First Ride: KTM 990SMT ABS

KTM add ABS to their all-rounder, so, the big question: is it any good?

We are back at the hotel now and I’ve just about dried off. Today the rain in Spain fell mainly on the launch of the 990SMT, which I suppose is a good thing at let’s be honest, testing ABS in the dry is a bit of a waste of time.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well KTM isn’t a company that generally likes to mess around with electronics. The recent RC8R has bucked the traction control trend (according to KTM you don’t need traction control if you have traction) so for them to fit ABS as standard on a bike is quite a big deal. So why have they? The SMT 990 is in competition with the likes of Triumph’s Tiger, BMW’s GS and Ducati’s Multistrada and these customers demand ABS, it’s now seen as the normal, but KTM has resisted the temptation to simply sick on a ready to go system. According to KTM it has taken them nearly two and a half years to develop the SMT’s ABS as they wanted it to enhance the bike’s braking and sporty ability, not just be a safety feature. Has it achieved this goal?

The Bosch 9M+ is, KTM claim, the most advanced ABS system on the market and is actually a generation ahead of BMW’s S1000RR’s brakes. Adding it to the SMT has only increased the bike’s weight by 1kg (530g is the modulator pump, the rest is additional hoses) which is very impressive, but most importantly of all it works very well.

On the wet Spanish roads we had more than enough opportunity to test the ABS and it was hard to fault. To me an ideal ABS system is one that you have no idea is fitted until you actually need it, at which point it gets you out the brown stuff. As you can see from the video clip, you can slam on the anchors from quite a rate of knots on the SMT on a soaking wet road and it buries the front tyre in the tarmac with the ABS taking care of any locking. Under hard braking in a straight line the ABS didn’t really kick in until the very last part of the braking at which point it pulsed quite hard through the lever to let you know something was happening but still continued to bring the bike to a rapid halt.

Like some other systems, KTM’s ABS allows the rear to raise into the air, but only for a brief period before it reduces brake pressure to the front, dropping the back tyre onto terra firma again in a fraction of a second (well, unless you have come to a complete stop). During several hard braking tests I didn’t feel the rear rising at all and there was certainly no swaying around if it did fractionally lift, the bike remained in a straight line and felt under control. I also grabbed the front brake lever a few times at slow speed as the tyre went over some of the many extremely wet and slippy painted white lines on the road and was not only relieved but also impressed how quickly the ABS dealt with the inevitable lock up with no dramas and more importantly no broken plastics!

ABS system are now so good it’s hard to argue against them being fitted to a bike. KTM’s ABS doesn’t make itself known to the rider until you really need it and at that point you are going to be very happy it has! As you would expect from a KTM there is the option to turn it off, but I can’t see why you would. I firmly believe that ABS has now reached the levels of performance that make it a worth addition to any bike, not an irritation. If KTM, the original hooligan company, now thinks it’s a good thing then there must be something in it…