KTM 950 Supermoto - ROAD TEST

The alien has landed, and it is ready to shred

KTM 950 Supermoto close-up action

Everyone keeps asking about the seat. I say it’s designed for just what is intended: a nice, 40-mile ride, the last 27 of which is spent in a high-speed chase…

Hold on, phone’s ringing.

Uh-huh. No. Of course I don’t. It’s not like we’re a bunch of stupid apes, ya know. Look, it’s called literary license. Yes, okay, I understand and, yes, I like my paycheck. Sure, you too…

That was Legal. They want it to be clear that what I was saying is that this was a “high-speed” and “chase” naturally held on a closed course and that only the highest, most trained riders were used during the chase, and that in no way were the police involved. Or was that most highly trained?

First off, this is proof that they are monitoring my computer and second, that they might even be reading my very thoughts. From now on, I am going to wrap my head in aluminum foil before riding the KTM 950 Supermoto.

But there isn’t enough tinfoil in the universe to shield the mental energy this bike provokes.

Take Associate Editor Mark Cernicky, who’s worn his share of aluminum hats and is often speechless. The guttural noises and mad hand gestures were off the charts this time, underlining more than ever his “Sir Twitchy” nickname. It’s because the 950 SM grips you, like Cernicky’s fist clutched the key as I tried to take it from him.

doing a stoppie on the KTM 950 Supermoto

Point of balance: Stoppie stopping is easy with strong Brembo front brakes and sticky Pirelli Scorpion Sync tires.

He was distracted when I said there was a truck outside unloading free 160mm slicks for his CRF450R supermoto racer. His vise-like claw relaxed only for an instant, but the key was mine.

Guessing by its name, I'm going to go out on a limb and say this bike was inspired by converted dirtbikes like Cernicky's Honda. KTM, of course, based its big-Twin street machine on an orange version. But as Pierre Terblanche points out in the "Hypermotard" story elsewhere in this issue, converted motocross bikes with 17-inch wheels don't really make good streetbikes.

What does make a good streetbike is using the ethic behind supermoto racebikes, much as Buell did in coming up with the new Ulysses: light weight, minimal bodywork, grippy tires and an in-command riding position. These qualities should be at the heart of any streetbike. Call it a 950 “Supermoto” if you must, KTM, but ditch the high fender and mount a normal one, reshape the fuel tank to look less like MX radiator shrouds and this orange bike starts to look a lot like a sport-standard. Especially because at 428 pounds dry, it ain’t no supermoto racer. Light for a current-day Open-class streeter, yes, but not something you should be hucking into the air over jumps (unless you are very highly trained).

So what we have here is a dedicated streetbike that draws its inspiration and key design features from the company’s dirtbike experience. You get, therefore, about 8 inches of travel front and rear from the WP suspension.

“The factory tested the suspension on European supermoto courses,” said Tom Moen, Media Relations Manager for KTM. “The tracks there are a lot more high-speed and flowing, as well as having more pavement than ones in the U.S.”

KTM 950 Supermoto swingarm close-up

Chassis has shorter wheelbase and swingarm than 950 Adventure.

Damping is definitely definitive, in the sense that settings are sporty, but without being harsh. And adjustability is wide. Cernicky is not subtle about asking a motorcycle to do things, and he had tightened up front and rear to suit his swift-kick, take-no-prisoners style. Canet, meanwhile, likes to slide as much as anybody but also appreciates a nice, comfy ride on a streetbike, which he got on his test loop by backing out the rebound a few clicks. Compression damping at the rear even provides for high- and low-speed adjustments. You can definitely suit your style here.

Chassis feel is awesome, with the bike channeling the Spirit of Traction right through your palms and ass. I know that sounds uncomfortable, but it’s not, and it’s way better than aluminum foil under your Shoei. Trust me.

Never mind edge-of-traction antics, the sheer nimbleness of this bike is fantastic, and even a little bit hard to explain. I mean, it isn’t hard to explain that it is nimble, but why it is so belies the major design features. The geometry of the chrome-moly steel tube frame is, for example, actually fairly conservative for these aggressive times: Rake is 25.4 degrees, trail 4.3 inches. The wheelbase spans 59.5 inches, which is long, but about 2.2 inches shorter than the dual-sport Adventure’s. The fork is not leading-axle but rather places the axle in line with the legs, and the swingarm is 0.8-inch shorter. At the same time, the only twitch we could find in the chassis was when we put Cernicky aboard. Otherwise, the 950 Supermoto was rock-solid.

"I was really impressed with how stable the bike was on the freeway," said Canet. "A lot of naked bikes have that wide-bar wiggle, where it almost feels like the wind makes you put unwanted input into the handlebars."

KTM 950 Supermoto instrument panel

Simple dash has digital speedo and no tach.

Further, cruising along at 80 mph neither overtaxes the engine nor the rider's arms. For the latter, thank the front "numberplate" which is big enough and high enough to meaningfully deflect windblast. This is a comfortable streetbike. Provided you are tall enough, anyway. Seat height is 34.4 inches, which is on the high side. (Did I say high-side, or just think it?) Even the reach to the footpegs is quite roomy. Taller riders found the bike very comfortable, and Canet, at 5-foot-10, found it to fit his inseam perfectly.

Just like the name “KTM” is pointy and angular, so is the styling of the 950 SM. The bike is made up of visual consonants, starts and stops, sharply defined shapes that are all in stark contrast to the fluid motions of the machine on the road, the gliding arcs of smooth, brake-slide hackers, of front and rear wheels lifting skyward with confident ease. The front wheel for most riders comes up in the natural course of aggressive take-offs. For Cernicky, the rear comes up as a natural course of trying not to squish the photographer’s head during photo shoots. (Legal says to tell you it was closed-course, highly trained riders, blah, blah…)

KTM 950 Supermoto engine close-up

LC8 942cc dry-sump V-Twin carries over from Adventure unchanged, but new routing for the catalyst-equipped exhaust improves midrange torque.

We have been a fan of this 75-degree, counterbalanced V-Twin since first getting it in the Adventure 950. Although this is precisely the same LC8 engine as in the big “trailie,” torque and power are said to be nominally improved by a different airbox and exhaust system. On the dyno, the SM’s 100 x 60mm bores smoothly spun the drum to the tune of 92 horsepower and 60 foot-pounds of torque, which is actually slightly less than a previous Adventure testbike. But our SM only had about 700 miles before dyno testing, and we’ve seen 10 percent increases on some bikes after thorough break-in. The torque curve is nonetheless sweet indeed, and it fills a small dip in the midrange found on the Adventure. The smooth power also aids in connection between what the rider’s right wrist is doing to the contact patch. There is no tach, but the engine revs to 9500, with peak power coming about 1000 rpm before this. The rev-limiter acts by retarding spark, which is a softer, gentler way of controlling maximum engine speed than cutting spark intermittently as on some systems. The 34mm carburetors work well, but fuel-injection has us spoiled. Choke is necessary for cold starting on the 950, and it really is best to let the engine warm up a minute before taking off; otherwise, it is pretty easy to stall. Also, the starter clutch was screeching on us occasionally. Once up to temp, though, the party is on.

“This motor is really torquey right off idle,” said Canet. “It’s odd because it really feels like it has a lot of bottom end, but once you get a chance to open it up and really rev, it is surprising how good the power is up top. On the gas, it just power-wheelies in second gear.”

The SM has the same six-speed gearbox and ratios as the Adventure, but the off-roader’s 42-tooth rear sprocket and 18-inch rear wheel are replaced with a 41-toother and 17-incher. Both use a 17-tooth countershaft sprocket.

KTM 950 Supermoto oil tank close-up

Aluminum oil tank is mounted low in front of the engine and now provides a sight tube for easy level checks.

As befits a bike like this, the brakes are radial everything, and all of the components are made by Brembo. Front discs measure 305mm in diameter, and the stout caliper mounts no doubt contribute to front end rigidity, along with the large-diameter, hollow front axle. Each of the four caliper pistons has its own pad, and braking response from all this fancy hardware is impressive. Almost too impressive. You get used to the sensitivity at the lever, and because the fork damping offers excellent control, there are no dive issues. Still, the effort required for hard braking is light enough to be counter-intuitive. Perhaps it is time for a recalibration of our brains (foil protection and all), but the lever requires too light a touch. Also, the reach adjustment was about right at the minimum setting, while anything farther was basically useless for even wearers of XXL gloves.

At $12,998, the SM is $3000 more than a Triumph Speed Triple but essentially in line with the Ducati Multistrada, both potential competitors. The KTM feels as though it would outclass both those bikes in real cut-and-thrust riding, without giving up too much in terms of comfort. It really is sort of a super-supermoto, bringing an agility, suspension quality and sense of fun that is almost criminally intoxicating…

Oops. Legal just called again. We can’t say any more. Obviously, thicker aluminum foil is needed. Yeah, about seat comfort? Go on as many high-speed chases as you like (on a closed course), the seat is just fine.

KTM 950 Supermoto studio side view
SPECIFICATIONS
GENERAL
LIST PRICE $12,998
IMPORTER KTM North America, Inc., 1119 Milan Ave., Amherst, OH 44001
CUSTOMER SERVICE PHONE (440) 985-3553
WARRANTY 12 mo./12,000 mi.
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
ENGINE liquid-cooled, four-stroke,V-Twin
BORE x STROKE 100.0 x 60.0mm
DISPLACEMENT 942cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.5:1
VALVE TRAIN dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment
VALVE ADJUST INTERVALS 9000 mi.
CARBURETION (2) 43mm Keihin
OIL CAPACITY 3.8 qt.
ELECTRIC POWER 450w
BATTERY 12v, 11ah
CHASSIS
WEIGHT: TANK EMPTY 428 lb.
WEIGHT: TANK FULL 457 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.6 gal.
WHEELBASE 59.5 in.
RAKE / TRAIL 25.4°/4.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 34.4 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE 7.1 in.
GVWR 884 lb.
LOAD CAPACITY (TANK FULL) 427 lb.
FRONT SUSPENSION
MANUFACTURER WP
TUBE DIAMETER 48mm
CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL 7.8 in.
ADJUSTMENTS compression and rebound damping
REAR SUSPENSION
MANUFACTURER WP
TYPE single shock
CLAIMED WHEEL TRAVEL 8.2 in.
ADJUSTMENTS compression and rebound damping, spring preload
TIRES
FRONT Pirelli Scorpion Sync 120/70ZR17
REAR Pirelli Scorpion Sync 180/55ZR17
PERFORMANCE
1/4 MILE 11.22 sec. @ 119.17 mph
0-30 MPH 1.3 sec.
0-60 MPH 3.1 sec.
0-90 MPH 6.1 sec.
0-100 MPH 7.6 sec.
TOP GEAR TIME TO SPEED
40-60 MPH 4.4 sec.
60-80 MPH 3.9 sec.
MEASURED TOP SPEED 134 mph
ENGINE SPEED @ 60 MPH 3650 rpm
FUEL MILEAGE
HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE 38/28/33 mpg
AVG. RANGE INC. RESERVE 152 mi.
BRAKING DISTANCE
FROM 30 MPH 30 ft.
FROM 60 MPH 113 ft.
SPEEDOMETER ERROR
30 MPH INDICATED 28 mph
60 MPH INDICATED 56 mph

EDITOR'S NOTES

MARK CERNICKY, Associate Editor
This KTM is joy, rapture on wheels. Its smooth-but-deliberate power delivery delivers clutchless wheelies exiting second-gear corners with unreal ease. This is bliss.

The WP suspension’s adjustability made it easy to zero in on the potential of its forgiving chassis, allowing the bike to be run in hard and deep over road distortions, without deflection, just absorption, the wheels tracking perfectly.

For reference, I rode one of my favorite local roads, one I’ve been over a million times. It twists through tree labyrinths, the pavement is strewn with stray rocks, patches of moss and leaves, and there are always a few surprises to be leery of. Never was I more comfortable at speed than on the 950 SM, knowing that whatever was in store around the next blind bend, this KTM would have what it takes to handle it. If this were a dog show, the Supermoto would win a blue ribbon for agility.

DON CANET, Road Test Editor
"Is this really a supermoto bike?" Hoyer asked me upon my return from an outing aboard the latest KTM street Twin. Given that the 950 SM weighs about 450 pounds with a full fuel load, I found myself wondering the same.

Considering there are current liter-class sportbikes that weigh less, cost less and produce nearly twice the horsepower, it’s a valid question that begs for an answer.

Thinking back, I realized it was the combination of lightweight, huck-’er-in handling and a relatively low cost that had attracted this longstanding sportbike guy to the single-cylinder, slick-shod MX set. But then, my focus has been more on supermoto’s competition side, having conceded long ago to the impractical aspects of riding such a bike on the street.

Call the 950 SM a supersized-moto, a super standard or what you will, KTM has delivered a bike offering enough refinement and practicality to justify its costs.

MARK HOYER, Executive Editor
The boss has been making fun of me because of all the energy and gum-flapping I have been laying down about my recently acquired '58 Triumph Trophy.

Well, here’s more grist for the mill: The KTM 950 Supermoto reflects the spirit of the “natural motorcycle” that the old Triumph represents; that is, this is a fun, great-handling all-around machine that can be used for commuting, sport riding, light touring and even feels pretty good on a fire-road. It is reasonably light, definitely narrow and has an easy-handling nature that all adds up to one of the purest invitations to ride that you can buy, particularly in a liter-class machine. The only negative here is that it is pricey for a naked bike, coming in at the top of the range for even the most exotic nakeds. Still, the KTM offers something different, allows you to get away with more while trying less. So, let’s categorize this one as a “supernatural motorcycle,” and I’ll finally shut up about the Trophy.

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KTM 950 Supermoto action.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto action.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto action.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto action.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto static.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto details.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto details.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto details.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto details.Brian Blades

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KTM 950 Supermoto studio.KTM Photo