2008 KTM 950 Super Enduro R – The Cure for Common Sense

Periodically in a review I dance around the topic of whether a bike “spoke” to me or not. This is not one of those reviews. Let’s cut a swath of broken daisies through the meadow and directly to the point; the KTM 950 Super Enduro R is pure delightful lunacy.

How does the Austrian dirt outfit achieve this? For a start, KTM has seen fit to shove a 942cc, 98hp and 70 ft-lb of torque engine into a trellis frame and call it an “enduro”. From the get go, and I can’t give you RPM’s because there’s no tachometer, it’s the kind of power that comes on hard and strong and should leave you shivering at the thought of dirt… except it doesn’t.

This bike will take you to the edge of reasonable speeds on dirt… and then well beyond. How sweet it is to glance down at the speedo and read 120kph on dirt? Then roll on the throttle, snick precisely through the gears all with an eye-widening burst of acceleration and a snarling-twin soundtrack.

This bike consumes the open stretches with rabid voracity.

The rims and massive diameter spokes must be made of adamantium, ripped from the pages of X-Men and Wolverine’s indestructible skeleton. By the end of our time with the Super Enduro R we’d become comfortable with flying uncaring across wallows, washes and what I thought would be rim-bending cutouts.

On stock settings the suspension connects to the earth with attraction gravity would be jealous of.

On stock settings the suspension connects to the earth with attraction gravity would be jealous of. Up front a set of 48mm WP forks provides 250mm of travel, while out back the WP monoshock tracks through 255mm.

The suspension is fully adjustable fore and aft, replete with high/low speed compression damping. So you could spend an entire weekend fine-tuning the ride quality… honestly we didn’t see a need to stray from stock. The evil Austrian masterminds at KTM know their stuff. Somewhere below you there is the earth, but you don’t need be punished by the topography to be exquisitely connect with it. Yet, the 950 doesn’t lack feel though the bars, pegs or brakes.

The 300mm disc up front, when bitten by the twin-pot Brembo caliper, offers modulation to the verge of lockup without any surprise. That’s great in the dirt and on the asphalt too – a good thing given that the front Kenda knobby isn’t exactly road rubber. You’re not lacking for finesse or power out back either, there’s a Brembo twin-piston brake caliper and 240mm disc waiting for you to lock the rear to a slewing stop.

There is one message this bike conveys… It is not about sensible bumbling through the forest. Oh, sure you could, but honestly I wouldn’t expect that to last. At the first hint of an open stretch the Super Enduro R begs to become a plume of dirt subtle as an explosion in a pumpkin patch. A full on cure for a the common sense ethos of a world full of KLR’s, DR650s, and XR650Rs, the Super Enduro R is running with the likes of BMW HP2. Ok, more like, “running by the likes of the BMW HP2”. The KTM’s compact 75° V-Twin makes Bimmer’s horizontally opposed twin look a set of weighty sledgehammers pounding away, leaving the HP2 feeling like a bludgeon by comparison.

Now here’s the odd bit. On road the bike feels capable, but cumbersome, top heavy and awkward – as if its Polident grip on the world is compromised by the smooth and predictable surface. It’s enough to make you want to move to the edge of a desert, just so you can cross it for your daily commute. The KTM 950 Super Enduro R isn’t all rapture, especially on the trail’s confines.

At 6”2’ and with a 34″ inseem, I can just barely flatfoot this bike, so if you’re shy on inseam and counting on putting a foot down in the rough stuff, think again. 330mm/13.0″ of ground clearance and a 965mm/38.0″ seat height will leave you scrambling. Are you on an incline? If a KTM Super Enduro R falls in the forest does anyone hear?

At least the soft bags from the KTM Hard Parts catalog, and their hangers seem more than tough enough to take the blow. Stylishly shaped these bags speak to KTM’s acknowledgement that the big-displacement Enduro will likely go further a field… Even if the tank range doesn’t.

This great orange terrorist is running on fumes by 210kms… less if your throttle usage fully embraces the “more power” philosophy of riding. That’s fine, because if you’ve been in the seat between fill-ups of the 14litre tank you’ll need the break. The accommodations are as soft as the finest mahogany. This is a bike built for standing, as if those serrated foot pegs make that amply clear?

There are a couple of other small problems too. The pipes put off enough heat to double as a barbeque. Perfect for adventures then, break out the smokies to replenish and the Gatorade to rehydrate. The fuel efficiency has a rating of “scorched earth policy”. And this bike will never, ever, save your license.

That answer to, “What was that blur of orange and knobby tires that just passed me on the freeway with a rider standing up?” is self-evident. KTM’s slogan may be “Bleed Orange”, but the bike’s colour may as well be “Prison Orange”.

Of course, you can settle into sixth gear and discover that despite the minimal wind protection, the Super Enduro R is surprisingly efficient at logging the freeway miles between your dirt-road explorations.

The KTM Super Enduro R is a bash-plated glimpse into the darker part of the KTM psyche. It’s a no holds barred sort of place, as hard edged as the bike’s origami fold design. Power, yes, we’ll have it all. Braking, yes, the same. How fast do you want to fly down a dirt road? Across a desert? As fast as possible. Practicality? It seems that doesn’t translate well into Austrian. Ride experience? Let’s make sure they have a grin ten strong men couldn’t slap off their faces. Yet, for all the no compromise insanity of the KTM Super Enduro R, it is superbly rideable – just don’t confuse that with sensible. Ever.

– Neil Johnston

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