2011 KTM 990 SM T | Review

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2011 KTM Motorcycle

Based on KTM’s supermoto liter-bike, the KTM 990 SM T combines dirt bike ergonomics and sport bike performance in a package designed for pavement-focused touring.

Sure, you can ride the SM-T on some limited off-tarmac excursions, though its tires remind you that it’s most at home on the street and riders interested in more dirt should gravitate to the 990 Adventure.

As a street bike, the 990 SM T’s upright seating position and 999cc liquid-cooled, short-stroke 75-degree V-twin powerplant defines the bike. Wide tapered aluminum handlebars and a narrow chassis give the rider the leverage needed to push the bike where you want it to go. Grasp the five-gallon tank between your legs and let your body input do the job.

With a supermoto pedigree, the bike can be backed into corners, if desired. However, most of us will rely on the 990 SM T’s light weight and 24.4 degrees of rake to hustle through the corners.

The upside down WP 48mm inverted forks are stout, so you have a direct connection to the pavement, giving the rider the utmost in confidence in the KTM’s handling. Continental Sport Attack 17-inch tires are more than capable, allowing the rider to use up all of the very generous cornering clearance.

Strong radially mounted calipers clamp down on the KTM 990 SM T’s 305mm twin discs with enough authority to pull supermoto-style nose wheelies. Of course, that’s not the least bit necessary and traditional deceleration is the standard. ABS is there to correct your mistakes, and it does so without annoyance.

The ABS is quite impressive, even though it rarely is engaged. It’s a dual circuit Bosch design that weighs just over 2.2 pounds. Reserved for the most extreme braking situations, the ABS can be felt in action, though it’s not heavy-handed. For the most part, it’s intended to help the rider out on the wet and on insecure road surfaces.

The Bosch 9ME-type pressure modulator, guided by a computer controls the brake pressure. The system reads the wheel speed 48 times per wheel revolution, so it can recognize and suppress skidding within only a few inches of wheel rotation. As you would expect on a bike that can be ridden like a supermoto machine, the system can be disengaged with the push of a button.

Exiting turns, the 990 SM T’s supermoto heritage again rears its head-that being the front wheel. With 72 ft/lbs of torque at 7000 rpm, wheelies are effortless. Again, they are not mandatory and the KTM 990 SM T does not have to be ridden in that style.

Still, if you’re up to some hooligan style riding, it accommodates you more easily than most touring-capable bikes.

As you can see, the KTM 990 SM T is all about diversity. You can ride it sedately on long trips, enjoying every thump of the big-bore powerplant. Or, the throttle can be twisted aggressively and the body positioned for some seriously entertaining antics.

One might think that some sort of switchable engine mapping would be necessary for this sort of dexterity, and that would be welcome. The KTM engine is a just a bit on the sharp side for the most relaxed riding-this is a feature that we have come to appreciate on a wide variety of bikes, particularly those who have a wide range of capabilities.

When touring on the 990 SM T, you have a 33.6-inch seat height to give you a great view of the road. You’re up above SUV rooftops, which is especially helpful in traffic. Certainly, shorter riders will be a bit intimidated, though the slim design of the bike and its excellent balance does mitigate the seat height a bit. The seat itself is comfortable, something you don’t always hear about KTM dirt bikes.

Six speeds and V-twin torque make the bike easy to ride. Sure, the KTM powerplant can be spun up to 116-horsepower peak at 9000 rpm, though that’s not required. Torque is plentiful at any engine speed, so acceleration is always on tap. The narrow bike, fairing and handguards slip through the wind easily, enhancing the power available. Counterbalancing keeps the vibration at a manageable level, and the stainless steel mufflers emit a pleasant tone.

There’s a 12-volt accessory socket for a GPS, music player or phone, along with an analogue tachometer and easily read digital speed display. KTM offers a wide variety of accessories, so the 990 SM T can be personalized for your particular needs, be they more touring-, dirt-, or commuter-oriented. The semi-hard bags we had were pretty small (though stylish)-adequate for a weekend trip, though not much more.

According to KTM, the motto for the 990 SM T is “The fast trip is the faraway destination.” I’m not quite sure what that means, and suspect something is lost in the translation from German, but this Austrian motorcycle is an outstanding tourer for the rider who wants a minimalist motorcycle that can go the distance effortlessly, with a large stash of fun available.

2011 KTM 990 SM-T ABS Specs

  • Frame…chromium-molybdenum trellis frame, powder-coated
  • Subframe…aluminum
  • Handlebar…aluminum, tapered, ø 28 / 22 mm
  • Front suspension…WP USD ø 48 mm
  • Rear suspension…WP monoshock
  • Suspension travel front/rear…160/180 mm
  • Front brakes…2 x Brembo 4-piston fixed-caliper, radially bolted, brake disc ø 305 mm, floating
  • Rear brake…Brembo 2-piston floating caliper, brake disc ø 240 mm
  • ABS…two channel ABS (Bosch ABS 9m+)
  • Wheels front/rear…cast aluminum wheels 3.50 x 17″; 5.50 x 17″
  • Tires front/rear…120/70 ZR 17; 180/55 ZR 17
  • Chain…X-ring 5/8 x 5/16″
  • Silencer…twin stainless-steel silencer with regulated catalytic converters
  • Steering head angle…24.4°
  • Trail…109 mm
  • Wheelbase…1,505mm ± 15 mm
  • Ground clearance…195 mm
  • Seat height…855 mm
  • Tank capacity…19 liters / 3.7 liters reserve
  • Weight…197 kg (without fuel)
  • Engine…4-stroke, 75-degree, 4vpc, DOHC V-twin
  • Displacement 999 cc
  • Bore x stroke…101mm x 62.4 mm
  • Power…85 kw (116 hp) @ 9,000 rpm
  • Torque…97 nm @ 7,000 rpm
  • Compression ratio…11.5: 1
  • Battery…12v 11.2 ah
  • Transmission…six-speed
  • Fuel system…Keihin EFI, throttle valve ø 48 mm
  • Lubrication…pressure lubrication with 2 Eaton pumps
  • Engine oil…Motorex, SAE 10w-50
  • Primary drive ratio…35:67
  • Final drive ratio…17:41
  • Cooling…liquid
  • Clutch…multi-disc wet, hydraulically operated
  • Engine management/ignition…Keihin EMS

Photos: R. Schedl (action) and H. Mitterbauer (studio)

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