KTM 990SMR Through The Streets Of Bucharest

KTM 990SMR Motorcycle reviewed by Leslie Warren; an Expat Living in Bucharest. 22 June 2011, after 8,000kms over 12 months.

Allow me to introduce myself – I am Steve McQueen, recently escaped from the cooler. Well, I’m not really, I’m a 45 year old surveyor, but the KTM990SMR makes me feel like a modern day version!

Enough of that, what about the bike??

The Good:

The KTM is a visceral, tactile, agile, high-quality, responsive, engaging, spectacular way to escape the pervasive normality that society attempts to impose. It makes 150mph feel like 300mph, handles the less-than-perfect roads I enjoy better than any sports-bike I’ve owned (45 of them to date, including 1098S, K5, K1, R1, ‘Blade etc, etc) and is comfortable for the short, aggresive sorties into enemy terrain I so enjoy. It could be seen as being little anti-social, but so is Jack Daniels, AC-DC and dating ‘inappropriate’ (my sisters / nieces standard description) women…

Wheelies, drifting, knee-down, peg-down are all possible should you be so inclined, but it cruises too, sort-of. Looks great outside coffee shops, drops the jaw of anyone in the know. 0-60mph / 0-100kmh in around three seconds, if you can keep the front down and rear tyre gripping…top speed 150mph/240kmh with wide ‘bars and no fairing, if your neck muscles can tolerate it…

The Bad:

The tested version is the seriously lovely white SMR, with a full Akropovic titanium system, Brembo monobloc brakes, Marchesini forged magnesium wheels etc. so it is a tad expensive, but hey, you can’t ride money. It’s a little ‘stroppy’ in town and you need to have some clutch control. No wind protection, but it’s usually warm where I deploy this machine, and as it makes every journey a mission, I’m not sure if that’s a con. Fuel economy is the about the same as a sports bike with mpg in the mid to late 30’s (6-7l / 100km) as are the servicing costs.

I’m really looking for something negative to report but this thing rocks, really! If you’re an experienced adrenaline junkie just ride one for ten minutes: it’s a pure smile machine, but not for everyone. Oh, I know, it has a skinny saddle so causes a few aches, but the small fuel tank on this model makes regular breaks a welcome operational requirement. Great ergonomics are the pay-back.

The Summary:

There is no ugly as far as this bike is concerned! This wild machine is a life affirming way of putting the fun back into your day, it’s hard to get bored of unless you commute on wet motorways, but then wouldn’t everything bore you? Don’t buy it for touring, don’t buy it with your head – buy it with your heart and the quality will let you enjoy thrashing it for years. KTM’s are genuinely (Paris-Dakar) tough and if you service them, will last well. Constructed using high-quality components by people who know what they’re doing for committed riders that are ready, willing and able to work for the rewards.

I should point out that I use mine in and around Bucharest, Romania, on gravel roads and up through the serpentine mountain roads, It’s amazing and I can’t think of anything I’d rather have; feels as good to own as it does to ride, and one can even enjoy riding it slowly…allegedly. Attitudes to speed / wheelies / small-plates / loud-pipes and black visors thankfully differ here. I ride over pavements with it, jump across tram tracks, and take my lady for a coffee in the city at night on it – then do a track day at the local kart circuit or scratch up the Transfagerasan highway through the mountains (the road shown on Top Gear) and it copes with the lot.

It’s even done a few longer trips on it to the coast (five hours return) and a long weekend away two-up – all right it’s not a luxo-barge but if you’re hardy and pack light it’s tolerable; the rewards when the curves come are more than worth it. Ah, handling…a different approach is needed, let it move around a little, trust the tyres and (excellent) White Power suspension, stay supple and don’t let the odd movement bother you. It’s character – agility – is your reward.

Score Breakdown


5.0 / 5.0 High torque liquid cooled 999cc V-Twin, 4-valves per cylinder, DOHC, 6-speed sequential transmission, chain final drive.


5.0 / 5.0 Brembo monoblocs answer any question you give them, sensitive but powerful. Rear has enough feel for drifting.


4.0 / 5.0 As good as any naked motorcycle this rider has used, stability of a Ducati, agility of mountain goat and adjustable for all tastes in between.


3.0 / 5.0 Make sure it fits you, long journeys require dedication to the cause. Screens available but just buy something different if this is your priority.

Build Quality:

5.0 / 5.0 A Porsche GT3 on two wheels. Better than a Honda or BMW, you pay for what you get, as residuals testify.

The writer recommends this motorcycle for experienced thrill-seekers who place sensations over pure figures, who want automotive passion tempered with a enough logic to justify the initial outlay.

In the meantime – enjoy these pics below of a different KTM experience: why take the escalator in AFI mall when a motorcycle works just fine? Be sure to drive slowly when first entering the mall, you don’t want to scare the customers….