KTM 950 SM Supermoto (2004 - 2008) review

Meet KTM's 942cc supermoto. The motorcycling equivalent of a man with a thousand yard stare, disturbing twitch and a worrying interest in firearms...

Ben Cope's picture
By Visordown on Fri, 25 Jun 2010 - 12:06

Details
Manufacturer:
KTM
Category:
Supermoto
Price:
£ 8395
Overall
3
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KTM have produced a bike that (on paper at least) is bordering on a kind of madness
A brilliant bike that does it all with a smile.
Hard to find fault with.

Every once in a while a manufacturer throws caution to the wind and does something seemingly rather absurd. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not. In this case, KTM have produced a bike that (on paper at least) is bordering on a kind of madness. The kind of madness however that just might elevate the funky Austrian manufacturer to a higher level of cool.

Having introduced its first production Supermoto back in 1998 with the 620LC4, KTM have plugged away at the sector and enjoyed an impressive 42% average annual growth in sales. The new 950SM takes the number of road legal Supermoto models into double figures, while the Japanese have been particularly slow to catch on and are only now beginning to join the fray with their first examples. Confirmation though that the category is both authentic and established.

Our hosts at this world launch proudly announced that with the advent of the first major capacity model, Supermoto has officially grown up. There is naturally more method to this madness than just thrusting such a beast into the market place. Firstly, you can only go so far with a single cylinder motor before it becomes unmanageable or unreliable, not forgetting the desperate impracticality of those hard-edged dirtbike-based weapons. Secondly, the use of their big V-twin engine is the lure to attract newcomers that will grow the market and make KTM a brand synonymous with desirable road bikes, rather than simply mud-pluggers. They're also looking to attract current Supermoto owners, off-roaders who crave a road bike that they can relate to and duffers like myself who have done sportsbikes to death.

Arriving at our launch destination, a sublime luxury hilltop retreat overlooking Tuscany's Chianti vineyards, we were left in no doubt as to the intentions and expectations of this model. With an endless supply of bikes, technicians, hundreds of miles of challenging roller coaster country roads and a go-kart circuit to play on, this bike was going to get a thorough testing with any shortcomings easily exposed - the obvious banana skin (for a 191kg bike) lurking in the form of that tight and twisty go-kart track. On initial inspection the quality of the 950SM's components and finish was impressive. Headed by the customary WP suspension, including a beefy set of 48mm USD forks, the list included monster 4-piston radially mounted Brembo brakes, a chrome moly tubular frame and lightweight Brembo five-spoke aluminium wheels. All very appetising. Add to this blend a wet weight of 191kg before fuel, a significantly short 1510mm wheelbase and a 98bhp V-twin engine. The package is, at the very least, somewhat purposeful. Once on board with the Keihin carbed motor discreetly warming up below, the view between the trendy low mounted mirrors revealed a lack of rev counter, which to me is a minor disappointment. Easing through the initial few miles of glorious Tuscan countryside, an abrupt mind-to-hand re-calibration was needed to temper the incredibly powerful brakes, accustomed as I am to the far less able items fitted to my 950 Adventure long-term test bike. The 950SM's brakes are not vicious, but greedy lunges at the lever are completely unnecessary and result in ungainly stuttering. The bite is perfectly progressive and feedback at the lever is spot on, inspiring the high levels of confidence for balls-out hacking.

On the standard suspension settings the bike can cope well with poor roads as well as sudden changes in surface without getting too unsettled. Though not perfect, and understandably not as taught feeling as its smaller siblings, it's still very impressive. Pick up the pace, however, and the experience gets better. It's a forgiving package, no doubt about that, as tipping the bike in hard with, or without, precision results in the same rewarding (and unflappable) razor-tight line. We'd been pre-warned about slippery corners on the planned test routes, a familiar hazard of Italian roads that had already claimed a handful of press victims before our arrival. Visual detection of changes in grip requires full concentration, but we were all caught out from time to time moving between light and shade at a rate of knots. A mention here for the excellent Pirelli Scorpion Syncs, originally developed for the Ducati Multistrada. Their ability to hold a line and punch the 950 rapidly out of corners is mightily impressive. Feedback is spot-on too and when the tarmac denied decent levels of grip, a thankful reminder was always offered in the form of a gentle slide, though a steady right hand was needed to avoid disaster on exits...

So far so good but with a WP technician on hand, a change in the suspension settings was on the cards during the break for lunch. The first few hours had been impressive and entertaining, but I was sure an improvement was possible. The sport setting was dialled in before heading out for the afternoon route and the results were instantly noted. A few clicks here and there tightened up the chassis enough to raise the tempo still further to a blistering pace through the endless twists and turns. The feel was more natural and relaxing as less thought was needed to prepare for hard cornering, and before long the footpegs were regularly kissing the surface of the relentless hairpins. Charging hard like this for mile after mile with absolutely no dip in braking or engine performance emphatically confirmed the scratching credentials of this bike, and served to encourage a full-on stampede at a pace that would shame many large capacity sportsbikes. Even the competition styled seat failed to distract from the overall experience, being soft enough to spend an entire day in the saddle.

It goes without saying that with its stumpy geometry and thumping great engine, the 950SM is as at home on one wheel as two. It's impossible not to sample life on the back wheel, as merely accelerating in first will pick up the front end at a manageable rate. The trouble is that it becomes addictive because it's just so easy to go through the gears at an obscene angle - lunatics and traffic cops alike will be rubbing their sweaty palms together in anticipation.

I'd considered not bothering with the go kart track as I initially thought it a pointless exercise as the giant Supermoto would clearly be out of scale on a dinky little track, but we arrived all of a sudden and I was keen to find fault with what had so far been an impeccable riding experience. After a couple of laps though, with only one brief opportunity per lap to engage third gear, I found myself grinding the pegs round every turn and yanking violently on the throttle in an attempt to unsettle the damn thing, to no avail. The bike dug in and charged out of every corner like a wounded rhino with only an occasional chirp from the rear Pirelli. This test was complete while I was left sweating and grinning like an idiot, imagining the upset this tool could cause at a track day. I was genuinely astonished.

In the real world, and unlike the single cylinder models, the 950SM is more than a Sunday morning toy. It's got the legs and comfort to cover big miles. It even comes with pillion grab rails. On the downside there's not much in the way of wind protection or storage and the tank range isn't that substantial, but never mind. In terms of grin factor, which counts for a hell of a lot, this bike is a winner and will delight lucky owners around the globe.

The real downside to the whole story will be its availability. Only a couple of hundred or so will reach our shores this year, with the first batch arriving in June at a price to undercut the Super Duke by a few hundred quid. Get cracking if you want to be one of the happy few... the future is very orange indeed. And very bright with it.

VERDICT

For balls out riding the KTM rules. But it also makes a cracking day to day bike to look forward to the weekend on

Every once in a while a manufacturer throws caution to the wind and does something seemingly rather absurd. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not. In this case, KTM have produced a bike that (on paper at least) is bordering on a kind of madness. The kind of madness however that just might elevate the funky Austrian manufacturer to a higher level of cool.

Having introduced its first production Supermoto back in 1998 with the 620LC4, KTM have plugged away at the sector and enjoyed an impressive 42% average annual growth in sales. The new 950SM takes the number of road legal Supermoto models into double figures, while the Japanese have been particularly slow to catch on and are only now beginning to join the fray with their first examples. Confirmation though that the category is both authentic and established.

Our hosts at this world launch proudly announced that with the advent of the first major capacity model, Supermoto has officially grown up. There is naturally more method to this madness than just thrusting such a beast into the market place. Firstly, you can only go so far with a single cylinder motor before it becomes unmanageable or unreliable, not forgetting the desperate impracticality of those hard-edged dirtbike-based weapons. Secondly, the use of their big V-twin engine is the lure to attract newcomers that will grow the market and make KTM a brand synonymous with desirable road bikes, rather than simply mud-pluggers. They're also looking to attract current Supermoto owners, off-roaders who crave a road bike that they can relate to and duffers like myself who have done sportsbikes to death.

Arriving at our launch destination, a sublime luxury hilltop retreat overlooking Tuscany's Chianti vineyards, we were left in no doubt as to the intentions and expectations of this model. With an endless supply of bikes, technicians, hundreds of miles of challenging roller coaster country roads and a go-kart circuit to play on, this bike was going to get a thorough testing with any shortcomings easily exposed - the obvious banana skin (for a 191kg bike) lurking in the form of that tight and twisty go-kart track. On initial inspection the quality of the 950SM's components and finish was impressive. Headed by the customary WP suspension, including a beefy set of 48mm USD forks, the list included monster 4-piston radially mounted Brembo brakes, a chrome moly tubular frame and lightweight Brembo five-spoke aluminium wheels. All very appetising. Add to this blend a wet weight of 191kg before fuel, a significantly short 1510mm wheelbase and a 98bhp V-twin engine. The package is, at the very least, somewhat purposeful. Once on board with the Keihin carbed motor discreetly warming up below, the view between the trendy low mounted mirrors revealed a lack of rev counter, which to me is a minor disappointment. Easing through the initial few miles of glorious Tuscan countryside, an abrupt mind-to-hand re-calibration was needed to temper the incredibly powerful brakes, accustomed as I am to the far less able items fitted to my 950 Adventure long-term test bike. The 950SM's brakes are not vicious, but greedy lunges at the lever are completely unnecessary and result in ungainly stuttering. The bite is perfectly progressive and feedback at the lever is spot on, inspiring the high levels of confidence for balls-out hacking.

On the standard suspension settings the bike can cope well with poor roads as well as sudden changes in surface without getting too unsettled. Though not perfect, and understandably not as taught feeling as its smaller siblings, it's still very impressive. Pick up the pace, however, and the experience gets better. It's a forgiving package, no doubt about that, as tipping the bike in hard with, or without, precision results in the same rewarding (and unflappable) razor-tight line. We'd been pre-warned about slippery corners on the planned test routes, a familiar hazard of Italian roads that had already claimed a handful of press victims before our arrival. Visual detection of changes in grip requires full concentration, but we were all caught out from time to time moving between light and shade at a rate of knots. A mention here for the excellent Pirelli Scorpion Syncs, originally developed for the Ducati Multistrada. Their ability to hold a line and punch the 950 rapidly out of corners is mightily impressive. Feedback is spot-on too and when the tarmac denied decent levels of grip, a thankful reminder was always offered in the form of a gentle slide, though a steady right hand was needed to avoid disaster on exits...

So far so good but with a WP technician on hand, a change in the suspension settings was on the cards during the break for lunch. The first few hours had been impressive and entertaining, but I was sure an improvement was possible. The sport setting was dialled in before heading out for the afternoon route and the results were instantly noted. A few clicks here and there tightened up the chassis enough to raise the tempo still further to a blistering pace through the endless twists and turns. The feel was more natural and relaxing as less thought was needed to prepare for hard cornering, and before long the footpegs were regularly kissing the surface of the relentless hairpins. Charging hard like this for mile after mile with absolutely no dip in braking or engine performance emphatically confirmed the scratching credentials of this bike, and served to encourage a full-on stampede at a pace that would shame many large capacity sportsbikes. Even the competition styled seat failed to distract from the overall experience, being soft enough to spend an entire day in the saddle.

It goes without saying that with its stumpy geometry and thumping great engine, the 950SM is as at home on one wheel as two. It's impossible not to sample life on the back wheel, as merely accelerating in first will pick up the front end at a manageable rate. The trouble is that it becomes addictive because it's just so easy to go through the gears at an obscene angle - lunatics and traffic cops alike will be rubbing their sweaty palms together in anticipation.

I'd considered not bothering with the go kart track as I initially thought it a pointless exercise as the giant Supermoto would clearly be out of scale on a dinky little track, but we arrived all of a sudden and I was keen to find fault with what had so far been an impeccable riding experience. After a couple of laps though, with only one brief opportunity per lap to engage third gear, I found myself grinding the pegs round every turn and yanking violently on the throttle in an attempt to unsettle the damn thing, to no avail. The bike dug in and charged out of every corner like a wounded rhino with only an occasional chirp from the rear Pirelli. This test was complete while I was left sweating and grinning like an idiot, imagining the upset this tool could cause at a track day. I was genuinely astonished.

In the real world, and unlike the single cylinder models, the 950SM is more than a Sunday morning toy. It's got the legs and comfort to cover big miles. It even comes with pillion grab rails. On the downside there's not much in the way of wind protection or storage and the tank range isn't that substantial, but never mind. In terms of grin factor, which counts for a hell of a lot, this bike is a winner and will delight lucky owners around the globe.

The real downside to the whole story will be its availability. Only a couple of hundred or so will reach our shores this year, with the first batch arriving in June at a price to undercut the Super Duke by a few hundred quid. Get cracking if you want to be one of the happy few... the future is very orange indeed. And very bright with it.

VERDICT

For balls out riding the KTM rules. But it also makes a cracking day to day bike to look forward to the weekend on

Every once in a while a manufacturer throws caution to the wind and does something seemingly rather absurd. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not. In this case, KTM have produced a bike that (on paper at least) is bordering on a kind of madness. The kind of madness however that just might elevate the funky Austrian manufacturer to a higher level of cool.

Having introduced its first production Supermoto back in 1998 with the 620LC4, KTM have plugged away at the sector and enjoyed an impressive 42% average annual growth in sales. The new 950SM takes the number of road legal Supermoto models into double figures, while the Japanese have been particularly slow to catch on and are only now beginning to join the fray with their first examples. Confirmation though that the category is both authentic and established.

Our hosts at this world launch proudly announced that with the advent of the first major capacity model, Supermoto has officially grown up. There is naturally more method to this madness than just thrusting such a beast into the market place. Firstly, you can only go so far with a single cylinder motor before it becomes unmanageable or unreliable, not forgetting the desperate impracticality of those hard-edged dirtbike-based weapons. Secondly, the use of their big V-twin engine is the lure to attract newcomers that will grow the market and make KTM a brand synonymous with
desirable road bikes, rather than simply mud-pluggers. They're also looking to attract current Supermoto owners, off-roaders who crave a road bike that they can relate to and duffers like myself who have done sportsbikes to death.

Arriving at our launch destination, a sublime luxury hilltop retreat overlooking Tuscany's Chianti vineyards, we were left in no doubt as to the intentions and expectations of this model. With an endless supply of bikes, technicians, hundreds of miles of challenging roller coaster country roads and a go-kart circuit to play on, this bike was going to get a thorough testing with any shortcomings easily exposed - the obvious banana skin (for a 191kg bike) lurking in the form of that tight and twisty go-kart track.
On initial inspection the quality of the 950SM's components and finish was impressive. Headed by the customary WP suspension, including a beefy set of 48mm USD forks, the list included monster 4-piston radially mounted Brembo brakes, a chrome moly tubular frame and lightweight Brembo five-spoke aluminium wheels. All very appetising. Add to this blend a wet weight of 191kg before fuel, a significantly short 1510mm wheelbase and a 98bhp V-twin engine. The package is, at the very least, somewhat purposeful.
Once on board with the Keihin carbed motor discreetly warming up below, the view between the trendy low mounted mirrors revealed a lack of rev counter, which to me is a minor disappointment. Easing through the initial few miles of glorious Tuscan countryside, an abrupt mind-to-hand re-calibration was needed to temper the incredibly powerful brakes, accustomed as I am to the far less able items fitted to my 950 Adventure long-term test bike. The 950SM's brakes are not vicious, but greedy lunges at the lever are completely unnecessary and result in ungainly stuttering. The bite is perfectly progressive and feedback at the lever is spot on, inspiring the high levels of confidence for balls-out hacking.

On the standard suspension settings the bike can cope well with poor roads as well as sudden changes in surface without getting too unsettled. Though not perfect, and understandably not as taught feeling as its smaller siblings, it's still very impressive.
Pick up the pace, however, and the experience gets better. It's a forgiving package, no doubt about that, as tipping the bike in hard with, or without, precision results in the same rewarding (and unflappable) razor-tight line.
We'd been pre-warned about slippery corners on the planned test routes, a familiar hazard of Italian roads that had already claimed a handful of press victims before our arrival. Visual detection of changes in grip requires full concentration, but we were all caught out from time to time moving between light and shade at a rate of knots. A mention here for the excellent Pirelli Scorpion Syncs, originally developed for the Ducati Multistrada. Their ability to hold a line and punch the 950 rapidly out of corners is mightily impressive. Feedback is spot-on too and when the tarmac denied decent levels of grip, a thankful reminder was always offered in the form of a gentle slide, though a steady right hand was needed to avoid disaster on exits...

So far so good but with a WP technician on hand, a change in the suspension settings was on the cards during the break for lunch. The first few hours had been impressive and entertaining, but I was sure an improvement was possible. The sport setting was dialled in before heading out for the afternoon route and the results were instantly noted. A few clicks here and there tightened up the chassis enough to raise the tempo still further to a blistering pace through the endless twists and turns. The feel was more natural and relaxing as less thought was needed to prepare for hard cornering, and before long the footpegs were regularly kissing the surface of the relentless hairpins.
Charging hard like this for mile after mile with absolutely no dip in braking or engine performance emphatically confirmed the scratching credentials of this bike, and served to encourage a full-on stampede at a pace that would shame many large capacity sportsbikes. Even the competition styled seat failed to distract from the overall experience, being soft enough to spend an entire day in the saddle.

It goes without saying that with its stumpy geometry and thumping great engine, the 950SM is as at home on one wheel as two. It's impossible not to sample life on the back wheel, as merely accelerating in first will pick up the front end at a manageable rate. The trouble is that it becomes addictive because it's just so easy to go through the gears at an obscene angle - lunatics and traffic cops alike will
be rubbing their sweaty palms together
in anticipation.

I'd considered not bothering with the
go kart track as I initially thought it a pointless exercise as the giant Supermoto would clearly be out of scale on a dinky little track, but we arrived all of a sudden and I was keen to find fault with what had so far been an impeccable riding experience. After a couple of laps though, with only one brief opportunity per lap to engage third gear, I found myself grinding the pegs round every turn and yanking violently on the throttle in an attempt to unsettle the damn thing, to no avail. The bike dug in and charged out of every corner like a wounded rhino with only an occasional chirp from the rear Pirelli. This test was complete while I was left sweating and grinning like an idiot, imagining the upset this tool could cause at a track day. I was genuinely astonished.

In the real world, and unlike the single cylinder models, the 950SM is more than a Sunday morning toy. It's got the legs and comfort to cover big miles. It even comes with pillion grab rails. On the downside there's not much in the way of wind protection or storage and the tank range isn't that substantial, but never mind. In terms of grin factor, which counts for a hell of a lot, this bike is a
winner and will delight lucky owners around the globe.

The real downside to the whole story will be its availability. Only a couple of hundred or so will reach our shores this year, with the first batch arriving in June at a price to undercut the Super Duke by a few hundred quid. Get cracking if you want to be one of the happy few... the future is very orange indeed. And very bright with it.

VERDICT

For balls out riding the KTM rules. But it also makes a cracking day to day bike to look forward to the weekend on

Score Breakdown
Overall
3
Engine
4
Brakes
4
Handling
4
Comfort
2
Build Quality
4
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