The most common complaint of American bike buyers is the lack of available test rides. Unless you're tight with your local dealer, your only option is usually a group demo ride at a big race or rally. There you'll wait hours in line for a few lousy minutes parading up and down some frontage road in a pack of 30 other bikers at "safe and prudent" speeds.
You won't learn much about a motor-cycle's capabilities under such conditions-especially a high-performance superbike. That's what makes KTM's Race Orange Track Day Experience such a rare and wonderful program. The Austrian manufacturer offers the unprecedented opportunity to spend an entire day riding its RC8 V-twin on the racetrack. There are no traffic laws, no speed limits and, unless you're riding in the novice group where passing is limited, essentially no rules. This is the ultimate test ride.
"Whenever we see the results of a survey, people say demo rides are one of the top two reasons for buying a particular bike," says program manager Mark Hyde. "We wanted to give superbike buyers a thorough demo ride. A few laps around a parking lot won't cut it."
A spinoff of KTM's Ride Orange demo program, and inspired by a dealer product launch held at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (located an hour from the company's Amherst headquarters), Race Orange events run like any other track day. Riders are divided into novice, intermediate and advanced groups, rotating through 20-minute sessions. Track coaches, recruited from Mid-Ohio's own Performance Track Riding program (www.midohio school.com),
are accessible during and after each session to answer questions and give advice. The only difference is participants ride brand-new KTMs.
Participating riders are split into three groups based on ability and experience. Mid-Ohio
Bikes are equipped with fresh Pirelli Diablo Supercorsas, the fuel tank is always topped off and the engine is warmed up and ready to ride. "It's like being a factory rider for a day," says KTM Midwest Sales Manager Brian Healea.
KTM hosted four Race Orange programs at Mid-Ohio last summer, and all four sold out. The early July event we attended drew participants from the East Coast and even Canada. Some were current KTM off-road owners, but many were not. Some, like Washington, DC's Matthew Patton, who owns a Suzuki SV650 and KTM SMR 525, had never even ridden a superbike. "I'm not going to see a bike like that in my garage anytime soon, so I thought, 'What the heck?'"
Everyone remembers the first time they rode a superbike, and their first track day, and the opportunity to imprint those powerful memories with the KTM brand is invaluable. "We've definitely sold bikes because of these events," says Healea. "People ride the bikes, get excited and act on that excitement."
Other riders just come to take advantage of a bargain. At $275, the Race Orange program is slightly more expensive than the average track day, but offers better value. "This is a deal," says Bill Cramer, a Yamaha YZF-R6 owner from Cleveland, Ohio. "I'd spend more than that riding my own bike, after factoring in gas and tires." Mark Mursall, who traveled from Merlin, Ontario, doesn't even own a bike: "I used to have a Kawasaki ZX-10R, but now my money's tied up in my house. This is the only way I can still get on the track." Riders are responsible for any crash damage, but that's the case if you're riding your own bike, too.
Surprisingly, this doesn't bother Hyde at all. Building brand awareness on the street side is just as important for KTM at this stage in the game. "Even if a guy doesn't buy a bike, if he has a great experience, he's going to tell his buddies what a good time he had riding KTMs," he says. "That helps us a lot, in the long run."