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Pack Instinct: SM510R vs. 690SMC vs. SXV550

When you absolutely, positively, have to go completely stark raving mad this weekend there is only one path to take

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By Jon Urry on Tue, 11 Nov 2008 - 12:11

Pack Instinct: SM510R vs. 690SMC vs. SXV550

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Pack Instinct Video


Husqvarna SM510R Specification

Price: £6,595
Engine: 501cc, lc, 4t, single
Power: 53bhp @ 8,000rpm
Torque: -
Front suspension: 50mm USD fully adj.
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adj.
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston
Rear brake: 240mm disc, one-piston
Dry weight: 118kg (claimed)
Seat height: 920mm
Fuel capacity: 7.2L
Top speed: 88mph
Colours: Red, White, Black


KTM 690SMC Specification

Price: £6,195
Engine: 654cc, lc, 4t, single
Power: 63bhp @ 7,500rpm
Torque: 49.4 lb.ft @ 7,750rpm
Front suspension: WP 48mm, fully adj.
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adj.
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston
Rear brake: 240mm disc, one-piston
Dry weight: 139kg (claimed)
Seat height: 900mm
Fuel capacity: 12.0L
Top speed: 110mph
Colours: Orange


Aprilia SXV550 Specification

Price: £6,600
Engine: 449cc, lc, 4t, twin
Power: 65bhp @ 10,000rpm
Torque: -
Front suspension: 48mm USD fully adj.
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adj.
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston
Rear brake: 240mm disc, one-piston
Dry weight: 138kg (claimed)
Seat height: 918mm
Fuel capacity: 7.8L
Top speed: 95mph
Colours: Red/Black or VdB Replica

We’ve only been in the saddle for 45 minutes but it’s taken a hefty toll. Arms are aching, bums feel like we have been beaten by an overly enthusiastic dominatrix and one bike is already on reserve. It’s only taken 39 miles for these supermotos to reduce us to shells of our former selves, but that’s the pleasure of them. Nothing in life comes easy, and with a full-on supermoto you pay the price for every wheelie, stoppie, skid or whichever two-wheeled vice you choose. Pleasure versus pain, you never get one without the other, but can you hang onto the ride long enough to satisfy your urge for trouble?

Which is all these bikes are. Trouble. But, like a spoken-for beauty who gives you the come-on, trouble is exciting, thrilling and worth the risk and potential pain and discomfort. Supermotos are an itch that needs to be scratched, and when the urge hits you to enter into an hour of mind-out madness, there is no finer machine. As with many high fashions, the mainstream has diluted the supermoto buzz, bringing us turgid runarounds like the DR-Z400SM and XT660X, powered by flaccid engines with no guts for a proper fight. These bikes are little more than styled city commuters, more scooters with fancy clothes than the monstrous converted crossers that their forefathers were. But look beneath these imposters and a few machines remain true to their ancestry. Bikes such as the three we draw together for a day.

If you know who Christian Iddon or Van Den Bosch is none of these bikes will need an introduction. They are all leaders in their field. Aprilia’s SXV550 is the Ducati 1098R of the supermoto world. When it entered the supermoto scene in 2006, rather than follow the traditional route of a big single cylinder machine Aprilia built a unique (in moto) terms 549cc V-twin. A controversial move, but one that has rewarded the Italian company a whole host of supermoto trophies. This bike is little more than Den Bosch’s race tool on the road, complete with an engine’s service life that is calculated in hours, not miles, and a petrol tank that is designed for 15 lap races, which is barely enough to make the next petrol station. Make no mistake, the SXV is a racer barely masquerading as a road bike, and comes with the accompanying inadequacies.

Then we have KTM’s 690SMC. Having spent years dominating the supermoto race scene the Austrian firm seems to have taken its foot off the peddle in recent years. KTM is a fast growing company, branching out into many fields of road bike development, and with this has comes a gradual softening of the brand, something reflected in their supermotos of late. Where KTM used to be big, hard, and aggressive singles they have now been tailored to suit the more conservative road rider. They still boast the most powerful single cylinder motor on the market, but the bikes no longer requite a size 12 boot to kick them over or a new set of fillings after each ride. This bike has and extra letter after its name, indicating C for competition. KTM has taken its lightweight 690

Enduro bike and given it the moto treatment. It may share many components with the stock 690SM, but the C means it’s been down the gym for some weight loss and a bit of steroid abuse. Something the Husqvarna has no need for.

 

HUSQVARNA SM510R

The Greyhound

The SM 510R is as true to the supermoto ethos as you can get. It’s a lightweight, single cylinder moto that looks and feels barely more than a converted crosser. Which is exactly what it is. Husky doesn’t see the need to compromise with its supermotos, and it shows. On its side stand the 510R looks all sweetness and frills, with its neat anodised touches and purposeful beauty, but this bike is anything but sweet.

It may appear basic, but with a new chassis, beefier forks and an injected engine for 2008 in reality it’s packing a mean punch. Something it demonstrates happily at every opportunity.

You don’t mess with the Husky, it doesn’t play well with other road users. From the moment you push the starter and the raucous single barks into life you know this isn’t a bike to fiddle around with. It doesn’t want to win any friends, it’s raw, purposeful and focused.

It’s also the most uncomfortable bike I have ever ridden. 20 minutes on that seat shaped piece of granite is enough to cause major discomfort, 10 minutes more and this becomes almost intolerable and another five and you are looking for the closest A&E to check into for an arse graft. It’s horrific and if the actual bike wasn’t so much fun to ride it would easily be enough to put you off riding motorbikes. Forever.

And the Husky is fun, enormously good fun. The single cylinder engine punches forward with real speed. Crack the throttle open and it snaps to attention, catapulting the bike forward with urgency. Singles used to be big, lolloping engines, slow revving and heavy; not anymore. The 510R picks up revs so fast it feels like a two-stroke, the internals weigh next to nothing, but the vibrations remind you there are complicated lumps of metal flying around inside there. And boy does the Husky vibrate.

I’d love to lie and say it’s unobtrusive, but that’s like saying you hardly notice the 777s when you live under a flight-path. It’s bloody obtrusive, and combined with the seat makes riding a fairly unpleasant experience when it comes to creature comforts. But what did you expect?

This is a proper supermoto, and along with the vibrations comes one of the most insane bikes you can ride on a twisting backroad. In any of the first three gears the 510 powers onto its back wheel, and once there will merrily keep the front aloft while the rider throws any number of throttle pumps to keep it airborne.

You want true lunacy? Then try a 53bhp single that weighs just 118kg, roughly the same as a 125cc learner bike. Any rise in the road, slight crest or simply an occasion to drop down into second gear is enough of an excuse to mono-wheel the 510R. It doesn’t so much request you play the fool, it demands it.

JIM THINKS


The Husky is just stunning and clean from every angle and has a top notch build quality. You can see the whole motor without frame rails, bodywork or cables. Beautiful. The 510 sounds sharp, handles sweetly up to 80mph (they all get a little fidgety above this) and gives the full-on SM experience without the horrific pain of the Aprilia or the slight uncoolness of the KTM. Another sweetener is the 2-year warranty that has to be a first on such an extreme motorcycle…. Bad points? Yes. The turning lock is sportsbike bad. It certainly got on my nerves after a few hours.

 

APRILIA SXV550

The Doberman

Which is what you would expect the SXV550 does as well, but this is a supermoto that has been designed from a blank canvas, and it isn’t what you would expect. Single cylinder direct power may be all very well and good on dirtbikes, but supermoto racers require drivability as well. So, faced with a new bike Aprilia’s engineers came up with a new engine, an ultra compact V-twin that is remarkably smooth to ride.

Looking at the SXV550 you imagine it will bite your head off, smother your daughter with semen then leave her sobbing in the corner. But although its 2008 sticker-scheme is anything but pretty, underneath the bike oozes class and sophistication. Everything about this bike is designed to make it easier for the chosen rider to win his race. From the two-stage fuel mapping (hard for the dry, a reduced power less aggressive soft mode for the wet) to the beautiful power delivery of the engine it’s designed to be a user friendly as a supermoto can be.

Which, to be fair, isn’t anything like a road bike, but for a supermoto the Aprilia is very easy. It’s also the easiest to play the fool on.

And the Aprilia is proper-fast compared to these other two. Wind them open at the same time and the SXV just blazes into the distance. While the Husky roughly demands you stunt, the Aprilia gently suggests it, then allows its quality components to flatter your ability. How about a big stoppie? No problem, my huge 48mm forks are beautifully damped, my FTE calipers have vast amounts of power and feel and my lightweight chassis is perfectly balanced. No components fight each other, or the rider for that matter, on the SXV, they all work together in harmony.

Well, except for the seat, which we were rapidly discovering seem to be the mark of a true supermoto. The harder the better in this world.

JIM THINKS


Let us begin with the lunatic and its plus points. Firstly, it looks amazing – a trials/supermoto hybrid. Incredibly skinny with a fat 180-section rear tyre and possibly one of the sexiest titanium exhaust system to grace any bike. Secondly, it sounds amazing. The tiniest V-twin ever made is manhandled into the smallest space imaginable and again, the exhaust emits an evocative, race-bred bark. Thirdly, the performance is sensational. It’s smooth and fast though it’s 5 gears have ratios that mean you run out of puff quite quickly. The 180-rear tyre doesn’t slow turning down too much and the brakes are absolutely phenomenal.

What else? Ah yes, it holds less than 8 litres of fuel and is very thirsty, has the world’s most ridiculously uncomfortable seat and will need a service by the time you’ve pushed it home. So, if you have a titanium ring piece, a 500-yard daily commute and a personal mechanic, this is the kiddy.

 

KTM 690SMC

The Ridgeback

Which is why KTM’s 690SMC is such a surprise to sit on. Its seat actually gives slightly, rather than expect your bum to be the one doing the yielding. But that’s not it’s only nod towards its origins.

Just pulling the SMC off its side stand tells you that it has its roots set in the road bike scene, rather than the off-road one. At 140kg it claims to only be 22kg heavier than the Husky, but it feels much more substantial. The Husky is a lightweight whippet of a bike, the KTM a more heavyweight machine. Unlike the other two it doesn’t feel like a bike designed to win races, more a race replica.

It says ‘I’m aggressive’ but actually feels slightly blunted. But in this company, such a trait isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite being heavier the 690SMC has one over-riding feature: its engine. The 690 single is a beautiful bit of engineering, delivering huge (for a single) amounts of power at close to 63bhp and stacks of torque while remaining smooth and relatively vibration free. It’s not lacking in power, but doesn’t quite have the ferocity of the 510R. Which is often a good thing.

You can ride the 690SMC without the need to be constantly messing around. It will still pull a damn good wheelie, but it just doesn’t demand you do it every step of the way. When encouraged it will stoppie, but unlike the ultra light Aprilia you can actually stop on the KTM without the rear wheel in the air and, unlike the other two, you can ride it for more than 80 miles between fuel stops. Despite being dressed in orange and having the word competition in its name, the SMC has more of a nod towards sports than a firm grasp on it like the Aprilia and Husky.

JIM THINKS


The 690 is big all over with the dimensions to make the tallest of riders feel at home, and not look ridiculous. The 654cc single has a clear performance advantage with a fast high-tech motor and a very strong top end. It’s the least extreme of the three and I was grateful for it, it’s certainly the only bike here with legs enough to consider going anywhere other than round the corner and then home, and it’s also the cheapest. KTM always have a few nice touches and the hydraulic slipper clutch deserves a mention. So, not as horny to look at but a good solid ride.competition in its name, the SMC has more of a nod towards sports than a firm grasp on it like the Aprilia and Husky.

 

IN FOR THE KILL

Which put us at a bit of a dilemma, and its the old supermoto problem that has haunted them from the very outset as road bikes and has been the reason why they haven’t taken off as everyone was predicting.

Sure, supermotos are fun, but they sure aren’t practical. If you make then practical (KTM) then they often no longer retain the mentalist factor (Husqvarna and Aprilia) and turn into little more than aggressive looking street bikes (off the peg supermotos). So you either have an uninspiring road bike that is good in town, but pretty slow and no use whatsoever on long trips. Or you have a totally impractical bike that is a fantastic blast to ride for only a few hours at the weekend, and nothing else, and you have to spend the top side of £6,000 on it. So what’s the point?

The point is that for thrills on the road, little can beat getting a few mates on bikes that are totally bonkers and cutting loose for a few hours. On full-on supermotos such as these you can have an insane ride at speeds that are always below 80mph.

Granted, for most of that time you’ll be doing illegal activity, but choose you roads well and the chances of getting caught are minimal.

The fact is that to own and ride one of these bikes legally is as pointless as drinking alcohol-free beer. And as the motorcycle world, and especially sportsbikes, turn more and more towards a weekend leisure activity the appeal of a supermoto increases. They provide fast hits of adrenalin, instant giggles and raw fun.

For the rider who is searching out serious thrills in short bursts a supermoto is the perfect drug providing the necessary hit. But for the majority of riders, supermotos are, and will continue to remain, an antisocial element on the fringes of the motorcycling world, little more than a peculiar annoyance. Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Pack Instinct: SM510R vs. 690SMC vs. SXV550

We’ve only been in the saddle for 45 minutes but it’s taken a hefty toll. Arms are aching, bums feel like we have been beaten by an overly enthusiastic dominatrix and one bike is already on reserve. It’s only taken 39 miles for these supermotos to reduce us to shells of our former selves, but that’s the pleasure of them. Nothing in life comes easy, and with a full-on supermoto you pay the price for every wheelie, stoppie, skid or whichever two-wheeled vice you choose. Pleasure versus pain, you never get one without the other, but can you hang onto the ride long enough to satisfy your urge for trouble?

Which is all these bikes are. Trouble. But, like a spoken-for beauty who gives you the come-on, trouble is exciting, thrilling and worth the risk and potential pain and discomfort. Supermotos are an itch that needs to be scratched, and when the urge hits you to enter into an hour of mind-out madness, there is no finer machine. As with many high fashions, the mainstream has diluted the supermoto buzz, bringing us turgid runarounds like the DR-Z400SM and XT660X, powered by flaccid engines with no guts for a proper fight. These bikes are little more than styled city commuters, more scooters with fancy clothes than the monstrous converted crossers that their forefathers were. But look beneath these imposters and a few machines remain true to their ancestry. Bikes such as the three we draw together for a day.

If you know who Christian Iddon or Van Den Bosch is none of these bikes will need an introduction. They are all leaders in their field. Aprilia’s SXV550 is the Ducati 1098R of the supermoto world. When it entered the supermoto scene in 2006, rather than follow the traditional route of a big single cylinder machine Aprilia built a unique (in moto) terms 549cc V-twin. A controversial move, but one that has rewarded the Italian company a whole host of supermoto trophies. This bike is little more than Den Bosch’s race tool on the road, complete with an engine’s service life that is calculated in hours, not miles, and a petrol tank that is designed for 15 lap races, which is barely enough to make the next petrol station. Make no mistake, the SXV is a racer barely masquerading as a road bike, and comes with the accompanying inadequacies.

Then we have KTM’s 690SMC. Having spent years dominating the supermoto race scene the Austrian firm seems to have taken its foot off the peddle in recent years. KTM is a fast growing company, branching out into many fields of road bike development, and with this has comes a gradual softening of the brand, something reflected in their supermotos of late. Where KTM used to be big, hard, and aggressive singles they have now been tailored to suit the more conservative road rider. They still boast the most powerful single cylinder motor on the market, but the bikes no longer requite a size 12 boot to kick them over or a new set of fillings after each ride. This bike has and extra letter after its name, indicating C for competition. KTM has taken its lightweight 690 Enduro bike and given it the moto treatment. It may share many components with the stock 690SM, but the C means it’s been down the gym for some weight loss and a bit of steroid abuse. Something the Husqvarna has no need for.

Continue the Supermoto Road Test - 2/2

How to pull supermoto stunts

How to jump

The key to a good jump is finding a great location. Hump-backed bridges are perfect but make sure you check the landing zone out first. If there’s a T-junction or any kind of entrance, forget it. It’s quite tricky to brake for a tourist pulling out of a tea shop when both wheels are a foot in the air!  Approach the jump at about 30mph, it’s better to start slow and speed up as you get better. As you approach the lip, stand up slightly on the pegs, keep the throttle constant (don’t close it) and maintain a neutral body position. Jumps are hard to get wrong. The main danger is an obstacle on landing or giving it a handful on take-off, which can cause a bike to go vertical. Generally a bike won’t go out of control on landing if the wheels are in a straight line...

How to stoppie

Make sure the front tyre is warm and use Shellgrip sections for confidence. Use four fingers on the brake lever. Accelerate into second gear, about 30mph, sit upright on the bike and pull the clutch in while applying a little front brake to smear the front tyre into the ground and make the bike light on its nose. Now apply more brake until the rear lifts and ‘tweak’ the lever to make the rear rise up properly. At this point arch your back and keep as vertical on the bike as possible. Start small and try not to brake to a complete stop. As long as you are moving and you let the front brake off the rear should come back down, if you are stationary it can go over the top. Once you have mastered a slow speed stoppie simply increase the pace and work on your rolling speeds

How to wheelie

On a proper supermoto (not a sanitised DR-Z) you have enough power to lift the front in second gear on the throttle. Don’t try it in first, you’ll end up scaring yourself. Get into second and at 20mph, just as the power starts to come in hard snap the throttle shut then crack it open again while pulling on the bars. A bit like you’re doing a press-up. The front will drop and then bounce into the air. Initially it will only lift a little but be brave, keep the power on, and it will have a second lift that will bring the front up higher. As you approach the balance point (you’ll feel it) you should be able to hold the wheelie up and can consider clutchless-shifting into the next gear. Cover the rear brake with your foot, it’s your only safety net.

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