KTM 890 SMT (2023) UK road test and review

2023 890 SMT ridden on a country road

Returning to the range in 2023, the KTM 890 SMT boasts all the good bits of an adventure bike, with none of the drawbacks

SUPERMOTO Touring, a concept KTM originally dreamed up in 2009, is back for 2023, as the new KTM 890 SMT bursts back into the two-wheeled world.

Staying faithful to the original concept, KTM has taken the class-leading 890 Adventure, slotted in some road-tuned suspension and opened up the tyre selection thanks to 17-inch wheels front and rear. We’re simplifying the work that’s gone into the bike here, but at a high level, that’s basically the deal.

Now, I love the 890 Adventure and have long been of the opinion that in the middleweight ADV sector, it is the king of its muddy castle. To find out if I was as fond of the new SMT we booked a two-week loan, covering around 1,000 miles in that time on motorways, around town and carving up some B-roads in the sunshine.

KTM 890 SMT price, PCP, colours and availability

The base bike is available in UK dealerships now and has an on-the-road price of £12,499. Like the 790 Adventure we’ve just tested, that price includes a ‘Demo Mode’ electronics package. That gives you a flavour of the full KTM electronics suite, including Quickshifter +, cruise control and more for the first 900 miles. Once that distance is up, the modes will be held hostage until you pay the £859 ransom to get them back.

Based on a £3,750 deposit, the SMT will cost you £223.54 a month based on 10.90% APR. 

The SMT can be ordered in any colour you desire, as long as it’s black. Well, I say black - there are white elements (side covers and front mudguard) and flashes of orange to keep the purists happy.

KTM 890 SMT engine

Launched in 2021, the new 890 was a big improvement over the 790 that came before it. Power and torque were up slightly, but the real improvements came in rideability thanks to heavier internals, a new clutch and other tweaks. That all stays for the SMT, and in this trim, it’s making 103bhp at 8,000 rpm and 73.8 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm. These numbers confirm this unit as the 890 Adventure spec’ engine, not the more powerful (and slightly peakier) 119bhp motor that’s found in the 890 Duke R. While part of me is longing to see what the extra 16bhp would feel like, I’m guessing that KTM’s test riders (one of whom is a certain Jeremy McWilliams) have probably already tried it, and for sensible reasons opted to go with low and mid-range grunt over top-end power.

Out on the road the LC8c motor feels much quicker than its 103bhp should. It’s not a bike that needs its neck wringing in every gear, and while the ratios are quite short (and you will smash into the limiter for the first 20 miles), progress is just as quick if you sit in the mid-range and stomp your way up and down the six-speed box.

While we are on the subject of the gearbox, it is the updated version as found in the latest generation 890 Adventure, and while that does mean slicker shifting and a more reliable quickshifter compared to the 790 version, I did find the lever placement a bit odd. To move up the ‘box I needed to hook my foot under the lever and lift my entire leg up to hook the next cog. It worked for the most part, but it wasn’t a very elegant way of negotiating the bike’s ratios. I’d have preferred to have a slighter sportier action at the lever, something which could be achieved by adjusting the lever to alter its position. It’s a bike that should allow you to snick your way up the box, I found the action on this bike makes that task a little unceremonious.

On the plus side, the PASC slip-assist clutch worked well enough for me, and gave the lever a nice light feel, and the updated Quickshift+ (part of the Demo Mode and allowing up and downshifts) worked well.

Away from the fun of the twisties, I did manage to get some motorway miles under my belt and found the SMT to be as good as you expect for a bike that is basically an ADV bike with sporty tyres and suspension. There is a slight buzz through the bars at motorway speeds (something I do remember from the 890 Adventure) but nothing through the pegs thanks to thick rubber inserts in the bear trap pegs. 

KTM 890 SMT suspension, brakes and handling

KTM takes the suspension of its bikes very seriously, hence the purchase of WP which began in 2007. Slotted into the fork clamps of the SMT you’ll find deliciously good 43mm WP Apex, open cartridge forks, with a WP Apex shock at the rear. Both ends are tailored for the road-biased SMT, and for a more bespoke setup, the rebound and compression can be adjusted at the front, with rebound damping and pre-load adjustability at the rear.

The suspension is a perfect mix of poise and comfort, with just enough dive on the brakes to inspire confidence and have you pushing the limits on corner entry and exit. With 180mm of travel at both ends, the SMT soaked up every pothole Highways England could throw at it, and even bumps and undulations on corner entry could do little to fluster the bike’s unflappable chassis. Credit here should also be aimed at the Michelin Power GP hoops, which play a big part in making the SMT as accurate and composed as it is. 

I was trying to figure out whether the bike is more an 890 Adventure with sportier dynamics, or an 890 Duke R with added plushness and touring ability. I’m leaning toward the latter, and it’s mainly to do with the overall demeanour of the bike. It’s a relentless thing to ride fast, especially in the most extreme Track riding mode and feels so far removed from the 890 Adventure it shares many of its components with. To put it plainly, if you’re a fan of the Duke R but are longing for a bit more range and comfort, without forgoing any of those never-say-die riding dynamics, you need to test-ride an SMT before winter sets in!

The braking system on the bike comprises J.Juan built (but KTM branded) four-pot calipers and 320mm discs at the front and a two-piston caliper and 260mm disc at the rear. The ABS is governed by a trick six-axis IMU for lean-sensitive braking - and no, KTM doesn’t take this off you after the first 936 miles! The brakes on the bike feel good enough, and while some for Brembo hardware would catch the eye and probably perform better, on the road at least, the standard stoppers feel up to the job. Whether that would still be the case on track remains to be seen though.

KTM 890 SMT comfort, accessories and range

As mentioned, there is some buzz through the bars at motorway speeds, but aside from that the seat comfort of the bike is great, and I’m the first to moan about a hard seat! There’s none of that though, and the only real fly in the ointment is the suggestion of a screen that does little more than bounce any fly that’s silly enough to wander in front of the bike up and onto your visor. It’s not a huge issue, and there is a taller screen in the accessory catalogue, along with soft and hard luggage, fruity exhausts, and a host of other goodies to bump up your PCP payments with.

On the right-hand side of the bike, you’ll find basically the same exhaust as found on the 890 Adventure, and while part of me was missing the saucy snap crackle and pop of the 890 Duke R, that would become tiresome after a long day in the saddle.

The tank on the SMT is a new design specific for this model in that at 15.8 litres it’s larger than the Duke R’s but smaller than the 20-litre item found on the Adventure. The new tank lifts the centre of gravity of the bike up compared to the more off-road biased machine, helping it to feel more like a sports bike when you do hit the twisties.
After a couple of weeks of very mixed riding, I’d managed a shade over 55mpg which should see you nudging 200 miles on a full tank of fuel.

KTM 890 SMT electronics

KTM’s business practice has been quite big news recently, when it took the decision, as some car manufacturers have, introduced a new Demo Mode on some of its new bikes. The change gives all new owners, all the modes, but only for the first 932 miles. After this, you will lose the optional extra goodies and are left with the as-standard stuff. KTM's argument is that this gives the rider a chance to test the modes and not fork out for loads of stuff they think they want but actually don't use. And when you think about it, that is indeed true. The thing is though, KTM bikes are fitted with everything from the factory, and to access the optional tech a KTM dealer or service centre simply has to turn on the options you want.

I can see why some are irked by the practice, especially because when you hand over the dosh to ‘get’ your quickshifter, you don’t actually benefit from any mechanical parts, just the sight of a KTM technician plugging a USB into your bike and tapping away on a laptop. KTM's counter to this is that the development cost of the rider modes and other plug-in options is costly and that there is still a period of time taken up when a technician has to activate the extras. One of the problems here is that we, the great British biking public are a sceptical lot, and if they are handing over cash and not getting a physical thing, they think they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes - even if that isn't actually the case.

To keep the extra electronics you need to unlock the £858.84 Tech Pack, which on the 890 SMT comprises Motor Slip Regulation, Cruise Control, and the up-and-down Quickshifter+. If you don’t fork out for this option, after the demo period is up you’ll be left with Supermoto ABS, Cornering ABS, MTC Spin Adjuster, Riding Modes, Track Mode, and KTM Connect. In truth, the included as standard range of electronics is still good, it’s just a shame that to get the one that on a bike like this should be included (cruise control), you’ll be forking out for the Tech Pack or paying for it on its own, which is £252.78…

In practice, the KTM electronics are, typically KTM. The ABS works well but the traction control can sometimes feel a bit clunky, chopping the power once the rear wheel starts to slip and then introducing it all back in again in one big dollop. The simple answer is to turn it all off, and thanks to slick fuelling and a crisp throttle you can, although don’t do that in Track Mode - unless you are actually at a track. I found that mode to be too aggressive, and on the road at least, progress is just as quick in the softer and easier-going Sport Mode. Here the bike was much less of a head-banging nutter, with more finesse at the corner exit especially coming out of sharper turns.

What we liked about the 2023 KTM 890 SMT

  • All the best bits of the 890 Adventure, with no compromises for road riding

  • Handling is a perfect mix of dynamics and stability

  • Riding comfort is excellent - we’d add the taller screen!

What we didn’t like about the 2023 KTM 890 SMT

  • Traction control isn’t that refined

  • No cruise control as standard would be an issue for me

  • Another colour option isn’t too much to ask, is it?

2023 KTM 890 SMT verdict

Now that I've ridden the modern-day SMT, I'm kind of gutted that I never got a chance to swing a leg over the original 990 version. And while I can’t tell you how close KTM is to recreating the ethos of the late-2000s machine, I can tell you that the 2023 reboot is a riot to ride. I stand by my earlier point, to me it feels like an 890 Duke R, with plusher, longer travel suspension and bags more comfort and touring ability. The riding modes can take you from gentile and easy-to-ride tourer, to corner carving and horizon-shrinking sportster with the flick of a switch, and as long as you can overcome the sometimes clunky electronics, there aren’t many things to dislike.

With the SMT, KTM is also doing something that not a lot of other manufacturers are doing right now, and that’s to not take the sport touring segment too seriously. Other brands prefer to keep their sporty tourers a bit more sensible, as is proven by bikes like the Triumph Tiger 900 GT and Yamaha Tracer 9 GT+. I’m sure that from A to B they’d be just as quick and more refined than the lunatic from KTM, but neither will deliver the in-helmet giggles that this thing can.

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