Review: 2010 KTM 990 SM T

Review: 2010 KTM 990 SM T
This past November, KTM invited the motorcycle press to sample their 2010 line of street machines in lovely Monterey, California. Plenty of hot (or in my case, lukewarm) laps were turned on the world famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course, aboard the impressive 1190 RC8 R superbike and the super sporty 990 SM R Supermoto model. But despite all the leather-bound bravado, it was the bikes with bags that got this touring rider's heart racing.

While laps at the track are awesome fun and a great tool for safely pushing machines to their limits, most of us live our riding lives well outside the paddock. So after lunch, I pack the leathers, don the Kevlar® jeans, and bid adieu to the circuit. I'm ready to get a real world taste of KTM's highly unusual attempt at a travel worthy Supermoto.

Engine and Transmission

These SM Ts are ready to hit the hills.

Early Supermotos were usually built from a dirt bike or dual sport chassis and most often featured single cylinder engines. But as the craze grew, so did the engines. In creating the new SM T (Supermoto Travel), KTM chose their 999cc LC8 power plant. This liquid cooled, 75º V-twin is said to pound out 115 ponies and 73.8 lb-ft torque. Touted as the "newest generation LC8," this mill now features lighter-weight pistons, crankshaft, and connecting rods. And with a more tour-oriented power delivery in mind, a milder mapping of the Keihin EFI now combines with less-aggressive cams to take the edge off of the power delivery. But don't think for a second that this one is lacking in juice. When the road opens up, whacking the throttle is rewarded with a smooth and predictable, yet arm-straightening growl that inspires cheesy grins and a lighter than normal front wheel. Despite being ensconced in a package that is very definitely Supermoto in nature, this Austrian two-banger has all the characteristics of an outstanding open-road engine.

Chassis and Brakes

The LC8 V-twin is home to 115 horses.

The SM T's tubular, chromium-molybdenum steel, trellis-type frame provides an extra-rigid substructure, yet only weighs 21.6-pounds. Combine this with a motor that tips the scales at a mere 127.7-pounds, and you have a core that should be "flickable" to say the least. And once on the road, the SM T proves that assumption correct. Tight and narrow byways are definitely this bike's forte. The racy looking front forks are 48mm units that are fully adjustable and sport an impressive 6.3-inches of travel. A single shock out back is also fully adjustable and offers 7-inches of travel. Both fore and aft components are made by WP Suspension and prove quite adept at hanging solid through even the tightest of curves while maintaining a surprisingly cushy demeanor for more relaxed outings.

Leading the way in the braking department are two very effective, four-piston, radially bolted, fixed calipers that grab 305mm floating discs. And with the brake fluid pulsing through steel braided lines, inputs from the lightest touch to the heartiest grab are transmitted in a precise and accurate manner. Out back, it's an equally reassuring situation with another steel-braided line carrying the fluid to a Brembo two-piston caliper working on a 240mm disc.

That WP shock is fully adjustable.

Accessories and Arrangements

When the rubber hits the long road, the SM T drops all the comfort and ride anomalies normally associated with Supermoto and adds a positive helping of travel. The firm-yet-supple, stepped saddle invites a relaxed, upright sitting position and was obviously chosen with miles in mind. And with its conspicuous rearward rise, this perch even looks passenger-friendly, especially with that nifty set of copilot grab bars. The SM T also comes with bags. Granted, they're not the most spacious pieces we've seen, but they look fantastic on the bike, are easy to access, and attach to an integrated rack that includes a heat shield to protect the contents from the high-exiting rear exhaust pipes. There's also a small luggage rack capable of bearing an extra tail pack if needed. A small, but effective, frame-mounted fairing punches a nice hole in the wind and protects an easy-to-read digital speedo and analog tach instrument cluster. A set of well-integrated hand guards are also really nice when the mercury starts heading south.
There's no doubt about it, the KTM 990 SM T is a completely different beast. Its powerful 115-horsepower engine, refreshingly light 432-pound curb weight, and racing inspired components hint at Supermoto performance. On the other hand, a relaxed, all day seating position, integrated bags, and surprisingly effective windscreen seems tailor-made for the touring enthusiast. It's a strange amalgamation indeed, but it all comes together in an incredibly appealing package sure to keep that inner hooligan smirking from coast to coast.

Though a bit small, the bags do compliment the Supermoto styling.

KTM 2010 Street Launch

Long known for excellence in the dirt arena, the orange riders from Austria have recently been making forays into the street market. For 2010, their line of street going machines includes a couple of first time models that made quite an impression.

1190 RC8 R
The obvious King of the KTM hill is the all new 1190 RC8 R. Pounding out a claimed 170 horsepower and 90.7 lb-ft torque, this machine delivers velocity and handling that is truly stunning. All components are top-shelf items and the design elements that make up this bike are masterful in their execution. On the track, all but the best riders will hit their own limitations long before they start pushing the RC8 R. Different levels of ergonomic adjustability are built in, and easily removable mirrors and turn signals turn this fire breathing street machine into a track-day weapon at the drop of a hat. Numerous power and performance upgrades are also available from KTM's Powerparts Catalog for those infected with the need for speed. KTM brands their steeds "Ready to Race," and after riding the 1190 RC8 R, I wouldn't argue with that claim.

990 SM R
If the idea of superbike performance without the associated riding posture sounds appealing, then the 990 SM R may be the answer. Powered by the LC8 engine, the R boasts 115-horsepower and 71.5 lb-ft torque pushing a 416.6-pound package. The rigid, chromium-molybdenum trellis frame combines with competition grade Brembo brake components to keep the super-fast SM R in check. While we weren't able to sample the Supermoto's wares on the street, there were plenty of laps to be had around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Quite simply, the performance was exquisite. From a pure street rider's perspective, the upright seating position and wide handlebar felt much more familiar than being on the RC8 R.

Granted, the 990 SM R doesn't rank very high on the practicality chart. The seat is slender and quite hard and the presence of passenger pegs and grab bars are almost laughable. Wind protection consists of a small lip-like protrusion above the headlight and storage is nonexistent. But after a few laps, those gripes became irrelevant technicalities. All I could really think about was making room for another bike in the garage and making space for another attorney's calendar on my refrigerator.

Technical Specs

+ handling, lightweight, fun factor

- small saddlebags, price

Distributor KTM North America Inc.
MSRP $ 13,998
Engine 75º V-twin, DOHC, 8-valve
Displacement 999cc
Bore and Stroke 101x62.4mm
Fuel System EFI with 48mm throttle bodies
Power 115hp @9,000rpm / 71.5lb-ft torque @7,000rpm
Cooling liquid
Ignition Keihin EMS
Final Drive chain
Transmission 6-speed
Frame chromium-molybdenum trellis
Front Suspension 48mm inverted, fully adjustable, 6.3in (160mm) travel
Rear Suspension single shock, fully adjustable, 7.1in (180mm) travel
Rake/Trail 24.4°/4.3in (109mm)
Front Brake dual 305mm discs, Brembo 4-piston calipers
Rear Brake single 240mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Front Tire 120/70-ZR17
Rear Tire 180/55-ZR17
Curb Weight 432lbs (196kg)
Wheelbase 59.2in (1,505mm)
Seat Height 33.6in (855mm)
Fuel Capacity 5gal (19l)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Colors silver/black, orange/black