Saturday, December 17, 2016

Trailer Queen

It's kind of strange, but the KTM has more miles riding behind me in a trailer than it has on it's odometer.  I bought the bike in Buffalo, which is 400 miles away.  That would have been close to the sale odo miles.  But I couldn't tell very much about the bike's character from riding around a parking lot on knobby tires set at off-road pressures.  You could tell that the bike hadn't been bent, but that's about all.

So rather than go home or try to ride the thing in Buffalo with snow in the forecast, I headed south.  To Charlottesville, Va., to be exact.  From the weather forecast, it looked like my best chance to see some warm, dry roads.  And it's near the Blue Ridge, so there are small twisty roads about.

I had planned this, so I was carrying on-road tires that fit the KTM and I arranged with a local motorcycle shop to swap out my knobbies and put on the road tires.  That took the morning of Dec 1.  So in the afternoon, I got to ride in the foothills for about an hour and a half and put 57 miles on the bike.

Since the tow from Buffalo to Charlottesville to home was a little over 1000 miles, the 731 miles on the odometer makes this a true trailer queen.  Of course, I hope to change that this spring.  My thanks go out to John Chamberlin who so graciously lent me his lease car and trailer for this little expedition.  I feel so much more confident in making the changes that I need to the bike having actually gotten to ride it and know it will work well for me.

The reason for the Virginia leg of my trip was not only to discover the overall character of the bike, but to see if it was different than the KLR.  After all, I haven't ridden that many motorcycles and I have so many miles on the KLR, I have adapted my style to it's character.

The differences were there.  Some expected, others unexpected.  Of course, I haven't ridden the KTM very hard.  I'm still learning.

The first difference that shows immediately is the stiffness of the KTM.  With the KLR, you can feel the flex in the frame, in the forks, in all of the controls.  The result is the KTM is more direct, more immediate in it's response.  I can effectively feel the higher torsional stiffness of the frame by the responsiveness in changing direction.  I can even feel the stiffness in the shift lever.

The other way this shows up is in ride.  With the KLR, when you hit a bump, especially in a corner, it is forgiving but may flex a little after the fact.  With the KTM there is none of the aftershake.  Another ride difference is the amount of shock control.  The KLR is plush, but a little lazy.  With the KTM, I really felt connected to the road.

The KTM also has the rider sitting further forward on the bike.  With the KLR, the front wheel it pretty light.  I have developed a technique where I lean forward at the entrance of a corner to put a little extra weight on the front tire and sharpen the turn-in response.  The KTM already has that front end weight, so you don't need that forward lean.

An interesting point.  All these things I'm talking about make the KTM a better road bike and the flexibility of the KLR are said to be desirable on dirt.  Somehow, I never expected the KLR to be the more off-road oriented bike.

This theme continues in other ways.  For example, the KLR has only 5 gears to the KTM 6.  But the KLR gears are wide spaced ratios with 1st gear good for slow crawling in difficult off-road conditions.  In contrast, the KTM has close ratio gears with 1st gear quite tall for off-road use.  Get into something gnarly and you would have to be slipping the KTM clutch to go slow.

This is especially true because the KTM doesn't have much torque at low rpm.  The KLR has excellent torque from about 1200 rpm and "comes on cam" at 3000 rpm.  In contrast, the KTM has noticeably less torque than the KLR at low rpm, made worse by the tall 1st gear, and doesn't "come on cam" until 4000 rpm.  On-road, this is no problem.  There is enough torque to launch and close ratio gears to stay on cam, but off-road, this is interesting.

As far as peak horsepower, it is definitely a lot more in the KTM.  Rated 65 to the KLR's 40, it feels like even more.  But that brings another interesting point.  The KLR is tuned to run on any crappy octane fuel.  It just doesn't care.  That should be a good thing for adventure excursions.  The KTM is tuned for 93 octane premium.  It's fuel injection has a map that you can select if you get poor fuel, but the risk that you wouldn't change maps in time and that make the KTM modern but high strung.

Overall, I learned a lot in a short time.  Since I ride most of the time on-road and not that aggressively when off the pavement, I think these differences will all make for a better bike for my usage.  But it remains kind of interesting that the vaunted off-road brand of KTM has made such a road oriented enduro.

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