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First Ride: 2014 KTM 690 SMC R review

It still delivers a raw experience but KTM's revised supermoto is now more refined

KTM’S 690 SMC R has been given a host of upgrades for 2014 and you’ll be pleased to know it’s not just a new lick of paint or limited edition decals.

The single-cylinder LC4 engine has been revised and now features twin-spark ignition, with different mappings for each plug. At 67hp, peak power remains the same but KTM claim this makes the SMC R 8-10% more efficient than the old model. According to them it will achieve up to 80mpg and rarely drop below 35mpg, even on track. Assuming it averages 60mpg, that gives you a theoretical range of 160 miles from its 12L tank before you’re pushing it along the hard shoulder.

It's now fitted with a ride-by-wire system too, giving you the option of four different fuel maps. You get Standard, Sport, Comfort and a ‘Bad Fuel’ mode, which a KTM spokesman said will allow the bike to run on fuel as low as 80 octane. It’s important to note that the maps only adjust fuelling below 4,000rpm, meaning the SMC R will still put out its full 67hp in whichever mode is selected. I never tested the comfort setting, but on track, the Sport setting gave a noticeable improvement in throttle response over the Standard mode.

But it's not all about the engine. Power and speed requires poise, and that the SMC has. For starters, the new suspension with 250mm of travel is now designed as a split fork, meaning compression damping is adjusted on the left fork leg, with rebound damping on the right side. This prevents them from interacting with one another like in conventional open bleed systems, giving you better feel from the front end.

Importantly, the SMC now gets Bosch ABS as standard. It's a two-channel system that functions by calculating both front and rear wheel wizardry and acts as a safety harness you'd be silly to turn your nose up at. For the adrenaline junkies out there, KTM offer a plug-and-play ‘Supermoto ABS’ dongle. It costs around £70 and lets you disable the ABS system on the rear wheel, allowing you to back the bike into corners to your heart’s content.

I tested the bike on a tight and technical karting circuit just outside of Barcelona. The 45-minute motorway journey there proved that the LC4 lump is no longer an agricultural work horse. The SMC may deliver a raw experience but the package is as refined as ever. The bike will top out just north of an indicated 120mph and it won't shake you to bits when it gets there either, it's smooth enough to be mistaken for a twin.

It's also incredibly easy to ride, within the first corner I immediately felt at home on the SMC R. The wide bars let you chuck it into the bends with astonishing ease, whilst the new front forks gives you feedback in high-definition.

As I familiarised myself with the track, lap times began to drop. But with the extra speed came a feeling of the bike wanting to sit up during corner-entry on the brakes. The KTM technician explained the rear suspension was set up too soft for the track, and just a couple of tweaks later I was back out on the circuit with firmer rear shock settings. Much better, the front was now tracking around corners with sheer accuracy, giving me nothing but confidence to get on the throttle sooner and sooner.

Given the nature of the bike, it's worth noting how easy it is to wheelie. First, second and even third gear, take your pick. A pull on the feather- light clutch lever and a small handful of revs sees the front end rise skywards. Although many bikes can claim fame to that trick, they don't have the smooth fuelling and free-revving nature of the SMC R. The LC4 lump doesn’t protest to being revved to its 8,500rpm limit and lets you hold onto one of its six gears for as long as you want.

And it stops well too. The Brembo four-piston front brakes bite onto 320mm discs giving you a strong but progressive initial bite and ample stopping power. The SMC R is equipped with an anti-hopping slipper clutch, fitted as standard, it's there to prevent the rear wheel locking up during aggressive downshifts and under heavy braking. I only felt it engage once, it’s a strange sensation but it gives you the confidence to push slightly harder, knowing there’s that extra piece of hardware taking care of the rear-end for you.

KTM also offer a fuel map that decreases power to make the bike A2 compliant for new licence holders. I’d be inclined to recommend the SMC R as a first bike if it wasn’t for the 890mm seat height. I’m just short of 6ft tall and even I had to make a conscience effort to throw my leg over.

At £7,899 it may seem expensive, especially when you remind yourself that it only makes 67hp and is - on first glance - relatively basic. But you have to remember, you’re no longer buying a compromised and uncomfortable machine, supermoto no longer means impractical. The SMC R will genuinely do it all, even highway travel. But when you do find the kind of road it was designed for, nothing will beat it for pure enjoyment.

Model tested: 2014 KTM 690 SMC R

Price: £7,899

Power: 67hp

Weight without fuel: 140.5kg

Seat height: 890mm

Availability: on sale now