2007 KTM 690 Supermoto First Ride

When the invitation to toss the latest KTM supermoto machines around the mean Streets of Willow popped into my in-box, I knew I was in for a peg-dragging good time. In fact, the very first supermoto experience of my career took place in Las Vegas at the KTM 450/525 SMR press intro some three years prior, and life has never been the same since.

On a supermoto, every single-lane road looks like a playground, every rolling hill a table top, and every dirty apex just a reason to put distance on your buddies. That’s what supermoto is all about – breaking the rules, doing what shouldn’t be done, and having a good time while you’re at it. It’s this irreverence that KTM is hoping to capture in their all new single-cylinder 690 Supermoto.

For those of you who have been paying attention, there are major differences between these most recent offerings and the previous ones. Unlike the original motocross-based 450/525 series, which are to this day the weapons of choice for Supermoto racers around the world, the 690 and 950 are purpose-built streetbikes that will likely never be seen at a starting grid. Instead, they are part of a new era of fun-to-ride bikes that have become fashionable these days. Although not exactly suited for clearing 100-foot table-tops and backing it in at 100 mph, they are a pleasant blend of rider-friendly ergos, race-inspired performance and distinctive appearance aimed at inspiring mischievous behavior in even the most discriminating riders.

KTM equipped its 690 Supermoto with fuel injection, a first for a single-cylindered KTM motorcycle, which makes for a smooth run through the rev range.

At the center of this pointed challenger is the latest rendition of KTM’s single-cylinder LC4 powerplant. The LC4 is new from the ground up. A counterbalanced crank reduces vibration dramatically versus its predecessor and, for the first time ever on a single-cylinder KTM, fuel injection atomizes the precious natural resource so that this is one efficient piece of ausrustung (TK – equipment in German). Featuring a 46mm throttle body, Electronic Power Throttle (EPT) unit with cold start and idle regulation system, the 690 is surprisingly smooth for a Single across the entire rev range from the moment it is fired up. At idle it lopes along like any good running Single does but does not vibrate incessantly like the previous generation LC4. Twist the throttle and the motor smoothes out significantly from its thumptuous beginning and continues to exude a pleasant, rather than irritating, bit of throb through the bars.

A new slipper-type APTC ‘anti-hopping’ clutch provides a light effort at the lever and makes even the sloppiest of downshifts seem perfect. It works very well out on the track and there’s no reason to expect anything less from it on the street, where frantic downshifts and attempts to get agro are not quite as common (cough, cough) – or at least they shouldn’t be. A six-speed transmission harnesses the claimed 63 hp and 48 lb-ft of torque and directs it to the rear wheel via left-side chain drive. The ribbed swingarm looks really cool, too, as if the exterior skin of the thing was purposely left off to reveal the interior bracing. This will definitely attract commentary from the peanut gallery.

When it’s time to for a quick brake check in the corners, the KTM 690 Supermoto relies on the stopping power of Brembo’s 320mm front and 240mm rear discs.

The big Single and slick tranny form a team intent on getting from point A to point B with a big smile on that very same mug you see every day in the mirror. Lofting the front wheel should be easy, if you are so inclined, and accelerating up the freeway on-ramp should be drama-free too. This is no gutless 400, this is a big-bore Single. It moves along just fine. It’s not exactly explosive off the line but it may be geared tall to make street riding more enjoyable and that’s a commendable aspect of the 690. You may have noticed the dual exhaust pointing towards the sky. This is the final piece of a politically correct emission system. Although a bit subdued, there is no doubt this is a single-cylinder machine thanks to its staccato exhaust note.

Brembo supplies the braking system front to rear, and after one lap it was apparent it offered up more power than was even necessary for this middleweight Thumper, and that’s another check in the positive box for it. A single 320mm front disc and radial-mount caliper, steel-braided lines, a 240mm rear disc and single-piston caliper – it’s all Brembo on this bad boy, all the time. A hydraulic Magura clutch works with the new APTC unit to offer up exceptionally light and easy pull at the lever. That’s a good thing because, despite the gobs of available torque, riding a Single requires a significant amount of shifting to get around the race track like Streets of Willow.

What better way to decide whether the KTM 690 Supermoto is for you other than by riding it. The KTM Riding Experience offers test rides on its street line-up, coming to various motorcycle events in Spring 2007.

On the track the off-road-like feeling of the 690 is comfortable immediately for me. The tapered aluminum bars are standard fare for KTM these days, but there’s more to this bike than just sweet bars, top-shelf braking components, edgy new look and premium race rubber.

The instrumentation is a clean, good looking unit with a central analog tach with an LCD screen to the right side too. It includes a digital speedometer, tripmeter, odometer and more. Sweet features aside, just keep that tach around 3000-5000 rpm, row through a few gears, and before you know it the 690 is flat-out gettin’ some. Thank God the brakes are awesome too because it’s faster than you might expect.

As we all know, the name of game is straightening out the twisty stuff and that is where the 690 is in its element. Remember it’s not a sportbike, it’s a supermoto, so it’s okay if you want to ride foot-first or knee-out in the turns. The bike reacts differently to either riding style. With my weight forward and foot sticking out it seemed more planted and easier to rail through turns. Hanging off the side, roadracer style, allowed me to put too much input on the wide bars and with an already light and precise front end it felt a little too hairy for me to push hard that way. Your results may vary.

OK, the beak of a front fender on the KTM 690 might look like one of the nefarious Spy vs. Spy duo from Mad Magazine, but it will be handy the first time it shields you from a faceful of spray during an unexpected shower.

It’s possible to push the inverted 48mm WP fork and WP rear shock to the limits, but the grippy Bridgestone BT090 tires will be slipping long before any of us mortals reach that point. As it was, the suspension was set up pretty soft and it worked great for the rough Streets of Willow circuit, so grinding pegs was common on the entry to most of the slower turns. The fully adjustable fork dives significantly under heavy braking but with over 8-inches of travel you should understand that it was designed to tackle a bit of off-road action as well and quit complaining about that – I did. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to put this baby to task on a proper supermoto track, but that didn’t detract from the fact that this bike is hella fun to ride.

Designed with KTM’s chromoly tubular trellis chassis and a trick new die-cast aluminum swingarm, which incorporates PRO-LEVER linkage technology, the 690 is right at home on the asphalt. You read that right: linkage. Even KTM has been swayed to the dark side after years of fighting against it. This machine feels pretty light (KTM claims 335 lbs) considering the other bikes we were testing that same day all tipped the scales over 400 lbs, so in the hands of a capable rider it should be easy to stick anywhere at any speed so long as you have the skills to match the course or road you’re riding on.

If KTM continues to offer competitive on-road bikes in addition to its acclaimed off-road performers, it has a chance to move up from being the second largest producer of motorcycles in Europe to number one.

Probably the most potentially polarizing aspect of the 690, and one of the potential checks in the negative column if you are a traditionalist, is its unique appearance. Anointed the Spy-vs-Spy ride by many a cunning linguist in the journalist pool, the pointy front fender is destined to make or break a few sales. It looks sweet from the saddle though and it’s distinctive enough that when combined with the Dakar-esque upswept dual exhaust there is no mistaking what the bike is: It’s KTM through and through. If you don’t like it then there’s certainly a Japanese model that will be right up your alley, but if you do you will have the pleasure of being one of the new age of riders who are finding out these are not your grandfather’s KTMs.

Here it is; another shining example that KTM is dead-set on snagging a share of the on-road market from its competition. The $8598 690 Supermoto is just one of the first of its new soldiers to land on American soil including a 950 Supermoto, 990 Super Duke and enduros – all of which are street legal out of the box. Equipped with a fuel-injected rider-friendly motor, stellar brakes, and high-end hardware from fender to taillight the 690 Supermoto is an easy bet to be a hit among consumers looking for something different – a reason to stand out in the crowd and way to stay ahead of the pack.