2007 KTM 950 Supermoto

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Herwig Peuker, Ken Freund, L. Franco

The burgeoning supermotard class of motorcycles offers a sizzling blend of motocross and road-racing designs that can be devastatingly quick on a twisty back road. If you've never experienced a 'motard, think of riding a big dirt bike on steroids, with lots of power, sticky street tires and great brakes - you've got the idea.

KTM's 950 Supermoto (SM) shares the same basic engine and topnotch WP suspension as its older sibling, the 950 Adventure (which has grown to 990cc). To make it handle better on pavement, the 950 SM is blessed with a shorter wheelbase, 17-inch wheels shod with sportbike tires and better brakes. Its potent Dakar-proven, 950cc liquid-cooled LC8 engine is rated 98 horsepower peaking at 8,000 rpm, with max torque of 69 lb.-ft. at 6,500 revs. The sporty DOHC four-valve-per-cylinder V-twin delivers pleasing torque-rich power across a broad rpm range. Torque remains relatively steady from three grand all the way to eight, then tapering off until the rev limiter hits around 9,000 rpm.

Unlike KTM's 990 Adventure and Super Duke, the SM's engine is still fed by a pair of 43mm Keihin CV carburetors with a manual choke. Pull the choke lever, thumb the starter button, and the lanky twin rumbles to life with a lumpy whoumbahh that brings on a smile. Keep the choke on for a few blocks to prevent the light-flywheel powerplant from stalling and after that the engine feels well sorted, with no flat spots or abruptness but great roll-on power. Not that we'd ever do it, but the Supermoto easily lofts the front wheel in first and second gears, and does so faster than you can say "don't try this at home."

A hydraulically actuated wet clutch with a handsome stainless-steel line connects the engine to the six-speed gearbox. Clutch lever effort is moderate, with good modulation, no excess slippage, and shifting is so slick it's almost automatic. Finding neutral is easy, even when stopped in gear, and we never missed a shift. Tall gearing gives the bike long legs; anything below 55 mph in sixth is lugging, yet at Interstate speeds the torquey twin will effortlessly accelerate past lines of slower traffic with nary a downshift.

To dance well you need strong legs. A premium, WP inverted fork with 48mm stanchions adds rigidity to the front end, while out back a WP fully adjustable monoshock keeps things under control. Preload, rebound and compression damping are fully adjustable at both ends. After some fiddling, we found a suitable combination of preload and damping adjustments to provide good control along with a plush ride. One thing the Supermoto is missing is the remote rear preload-adjustment knob, which is found on the Adventure. It's sorely missed on this model, which has a ring and locknut style adjuster stuffed up into the rear subframe, making it more difficult to dial in preload for the occasional passenger.

Two big 305mm Brembo rotors with radial-mounted, four-piston calipers and four individual brake pads produce outstanding front stopping power. Rear braking comes from a floating two-piston caliper clamping a single 240mm rotor. Slap on those powerful binders and you'd better be braced for it - and expecting a considerable amount of dive from that long-travel fork, too. The radial front master cylinder has an adjustable lever and a single finger is all it takes, with a strong initial bite and good modulation. Even on steep mountain downhill sections, we couldn't get them to fade, and the rear brake's controllability helps set the bike up in tight corners.

Sporty Pirelli Scorpion Syncs are spooned onto the lightweight Brembo alloy wheels. The rims keep un-sprung weight in check while the Syncs allow the rider to brake late and dive deeply into corners. They provide very good grip with ample feedback, high-speed stability, and they don't chase pavement seams or rain grooves.

The front end includes a small flyscreen and a headlight integrated into the front fender. This directs some of the wind up away from the rider's chest, but a small windscreen would be a welcome addition. A tapered aluminum handlebar adds to the dirt-bike feel of the Supermoto, and the leverage makes it easy to flick the bike into corners. The minimalist instrument panel features a bar-graph temperature gauge, digital speedometer, and you can toggle between the odometer, dual trip meters, and a clock. A countdown mileage meter comes on with the low-fuel lamp.

The SM's smallish 4.6-gallon tank is made of lightweight polyamide to save weight. Fuel mileage averaged 40.4 mpg, and we saw the low-fuel light wink on at 135 to 145 miles. But the tiny LED is easy to overlook in bright sunlight and there's no fuel gauge, so watch your trip meter. Based on our average, the range to empty pencils out to 186 miles.

KTM is known for tall, thin, narrow seats, and the Supermoto's is all of the above. Perched a full 34 inches off the ground and 34 inches long, it allows the rider and passenger wiggle room - which is good because the seat gets uncomfortable after about an hour. The saddle, locked under the tail light, has enough storage space for small items, like the toolkit and owner's manual. Pillion accommodations are similar to the rider's, although with higher-mounted footpegs, and there's a combination handgrab and small luggage rack on the back. However, any passenger is bound to feel some heat from the high mufflers, which also pose problems should you want to mount soft saddlebags.

Thanks to its sharp, angular stealth-fighter styling and performance to match, KTM's 950 Supermoto is an adrenaline junky's best friend. It's well made, nicely engineered and performs well in its intended role. And despite a curb weight of 421 pounds sans fuel, the bike manages to feel light and nimble when underway.

At thirteen grand, the 950 SM isn't cheap, but we really enjoyed the potent acceleration, easy shifting, quick, sharp handling, plush suspension and powerful brakes. If you're tall enough to ride it, well-heeled enough to pay for it, and enjoy spirited riding on an unusual-looking bike that draws attention wherever you go, this may be the machine for you.