Naked in France
The bike, not Chris, thankfully... Scantily-clad KTM proves surprisingly useful in a 1200-mile weekend blast to the switchbacks of the continent
I PRIORITISE EXCITEMENT over practicality to a reasonable extent. Not so far that I’d tack lights on to a British Supersport bike for the journey to Alsace region of France I’m about to board a ferry for, but looking at a ‘Polite’ vest-wearing, flip front ’n’ beard-touting Triumph Tiger owner who’s loaded his bike with so much gear I’m surprised it hasn’t caused Dover to slip into the sea, I wonder what joy you can get from a bike so compromised in the fun stakes.
Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, and he’s honed the joy of long-distance riding to a fine art, and this twat with a naked bike so bereft of carrying ability I can’t even fit trousers in is about to learn there’s a reason every other bike in the port has panniers and a flip-screen...
But, the KTM is roomy, has cruise control, heated grips and decent fuel economy at cruise speed. My neck can withstand 90mph, and I’m only going for three nights, so I don’t really need to take much gear anyway.
In tow are brother Carl (on his ’05 R1, see p90), and my dad (on another, less loaded, twattish vest-free Tiger). I’m leading, relying on a Garmin Zumo 396 I’m testing (see p96) to see us right. I’m also dictating the pace: it’s 380 miles from Calais to Gérardmer...
The drawback of our route is it’s through northern France, where very few roads of interest are found, so péage is the only logical route. Cruise control set to 90mph (a real 84mph, the Garmin reckons) and all is fine. No flappy textile clobber for me – just leathers and a throwover suit stashed away for rain. The cruise system lets me relax my wrists, and a KTM Powerparts gel seat is helping, though I still need to stretch numb glutes after 80 miles. But it’s tolerable; I make up for the comfort sacrifice with first-to-fifth wheelies out of every toll booth. It’s why you buy a KTM, right?
Carl’s R1 asks for fuel at 150 miles, and the KTM demands a top-up a short while later, though it’s using a similar amount, and getting a range advantage from the larger capacity. The KTM’s ride-by-wire fuelling and leggy top gear conspire to keep consumption sensible. It’s fine, if tedious, on these necessary Autoroute slogs.
It gets too much in the end, so we use the prat-nav to dodge the dual carriageways and go through more rural areas. The roads aren’t stunning, but it’s more interesting than droning along, and it keeps my attention until journey’s end. The KTM is no more bother than it was earlier – my arse is a bit numb, but not getting worse, and nothing else is straining.
The next day is spent drinking beer, eating hotdogs and hollering at riders in the Downhill World Cup to satisfy my other two-wheeled interest. The bikes are left behind until the following day, when the tables turn on the touring brigade, out in force from the UK, France and nearby Germany on the mountain roads now within our reach. I pick a route around Munster, Soultzmatt and Ventron on the twistiest roads.
The KTM laps it up, making a small comfort penalty more than worth it. It’s tall, which combined with the sat nav acting as rudimentary pace notes, means I can anticipate strange roads well. The power, chassis and handling let me attack hard, change lines, and on slow hairpins the wide bars lend unmatched agility.
It all lends further credence to my argument that a good naked – and the KTM in particular – is the ideal 21st century road bike. In 1198 miles of mixed riding, I never once needed more performance, practicality or comfort, but had enough of all three to really enjoy it.
‘The power, chassis and handling let me attack hard, while the wide bars lend unmatched agility’
That’s pretty much the whole world of motorcycling summed up in three bikes: Newbigging Snr’s Tiger, Chris’s KTM and brother Carl’s 2005 R1
Culture alert: the boys stop at Joan of Arc’s childhood home