Supermoto is the perfect mix of pretty much every form of motorcycle racing, and KTM may have just released the perfect motorcycle on which to do it.
The first time I tried supermoto in the summer of 2015, I was rather mad at myself. I had been riding motorcycles for 31 years at that point, and never thought to try this brand of competition for myself.
It was like a smack in the face with a cold fish. I fell instantly, deeply, in love with supermoto and everything it had to offer. I immediately built a series of Suzuki RM-Z450 project bikes, and, in 2019, I took the plunge and bought the Husqvarna FS 450. I love that machine almost as much as my own son, but, if I’m honest, I’ve had thoughts of moving it on and replacing it with the bike you see here, the $11,299 2021 KTM 450 SMR.
KTM lays more claim to the groundwork of the sport of supermoto than almost any company on the planet. Back in the 1990s, when supermoto as we know it today was in its infancy, KTM had all manner of street- and track-focused supermotos you could buy and dominated the ultra-competitive racetracks of Europe, America and Australia with their big single-cylinder thumpers.
This domination gave rise to bikes like the KTM Duke series and later the SMR street bike range, but as supermoto’s popularity fell off a cliff at the start of the previous decade, KTM pulled back and the 450 SMR fell by the company wayside in 2013.
But they weren’t entirely out of the game just yet.
After purchasing Husqvarna in 2014, KTM found a way to dip its toes in the supermoto water by releasing my bike (the FS 450) to see if the demand was still there. Turns out, it was.
Coupled with the rise of supermoto as a road-race training tool and the plethora of social-media videos of guys like Pol Espargaro and TM’s own French S1GP god Thomas Chareyre sending it sideways any day of the week, supermoto started riding back into the public consciousness—enough that KTM saw a market they could put a machine in to compete against their sister brand, Husqvarna, and Italy’s TM.
And that brings us to 2021 and the all-new KTM 450 SMR.
Based heavily off the 450 SX-F motocross weapon of Cooper Webb and company, the SMR has undergone a makeover to turn it into an ideal tool for sliding around dirt and tarmac, rather than stadium triples. The 450cc motor is largely the same—you get the same cylinder head, titanium inlet and exhaust valves, cams, piston, conrod, crank and gearbox, but the SMR is fitted with a Suter slipper clutch to stop you from locking up the rear wheel under when downshifting into corners. Having ridden supermotos with and without a slipper clutch, trust me, it’s a must-have accessory.
The familiarity to the 450 SX-F doesn’t stop there. The chromium-molybdenum steel frame, aluminum subframe and swingarm, and the majority of the bodywork is the same on the SMR (the SMR gets a shorter front mud guard) but that’s about where the similarities end.
WP still supplies the suspension in the 48mm inverted fork, sitting in triple-clamps with a 16mm offset. The fork itself, which has been lowered, gives you 11.2 inches of wheel travel compared to the SX-F’s 12.2 inches, while the WP shock will give you 10.5 inches of travel compared to 11.8 inches for the SX-F.
Braking comes in the form of the Brembo radial master-cylinder, pushing fluid down to a Brembo four-piston M50 caliper—the same caliper that came out on the previous generation Kawasaki ZX-10R, for example. Galfer supplies the brake rotor, a fat ’ol 310mm unit, while the rear gets a 220mm rotor and single-piston caliper.
The show rolls on 16.5-inch front and 17-inch rear Alpina tubeless spoked wheels shod with Bridgestone racing slicks (V02).
Like the SX-F and the Husqvarna FS 450, the SMR comes with traction control and two variable ride modes—one to produce more bottom-end power and a second map that helps for faster circuits with more high-rpm horsepower.
From the hotseat, the 2021 KTM 450 SMR feels not too dissimilar to my own Husqvarna FS 450, although bottom-end acceleration is a little more impressive. Running through the different maps, I quickly settled on the more aggressive second map, and the initial burst of acceleration out of slow-speed corners is more pronounced than my FS, which even has an FMF pipe and the required mapping fitted.
One of the biggest differences is in the fork action and the brakes. The WP Xact fork has a smoother action with more feel under brakes than the AER 48mm fork fitted on my 2019 Husqvarna. The rebound is slightly more controlled when you get off the brakes and throw the KTM into the corner and keeps the front tire planted. However, the rear spring is too soft for my 190-pound frame. I went up two spring rates on my Husqvarna as I had the same issue of the back end squatting excessively when the throttle is initially cracked, and you start feeding in the power. The KTM thus runs wide and it’s hard to finish the corner as you’d like. Of course, this is a problem for riders of my weight, but if you’re lighter, you may not experience it as much.
One of the biggest standout features was the front brake. The Husqvarna FS 450 runs the Magura master-cylinder, whereas the KTM runs a Brembo radial master-cylinder which offers much nicer feel at the beginning of the lever stroke. Braking power is pretty similar, but it’s the tangible feel from the Brembo that stands out and allows you to dial in masses of braking power, as well as giving you an idea of what the front tire is doing.
Speaking of tires, the Bridgestone slicks are absolutely superb. I’ve done the majority of my supermoto riding on Metzelers that have a softer carcass compared to the Japanese Bridgestones, but the latter have outstanding acceleration stability that launch you out of corners. The Bridgestones don’t have the same squishy feel as the Metzelers, but the grip is certainly there.
Ergonomically, the KTM holds the rider in place well thanks to the silicone strips on the seat, and the roomy cockpit means you can easily switch between supermoto- and road-race style if you like.
Sliding a KTM SMR makes you feel like Thomas Chareyre, if only for a second. The chassis has such a nice feel to it—it turns on a dime and thanks to the SX-F dimensions has plenty of stability, giving you ample warning time if it’s all about to go south.
Once you turn the traction control off and put it in the most aggressive mode, the SMR comes alive. It’s good for about 85 mph down the back straight at Apex Raceway in Perris, so you know you’ll have one of the fastest steeds out there.
One of the best parts of the SMR is that Suter slipper clutch. You can absolutely thrash back down the gearbox, dump the clutch and the SMR will glide into the corner with zero rear wheel chatter. The gearbox action is excellent, and you don’t need to use the clutch unless you’re going from a very high to very low gear—like a straightaway to a hairpin situation.
It’s great to see KTM back in the supermoto game in an official capacity. The Husqvarna FS 450’s commercial success was a good omen for the SMR, which comes at a perfect time as supermoto is finally starting to rise from the ashes thanks to the work of guys like Alex Mock and the DRT Racing crew.
Supermoto is (in my opinion) the best form of training you can do for road racing, and more fast guys here in the States are realizing this. Plus, throwing a bike sideways under brakes on tarmac is about as much fun you can have with your clothes on.
If you want an SMR, you better be quick, because these things are already running off dealer floors. And with good reason. CN
VIDEO | 2021 KTM 450 SMR Track Test Review
VIDEO | We Ride Chris Fillmore’s Factory KTM 450 SMR
2021 KTM 450 SMR Specifications
||SOHC, 4 valves
|Bore x stroke:
||95 x 63.4mm
||WP Xact Inverted 48mm fork, fully adjustable
||WP Xact monoshock with linkage
||Single 310mm disc, 4-piston Monobloc Brembo M50 caliper
||Single 220mm disc, 1-piston caliper
||125/600 R16.5 in.
||165/630 R17 in.
|Weight (claimed, wet, no fuel):