2012 KTM 990 SM-T Review
Blurring the lines between sportbike and tourer
In the world of motorcycledom, “supermoto” and “tourer” are mutually exclusive. The former is derived from dirtbikes, with slick tires and lowered suspensions in order to maximize its ability to slice the tightest ribbons of asphalt or dirt jumps thrown at it. Touring machines conjure up images of large, comfortable motorcycles with big gas tanks, plush seats and plenty of storage capacity. Perfect for piling on miles with ease. In what world could they coexist?
If you’re KTM, it’s this one. Enter the 990 SMT. First debuting in 2009, you can probably guess what those three letters stand for. Yep, SuperMoto Touring. KTM calls it, the “long distance Supermoto.” Whether you consider it a bloated dirtbike with saddlebags or a shrunken sport-touring rig, it’s clear KTM didn’t follow conventional wisdom regarding those terms when designing this bike.
What Is It?
In trying to define the SMT, it’s easiest to start at its heart. Powering it is the venerable 999cc LC8 engine. The same mill found on the 990 Superduke and Adventure before it. It’s got two cylinders separated at a 75-degree V-angle, dual overhead cams, liquid-cooling, and Keihin electronic fuel injection. Inside, a counterbalancer keeps engine vibes to a minimum.
The engine hasn’t changed much the past few years, but that’s not to say the 999cc mill isn’t a capable performer. Published reports have this engine pumping 112 horses at 9600 rpm and about 70 ft.-lb. of torque at 7400 rpm. Importantly, 70% of torque is available at approximately 2500 rpm.
Housing the engine is a chro-moly trellis frame with fully adjustable WP suspension bits at either end. Marchesini wheels are wrapped in Continental ContiSport Attack rubber, and Brembo two-piece calipers are radially mounted. Steel-braided lines transfer fluid.
Those are the technical bits. After that, the SMT really does resemble an overgrown dirtbike. A broad banana seat sits a reasonable 33.6 inches off the ground and leads to upswept handlebars complete with handguards. The front is capped off with a sloped-nose-like fairing/headlight with a small flyscreen diverting wind. Footpegs are placed relatively low and slightly back for an upright ergonomic seating position. They also feature removable rubber inserts to reduce vibes transmitted to the rider.
A Spartan gauge cluster gives the important information like ground speed, engine revs, miles traveled, and the usual array of warning lights. Those looking for fancy electronic rider aids and subsequent gauge displays best look elsewhere; the SMT doesn’t even have a gear position indicator.
The Sportbike Harasser
The best way to define a category-blurring motorcycle is to ride it, and here things become a bit clearer. Thumbing the starter brings to life an engine begging to be revved. Twist the throttle with just two fingers and the LC8 quickly barks, but the revs fade instantly when the butterflies close – a hint at its sporty desires.
Shorter riders beware: my 30ish-inch inseam struggled to touch the ground with both feet, but flatfooting with just one boot was simple enough. Pull from the hydraulic clutch is on the lighter side and launches are simple. With almost 70 ft.-lbs. of torque on tap and a short first gear, it’s easy to loft the front wheel. You can even wheelie in X,Y, and Z gears, too.
With a 9700-rpm redline, the KTM’s sweet spot lies between 4500 - 6000 rpm where throttle response feels most direct. And like many V-Twins, it’s best to take advantage of the KTM’s torque curve and shift early; it quickly runs out of steam up top. Fortunately, according to Content Editor Tom Roderick, “this is one of the slickest shifting transmissions of any motorcycle available today.” Fueling feels crisp, with no lag off the bottom, and power delivery is linear throughout the rev range.
The SMT stays true to its supermoto roots via telepathic handling when the road gets curvy. Navigating the tight hairpins throughout the Malibu canyons, the KTM begs to be leaned over. Flicking it into turns is made easy with the leverage from the wide handlebars, and placing the bike anywhere you want is an attribute of the highly capable chassis.
As delivered our particular test bike’s suspension wasn’t set up entirely to our liking, but making changes was easy thanks to the incredibly generous toolkit stored under the seat. Once the clickers were set where we wanted them, we were impressed by the confidence from both ends of the motorcycle.
For their part, the Continental tires warmed quickly and provided more than enough grip for a spirited street ride. And when it was time to slow things down, the Brembo stompers performed as Brembos mostly do: without flaw. The ABS isn’t intrusive, allowing the rider to brake with considerable force before ABS activates. Blend all of these elements together, and the 990 SMT is a bike that’s easy to ride fast.
But you’re not always going to ride fast, and this is where the Touring side takes over. Surprisingly, the KTM is capable in this role as well. The saddle is “a little wide at the inseam, but incredibly comfy,” Tom says. With its upright ergos, there’s little strain on the lower back or wrists on long rides. It’s good on gas, too; our best figure was 41.3 mpg, with a worst of 33.7. Overall, we averaged 38.4 mpg. There’s even a 12-volt outlet on the triple clamp to power a GPS or other device.
Then, of course, there are the saddlebags. Each bag comes on and off incredibly easy, resting on their brackets and securing with a simple spring-loaded clip at the bottom. A pull handle atop each case makes for easy transport, and the zipper pulls have a built-in loop for securing with a padlock.
While the bags possess nice features, their capacity is just enough for the bare essentials. A zippered compartment is convenient for separating items, but the small saddlebags don’t hold much. “But if you’re willing to re-wear some clothes,” Tom notes, “the KTM is a great bike for a weekend getaway.”
Lastly, for a motorcycle with touring in its name, it lacks a few features we’ve come to expect from the category. Cruise control is non-existent, as are grip and saddle warmers. Not exactly deal breakers, especially considering its reasonable $13,999 price tag. A relative bargain in the class when compared to, say, the $16,995 Ducati Multistrada.
What is it? Fun.
At first, the KTM 990 SMT may seem to suffer from an identity crisis, but after some time in the saddle, it’s clear there’s no crisis at all. KTMs have always excelled at carving corners – street or dirt – and the SMT continues that legacy. With its torque-happy engine, precise chassis and confidence-inspiring suspension, you’ll be looking for every squiggly line on the map – wherever it may be.
On the journey there, a comfortable seat and ergo package will help ensure you’re fresh when you arrive. And though the saddlebags don’t hold much, they hold enough to escape from the world for a few days.
Tom nicely summarized this KTM: “For riders whose focus is on backroad peg-scraping fun and don't mind traveling light, the SMT retains all the elements of a hooligan supermoto motorcycle with a big-displacement engine while maintaining civil ergonomics.”