KTM need little introduction when it comes to the Dakar Rally. With 12 consecutive motorcycle class victories to their credit, they have dominated the event in recent times both in North Africa and now in South America.
Our main objective was to make a ‘real’ rally chassis for the smaller 450cc engine.
Resting on their laurels isn’t something KTM are prepared to do. They know how to win, with their successes owing much to the machinery they provide to their riders. Come the start of the 2014 Dakar on January 5th, KTM’s four official pilots will be armed with the Austrian marque’s latest Dakar weapon.
But why, as the dominant player in the motorcycle class, design and build a completely new bike? As few will disagree, there didn’t seem to be too much wrong with the old machines!
“Our main objective was to make a ‘real’ rally chassis for the smaller 450cc engine – a bike smaller around the cylinder area to reduce the external width of the fuel tanks,” explains Stefan Huber, KTM’s rally technical team manager. “This makes the ride position feel like an enduro bike. Riders can really sit in the middle of the seat on the new bike, and not behind the big fuel tanks like before.”
We wanted to build a new bike that was more ergonomic, like an enduro bike.
Being used in its first Dakar in January 2014, the planning behind KTM’s new rally bike started before the 2013 event. “It was December 2012 when we started to bring together some new ideas,” adds Stefan. “It was mainly because our existing bike didn't have fuel injection and we wanted to introduce it. Also, the basics of our bikes were still from the 690cc bike. We wanted to build a new bike that was more ergonomic, like an enduro bike – to reflect the direction the race is taking.”
“The rally chassis was a must because we know it gives us real stability,” explains Stefan. “It ensures we can build a safe bike in terms of what the suspension does at all times. I guess we put a lot of ideas together as well as considering things like the viewpoint the riders have, aerodynamics, etc. We put these things together and decided what direction to take. The finished product is what you see today.”
Riders can really sit in the middle of the seat on the new bike, and not behind the big fuel tanks like before.
With maneuverability much more important in today’s South American Dakar than it was in the days of the African event, one thing that hasn't changed is the need to top-end speed. “Top speed is still important – the race isn’t all about the mountain tracks. There are lots of fast sections in the Dakar still, so we need a bike that is fast. We know that the new engine gives more power and has very good torque.”
While KTM are no longer alone as the only ‘official’ team competing in the Dakar, they will be the only manufacturer, as some see it, to enter a true 450cc rally bike. With both Honda and Yamaha entering machines with enduro style frames in their respective bids to halt KTM’s reign at the top, KTM have again raised the bar. In delivering a new-from-the-ground-up rally bike they’re hoping to secure yet more Dakar success…