It's not every day that you get permission to ride, let alone race, as gorgeous of a bike as Chris Kemp's KTM 350. This bike is simply one of his many gorgeous KTM's that have had the full HMC treatment, and it's the one he so kindly let me ride during June's Lightning on the Wolf race at USAIR in Shawana, Wisconsin. As some of you may have heard, my bike faced some electrical issues and went down during practice that Friday. Chris was kind enough to let me ride the spare KTM he brought with him, and it lead to easily one of the most fun weekends I've had on a bike in a long time.
About the Bike:
Like I said, this is a full HMC build and as such, has a ton of trick parts that make this little 350 a full-on beast. Some of the major mod's HMC has made to this 350 are:
-Titanium Akrapovic full exhaust system -Carbon Matrix Alpina tubeless wheels (16.5 front, 5.5 rear) -Dunlop slick tires (417 front, 950 rear) -Beringer radial mount (100mm) 4 piston caliper -Beringer master cylinder BRO12-17.5 -Braking wave front rotor (310mm) -Xtrig triple clamps (11/14 off set) -Acerbis (Rally 3 hand guards) -MTR chain guide (protects 5.5 rim from chain) -Footpeg spinners -Carbon front number plate -Hinson slipper clutch -HMC Racing /WP shock internals
Chris takes meticulous care of his bikes, and even though he does ride them (and rides them hard, mind you); they are all still in show room condition. This fact alone made me incredibly nervous to ride his 350.
I have been fortunate enough to ride many different kinds of supermoto's in my time. I've ridden DRZ's, YZF's, CRF's, (older) KTM's, Suzukis and Aprilias; enough to give me a good perspective on whats out there, the different setups, and what works/what doesn't. I have liked a lot of bikes and even disliked a couple, but none have spoken to me like Chris's 350 SMR. It is without a doubt the best setup bike I have ever been on.
Cornering on the 350 is an absolute dream. It feels as light as riding a bicycle and effortlessly changes directions quickly (somewhat akin to a 250 or even a mini.) It helps you rail corners faster than you think, which really helps to build confidence in specifically novice-level riders or riders used to heavier and faster bikes. Even when you come out of a corner too hot and say, the rear tire breaks loose; its incredibly predictable and extremely rewarding. You can even hang the rear tire out completely sideways without dealing with the fear of losing it. Its almost as if the bike knows what you're trying to do and just makes it easy for you, so that you look like a professional with little to no effort necessary.
Power-wise its obviously a bit lower compared to a 450. This is exceptionally noticeable on very long straights. Since you can carry more speed through, even with a hard charge coming out of the corners; there is little hope in catching up. This was really my only complaint with the bike, and for most of the tracks that I ride, this wouldn't even be an issue at all. If you're riding on tight kart tracks all the time, the 350 will be perfect in keeping you competitive with the 450s. Its really a great "in-between" bike. While you're not shifting as much as you would be on a 250, you cant get away with running a gear out a bit longer like you can on a 450. Coming off of an SXV550, this took a bit of getting used to. My riding style on that bike is very "point and shoot", where the 350 is much better at teaching you to keep speed up in the corners while making you aware of how valuable it is to keep your momentum up.
Riding it in the dirt is similar to riding a 250. The bike is light and nimble, which makes for a ton of fun in the dirt sections. The dirt in Shawano was long and intense which made it the determining factor in many of the races that weekend. Most riders ended up exhausted after only 3 or 4 laps of the 12 lap race, and this 350 pushed me for another 5 or 6 laps past that. Granted, it's still not the whole 12 laps, but it definitely helped keep me ahead of the guys who couldn't keep up from the start. I could guarantee you that I would have easily been dead after just a of couple laps on the SXV, fighting it the whole way. The 350 genuinely helped boost to my confidence in the dirt and kept me charging through it all weekend.
This KTM is without a doubt at the top of my list. While it is a complete departure from what I'm used to, it really made me appreciate a light, lower-powered bike. I truly felt like I was even faster on this than I am normally on my own bike and that helped me out a lot in the dirt. While this may not be the bike for everyone, it should definitely be a bike to look into if you want something fun and light, to help make you a better rider. If you're looking to win an AMA Pro or FIM SM round, you will probably need more power, but for everyone else these bikes should warrant a serious investigation.
A big thanks to Chris Kemp for the photos and letting me ride his bike!