Open the brochure on the KTM Supermoto range and the first thing you see is a series of photos showing a KTM coming down a flight of steps, then blasting away down the streets and sliding sideways behind the morning traffic. The rider is said to be one Renzo Lambertini, a lawyer from Sienna. He says, “This little supermoto trip right across the city gives me more energy than a double espresso”. The next couple of pages show some more action, including him pulling a big wheelie out along the open road.
“First the pleasure, then perhaps a bit of work” he says, then goes on to say, “Charging through the streets is a lot of fun”. Then he carries on about what great fun the KTM is outside the city, where he claims the KTM rounds up “super bikes” on everything but straight roads. So the Supermoto is all about fun! And for me, coming from a background in trail-bikes, the concept of taking what is basically a trail-bike (or motocrosser!), and making it street-legal, then fitting it with road-type wheels and tyres, certainly sounded appealing. It should be fun! Although sliding sideways around city streets and doing wheelies down the highway was never really my riding style! So how would I like riding a supermoto? Well I got to find out when I happened upon a KTM dealer that was having an “open-day” and giving test-rides on what they call their “Street Fleet”.
Now I should begin by saying that this report probably says more about me and my riding style than it does about the actual bike. But then the whole purpose of these “road tests” is to report on them exactly how I found them. And if you’re anything like me (which many of you might be, to some degree at least) then your reaction to the bikes I ride would probably be similar to mine. So in that sense they’re probably more accurate and informative than the “proper” more objective reports you read in magazines.
The bike that was chosen for me was the KTM 640. This is basically the same as the 625, but with quite a bit more power, as well as a larger fuel tank. The dealer said that with the greater power it was better (and also a little easier) to ride than the 625.
Our test-course was to cover suburban roads, some freeway, and a bit of back country road. Sounded like it could be fun.
Okay, first some details. The engine is a single-cylinder of 625cc, running 4 valves and a Mikuni carby. Power is quoted as 40kw. Gearbox is 5-speed. Weight is 149kg. Brakes comprise a single disc front and rear, with a Brembo 4-piston caliper on the front and Brembo floating caliper on the rear. Forks are upside-down type.   
Now to the ride; and let the fun begin! The bike feels high to sit on, which you’d expect. (Seat height is 910mm). The brochure claims the bike has an “ergonomically optimal seat”. well, I'm sorry, but it felt like a log! And it doesn’t have to be! Look at Yamaha’s XTX660, which has a well-shaped and surprisingly comfortable seat. Anyway, start it up and that big single vibrates. It’s not as bad as, say, the Buell Ulysses, but it’s still unpleasant. And there’s a strange sensation when it’s revved. The vibrations increase, of course, but the bike seems to rise up beneath you. Feels weird! Hmmm, something hard and vibrating rising up against your crotch; this might not be an ideal old bloke’s bike, but I reckon there’d be a few women who’d like it! (“I never ride it, I just leave it in the garage, sit on it naked and rev that engine!”).
Anyway, we take off. Well, the others in the group did. I stalled it. Three times! (How embarrassing! And no, definitely not having fun yet!). Finally, by slipping the clutch rather profusely, I was able to get it away from the kerb. Meanwhile the others were charging off down the road! The correct technique would seem to be to give it a heap of revs, and then screw the throttle around to the stop as you pop the clutch. I was never brave or aggressive enough to do that! But the others were. At traffic-lights they’d blast away on the back wheel, while I was revving it and gradually slipping the clutch so I wouldn’t stall and be run over by following traffic!
Add to all this unpleasantness handling that felt weird and top-heavy – in the way that serious dirt-bikes do when ridden on the road – and the result was I thought it was horrible! After just a couple of kilometres I would have been happy to have gone back; but I was committed to staying with the group.
Now I have to say that the other guys seemed to be having a lot of fun. There was the afore-mentioned antics at traffic-lights, and then some were weaving from side to side, exploring it’s apparently stable handling. Meanwhile, I was still finding it very unpleasant!
It wasn’t all bad, though. The ride was good; the bike soaking up patches and bumps in the bitumen very well (as you’d expect!). But the vibration was so strong, and the seat so hard, that I could feel my poor old back being pounded even on smooth roads. Thankfully, the gear-change was easy and smooth; which helped me to catch-up after the traffic-light take-offs! It did clunk a bit on down changes, but not much, and even then the actual change was still smooth.
The engine felt harsh everywhere, but it did rev out okay. In fact the bike seemed at it’s best when it was accelerating hard. (Almost getting to be fun then!). There’s no tacho, by the way, just a digital speedo. It was quite big and easy to read. On the highway it cruised easily enough at 110kph. It didn’t feel particularly fast (well it does only have 40kw!), but it was okay.
Cruising along it felt pretty stable; although I never had confidence to corner it at any decent speed. (So I was a long way off Renzo’s style!). I’m sure it would corner quickly (just ask Renzo!), but I just couldn’t get confident enough to try it. Although by the time we got back I was getting more confident with positioning the bike on the road etc, so maybe more time on it would bring more confidence (if the vibration and hard seat didn’t shake you to bits in the process!).
Brakes were good (as you’d expect from Brembo), although of course it did have that “dirt-bike-on-the-road” feel to it.
I was almost always at the rear of the group (even the much less powerful 625 was racing away from me!) and at one point I even lost sight of the rest of them. That was a bit of a worry because I was in a strange city and had no idea where I was! But I kept going and eventually caught up to them. And I kept them in sight until eventually we were back at the dealer’s showroom.
It’s always interesting to ride different bikes. But, while still glad to have had the opportunity to ride the KTM, I have to say that this whole experience was most unpleasant! I suppose you could have guessed from the start that this wouldn’t be an ideal bike for an old-bloke – even one who came from riding trail-bikes! But I strongly suspect that there would be better (or shall we say “easier to live with”) bikes of this type out there.
So, to sum up, if you’re an old bloke then this isn’t the bike for you! (Not unless you’re Barry Ashenhurst or similar!). But if you’re a young hoon (and especially if you’ve been raised on dirt bikes) and want something to have fun on around the streets, or on your way to work, then you might like it; in fact you might love it! The other guys in my test group certainly seemed to be having fun!
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(Ridden 2007)