra weight may compromise the steering response but in return it’s stable and that brings an inherent ability to help the bike keep going forward – a vital trait if you’ve got to cover over 5000miles.
Even when I lost my balance in the ruts, the extra inertia carried me through just as long as I kept a hint of momentum.