I guess it says something that I never for a moment considered sending my long-term testbike, a KTM 990 SM-T, to a dealer or back to the West Coast press manager for its first major service. Part of that "something" isn't obvious unless you know the players. In our little world, many of the manufacturers like to keep an incredibly tight leash on their testbikes, regardless of the length of the term, protecting against the unlikely event that we screw something up and try to blame the manufacturer for it. Sometimes I think they forget we own and work on our own machines.
Ask our local KTM guy if it's okay to do the work and he's just as likely to shrug his shoulders and say something to the effect of, "Don't [mess] it up." And so with this likely response in mind, I dug in for the 9,300-mile (actually, 15,000-kilometer) big maintenance event on the 990. Had I been in a hurry, I would have ordered a few replacement parts—namely the unusual NGK Laser Iridium spark plugs and an upgrade K&N air-filter element—before I started, preventing the process from running over two weekends. But, hey, that's why you never own just one bike, right?
At least I started out well armed for information, thanks to the KTM's typically thorough service literature. While the factory manual assumes knowledge of basic service procedures and that you are in tune with KTM's terminology, it wasn't a big leap to get comfortable with the processes and parts. I'm sure the factory-trained techs benefit from some known shortcuts, but I never felt like I was out in the cold. At least not once I learned a few tricks at the KTM Super Twins Forum (ktmsmt.com), including the one about covering the maintenance sticker on the left side of the frame so the plumbing wouldn't rip it apart when removing the tank. Good thing other SM-T owners are like-minded. I get to go to school on them.
I know there are probably better uses for my time—the house sure could use some paint, and the bamboo next to the garage is getting out of control—but I considered the couple of days working on the KTM time well spent. For one, I learned a lot about the bike. Not just where the major pieces are and how they go together but something of KTM's design philosophy, which is just different enough from the Japanese and European machines I've owned and maintained to be interesting. Once I stocked up on Torx wrenches and bits, of course.
For example, KTM tackled the problem of having sufficient intake volume for a large V-twin by placing the throttle bodies inside the airbox. Not only does this configuration increase the available volume without eating into the space that could be better used for the fuel load, but it helps keep the bike narrow between your knees. Unfortunately, it also makes gaining access to the engine's top end a rather complicated affair. You have to take the good with the bad, I suppose.
By the time I was done with the service, I knew a lot more about the 990 and had an even greater appreciation for what a terrific machine KTM has developed. It's one thing to twist the throttle and feel the tug of this charismatic engine but something else to appreciate how well it's packaged and how nicely it's finished.
This sort of curiosity is not just my own—we all have the sickness. When a new model rolls out of the van, the MC staff inevitably gathers in the garage to check it out, poke around the oily bits, and generally try to understand how the machine that we've only seen in brochures and high-res images actually seems in the metal. We want to figure out not just how a manufacturer did something but why. Mostly you can ask the engineers about the why—and mostly get an answer—but there's nothing like getting fully under the skin of a machine to really understand.