The sharper KTM 990 SM R, considering it has the power-to-weight ratio of BMW's substantial, cupboard-clad K1200GT, the KTM 990 SM R couldn't be further away from the full blown tourer. Lively is an understatement: the KTM 990 SM R rotates around its rear spindle without provocation in low gears; leaps off crests you haven't even registered; dances across imperfections; and tips from upright to peg-down quickly enough to make you whoop. The KTM 990 SM R is so deliriously, wonderfully frantic it should display warnings: 'People with heart conditions and anyone prone to soiling themselves should not ride this motorcycle,'
But then the 990 SM R is based on KTM's crazy-sensible 990 SM - possibly the finest cocktail of usability, practicality and daft grin stupidity to escape captivity. A firm Motorcycle Thailand favorite, the KTM 990 SM R's ridiculously easy wheelies, immediate handling and rider involvement are almost completely balanced by proper pillion accommodation, an easy 282 kilometer fuel tank range, a superb headlight, adjustable controls and sumptuous ride quality. The KTM 990 SM R is devilishly good on the Thai roads.
For the hopped-up KTM 990 SM R the bias is firmly on going faster. Suspension is revised, with a fancy low-friction coating on the fork sliders and shock damper rod, less travel and firmer settings. Chassis geometry is slightly racier too, with a steeper rake, less trail and shorter wheelbase for even quicker handling. There are lighter, forged Marchesini wheels too, plus Brembo Monobloc brake calipers swiped from the RC8 production line and slick-edged Pirelli Supercorsa tires. The KTM 990 SM R also uses a slimmer fuel tank with four liters less capacity, allowing riders to slip closer to the tapered bars and place more weight on the front for better feedback and control. Carbon fiber exhaust heat shield add a touch of... well, carbon. The claimed wet weight, minus fuel, is down by 2 kilogram to 189kg – with a brimmed tank that should be around 200kg, some 13kg less than the new Yamaha YZF-R1.
These changes clearly don't create a perfect cruiser. Using an industrial jet wash as a bidet would be more appealing. Instead, they aim the KTM 990 SM R at 'sports and track riding' – KTM reckon the motorcycle offers the purest riding pleasure, their literature trumpeting about 'mean braking drifts with reliable front wheel steer' and 'leaping from a tilt onto its rear wheel'.
For those of us less prone to sideways frolics, this all translates to a motorcycle that's sharper and more aggressive. But it's not immediately apparent on the road, as the KTM 990 SM R retains all the elements that make the base KTM 990 SM so alluring.