Every now and then we in the UK get it right when the rest of Europe totally misses the point. Take strong, continental lager, for example. In the UK we understand the importance of fitting a full pint into a glass while over the channel they seem to give both the amber nectar and froth equal billing in the vessel. It’s fairly clear who is in the right in this case, which is probably why us Brits can get steaming drunk while the Europeans tend to simply get merry. And that’s what happened with the KTM 950SM. We supped it up, while Europe wasn’t fussed.
Launched in 2005, the SM was KTM’s second large capacity road bike behind the 950 Adventure. Sticking with what the firm knew best, the Austrian nutters took the LC8 V-twin and popped it in a big supermoto chassis, creating (arguably) the first ‘proper’ big supermoto. Although Ducati had unveiled the Multistrada a few years before, it was aimed far more at the touring market and looked a bit like a Dyson vacuum cleaner anyway.
The SM was exactly what it promised to be – a large capacity supermoto with 17-inch wheels, quality suspension and a fierce braking set-up. On the face of it this should have been enough to put most riders off; after-all, supermotos are the true Marmite bikes of the two-wheeled world. But with the KTM something very unexpected happened, riders in the UK appreciated the SM for what it was, not its family history. We took the 950SM to our hearts while across Europe they were generally far less impressed. Who was right? Us, obviously…
If you get a chance to ride a 950SM then snap it up, although a test ride does come with a word of caution. The SM, much like the superb 1050 Triumph Speed Triple, is one of those bikes that is so much fun to ride you almost inevitably go back for more. In giving a supermoto a hefty dose of steroids, KTM created a bike that is absolutely purpose built for the UK’s roads. Crucially, however, they did this while not forgetting that a bike needs to be fun to ride and also possess some practicality.
Sit on the 950SM and your first thoughts are that it’s anything but small and svelte. The bodywork is chunky, the bars are simply huge and the tank bulbous. The long seat is fairly well padded, but due to its off-road styling you are often caught in two minds as to how to sitonit.Doyougofora motocross pushed over the headstock stance or slide further back in a more traditional road bike way? In all honesty it doesn’t matter that much as once you hit the starter the riding position is the last thing on your mind.
KTM certainly knows how to make a thumping V-twin and the LC8 engine in its carbed form is a cracker. The updated 990 fuel- injected version is no slouch, but there is something about two huge carbs feeding a motor that gives it a unique feel and character, not to mention a near perfect throttle response. From very low down in the rev range the LC8 motor surges forward, picking up momentum that culminates in a chunky amount of drive between 6 and 8,000rpm. It’s a motor that makes you smile every time and is as happy cruising around at low revs as it is being hammered to its limiter. Aside from a clunky gearbox (KTM then seemed unable to build a decent ‘box) there’s little to complain about – and if wheelies are your thing then look no further than the SM. However, cornering isn’t quite such a strong point.
Supermotos always come with long travel suspension and despite the KTM’s WP units being top quality, the fact they have so much travel tends to make the SM wallow in turns. Get used to this trait and you can still tramp on a bit, but you need to understand that any hefty application of brake or throttle will result in a bit of pitching. A quick burst of adjustor twiddling can help minimise the roll, but in all truth it’s better to put up with it and retain the SM’s refinement on uneven roads rather than attempt to turn it into something it doesn’t want to be. This is a bike to be ridden, enjoyed, and then ridden again with an even bigger smile on your face.
In the current age of monster power claims and electronic control, the 950SM is a welcome reminder of what makes two- wheels so special. It’s a bike all about the simple joy of riding and manages to blend practicality and performance perfectly into one beautifully balanced package. OK, the gearbox is a bit poor and the suspension soft, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t detract from what is basically a bloody brilliant bike.