We try to split them on road and track Continued over
upermoto bikes were hugely popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. Nearly every manufacturer produced a dedicated supermoto, and launched it alongside an avalanche of marketing hype that promised owners a life of sideways action and crossed-up drama. Bike magazines threw themselves into the fun; they loved the idea of hooning about on enduro bikes fitted with sticky 17in rubber and stonking brakes.
I was one of those journalists pulling wheelies and acting out the idiot . And the sad truth of it is that it was, in the main, just that: acting. While some supermotos were amusing for a short
Speriod and some very nice race bikes, especially from Vertemati, linger in the memory, most were impractical, slow and didn’t live up to the hype. Not even close. Honda’s FMX 650 supermoto looked funky but its small fuel tank, horrible riding position, painful seat and gutless, vibrating engine were pretty typical.
So, here we are, bang up to date, and the thought of riding 500 miles on the modern equivalent is as appealing as sharing a bath with Russell Grant. I was dreading my 90-mile commute back up to Yorkshire from the MCN office in Peterborough.
How wrong I was. Fifty miles up the A1 on the Husqvarana 701 I found myself cruising easily at 80mph – and I wasn’t being vibrated to death. I was as comfortable as you can be on a naked bike with a relatively narrow seat, and a million miles from the agony I remember from those old skool supermotos. Furthermore, the fuel light hadn’t come on yet and nothing had fallen off. Even the clocks were working.
I decided to increase the pace a little to 90mph, unthinkable on an old Suzuki DRZ400, which would be on the brink of exploding at this point, and again the 701 was unfazed. Wind the throttle to the stop and the digital speedo will show an indicated 115mph even if you’re sat bolt upright. Tuck into the race position and it will pull to an indicated 120mph, which is impressive for a single-cylinder supermoto.
Nearing home in East Yorkshire I started to think the fuel light must be faulty. The new 701 couldn’t have much left in its under-seat 13-litre fuel tank, surely? I decided to gamble and added a few more miles to my journey home in order to push my theory. But no, the light eventually blinked on at 108 miles, meaning a guaranteed 100mile plus tank range even if you cruise above the speed limit.
This is not like the old supermoto days. And the KTM 690 SMC R is almost as impressive as a versatile road bike. Its fuel tank is a little smaller (down to a claimed 12 litres), the seat is a little firmer and feels narrower, while the ride isn’t as plush. But, unsurprisingly given their shared origin, on the road there isn’t a huge difference between the bikes. From the saddle, the biggest difference is simply that the KTM has a rev counter.
‘I was comfy, the fuel light hadn’t come on yet and nothing had fallen off’
So does this newfound practicality mean both bikes lack the supermoto’s essential ingredient, fun?
Put it this way: if I owned either the 701 or 690 SMC R my licence would quickly become history. I found it impossible to ride them without popping onto the back wheel, which both do effortlessly in the first three gears. So to keep things legal we headed to Teesside racetrack for further testing.
The KTM feels marginally more racy and is slightly easier to fling around, but it was hard to split the bikes on track in any significant way. The weight difference between them is just one (claimed) kilo and they even share the same Contiattack SM rubber. But if I had the choice of racing either bike it would be the KTM first. While they both share the same engine, power and torque the SMC R has a slightly more aggressive feel to it.
Whichever bike you choose, fun is guaranteed as both, unlike their predecessors, live up to the supermoto hype and do so without being intimidating. On a tight and twisty track like Mallory Park you wouldn’t be far behind a sports 600, they are that good. ABS comes as standard, which is excellent and not too intrusive, and you don’t have to be an expert to ride either bike. Alternatively, if you’re an experienced supermoto pilot, you can switch off the ABS and have some sideways fun.
We had such a laugh on both bikes I didn’t want to give either of them back. We normally test bikes for around two weeks but I’m still whizzing around on the SMC R a month later and trying to ignore KTM’S calls.