Motorcyclist Comparo: Sumo Supermoto

Large, Powerful And Not Exactly What They Seem

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

The mega-boxer is more impressive pottering around town. Throttle response is essentially flawless, and so is the six-speed gearbox. But with upward of 70 lb.-ft. of torque online from 3500 rpm, shifting is mostly optional. Wide bars and a low center of mass make the BMW more agile than its monstrous dimensions might suggest. Suspension is decidedly taut right out of the box; dialing down stock compression-damping settings-especially up front-serves up a more compliant ride on rough pavement. But if plush is what you seek, buy an R1200RT. The Megamoto, in case you haven't guessed already, is a decidedly less practical beast.

Hung out in the wind on a broad, flat handlebar, relatively short gearing factors in enough buzz beyond 75 mph to make extended freeway travel a necessary evil. The 3.4-gallon tank carries a half-gallon more than an HP2 Enduro; enough to fuel stops about 140 miles apart if you're careful or 120 if you're not. But with the sort of back-road demeanor that encourages a less prudent right wrist, that last number is usually closer to reality. The boxer's 101mm pistons and hefty crankshaft can't spin up as quickly as the KTM's lighter bits. But persuade the tach needle to the right of 6500 rpm and the Bavarian afterburner kicks in enthusiastically enough to leave the Austrian interloper for dead.

Just in case the cylinders didn't do it, abundant engine braking tends to discourage authentic boot-out cornering. Still, genuinely stupid lean angles become standard operating procedure once you're accustomed to sitting nearly a yard from the tarmac. Relaxed steering geometry and a 63.3-inch wheelbase add up to a disturbing amount of front-end chatter entering tight corners at the track. But most such complaints disappear on the street.

Stiff suspension is allergic to nasty pavement, and the limo-esque wheelbase favors premeditated cornering trajectory over indecision at the apex. Still, a little steering input goes a long way. It's easy to turn inside the appointed line below 60 mph until your neural circuits recalibrate. An exasperating tendency to stand up under the slightest trail-braking maneuvers takes some getting used to as well. Otherwise, the BMW's Brembo four-piston front calipers and 320mm rotors serve up more power and better feel than the others. Michelin Pilot Power radials lay down the most tenacious grip as well. With effectively unlimited cornering clearance, the sound of metal on pavement means you've just crashed-extremely ill advised where physical dimensions are exceeded only by exclusivity. In the end, BMW's ultimate stripped-down sporting tool is too expensive, too long, too tall, too narrowly focused or just too openly weird. And that's why we're not answering the door right away when they come to take it back.

KTM 950 SuperMoto R

It's not the coolest or the lightest or the strongest or even the least expensive. So how does KTM's 950 come out on top in this little exercise? It acts more like a real-deal supermoto bike if you insist on backing into the occasional corner. At the same time, the orange-and-black Austrian bike is always a little better at being a do-it-all motorcycle. The most glaring bit of irony in all that is that you may have a hard time finding one. More on that later.

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