If you’re a person of culture and sophistication, you’ll agree that action movies of the ’80s and ’90s are the pinnacle of American cinema. Never mind distractions like plots or character development; these gems of the silver screen thrill us with explosions, high-flying hijinks and protagonists who dispatch bad guys while delivering cheeky one-liners.
Like the best action flicks, supermoto distills all the excitement of motorcycling into one no-holds-barred blockbuster. And after an all-day closed-course matinee on the race-ready 2021 KTM 450 SMR, I can say it packs one helluva punch!
Supermoto is a discipline that I have precious little experience with, but what’s not to love — a lightweight motocross machine fitted with smaller, racing-slick-shod wheels, ready to tackle twisty kart tracks and dirt jump sections in equal measure. KTM showcased its new 450 SMR at Apex Racing Center in Perris, California, and now I’m hooked.
After a seven-year hiatus, which is about how long it takes Hollywood to pump out two or three profit-making sequels, the KTM 450 SMR is back. Using the 450 SX-F motocross racer as its foundation, the SMR shares its 63-horsepower 450cc single-cylinder SOHC engine, lightweight steel frame and cast-aluminum swingarm.
To suit its supermoto purpose, wider triple clamps with a 16mm offset accommodate tubeless Alpina wheels (16.5-inch front and 17-inch rear) fitted with ultra-sticky Bridgestone Battlax Supermoto slicks. The WP Xact suspension is updated, reducing suspension travel to an ample 11.2 inches in the front and 10.5 inches in the rear, lowering the bike’s center of gravity and improving handling. Lastly, a radially mounted Brembo M50 front caliper squeezes a 310mm Galfer floating rotor to deliver all the braking power you’ll ever need on a bike that weighs just 232 pounds wet.
Any motorcycle with this kind of power-to-weight ratio is a recipe for a good time, but riding the SMR is like mainlining pure adrenaline at every turn. And in the tight, close-quarters layout of a kart track, there are endless opportunities to chase that high while stretching the 450’s throttle cables.
Catapulting you from one apex to the next is the punchy 450cc engine that offers plenty of low-down grunt and midrange puff to hover the front wheel during hard-charging corner exits. It’s topped off with a short burst of top-end power and plenty of over-rev, should you need to wring it out through a corner. The extra-crisp throttle requires a tempered wrist, and I treated it with respect while getting to know the thumper’s exciting and free-revving personality. Of the two fuel maps that alter the engine’s character, I preferred Map 1’s softer power delivery to Map 2’s more aggressive response.
Clicking through the precise Pankl-built 5-speed gearbox is a treat made even sweeter by the excellent Suter slipper clutch. Any wheel hop is eliminated while grabbing multiple downshifts and barreling into a corner hard on the brakes. It’s exactly the kind of kit you’ll need when backing it in like the pros, though I’m not quite there yet.
Top MotoGP and World Superbike racers train by riding supermoto, a fact that didn’t take hold until I experienced the 450 SMR’s extremely communicative chassis. The amount of feedback is excellent, where every ounce of traction is translated so loud and clear that it might as well be blared through a megaphone. What’s more is that you’re learning to flirt with grip at lower speeds, which lowers risk while being directly applicable to riding sportbikes on the track.
Thanks to its feathery weight, the SMR responds to any input immediately, flicking through chicanes with ease, and stays remarkably planted while cranked over on the edge of the tire, encouraging you to push harder. Its wafer-thin motocross chassis is eager to turn, even requiring some recalibration when coming from heavier street-legal motorcycles. As if that isn’t enough inspiration to crack the whip, traction control is standard and doesn’t step in prematurely. Launch control is included too, should you ever find yourself lining up on a starting grid.
Aiding in the chassis cause is the fully adjustable WP Xact air fork and conventional shock. The air fork, which still uses traditional cartridge damping in one leg, gleefully soaks up every hit and begs for more while also staying composed under hard braking. Same goes for the fully adjustable shock, though my taco-laden diet probably calls for a slightly heavier spring rate. If you’re buying a competition supermoto, you’ll customize it for your particular needs.
After catching my breath between sessions, the only thought I could muster is, “I need to ride supermoto more often.” The pool for production-competition supermotos is limited, with KTM, Husqvarna and TM Racing being the only contenders, but just like a good action flick, you know exactly what you’re getting — unadulterated fun from the first brap to the last. The only thing left to say about the 2021 KTM 450 SMR and supermoto is, “I’ll be back.”
2021 KTM 450 SMR Specs:
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled single, SOHC, 4 valves
Bore x Stroke: 95 x 63.4mm
Transmission: 5-speed, hydraulically actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 57.8 ± 0.4 in.
Rake: 27 degrees
Seat Height: 35 in.
Wet Weight: 232 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 1.85 gal.