Living with a 2008 KTM 990SM

Barry Tavner's track record with bikes is dismal. Did this KTM ever make it through the year without being written off or stolen? Find out..

June 2008

When Urry threw me the keys to the 990SM following a test in the April issue I was secretly hoping that if we kept it long enough that the chaps at KTM UK would eventually just say ‘hell yeh, it’s all yours.’
The weeks passed and we were all beginning to get attached to it, plans were being hatched to emmigrate should KTM want it back. Whitham had been waxing lyrical about the new SMR690 and being somewhat further down the ladder of importance when it comes to bikes on this magazine I thought I didn’t stand a chance. But KTM relented and said we could keep it for the year - result!

The bike has just had its 600 mile service and is now ready for some bolt-on bits and a summer of exploring shores both near and far.

Like its 950SM predecessor I’ve been very surprised by the comfort afforded by a bike with bugger-all wind protection. On long journeys the 990 is very civilised and easy on the arse. This year there is a comprehensive Powerparts catalogue for the 990 and some of these will slowly make their way onto the bike as I experiment in making a great bike better still. A soft luggage set is now available and will make an appearance as I endeavour to escape at weekends and discover if this is more than just a great big orange wheelie machine.

Having said that I’ve only got the front wheel up once and that was at Santa Pod a few weeks back – more a case of luck than judgement and skill! It’s something I’m going to have to master as the bike demands attention all the time. It really doesn’t like low revs and positively hates slow first and second gear corners. I’m planning on fitting a Power Commander unit to see if that can help with the surging and also the fuel economy. I’m getting 95 miles to a tank at the moment and that’s low for a bike with a 17 litre tank.

First up though is an exhaust. The  engine is shouting out for a decent system to make music of the deep grumbly V-twin motor, and all big twins just love to breathe. The neighbours won’t love me, but I don’t care.

September 2008

The 990SM made a welcome return to the office this month. Fresh from its service I met it with arms open, eager to get some decent exhausts on it and finally allow the bike to sound as good as it looks.

I’ve been waiting for exhausts from Akropovic since I  got the bike but nothing seems to have arrived on these shores. So, after a quick search on the interweb, I came across a company called Wings.

These guys are a Slovenian family run business but have a UK importer. They take their time  to produce a high quality product, which can mean you have to wait a while, but in the end your patience is rewarded by getting an exclusive high-end can.

Wings mufflers are designed specifically for KTMs and also to function properly using the original carburretor or fuel injection settings, therefore no fuelling changes are necessary. However they do advise you to optimize the stock settings by using the aftermarket jet kits or EFI-mapping.

I’d been advised to drop the bike down at a garage to have the exhausts swapped over knowing my lack of spannering skills, but I’m a stubborn mule and wanted the satisfaction of fitting the units myself.

Which is where the fun began as I set off with a few spanners and what was in my KTM tool kit (although not the bottle opener, which Urry had already stolen). One by one I started removing the various bolts to allow me access to the pipes. All was going worryingly well...

But the nuts holding the old cans to the header pipe were firmly rusted and nothing was getting any purchse. I was paranoid that I was going to snap one of the tools and then be stuck. Which is exactly what happened. I  managed to get one pipe off and  as I was trying to get some grip the star shaped tool snapped in half and left me with nothing to get the bloody thing off.

A quick call to Urry and his world of tools and the next morning I had all the necessary shiny things and the incompetence to try and get the last one off and still it refused to budge.

We reached the point of angle grinder when a last ditch attempt with some pliers and brute force finally gave me some joy and the other can came away from the pipe.

Christ, the OEM units are heavy at 7kg per pipe, and I’m saving 4kg on each side now with the Wings units. And why do manufacturers use such crappy bolts in places that are so tricky to reach and so bloody hard to get off? Grr, etc.

Anyway, they’re on and they sound fantastic (have a look on for before and after footage). I have two sets of baffles, one for track use and one I guess for keeping the neighbours happy. But seeing as trackdays are all quiet these days, they won’t be going on for a bit.

Next month the full luggage set goes on, the screen and a set of Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier RRs as I head to the alps for a vacation.


October 2008

A friend’s wedding in the French Alps gave me the opportunity to flex the muscles of the KTM in a touring role this month. It’s approximately a 1,000km to Chamonix from London and it’s a journey I’ve done many a time in a car when I lived there. I’ve never done it on a bike,however, and the initial five hours on the autoroute are mind numbingly dull.

Preparations for this trip had begun in earnest a few months back when I’d asked KTM HQ for a full luggage set and a screen to ease the wind rush. This was met with disgust from friends saying I was going to ruin the lines of the bike by adding all that crap, but there’s part of me that likes the adventure bike look on the 990SM.

The old Pirellis were at the end of their life too and after a quick chat with Dunlop a set of their Sportmax Qualifier RR’s replaced the now fairly squared off Scorpions.

Day of departure and the sun gods greeted me as I loaded up and attempted to swing my leg over the bike. This failed and I had to resort to the step through method, something that seemed to amuse people at every petrol station I stopped at along the way.

On the autoroutes I was cruising at 85-ish, the bolt-on screen was doing a great job considering its small size and the fact I was wearing an Arai Tour-X, not exactly suitable with a streetbike but I love it.
I was stopping every 140 miles for fuel and even though the tank bag had been designed to allow the removal of the fuel cap I still managed to break the small plastic nozzle to the overflow pipe on the filler cap (for the second time, I hasten to add).

The bike was still turning heads in it’s new guise, though I suspect that the noise it emits has something to do with that. I did take a set of baffles with me to dampen the drone on the long stretch, but I figured it was only going to be 6 hours until I reached the mountains and until then I could plug in my in earphones.

I made a vain attempt to have a revving and backfiring competition with a Gallardo Spider in several mountain tunnels on my way to Chamonix from Nyon. I lost but it amused both of us no end.

The tyres made a huge difference immediately, everything seemed instantly smoother and felt like I was gliding. As I entered the  Haute Jura going into Switzerland I found huge levels of grip on the twisty alpine roads, even more so once I’d dumped my luggage off at the chalet and the bike was less tail heavy.

The 990 was really in its element once in the Alps, it’s just a great big orange grin maker and I wished I’d had more time to play in the Haute Savoie before returning.

It’s becoming increasingly hard to find faults with the 990SM - that said the speedo has, for the second time got condensation in it, and I foresee a trip back to KTM for another replacement. Other than that, all good on the 990 front.

December 2008

Within the walls of the office and to my riding buddies it’s common knowledge that I seem to have my fair share of bad luck when it comes to motorbikes. For the third time this summer the bike has drawn the attention of thieves and for the second time the ignition has been ripped out and left the bike inoperable.

The irony being that this month’s column was going to be the installation of an alarm, but would this have helped? The steering lock, it would appear, is incredibly simple to break and it leaves me to wonder whether thieves know this and that’s why it’s been repeatedly attacked. I’d only been gone for half an hour and the alarmed disc lock had probably saved me from reporting its theft.

I appreciate that living in london is not ideal if you own a nice bike, but is there anything that manufacturers could or should be doing to prevent damage to the ignition? Bikes are very fragile things and I’m sure I’m not alone in being repeatedly frustrated by returning to a crime scene where your pride and joy once stood. I’d be more than interested in hearing from anyone who’s found a way of protecting their ignition!

Costs this month: Bus fare

Miles: 8,654