June 25, 2005 The launch of the new KTM 950 SUPERMOTO was one of KTM’s biggest gambles yet. The Austrian marque has been undergoing the transition from niche purveyor of premium off-road competition machinery to fully-fledged motorcycle manufacturer and has its eyes set firmly on the road bike market with a 990 Supersport motorcycle set to spearhead its road machinery charge and successful forays into (125 and soon 250cc) Grand Prix racing set to give it credibility. So why it would choose to release such an oddball motorcycle as the 950cc supermotard to such great fanfare was a complete mystery … until the press rode the bike, which turned out to be a sensation. Our favourite quote on the KTM comes from Two Wheels Only: “The motorcycling equivalent of a man with a 1000 yard stare, a disturbing twitch and an unhealthy interest in firearms ...”
The supermotard class of motorcycle is an interesting compromise between motorcross and roadracing design parameters. As the class has evolved in only recent times, the bikes have not yet finished their evolution. In the first decades of the class, the bikes have been off-road based with roadracing brakes, suspension, wheels and tyres grafted to motocross machinery to deliver a bike which can be scratched around a tarmac racetrack with abandon.
As only a few European manufacturers offer purpose-built Supermotard machinery, the evolution of the species is only just beginning, though the recent announcements of the japanses in this area look set to inject intensity, money, competition and vitality into the area.
Supemotards have until now been single cylinder machines – which is why the thought of a 920cc v-twin motor didn’t really make all that much sense. On paper, the KTM seemed like an incongruent grafting of a third motorcycle breed into an as yet not fully accepted breed of motorcycle. But from the first few minutes of the bike’s official media presentation in May in Tuscany/Italy, the top model of KTM Supermoto family quickly convinced the international press that there is a future for this new class of motorcycle. After the first test rides everybody agreed on the exceptionally good handling, sporty character and unmatched versatility of the big two-cylinder bike.
The KTM 950 SUPERMOTO raises the whole supermotard category to a new level.
The strength of the supermotard design is the riding position which offers an ergonomic advantage for cornering at or beyond the limits of tyre adhesion. The praying mantis riding position that has evolved for streamlined racing motorcycles might be perfect for high speed racetracks with their 140+ km/h corners, but the supermotard racetrack corners are far more akin to those of the real world in that they are much slower, and often have a broken, slippery dirty surface.
And the best riding position for controlling a bike that has begun to slide is bolt upright with nice wide handlebars to offer the leverage to easily manhandle it back into shape.
The wide bars and powerful sensitive brakes of a supermotard enable non-experts to corner faster and with much greater control, and given some practice, to “back the bike into a corner.” At roadgoing speeds, the supermotard geometry makes a lot more sense.
And as it may become abundantly clear as this class of motorcycle evolves, the single cylinder motor might not ultimately prove to be ideal. As supermotard bikes logically evolved from off-road motorcycles, they inherited the single cylinder motor of the performance off-roader. Single cylinder motors offer a feel that’s necessary on the dirt when maintaining traction is paramount – when the surface is loose, the important thing is to get the power on the ground. Excessive wheelspin is a handicap.
Now 300, 400, 500 and even 600 cc single cylinder engines provide massive power on the dirt, where they offer the key advantage of light weight and predictable power delivery but on tarmac, they lack the middle and top end power required for a thrilling ride when exiting corners.
So KTM’s use of the 920cc v-twin engine may prove to be a masterstroke as it offers a roadster with very light weight for a 1000cc motorcycle, yet enough power to slingshot the beastie out of corners as fast as you’re likely to be able to get out of there on any machinery … and the instantaneous grunt to wheelstand at will!
“The 950 Supermoto is a real-world sport motorcycle unlike any other,” says Motorcyclist magazine from its report on the launch in the June 2005 issue. The magazine forsees the V-twin Supermoto becoming “KTM’s best-selling streetbike right from the day it enters production.” “It will also be a paradigm for a new generation of sporting motorcycles … They’ll need to if they want to keep pace with KTM - on the street as well as in the dirt.”
All of the magazines that attended the launch told much the same story. Some examples:
“Calling it a brilliant motorcycle simply isn’t enough. It’s much better than that. One day, all bikes will make you feel this good.” Australian Motorcycle News, June 15-28, 2005
“KTM aims the new 950 Supermoto across a broad church of potential buyers. It’s a bike that demands to be noticed and taken seriously.” Superbike UK, June 2005
“The 950 Supermoto is more than a Sunday morning toy. It’s got the legs and comfort to cover big miles… the future is very orange indeed. Two Wheels Only, July 2005
As such, the new KTM Supermotard targets all current single-cylinder Supermoto riders who are looking for more engine performance, and it offers an alternative for Supersport and Superbike customers.
The crying shame is that supplies of the new KTM 950 SUPERMOTO are likely to be swamped by demand for the machine over the first few years of production, so if you fancy something like this, get on the job as the initial limited shipments arrive in most markets later this year.