I’d be lying if I said the frame’s revised flex properties and tweaked geometry felt particularly tangible, but there’s no denying the 2019 model feels slightly sharper than the previous incarnation.
This is the ultimate road scalpel; a sublime mix of water boatman agility and assured stability that brings endless smiles and accommodates a range of riding styles.
New WP suspension is perfectly at home soaking up rough road surfaces or laying rubber down on a kart track, and adds a more executive feel to the 690’s ride.
Unlike most manufacturers, KTM chops and changes between tyre brands to suit particular models. Bridgestone S21s are fitted to the 690. Why? Because their test rider, Rudi Bauer, preferred them to other rubber options as he could drag the bars during extreme cornering.
Needless to say, I didn’t mimic his research skills. The sporty all-round hoops proved excellent on both road and track, heating up quickly and bringing confidence to push immediately.
KTM (and sister company Husqvarna) are the only manufacturer genuinely persisting with single-cylinder technology, and huge amounts of work has gone into making the LC4 engine more useable and less vibey.
A second balancer shaft has been added, which has significantly reduced vibes and made the whole ride far smoother. Anything just above idle is a chain-clattering mess – as you’d expect from a mono pot – but the rest of the delivery is silky, enthralling and highly addictive.
With a bigger bore and shorter stroke, plus a forged piston and cylinder head work, the Mattighofen engineers have preserved that archetypal bottom-end grunt, yet the 690 now revs with serious vigour all the way to the redline.
KTM claim 7bhp over the previous version but, given the engine’s intensity, it feels like more. 74bhp has never felt so exciting.
Although hard to say at this stage, reviews of previous incarnations would suggest nothing to worry about.
MCN's Bruce Dunn spoke to KTM mechanic, Jason Jones, about the previous machine, who said: "As far as reliability goes they are generally good. Most owners understand the nature of the engine - it's highly tuned single-cylinder four stroke, so it needs to be serviced correctly. This includes using the correct grade and type of synthetic oil.
"Any engine problems that surface can often be traced to poor maintenance routines or owner neglect. For example, it's not a mildly tuned CB500 that would probably go for years without the oil being checked - the 690 is a high-performance bike and needs looking after."
Yes, the SMC R is a focused supermoto, but for a bike that costs nearly £10,000, it’d be nice to peruse a dash that doesn’t look like it’s been hiding in a parts bin since the 1980s.
Practicality isn't usually a noun associated with supermoto, or KTM for that matter, but by managing to add an extra 1.5 litres to the fuel capacity, the SMC R has certainly become a tad more practical – even if it is a super-thirsty supermoto.
As before, the fuel tank is a load-bearing part of the chassis, so there’s no subframe as such. And there’s even a USB socket to charge phones and other devices. What’s next? Heated grips?
Some would argue the new SMC R is just a rebadged – and uglier – Husqvarna 701, and they’re not a million miles away.
However, what really sets the pair apart for 2019 is the KTM’s electronic suite; MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control, which also incorporates anti-wheelie – no idea why you’d want this on a supermoto) and cornering ABS are both safety nets and performance enhancing, although I rarely felt the TC functioning thanks to the mass of mechanical grip.
Both, thankfully, can be turned off completely with just a touch of a button, and there’s an aftermarket Power Parts dongle to activate Supermoto ABS.
You get two modes; 'Street' and 'Sport' – the former boasting higher levels of electronic intervention and a softer throttle response, while the latter has more relaxed rider aids and a more direct throttle response. The Cornering ABS was a palpable ally on track, allowing hefty braking whilst carrying committed lean angles.