For those of us completely enamoured with going fast on race replicas, the first time you get your knee down is a big moment. Having used up many a slider and viciously attacked my poor BWM’s heads on various racetracks (see Canadian Thunder Diaries), my fantasy was now directed at trying something completely different.
I kept looking at the various European web sites where fully prepped KTM’s were dominating the field. I had already acquired a KTM LC4 Supermoto back in 2002 so the plan was hatched to make it competitive and have a go at the new challenge of getting sideways at speed—Supermoto style.
Having no ground clearance problems, loosing one cylinder—and more than 220 extra pounds that came with the Beemer—I couldn’t wait to go racing.
But beware, Supermotard is not just road racing on dirt bikes. As someone who’s come into the sport from a roadracing background, allow me to pass on my season’s steep learning curve.
LESSON 1 – THE REAL DEAL
|Ready to go …|
Racing supermotards is different. With the class being in its infancy, simply being a participant makes you cool and accepted by the family. At events shared with the “normal” racers, we pit together and generally act as if we could get away with anything. Wheelies and stoppies are de rigueur and it takes quite a bit of foolishness to get officials to react.
Seems like riding a ‘motard automatically qualifies you as a lunatic. I like that.
Having said that, there are two routes to Supermoto. You are either a fantasy driven would-be roadracer or a bona-fide enduro/motocross nut, temporarily turned on to pavement. Nowhere did this come home to me than when I participated in the first event of the new Supermoto Canada series. Because, you see, real Supermoto involves not just a dirt section, but jumps!
|Getting used to the Supermotard at the Mécaglisse, QC track.|
Now, I’ve just turned 37 and I have never ridden in the dirt. The only jumps I ever did on a motorcycle were neither controlled nor welcomed! After a horrifying qualifier—where the leaders had lapped me within 5 laps—I ended my premier ride with a stylish high-side on the 8th lap on the asphalt, just to show everybody what real road racers can do!
Humour aside, I could see that I needed some training before attempting that sort of event. So I did what I was comfortable with—the pavement thing—and ran the full (dirt-free) ASM Supermotard series in St-Eustache instead.
|Creeping up on an SV650 from the outside.|
One bonus about running the ASM series was that Supermotards where allowed to run the SV Cup—in the Mono class—where we would grid a few lines behind the SV’s. Surprisingly, the ‘motards proved to be competitive, although there is something completely indecent about passing SV’s on the outside! I generally finished mid-pack, while the faster Supermotards even challenged the leaders.
Although I have not ventured back into the world or dirt/asphalt Supermotarding since my high-side experience, I have been following the series via Costa’s participation and—with my new gained experience—feel that I may just have to have another go and try the last two rounds.
LESSON 2 – THE RIGHT STUFF
|JP (#81) prepares to play catch-up with Gwen (#56) at the St-Eustache start.|
After road-racing the Beemer I thought that this was going to be easy. Well it wasn’t. Supermoto is very physical, even without the dirt and jumps. Good physical shape is probably the best investment you can make. I’d say it is worth at least 5-10 hp on the next guy!
In the ASM series, I often played catch-up to a racer called Gwen Paget. I spent the season wrenching and adjusting, playing with this doodad and the next, while Gwen—a professional motorcycle mechanic during the week—could barely get himself to check oil level. Gwen would watch over my shoulder and have this little smile. His secret? Apart from swimming two or three times a week, all he had was a bone stock CRF, with 17” wheels and a big front brake. No exhaust, no trick engine parts and stock suspension. Not even the latest rubber!
|Gwen (#56) and someone who isn’t Gwen (#57).|
In the first few races I kept up, even passing him every now and then. But as we progressed, I would often start loosing ground after a few laps. By the end of the season, Gwen would enjoy a healthy lead and I could no longer challenge him. He finished the Championship second and I finished third.
LESSON 3 – THE RIGHT BIKE
|Lighter bikes give you a big advantage.|
Turns out that the KTM needs some strong arms to go quickly. It is a very stable and confidence inspiring chassis but it is also slow to turn in. This stability pays off when you are topped out in fifth, or in long sweepers, or on one wheel, but Supermoto is all about the tight stuff.
It wasn’t until I tried a Honda CRF450 that I realized how much easier a lightweight bike is to ride at race speeds. Even with all the road hardware removed, the KTM is still 60 lbs heavier than the CRF. The lighter bike accelerates out of corners harder and has a better power to weight ratio with a similar top speed (with the right gearing). In fact, my KTM Supermoto is probably the Supermotard that actually feels closest to a road bike.
This highlights one decision that any aspiring Supermoto racers need to consider: do you modify a motocross design or do you adapt a street legal motard or enduro to suit? The answer isn’t all that obvious.
|XRs proved to be a popular Supermotard bike, and worked well on pavement-only tracks.|
For bona-fide Motarding with some dirt sections, I would tend to look at the motocross route; with Honda’s CRF 450, Yamaha’s YZ450 or KTM’s 525 as popular options, although you’ll still need to equip those with 17’’ wheels and a bigger front disc. On the contrary, for track days and generally pavement-only style racing (as done at the ASM rounds), a bigger road-legal bike makes sense.
The KTM LC4 640 Supermoto or Duke II and the Honda XR650’s are prime examples. You’d be amazed at how much horsepower can be extracted out of these when modified. It isn’t uncommon to see these modified bikes reach a healthy 60 hp or more at the rear wheel!
A word of caution here: it is easy—as in any motorized sport—to let yourself get completely out of hand and spend horrible amounts of money on every potential go-faster gizmo. This is not the case in Supermoto, where a decent basic set-up is all you need. Sure, that cool exhaust and wicked bigger carb are sooooo tempting (trust me, I know, and so does my bank manager) but the truth is it won’t mean much when a better rider passes you on the outside—sideways—with a bike having 20hp less.
LESSON 4 – SLIDING TO NIRVANA
|After some practice JP has no trouble attaining silly lean angles and long lurid slides.|
The final note is about sliding, which is what first attracted me to Supermoto. Watching a good rider approach a turn with the bike sideways—on asphalt—and smoothly transitioning at the apex into a great drive out of the corner has to be the most beautiful sight.
Unfortunately I ran all season without understanding how this is done correctly. Finally—this past weekend—I got a glimpse of how it should be done. First you need speed, and lots of it. Without enough speed when approaching the corner, it is impossible to try and slide in. Second, you need to master the clutch.
Approaching the corner at full speed, clutch in, down it two gears, apply gentle pressure on the rear brake, start braking at the front—transferring weight—and partially release the clutch. Use you body to turn the bike sideways as you correct with the bars and aim for the apex. By the apex, the clutch is out, the inside foot is out and you are back on the power.
|KTM Supermoto comes with 17″ wheels and decent front brake.|
The slide, apart from making you look cool, is to turn the bike into the corner so you can gas early. The difficulty is in getting all of this coordinated: handlebar inputs, clutch, front brake, rear brake and throttle. You also have to de-program yourself from blipping the throttle between gears, as you want the engine braking to help control the slide smoothly. Of course “smoothly” comes with practice.
At first, you are more likely to high-side if you are aggressive, or slide in a straight line right off the track (hilarious for your friends watching). The key here is practice. I started getting a feeling for it while practicing in the rain with no-one around me. After that I wanted to do it again and again. Remember the first time your knee slider touched down? Remember your first second gear wheelie that lasted more than one second? Remember the first time you… never mind.
So as the season gets closer to the end I am starting to think about taking the Supermoto on the ice, putting a 21’’front and 18’’ rear with studded tires and head for the lake and slide and slide and slide until the spring, when’s it back to asphalt … and maybe some dirt.
FINALLY, REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING …
Supermotard bikes crash well because of the light weight and how narrow they are.
It happens more, but the speeds are lower.
In theory at least, ones sustains less severe injury (less speed) but high sides are quite common.
Gear worth getting:
MX helmet – lots of air!
MX boots – to kick opponent off the track! ):
With an electric starter – you really want one.
Hand guards – yes, yes, yes.
Catch tanks, safety wiring and coolant replacement are necessary at most tracks.
Cross-riding improves all your skills: getting fast on a ‘motard helps road racing.
Supermoto lines are different than roadracing and may “conflict” – be prepared to relearn your technique.
MODIFYING THE KTM SUPERMOTO
|Elka modified suspension.|
Supermoto is a great way to learn about setting up a bike, gearing, suspension and tires. My KTM was only lightly modified as it came stock with decent 17” wheels and a good front brake. I had the suspension lowered and serviced by ELKA Suspension—the same guys that made me a custom rear shock for the BMW last year.
I lowered the suspension by two inches, with relevant valving and oil viscosity to give the bike a lower stance and much greater chassis composure. However, two inches was a tad too much and I would recommend less, probably 1” instead, as I can now grind the pedals a little too easily. Nevertheless, these suspension changes are the single biggest improvement made to the bike and I strongly recommend it. I also raised the fork tubes 10mm over the triple clamp to help turn-in. It hasn’t affected stability as a result.
|Lean baby, lean.|
The stiffer suspension was important because I was running slicks provided by Pirelli. This was a first for me—racing slicks—and it took a while to understand just how far you can push them, particularly the front.
With my amateur talent I would never have attempted to test the limits of adhesion in the same manner with a road-bike. But with a light-weight, narrow width and large handlebars, it just plain encourages you to do so. It is one of the appeals of Supermoto that you can lean the bike so far over, load the front and get away with murder.
|Rear Supermoto slick was a tad too soft for pavement-only!|
My only mistake was that I had asked for the softest tires available. Pirelli has a very soft Supermoto slick, although thankfully I only got those in the rear, with the fronts being slightly harder. As a result I managed 10 races with two fronts although I would literally shred the rear tire to bits in 20 laps of high-speed asphalt-only racing.
I thought you couldn’t get a soft enough compound for motarding but you can! Keep in mind the kind of surface you will be racing on and select a soft for pavement only. Keep the hardcore Supermoto compounds for mixed surfaces where they won’t get so hot.
|Piping is a work of art.|
Tire pressures would vary but they are lower than for road racing. I set in on 22 psi at the front and 23 to 27 psi on the rear, depending on the temperature and wear pattern. Compared to road racing, the tires last quite a bit longer (providing you have the right compound!). Although, as the class evolves, I am sure we will see the faster guys go thru a set per race…
Gearing was changed according to the track. For track days where I was running the longer version of the track I would gear 16/38. For the St-Eustache Supermotard track I geared 17/42 (stock) and at the very tight Mécaglisse in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, I would go to 15/40 or even 15/42.
|Is that a rubber chicken?|
As for the rest of the bike it was left very stock. I did open the airbox and change the KTM pre-muffler and muffler with performance parts from the KTM catalog. This allowed the carburetor to be set with a main jet of 195 (stock is 142.5) with the needle set at the second groove from the top.
All the unnecessary road legal hardware was also removed. Of course, like any self-respecting racer, I recently ordered more performance parts (Akrapovic pipe, Keihin FCR-41…) but that will be for next year … bank manager allowing.
Pirelli (for the tires).
Elka Suspension for the suspension set-up.