If you were to turn back the clock maybe five or so years, most pundits would have regarded KTM as still being a niche player in the world of sports bikes. Though the company has been around in one form or another since 1934, it was best known for its off-road bikes rather than current screamers like the 1290 Super Duke R or the brilliant new entry level RC390. Yet in the space of a few years, KTM is now regarded a serious competitor in the road bike marketplace and in many respects is now setting the trend for the industry.
It’s nothing short of an amazing turnaround for a business that became insolvent in 1991 and was split up into four different entities, one being KTM Sportmotorcycle. This was when KTM first began to focus on road bikes and in 1994 the KTM Duke was born – a name now synonymous with the KTM brand. But it wasn’t until 2011 that KTM really began to assault the motorcycle world.
The KTM Duke 200 became the first bike KTM had made available world-wide. The little entry level machine was produced in India and complemented the Duke 125 which was available in Europe. That same year, KTM produced their first superbike, the 1190 RC8 which gave them a breadth of motorcycle models that even the Japanese couldn’t match.
With the release of the 1290 Super Duke R late in 2013, KTM had solidly cemented itself as meaning serious business for both learners and hardcore enthusiasts. The 1290 Super Duke R wasn’t just a silly ego driven motorcycle that pumped out good performance figures but was unrideable, it featured what was arguably the most advanced electronic package then available on a bike, with traction control and cornering ABS from Bosch.
And again at the other end of the spectrum, the KTM RC390 looks like it could be well on it’s way to dethrone the Kawasaki Ninja 300 as king of the beginner bikes. Already the bike has been selected for sole use in young rider racing series in both the UK and USA.
So the bikes are impressive, but do they actually sell? They do and KTM is evidence that companies can be rewarded by the consumer for bringing out innovative and quality machines. In 2013, KTM had a 4% market share in the United States. That might not sound like an impressive number in isolation but it’s extremely good when looked at in the context of the US market. Firstly, the United States market is heavily dominated by Harley-Davidson who in 2013 had 54.9% all new bike registrations, which leaves only 45.1% for every either motorcycle manufacturer to fight over. Secondly, considering that KTM does not sell any cruisers which are the most popular form of motorcycle in the USA, the fact they were able to sell nearly 1 in 10 new motorcycles in the United States that wasn’t an HD is nothing short of amazing. Sales results for 2014 so far indicate that KTM are further increasing their market share. In Europe, nearly every 12th bike sold is a KTM.
So why have KTM been so successful and continue to grow at a rapid pace when the likes of Suzuki seem to be slowly circling the drainhole? Simply put, KTM seems to be quite comfortable in leadng rather than following.
The two aforementioned motorcycles, the 1290 Super Duke R and RC390 are cases in point. When Honda decided to enter the entry level market they pretty much copied the Kawasaki Ninja 250 by releasing a bike with similar capacity, power and weight. The inevitable happened and Kawasaki upped the power of their bike and released the Ninja 300. Honda responded in kind and so on.
KTM decided to skip them altogether and released a bike that skirted the limits of Europe’s licensing restrictions and released the RC390. It was a bike designed to be enjoyed by learners and experienced riders in equal measure and will now be used in a number of racing series worldwide.
Similarly, the 1290 Super Duke R effectively began a trend of creating unique naked bikes. Large capacity nakeds have been around for ages, but generally were just stripped down versions from a donor sports bike. KTM flipped this on it’s headed and created a dedicated naked weapon and since then, BMW and many other manufacturers have responded in kind.
KTM has also been at the forefront of technology, seriously challenging the likes of BMW and Ducati when it comes to sophisticated electronics that improve rideability and henceforth safety. Most impressively, KTM has done this without sacrificing its core heritage of offroad riding and racing. Come 2016, KTM will join MotoGP for the first time which will further enhance their ability to produce cutting edge sportsbikes.
KTM, we salute you. It’s great to see further competition in the marketplace, especially when it makes the opposition rethink what we as riders are willing to try.