Gone from the market for seven years, the 2021 KTM 450 SMR supermoto racer is back. Ultimate Motorcycling shanghaied me for this test to give the perspective of a road racer and dirt bike enthusiast, rather than a dedicated supermoto guy, as they are few and far between. It was my first time on a supermoto bike, and it was an eye-opening experience at Apex Racing Center in Perris, California.
Although the 2021 KTM 450 SMR is based on the SX-F motocross bike, think twice before you believe you might be able to swap between supermoto and moto with one motorcycle. The SMR has different triple clamps that allow a wider fork spread to accommodate the 125mm front tire width—it’s 80mm on the SX-F. I would imagine this contributes to a more stable front end for the higher supermoto speeds. The Alpina wheels are also pricey—that’s a 16.5-inch front—as are the Bridgestone slicks and the radially mounted Brembo calipers. Also, the slipper clutch alone is roughly $1000. Put it all together, and you need a dedicated supermoto bike rather than a dual-mission dirt bike.
I always assumed supermoto would be slippery and lack traction. I began using a road-race style, leaning into the turns headfirst and knee-down. Surprisingly, the bike tracked through the turns like a slot car. I could trust the front end much more than expected when using the proper technique during very late entry. I aggressively used the throttle when I was in the apex of the turn, and the only issue was running out of track space. Not once did I feel the rear end spin or slide when exiting corners.
After witnessing 2020 AMA Supermoto National Champion Chris Fillmore use a more moto/flat-track style throughout the entire course, I experimented doing the same. I was much slower, as it was a more foreign technique for me, although the bike was lightweight and easy to toss around underneath me. However, I was using significantly more energy when using a road-racing style, hopping all around the bike. Add in that you are so vulnerable hanging underneath the motorcycle road-race style, rather than the machine underneath you with your foot out, and I can see this being my preferred technique after (a lot) more practice. Regardless, the 2021 KTM 450 SMR was incredibly predictable, stable, and felt like a knife cutting through butter around the track.
Even knowing what I had to do, I had a hard time entering the turns so late. I felt like I was exaggerating the late entrance, much more so than what I am used to in road racing. I thought we use a late corner entry in that discipline! The SMR turns so well, I had to use less input as a rider, or I ended up making an exaggerated movement. That unsettled the bike. Think of a chicane where you go left/right or right/left very quickly—if you put in too much input, you’d end up going too far left/right and would have to wrangle it back. This is compared to even a great turning street bike, where a lot of effort is required to go left/right in a hurry.
When I think of braking in supermoto, it reminds me of road racing. You want to be straight up and down, mostly using the front brake with little to no rear brake—that’s my technique, at least. The bike was exceptionally stable when initially grabbing the brakes, and I kept trail braking to a minimum. Given the slower speeds, I thought there would be a higher chance of tucking the front. The front end did not drastically dive even when aggressively applying the radially mounted Brembo caliper on the 310mm disc, nor did the front end pogo or bounce up when releasing the brake.
I’m much more concerned with the front end on a motorcycle and can’t think of any WP Xact suspension complaints. The front end never wandered, and it went where I told it to go. The rear end stayed planted and didn’t run me wide. It didn’t slip or slide either, except on corner entrance due to the slipper clutch.
I did have one close call, but I do not fault the bike. I was passing a slower rider and entered the turn way too early. There was a lot of force on the front end, so it tucked and pushed. Thankfully, and quite quickly, it snapped back after a quick dab of the knee.
The night prior, and the whole drive to the track, I was anticipating the SMR having a back-torque slipper-clutch installed or not. To my immediate approval, she was equipped with one. You are braking incredibly late in supermoto and using very late entrance, almost making a slipper clutch mandatory, unless you have excellent clutch lever skills. You absolutely need the confidence to be sliding into the turn rather than hopping into the turn. The slipper clutch allows you to free up space in your brain to focus and concentrate on other aspects of riding. Having never ridden supermoto, it was much more stress-free and less work on the brain having the slipper clutch knowing the rear end was less likely to toss me off the bike.
I am riding old Nortons these days, and my Husqvarna FE 501 trail bike, so traction control and two different power maps impressed me. What can I say—it was cool and changeable on the fly! I do not like gimmicks, and sometimes I feel that is the case with some of these maps I have used—nod to KTM for having a very noticeable difference between the settings.
I do not think the traction control would ever be necessary, unless you were riding on a wet or very dirty track. As I mentioned above, I experienced zero slipping or sliding on corner exit. Therefore, I did not use the TC setting and stuck to checking out the 1 and 2 power settings. Map 2 is more aggressive, to the point I was a gear lower throughout the track when using map 1. Map 1 was nice as the power is smooth, yet still very alive. I do not think a less skilled rider would fear map 2, and I do not think map 1 would slow a highly skilled rider much. I think it would be more of a preference between the two. It was a fun feature to try back-to-back.
Alpinestars gear is some of the best stuff you can get. If you’re a dirt bike guy, you want to get a leather suit—of course, the suit was freakin awesome. If you’re a road racer, you need dirt boots, and the Alpinestars boots were so comfortable. I was initially skeptical of them, as dirt boots make shifting more difficult than road race boots, especially when they are brand new. However, these gave me no issues, other than the slightest bit of brand-new boot stiffness. Still, they broke in much quicker than I expected. The photographer said I had the best-looking kit out of everyone there—I will take it, ha-ha!
For me, I felt like a fish out of water riding supermoto. It is a very different discipline than road racing or dirt bike riding. I’m attempting to compare it to dirt bikes, though I think supermoto is geared more toward a road racer or flat tracker. Obviously, the moto guys can be great at it, though I feel like the discipline is more comparable to road racing, even if you were to use the leg-out technique. You have a surprisingly high amount of traction, unless it’s a dirt section, and you use mostly front brake with late corner entry. SO, there are many similarities to road racing, even though it is completely different. It was incredibly fun to challenge myself, and I found success in going faster each session.
While there are few legitimate supermoto race bikes to choose from, the 2021 KTM 450 SMR is an outstanding mount. I felt very confident all day long and felt like I was under-riding the motorcycle because it is so predictable and stable. That’s the kind of performance that inspires riders to tackle a new discipline, and I’m glad I did.