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KTM 950 Super Enduro ride report


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Today I got the chance to try my cousin’s SE950 for the first time. Not on gravel, only on tarmac. Probably a good thing considering my lack of vertigo and skill.
Climbing onto the bike proved difficult enough. With a stock seat height of 38 inches, or 965 mm, my 32 inch inseam got taxed to its limit - and beyond. Not the least because my very tall cousin had fitted a taller and wider than stock suede seat from Renazco Sport. My left hip is a little sore and impinged at the moment, so just bending enough to get my right leg over the bike caused agony. And then to push the top-heavy machine upright off the side stand really drove the pain home.
Since the bike appears to barely sag on its suspension under my 220 fully geared pounds of weight, I could barely reach the ground with one toe at the time, the other foot dangling some way off the ground. Very unnerving! But once I got moving, the height issue disappeared. You are of course aware that the seating is taller than usual, but it wasn’t particularly unnatural or disconcerting. One thing I immediately noticed was how much less lean was required for any given corner speed compared to more conventional machines.
The switchgear was rather crude and lacked in logic for someone like me who is used to Japanese road bikes. The owner suggested I just ignore them. The digital instrument readout was probably easy enough to read, but was almost completely blocked by a GPS mounted on the handlebars.
Speaking of the handlebars; they were turned well forward with the result that the bar ends pointed upwards, leading to an awkward wrist position for me. Also, the clutch and brake levers were turned well down where they were difficult to reach. Being lower than my cousin by 5-6 inches, my arms are more horizontal when seated, making the angle of the levers more severe. For my tall cousin, they rate as a useful compromise between seated and standing up; not perfect for either, but passable for both.
The bike rolled on full knobbies, barely street legal; a Metzeler up front and a Pirelli in the rear. They usually last well under 1000 miles, whether he rides on gravel or asphalt. I found grip to be fine for the pace I did, but it would be wrong to say it steered precise or tracked accurately. Not bad, but still noticeably squirmish, especially where there where grooves, cracks or joints in the road surface. I’m positive that the steering damper fitted to the upper triple clamp exacerbated this due to the friction it caused at all times; steering dampers and tight steering stem races always make a bike harder to keep in line at lower speeds in my experience.
The suspension was good, just short of excellent. Personally, I would have liked it to be a bit softer initially, because you really get a lot of feedback through the seat and handlebars from what’s going on between the road and the tyres. However, it is never harsh, and you can hardly tell the difference between a small and large dip or bump. Everything is absorbed effortlessly with plenty of reserve. Broken tarmac that feels like it will shake a normal street bike apart is simply shrugged off by the WP elements on this big enduro.
The brakes braked, but due to the bike having a) knobbies and b) belonging to someone else together with c) me having very limited experience with the machine, I didn’t put them to any sort of test. They did feel less powerful and more numb than those on my own Yamaha MT-07, but then again you cannot have too aggressive brakes when riding offroad.
The seating position offered a lot of legroom, and the the overall posture was not far removed from the classic sit-up-and-beg stance once so popular. One must wonder why it went out of vogue because it is quite natural and relaxing. Watching my cousin ride, I can also testify that standing up, even at speed and over distance - including cornering - is very natural as well. The seat itself wasn’t brilliantly comfortable, but noticeably easier on the tush than the pad camouflaging as a seat on my Yamaha.
Power delivery from the big V-twin was smooth and predictable at all times, but it wanted to run a bit more rpm than the MT-07 before it felt happy. Although the little Yamaha engine feels more eager and responds quicker to the throttle, I still suspect that all-out performance is a little better on the bigger KTM. Passing slower moving traffic in second gear, I could feel the front going light, the sensation magnified by the long wheel travel. In other words, there was no lack of performance.
Vibrations didn’t intrude much, although mild tremblings were omnipresent in the seat and the handlebars would tingle slightly as revs climbed. Although my right thumb eventually fell asleep, carpal syndrome make me very sensitive to any tingles. In other words, I feel confident the majority of riders will have no issues with vibrations whatsoever.
The gearbox was very smooth, as was the clutch, and not as fuzzy as the one in my Yamaha; the MT-07 will only shift silently and smoothly if shifts are made ultra-quick. Another big benefit is better access to to just about everything on the SM 950 compared to the MT-07. This is generally quite typical of offroad oriented motorcycles as they are focussed more on functionality and less on styling.
In conclusion, if you want a motorcycle with serious offroad abilities that also have lots of smooth power and acceptable comfort for longer rides, there are hardly any alternatives to the KTM 950 SE. Parked next to a new KTM 1090 Adventure, the 950 SE tower almost a full story taller due to much longer wheel travel and lots more ground clearance. For most, a BMW GS or a KTM Adventure will work better because most do not have the skill needed to take advantage of what the Super Enduro can offer. But for the limited few, nothing can match the classic 950 SE. When an adventure style motorcycle and its rider succumb to the terrain, the Super Enduro comes alive and brings a wide grin to the pilot’s face as they storm onwards into the wilderness. What a pity the bike isn’t made anymore.
That also leaves an opening for a serious Yamaha based upon the MT/FZ-07. Let's hope they make it more off-road oriented than the current competition!

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