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Report on riding a KTM 990 SMT

Published: 02 April 2009

Spring fever is upon me so, being a fickle individual, I am considering changing my bike for something new. Perhaps not brand new, but certainly different to my existing BMW R1150R (Rockster – yes I know it’s a stupid name for a bike!).

Having had in-line 4 rice rockets, I wanted a naked twin with a bit of pillion comfort and the Beemer fitted the bill. Continuing with this trend I recently took a test ride on KTM’s new supermoto incarnation – the 990SMT. Here’s what I thought.

First impressions are very favourable. It’s a good-looking bike as KTM have moved away from the rather slab fronted efforts of the Adventurer. The black frame and swinging arm offset the silver engine nicely and the upswept exhausts, exiting either side under the seat, leave the back of the bike clean and uncluttered.

Marchesini wheels, basic looking but functional dash, and the trademark black and orange paintwork finish things off pretty well. It’s a tall bike and swinging your leg over requires a bit of a stretch to clear the top box rack, which is standard on this model. The bike fires up from cold without issue, and settles to a slightly noisy tickover.

On the move the clutch is light and engages smoothly, the throttle response is instantaneous and the handling very balanced. It comes with sticky tyres as standard which won’t last long but do provide amazing grip. Leaning into corners was a delight as the suspension is compliant yet firm and blasting out from the apex using the engine’s 115bhp is quite a rush.

The exhaust note from the twin stainless steel pipes is good but a big capacity v-twin like this needs a sound that is deeper and louder so swapping the standard pipes for the slip-on Akrapovic’s (I’m so sorry officer, I thought they were road legal!) would not only save weight, but also sound fabulous. Might even let idiot iPod generation pedestrians know you’re coming too!!!

My test ride, with pillion on board, took in 60 miles of mixed city traffic, A roads and motorway and the bike performed faultlessly. No snatch from the throttle, so picking my way through traffic was not too hard, although the bars are pretty much at the same level as car wing mirrors, so filtering needs a bit of care. High speed riding is also easy as the KTM feels stable and safe with no weave or untoward vibration.

You sit up high on this bike, so the view over cars roofs is great but, as mentioned, you will need to be over 5’10” or so to be able to paddle the bike around whilst sitting on it. Radial brakes are from Brembo and are strong and progressive which inspires confidence, even in the wet. My only complaint is that the gearbox is a bit clunky, especially when engaging first, and the foot lever travel is a bit long.

The screen provides adequate protection from wind blast and the display of rev counter dial and digital speedo is easy to read. There’s also a temperature gauge and small clock and that’s it. Everything else is a little light that comes on when things are going badly wrong!!

My wife’s pillion perspective:

Getting onto the KTM is an art in itself. Make sure the rider has stabilised the bike and then onto the footpeg and swing up and over. Once seated it’s a reasonably comfy seat although my legs partially rested on the grab handles at the side which tended to transfer vibration rather badly. The view is good and because the rider is sitting fairly upright, it is possible, with their prior agreement, to use their back as a rest when braking hard. Grab handles are an easy reach and quite comfy and I was grateful for the heat shields on the exhausts which are just a few inches away.

Windblast in negligible and the footpegs are a comfy distance and means my knees are not up around my ears (there is a more appropriate time and place for this position!!) The 60 mile journey was fun and my husband has been given permission to buy an SMT :-)

Conclusion

As reported in MCN a couple of weeks ago, the KTM is a viable alternative to wrist breaking sports bikes. It has handling, power and looks combined with comfort and practicality. Go on, get down to your local KTM dealer and find out what I’m talking about. I’m definitely buying one!!

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