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Common Tread

KTM 1290 SMT: Is this the perfect motorcycle?

Dec 02, 2014

Not to sound like too much of a whiner, but settling on a bike to purchase is really hard when you're a motorcycle journalist. 

The problem isn't that we're so cynical or jaded. The problem is that we like motorcycles too much — and love the different types of motorcycling so much — that it's really tough to pick a favorite. The morning I spent blasting through Big Sur and San Simeon on a 2014 Ducati Hypermotard SP was as close to nirvana as I've experienced... unless you consider the afternoon I rode with some of my best friends from Riverside to Barstow on a KTM 350 EXC-F, or the trip to Seattle and back on a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra. Then you have to consider the day at So Cal Supermoto, racing DR-Z400s, or the afternoon Suzuki got us a police escort to blast around Palomar Mountain on Suzuki Hayabusas and, well, you get the point. Motorcycles are wonderful and do so many things well, that it's really hard to settle on just one. Plus, while my job is in fact one of the coolest ever, it does not pay the sort of wages necessary to own many of the pretty bikes we evaluate.

KTM 990 SMT. KTM photo.

Until today, I had decided that my best option would be to find a used KTM 990 SMT. I got a chance to ride one owned by Jon Krause (a Gear Geek at RevZilla) while I was visiting Philly earlier this year, and it comes closest to being the best fit for the most jobs. While the power didn't blow my mind, the engine characteristics really won me over, especially considering that the rest of the bike was sort of like a Kawasaki Versys on steroids. Think I'm crazy? It has a similar riding position and the same compact size, only it's paired with much better brakes and suspension — and that's all before factoring in the V-twin engine. It blows my mind the 990 SMT didn't win more of a following. It's the only bike that, when I see one in person, I instantly decide I will like its owner.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R
KTM 1290 Super Duke R. KTM photo.

Two of the other bikes in my "best thing ever" running have been the KTM 1190 Adventure and KTM 1290 Super Duke. I haven't actually had a chance to ride the 1290 yet (ours is supposedly on its way shortly), but from talking to my colleagues at other websites, it really is unbeatable. Sometimes, brands have to include so many rider aids to keep us from killing ourselves, it blunts our abilities to use the bike in a meaningful way. We find ourselves bouncing off of overly sensitive traction control or living with electronic suspension that doesn't accurately adapt to riding conditions. By all accounts, the 1290's electronics package is near perfect in helping the rider access the insane level of power the bike has to offer.

KTM 1190 Adventure
KTM 1190 Adventure. KTM photo.

The 1190 Adventure R is easily the best adventure bike I've ridden to date. Ours is freshly in and I've only put about 300 miles on it, but I can already tell you this bike is something special. It has the same magic that the Ducati Hyper SP exudes in making road imperfections disappear regardless of lean angle. Most of the press bikes I ride keep their chicken strips a little longer than I would like, mostly because I really take my time getting to know a new bike and where its flaws are. The 1190 was so confidence-inspiring, the tires were scrubbed clear to the edges by the time we made our first trek up the mountain. It's going to be a fun one to review.

The only reason neither of these bikes had made it onto my short list to own was that, by definition, they are not made for the purposes I would want. The 1190 is incredible and rides like a much smaller bike, but it's a little too tall and slightly down on power for sport-touring perfection. On the other hand, the 1290 has power and performance in spades, but I like to go places on my motorcycles, and sitting for hours on the freeway on a fairingless, sporty-stanced naked, is not my idea of a good time.

KTM 1290 SMT
KTM 1290 SMT.

All of that brings us to this spy shot of the KTM 1290 SM-T. Suddenly, those two worlds collide. Imagining that 1,301 cc engine, which makes 180 horsepower and 106 foot-pounds of torque, in a bike with the upright riding position, wind protection, and panniers of the Adventure, has me absolutely salivating. Both the 1290 Super Duke R and 1190 have impeccable brakes and suspension and there's no reason to believe this package won't be equally well thought out and refined.

Looking at this photos, we can see the bike is based on the 1290 Super Duke R, with a new rear subframe that is larger, to support the pannier system. It also has a new headlight assembly and slightly longer suspension.

Could this mashup of two great motorcycles be two-wheeled perfection for my personal purposes? I'm accepting any and all donations from anyone who wants to make my dream of owning such a perfect bike a reality.