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  • Nate Kuhn

Review: 2024 KTM 890 SMT

Not exactly buying these for the looks, but trust me there's a lot to love here.

Everything old is new again, so is this the true return of the Austrian Goldilocks? Once again (after an 11-year long hiatus) KTM has released a SMT into their lineup. Short for SuperMoto-Touring, this combination of two opposed ideas tends to have people confused. Motorcycle buyers (especially here in the United States) tend to gravitate towards the more clearly defined categories of motorcycle, and the obscure, the highly unique and/or the in-between genre stuff like this tends to get criminally overlooked.


There are countless reviews out there on this new 2024 SMT. They all basically tell you the same thing. By that I mean that nearly everyone has the same opinion after they ride it. I am not much different, so I’ll not waste too long on that - The best straightforward review would be Zack Courts’ take on the bike over at Revzilla: https://www.revzilla.com/common-tread/2024-ktm-890-smt-first-ride-motorcycle-review. No need for me to say nearly the same thing as he did as our opinions of the bike are nearly identical. That brings nothing to the table. If you do leave to read that, please come back for the rest of this, haha.


What I CAN do is offer my perspective as an owner of the LAST SMT - and compare/contrast the two. I find this is equally useful or possibly more and certainly a review that isn’t already out there. I mean, after all - how do you compare a unicorn with any other animal? Better to compare it with the prior Unicorn.


Me piloting the 2010 990 SMT through Deal's Gap

Loyal readers will know I have an affection for the prior KTM SMT - one of the trio of flagship 990 models that was made from 2010-13. It was universally praised at as both the best all-round/do-anything motorcycle of its day (possibly ever) and truly one of the most fun motorcycles you could buy that wasn’t so focused/useless for multi-purpose riding. But it didn’t look like the aforementioned silo-ed product categories and very few people bought one. I actually did. It was (mostly) spectacular. And here we are again with a new version. 


My review of that bike can be seen here: https://youtu.be/4XpJjVzyKik?si=zgI8ek0gyRX33TT3The tl/dr is that as a motorcycle it’s spectacular but has some ownership caveats. It was in the flagship class of KTM’s earlier efforts to make road-going motorcycles after a long time of making off-road only vehicles. The issues there are refinement and fit and finish due to it being a fairly early example of the brand making street bikes. While I did have some long-term ownership issues that convinced me to sell it a few years ago, most of the time I genuinely regret doing so and miss that bike.


Even if they aren’t exactly seen as the European Honda, KTM has been on a rapid climb of refinement, reliability and making better street bikes than ever now nearly 15 years later. Their bikes are reportedly less harsh, less rough around the edges and easier to live with. Unlike the old ones they have modern tech and safety systems and are TFT dash equipped with rider modes, menus, etc. They honestly make their last-gen older models feel ancient by comparison. 

The newer more modern update to the same basic formula.

This is all well and good but honestly, the worries I had about the new SMT were mostly boiled down to the downsizing and modernization of the engine. As with everything else, engines tend to get smaller and more efficient and are offering similar on-paper numbers as their predecessors. The 890 SMT is not much different. While it used to have a snarly 990 V-Twin, that position in the lineup has been replaced with a family of smaller (790/890) parallel-twin engines. Even with an off-kilter crankshaft to mimic the character of a v-twin, parallel twins just tend to not quite have the same x-factor. This could be a problem.


Literally the goldilocks of the 890 family. Left: 890 Duke, Middle: 890 SMT, Right: 890 Adventure

The trend of downsizing engines from big old-school ones to more modern higher tech smaller replacements that claim the same peak power figures is not uncommon in motorcycles just as we see it in cars. Big V8’s make way for modern 6-cylinder cars. What used to have a 6 now has a 4, etc. We all understand how and why this happens, but sometimes even if it isn’t better on-paper, many people just prefer the character of that v8 that got replaced by a v6 with turbos. It’s less about the technical peak power and more about charm.


One of the worst 2-wheeled offenders of this downsizing was when Ducati removed its amazingly fun but aging 1100cc EVO V-twin from a handful of their models and replaced it with a new modern 821cc engine. They sold it as progress with higher peak power and better fuel efficiency but the issue was that it was too refined and weak off the bottom end to truly swap out for the prior savage grunt-machine that was the 1100. It was fine but changed the character of the bike to the point I didn’t like the new one NEARLY as much as the prior. 


This has been my big worry for a few years now. Until now, I hadn’t gotten a chance to ride any of these smaller displacement KTM parallel twin models and I was apprehensive. The new 890 boasts 103hp and a similar torque rating as the prior big 990. Still, 12hp down is over 10% and that’s noticeable no matter what. Also, how/when did this torque kick in? Was it brawny like the old or did it need 6000rpm of revs to build its power up?


I can tell you this new engine does not pull as hard at the top as the old one. Like many twins, it kind of falls off at the last 1000rpm, suggesting you shift a bit early. The midrange feels almost identical to the old 990 v-twin but I was shocked to see that the low-end of this new smaller parallel twin engine pulls noticeably harder than the old bike somehow. All in all, the grunty nature of the new bike is even better/more than the old one and the lost peak HP isn’t really missed much. Neither was made to wow in a straight line - but lofting the front wheel out of corner exit is more the tone of these machines and the new one does it even more eagerly than the old and is an absolute riot to rip around on.


I like this new engine a lot, so my biggest worry was laid to rest in the first few minutes of my ride. The transmission (as with most KTM bikes) was absolutely terrific in feel, operation and had short gearing made for fun work of street riding. It also had a quick-shifter that made for rapid work of corner exit and ripping through the lower gears. The only penalty was a slight buzz at the bars - and by that I mean more so than the normal tingle that any twin gives you - this was more vibration than expected but not a dealbreaker.


The rest of the bike is much the same story - newer and more refined but ultimately the same list of goals were apparent. 


Best suspension brand in the game.

The suspension (which was the best part of the old bike) is spectacular. WP makes the best in the business in my opinion, and the new SMT’s adjustable but not electronic setup is exactly what I would want for myself. The bike feels different but the suspension is equally the star of the show here just like the old SMT. 


The brakes are terrific. They are made by a subsidiary of Brembo and are equally as good as the excellent Brembo units on my old bike, if not more. TONS of stopping power, great feel and the ABS works nicely. I didn’t risk a front end lock up on a test ride, but I did play around locking up the rear - the on/off pulse is felt beneath the boot on the lever, but there’s no tremors that go up the rest of the bike. It does its job without drama -which is ideal for safety features. 


The rider triangle/ergos are terrific too. I admit this is a large/tall bike not really made for shorter riders but if you’re average or above average height I can’t imagine you’ll object. The new SMT is maybe 10% smaller everywhere than the old one but still qualifies as large. I liken it to the old one feeling a bit of a moose and this is just a large horse if that analogy makes sense. That 10% makes for a lesser reach to the bars which is good, and I don't mind the slightly closer foot pegs than the last one - it’s still absolutely in the realm of what I’d call roomy for a 6’2” rider like myself. The seat is very comfortable - more so than the last which I easily could spend 8+hours a day on without much issue. 


LONG torso'd 6'2" author for reference

The handling is even better than the old bike. IT weighs a bit less (maybe about 10% less) and it’s absolutely noticeable. Compared to it’s size, the prior SMT was very agile and flickable - but the new bike is even MORE flickable, nimble and honestly behaves as a halfway point between a 300cc dual-sport and the last SMT. It’s really that easy to “man-handle” it without feeling like it’s going to bite back. It was shockingly good and had a feel to it that was not only better than the old bike’s but possibly the best dynamics I have ever encountered for agility on something big enough to spend time on.


Downsides? Ummmmm.... The throttle has been mentioned elsewhere and I too found a bit of vague slack at the bottom in the off/on transition. It didn’t really hurt my time with it - and once you’re moving it’s perfectly natural. I’m sure (like the notoriously snatchy/eager throttle most journalists complained about the old 990 SMT) you’d get used to it as an owner in a matter of a week or two if you owned it. Either that or somebody will figure out a tweak/mod to the twist-grip if the annoyance lingers past the first few weeks.


Not exactly classical good looks but fit/finish is top notch finally

Then there's the looks. Well, the old bike wasn't much of a looker and neither is this new SMT. It's just weird. I truly don't care but it must be said nobody is buying this for curb appeal. I think the new bike is fussier looking than the old SMT but also has much better fit and finish/quality about it so I guess I will say the new bike is nicer looking for that reason alone. Doesn't really matter for this machine to be honest.


And that's it. I was genuinely expecting to be at least a BIT let down with this new model of my old flame. So many newer models of car and motorcycle push refinement, smoothness, efficiency that they often lack the character of old fun goofy machines. To my absolute delight, there really is no downside to this new model. It gives up almost nothing to the old model and improves the same formula in every way. Lighter, more comfortable, more fun, safer, (seemingly) made better with higher quality and (comparatively) cheaper too. It’s better in just about every single way in my opinion and I hated handing the keys back.


I WANT ONE

It’s... my new favorite motorcycle. 


I’m accepting donations because I really really want one 🙂




I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.


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6 Comments


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May 21

I really like this article, it gives me a lot of information, slice master is a fun slicing game.

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thomasfrank1803
May 21

This motorbike looks incredible. I'm loving the aggressive Buckshot Roulette stance and the sharp design.

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A well written article Nate. The addition of the photos helped align what I had in my head reading with what is in reality.

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