First Ride – KTM SMC R 690

First Ride – KTM SMC R 690

KTM’s road-going supermoto gets more power and more practicality

Supermotos; essentially tuned up motocross bikes fitted with big brakes and road tyres, are not known for being useable day-to-day motorcycles. Traditionally lightweight, incredibly focused machines, they excel at charging around kart tracks or pulling stunts in car parks. Great fun for a blast around twisty back roads, but get one out on a fast A-road and a competition-derived single-cylinder engine quickly becomes a vibrating, struggling mess. Over the years, all the major manufacturers had a go at creating useful roadgoing supermoto bikes, but none got the balance of performance and practicality quite as right as KTM did with the original SMC R 690 in 2013. And while all the other major manufacturers have stepped away from single-cylinder supermoto style bikes, KTM has stuck with the concept and refined it further for the 2019 bike. The new engine is smoother and makes 7bhp more than its predecessor, taking peak power up to an impressive 74bhp. Taming that power is a sophisticated electronics package, with top-spec traction control and ABS systems, coupled to high-end WP suspension and Brembo brakes. The pre-set riding modes let you dial in as much or as little electronic assistance as you want. Gear changing is taken care of with a quick shifter system that allows you to change up and down the gears without troubling the clutch lever. And finally, there’s even a USB charging socket so you can keep your phone topped up while you upload your latest stunt videos.

Out on the road, the new SMC R is an absolute blast; launching out of corners, front wheel rarely on the ground. The rougher and tighter the road, the more fun the 690 becomes, laughing at bumps and potholes as you dart from apex to footpeg-scraping apex. Every speedhump becomes a jump, every patch of gravel another opportunity to try out the traction control. So far, so good, but this is the sort of terrain where this style of bike has always been a blast. But when the roads open out and speeds increase, the 690 continues to shine. It willingly revs out along the straights, with plenty of power in reserve for passing lines of cars to get you a clear run at the next set of bends.

The SMC R is never going to be a comfortable touring bike – it’s tall, excitable and has very little in the way of wind protection. But the smoother engine, larger fuel tank and electronics package mean that this is the most practical and accessible single-cylinder supermoto yet. It turns every single ride into a joyride, leaving you giggling at its insatiable thirst for mischief.

The 2019 KTM SMC R 690 is available in KTM Dealers now, costing £9,599.