Motorcyclist Comparo: Sumo Supermoto

Large, Powerful And Not Exactly What They Seem

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

A more handsome fuel tank-pirated off the 950 Super Enduro, aka KTM's answer to BMW's HP2 Enduro-makes the '07 version easier to look at, but styling requires a taste American buyers haven't acquired quite yet. What is this thing? A stripped-down KTM Adventure twin? A dressed-up Super Duke? Actually, it's a little of both. The 34.4-inch seat height makes it more accessible than anybody's adventure-sport bike. It's also easier for regular-sized humans to throw a boot over than the towering BMW. On the down side, the saddle foam is too soft, and it's upholstered with a diabolically slippery material that makes staying put tough unless you're wearing leather. Or gaffer's tape. The nicely balanced ergonomic equation is theoretically capable of packing double. But considering the gluteal proximity to those high-mount mufflers, passengers will require a high pain threshold and/or heat-resistant skivvies.

A pair of 43mm Keihin anachronisms called carburetors-complete with quaint bar-mounted choke lever-give the 942cc version of KTM's 75-degree V-twin the sort of smooth, snappy, willing response that makes fuel injection look bad to everybody but the EPA. The 950 is smoother than its peers. Less flywheel weight lets it rev noticeably quicker as well-all the way to an 88-horse peak at 8000 rpm that trumps all but the BMW. A tach would make it easier to stay in the upper-midrange happy place, but we managed without one. An 11.56-second dragstrip run at 118.3 mph makes the Austrian second quickest as well. But the KTM doesn't move to the front of this pack until you file all the printouts and live with it for a week.

With a ready flow of cooperative power behind the most agile chassis of our foursome, the R slips through nightmarish urban traffic with minimal effort. Clutch pull gets stiff after extended bouts of stop-and-go, but the gearbox shifts as smoothly as the BMW's through six rations that are more effectively spaced to run the Monday-through-Friday gauntlet as readily as the inevitable Saturday-morning scrape. Tall gearing means fifth works better under 80 mph, but freeway travel is relatively painless until butt and seat develop irreconcilable differences after 90 minutes or so. Hopefully the route takes a turn for the better before the burn sets in.

The KTM gives up less ground to the BMW in any corner-to-corner skirmish than its 16-horse shortfall might suggest. The Buell and Ducati work a whole lot harder to hold on once the pace heats up. The WP fork and shock offer the broadest range of adjustment. Brakes are plenty strong, if a big grabby up front. And though finding that perfect combination of spring preload, compression and rebound damping takes some time, the results will be worth it. Once dialed in, the 950 can generate serious velocity through the kind of tight, bumpy dirty corners that make most sportbike pilots U-turn for home. It's nice to have the road to yourself on a Saturday morning.

Still, U.S. buyers don't quite know what to make of a sit-up sportbike dressed in motocross plastic. And since more of them wrote checks for KTM's 990 Adventure or the sportier Super Duke in '07, the 950 SMR has been dropped from the '08 lineup. Europeans get the spanky new fuel-injected 990cc version while we watch from the wrong side of the Atlantic. But there's good news if you know where to look. The 990 Adventure and Super Duke took their time getting here too, and with a little luck we'll see the 990 Super Moto in '09. Meanwhile, there are miles of bumpy, dirty, unpatrolled pavement waiting weekend after weekend for somebody on the right motorcycle to lay down some fresh rubber. What are you waiting for?

Off The Record
Brian "Doggerson" Catterson

These four superhypermotomotards occupy the same ground but took very different paths to get there. The BMW and KTM are streetified super-enduros, while the Buell and Ducati are stripped-down adventure-tourers. The former hew closer to the formula of bolting street tires onto a dirtbike, and the KTM feels most like a proper supermoto. But for my money, the latter work better in the real world. I enjoyed the Buell, finding it supremely surefooted, if a tad slow. But I'd pick the Ducati. It does everything well and nothing badly, looks and sounds great, and in my shallow estimation is simply the coolest bike here. That's why I'm gonna have one for my next long-termer.

Age: 45
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 215 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

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