Living with a 2006 KTM 950SM

Bowen tries to remain sane with the mental KTM 950SM


July 2006

The KTM shed is full of mainly insane, exciting vehicles. The 950 Super Moto is undisputedly the maddest of the lot, and naturally the nuttiest thing ever to come out of Austria. I'm pretty sure that it's up there with the all-time greats - probably in the top five most insane bikes ever.

I'm sure of this because I've ridden just about every truly loopy two-wheeler out there, and this is the one that's going to claim my licence. And soon. Having just hopped off a two-year/30,000-mile stint on one of the most practical (yet fun) bikes ever made, I've been forced to re-calibrate my approach to motorcycling. I no longer have the luggage capacity to do the weekly food run, nor the seat and weather protection to enable medium, long distance, wet, cold, touring or two-up riding. It is truly weird.

I now have a bike that wheelies and stoppies without provocation. I have a bike that's much faster than it looks. That will, when ready, destroy supersport 600s and after that, no doubt, will be screaming for more. But why the drastic change? Well, it's all about the engine. My old KTM 950 Adventure had a superb motor, and was blessed with carbs, rather than nancy-boy fuel injection. The new 950SM gives me the opportunity for one final fling before my favourite, non-conformist engine configuration is gone forever. At least it means that carbs will be 'old school', and therefore even more desirable. Combined with its gearing, keen and effortless acceleration is guaranteed at pretty much anywhere in the rev range.

With so few miles still on the clock and the unusual lack of rev counter, I've resisted wringing its neck. Though it won't be long now. One thing is for sure, I'll be fitting the gel seat, and I'm already bored with the standard cans which (predictably) detract somewhat from the bad boy experience. But other than that, there's not a lot left to think about, as this toy comes ready to perform. The brakes feel highly unlikely to experience fade, and are as good as you're ever going to need - hence the importance of getting this thing around a twisty race track at the first possible opportunity.

September 2006

It was with some trepidation that I set off for Wales to meet the gang for our spring long-termer love-in. On the one hand, I couldn't wait to fool around and show off the KTM's credentials, smug in the knowledge that I would have the perfect tool for the job. On the other, I have a bony backside and the KTM a plank for a seat (I haven't ordered the KTM gel seat yet), and would be a laughing stock if I turned up with the bike in the back of a van. Brighton to Abergavenny couldn't become an ordeal so the only option would be to take to the back roads.

Riding position and tank range are fine but motorways are a no-no, so I set off for my old stomping ground, the A272. It had been a while since I'd ventured out that way but the KTM will make light work of the most unfamiliar roads, even in inexperienced hands. The suspension isn't yet perfect, though I'll tweak it to the sport settings for the forthcoming trip to Donington. As it stands, the 950SM already exhibits phenomenal composure despite the front feeling unsettled on the bumpy stuff. The power-to-weight ratio is close to perfect but an additional 5-10bhp or so at the rear wheel would settle it, not that the chassis would dignify the difference by registering any excitement.

Winchester arrived in a flash as I changed to the more open A303 where more revs are needed to play a cunning overtaking game. That said, I've yet to find myself near the rev limiter such is the abundance of grunt available. As I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how much fun this bike is, the numbness in my butt turns to discomfort by Bath. I know it won't get any better, but I've definitely had enough by the time I reach our hotel and now I know that 200 miles is my absolute limit.

I made sure that the boys sampled the sheep-strewn twisties around Crickhowell on the KTM and, as predicted, it blew them away.

The grin factor is universal and addiction unavoidable. I just can't see how you could have more fun on two wheels. Having sampled some of the other bikes assembled, the only one to set my pulse racing was Niall's 675 which I can't wait to try around Donington in a few days from now. Ironically, it seems as though supermoto has arrived just when we thought it was all over. Mission accomplished then, except for the small matter of the journey home.

December 2006

A couple of months have passed since my last report, during which the weather has been at least 50 percent lousy - and as I'm using the KTM for sunny Sunday hooliganism and the odd office commute the mileage has merely crept up to just over the 3000-mile mark. During this time, however, two very simple but essential modifications have been completed on the SM.

Most importantly, a shiny new gel seat has replaced the original plank so I can now fill up with fuel and sit happily aboard until the tank is empty - a huge improvement and one very relieved rear end. On the performance front, the titanium Akrapovic cans appeared and were immediately yanked out of their packaging, weighed against the standard items and slotted on the bike. The weight saving is a not insignificant 6kg, the replacement items being 2kg each as opposed to the standard 5kg apiece. While the power increase feels like a subtle 2 or 3bhp at the wheel, it works with the reduced weight to give a
noticeably peppy performance improvement. It's more responsive off the throttle as well as being stronger throughout the revs, the net result being improved overtaking and a greater propensity towards highly irresponsible rear-wheel shenanigans, as if it were needed.

Before even more fun was bolted on to the SM, it had its track day debut at Donington for which the recommended sport settings were applied to the suspension. As predicted, the KTM performed well, despite the upright riding position and the constant peg scraping, though a tighter track would undoubtedly have seen it pulverise many a litre sport bike. Although  firmer, I'm leaving it on the new settings for the road as it's still okay over the bumpiest of B roads.

I've also just (prematurely) fitted a set of Michelin 2CTs to replace the standard Pirellis, and to up the pace before the end of summer. They've only just been scrubbed but I'm expecting some improvement and will try to get out on a more supermoto friendly track before it's time to return the bike. In fact, they will probably make their real test debut at the NHCA hill climb in Devon on October 8 (see last issue). I've been meaning to tick a hill climb off my list for some years, so wish me luck.