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KTM's 990 SMT tourer has soul of a motard

Published Aug 4, 2009


Cape Town - KTM does things differently - but this one is odd even by KTM standards. The 990 SMT is a litre-class, V-twin supermotard with a small screen, a carrier and fittings for hard luggage.

It looks as weird as it sounds - and KTM has a reputation for strange-looking motorcycles - but works remarkably well.

Consider this: The problem with trying to make a tourer out of a big off-roader is that the result is too big and heavy for anything but tar or good gravel and handles like a marshmallow at speed.

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A supermotard, on the other hand, is a (usually big) off-roader that's been optimised for riding on tar. Combine the two and you have a big, rugged bike that'll take you just about anywhere and be lots of fun along the way.

About the only other bike that comes close is Buell's XB12XT Ulysses - which is derived from a sports bike, the XB12R.

The SMT is based on KTM's LC8 V-twin, tuned in this application for 85kW at 9000rpm and a muscular 97Nm at 7000. Like all KTM four-strokes, it's mechanically noisy and power-thuds ferociously under 3000rpm but the SMT pulls like the hooligan tool it is from there to the rev-limiter at 10 000.

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The meat of the power, however, is between five and nine. Keep the needle in the happy zone and any twist of the wrist is rewarded with instant big-twin response. Sure, it vibrates, but that's part of this bike's persona, as is the noisy but very positive gearbox and somewhat excessive lash in the final drive.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster in traffic but a reasonably educated right hand and a modicum of decorum will soon have the big Katoom slipping smoothly through the 5pm lemming run - but if a gap does open up you can grab it before the box pilots even know it's there.

Nevertheless, it's on the open road where it can stretch out that the 990 SMT comes into its own. The test bike thundered up to a GPS-measured 212km/h with the rev counter a needle's width past 8000 and seemed ready to cruise all day at 140km/h, right in the engine's sweet spot at 5400rpm.

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The 19-litre tank is small by touring standards but even at the 6.7 litres/100km I recorded over the test period (KTM said I should be getting about 5.9) should be good for more than 250km.

The angular body panels and upright little flyscreen (typical KTM) do a remarkable job of keeping most of the weather off the rider up to shoulder height. I don't know about you but I like a little wind in my face - that's why I ride motorcycles.

Everything else is a lot more practical than it looks: the hand guards mean you don't need heavy gauntlets, even in winter, the broad, thick seat offers plenty of room for moving about on long rides, the cast-alloy carrier has grab handles for the pillion, the pillion footrests are low enough that even an adult won't be cramped and the rear seat is as generous in size and as well-padded as the front.

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The typically chunky KTM instrument pod has an analogue rev-counter and an LCD screen that normally displays speed, distance and time but can also give a host of other information at the press of the "mode" button on the left.

But don't forget that the SMT is based on an off-roader with supple, long-travel WP suspension that soaked up the worst our bumpy test section could throw at it without me lifting off the saddle or rattling my teeth - and, better still, the bike didn't even shake its head.

For the same reason the bike became "floaty" when the chassis was stressed on the "ride and handling" section of the standard test route but, although the steering was a little too vague for comfort, ground clearance was practically limitless and if I got it right going in I could turn the power on early and come out hard enough to surprise my partner on her big sports-tourer.

And when I needed to scrub off speed the Brembo radial-mount callipers on dual 305mm platters gave all the control I needed to make the most of more stopping power than either the front tyre or suspension could cope with.

The SMT shows all the strengths and some of the shortcomings to be expected of a road bike built by an off-road motorcycle company. Its touring furniture makes it a comfortable and practical tourer while its supermoto handling makes getting there all the fun.


R132 000. Test bike from KTM Cape Town.







Bore x stroke:

101 x 62.4mm.

Compression ratio:



DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.


85kW at 9000rpm.


97Nm at 7000.


Keihin electronic fuel-injection with dual 48mm downdraught throttle bodies.


Digital electronic.





Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch.


Six-speed constant-mesh transmission with final drive by chain.



WP 48mm inverted cartridge forks adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.


WP monoshock adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping.



Dual 305mm floating discs with radially mounted Brembo four-pot, opposed-piston callipers.


240mm disc with Brembo double-piston floating calliper.



120/70 - 17" tubeless.


180/55 - 17" tubeless.




Seat height:


Wet weight:



19 litres.


212km/h (measured)


Two-years unlimited distance.




Yamaha TDM900- R87 413

Honda XL1000V Varadero- R108 999

Triumph Tiger- R119 500

BMW R1200 GS- R133 000

Ducati Hypermotard- R135 000

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