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KTM's abandonment of sports bikes: does it have a point?

By Mario

KTM boss Stefan Pierer caused controversy by saying 200bhp sportsbikes had no place on the road and KTM had no plans for a successor to the RC8R. How have things panned out since?

Back in 2013, KTM President and CEO Stefan Pierer was reported as saying: “If your Superbike is reaching 200 horsepower or more, it’s impossible to argue that it belongs on the street. It really doesn’t, any more.”
It caused more than a ripple of controversy at the time and, in the nearly two years since, there has indeed been no replacement for the Austrian firm’s RC8R–a 2009 evolution of 2008’s RC8.

Part of Pierer’s justification for abandoning large capacity sportsbikes, which has rather got lost in the furore since, was KTM’s frustration at the multiplicity of ‘Superbike’ regulations for racing, giving rise to KTM’s commitment to entering MotoGP in 2017. But the ‘too dangerous for the road’ claim was what stuck in the craw for some riders. Was the KTM President merely stating the obvious, taking a principled stand or just talking hogwash?

A point of principle?

The ‘principled stand’ option does look a tad hard to defend after the company’s launch of the 1301cc, 180 horsepower, mad-as naked Super Duke R last year. Quite how this represents a more sensible option than a ZX-10R or S1000RR might be difficult to fathom. But there are some obvious differences, beyond 20bhp and a fairing. The Super Duke might seem mental, but sustained high speed is not really possible with an exposed riding position. So, in reality, one could say that its rider is unlikely to spend time at dangerously high speeds. Plus, it’s not just the potential for higher speeds that comes with the sports bikes: tucked behind a fairing, it’s easy to find speeds creeping up without the wind as a physical register of just how fast you’re going.

However, KTM also make the 160bhp 1290 Adventure which has a fairing like a barn door. So that does tend to undermine the purity of that argument. And, if one was in full Counsel for the Prosecution mode, a few showings of KTM’s promotional videos might prove telling. 

KTM's ‘eminently sensible’ 1290 Super Duke R

KTM's ‘eminently sensible’ 1290 Super Duke R Photo: Schedl R

Simple fact?

As riders, most of us tend to ignore wagging fingers and safety lessons. We’ve likely experienced a fair bit of it before, some in an attempt to wrest away hard-fought-for freedoms. But does Pierer have a point?

One one side of the equation it is hard to justify the ‘200hp-is-just-too-much’ argument specifically. Notwithstanding the Super Duke R and Adventure, is a 178bhp K5 Gixxer okay while the latest 210 bhp ZX-10R is not? Given the traction control, ABS and better tyres the 2015 Kawasaki comes with, is there much of a difference?

Probably not, but it’s equally hard to argue that any full-on Superbike from the modern era is the best tool for road riding. Apart from the potential of being monstrously fast, they all make high speeds easy. Perhaps too easy. Sure, they’ve got great brakes and suspension, sticky tyres (when at temperature) etc. But when road riders get into trouble, it’s not usually because the bike lets them down. It’s mostly an error, the rider’s or another vehicle user’s, that causes an accident. Add extra speed to any developing situation and it will make a huge difference to the outcome.

There are other disadvantages, too. A sportsbike riding position is not the best for gathering the sort of visual information you need as a road rider. A more upright riding position makes it easier to take in what’s behind, around and further in front of you. It also makes manoeuvring safer and easier.

Then there’s long-range comfort, the potential for distracting aches and pains, plus the tiring level of concentration that comes from riding a full-of-feedback, immensely powerful missile.

So, maybe Stefan Pierer did have a point. Even if it’s not one that the other manufacturers are taking right now. One thing’s for sure: a lot of riders are voting with their wallets. Worldwide, sportsbike sales continue to decline in share while nakeds and adventure bikes surge ahead.

The different characteristics of sportsbikes, adventure bikes, cruisers and others is something our expert instructors know all about, and it’s one of the things they adapt the Ride Forever course elements for trainees. It’s the sort of practical consideration you can look forward to if you sign up for coaching. And, at just $50 for a full day’s Silver or Gold level course ($20 for Bronze and Urban), shows how much value you are getting.
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