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Moving to the other side of the stopwatch: Tyla Rattray


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Moving to the other side of the stopwatch: Tyla Rattray

After a distinguished racing career in MXGP and AMA Supercross and Motocross, 2008 MX2 World Champion Tyla Rattray jumped away from a motorcycle at the end of 2015 and straight into a role as protégé to famed trainer and fellow countryman Aldon Baker and to head up the KTM AG’s 250 rider development program in Florida. We asked about the rapid change of life from racing at the top to preparing others to do the same …

At 32 years of age Tyla Rattray does not look too different from the wide-eyed sixteen year old that made an immediate impression as a KTM rider in 125cc Grands Prix in 2001. The incredible wear-and-tear and sizeable catalog of injury in a fourteen year career means that the Florida-based father of three (with wife Sam) can sometimes feel the punishment of all those motos and dismounts. But the South African keeps a spring in his step (and a physique that indicates he could still gun a 250 4-stroke to a respectable lap-time) thanks to an alternative challenge inside the sport.

In 2004 Rattray finished as world championship runner-up in MX2 with a KTM 125 SX. In 2008 he used the 4-stroke KTM 250 SX-F to claim the title and then sought further race-winning glory in the United States, earning runner-up finishes in the 250 MX series in 2010 and 2011. A dalliance in MXGP in 2014 and 2015 brought his riding days to a close but the spark with KTM thanks to the works Troy Lee Design 250 Factory Team was reignited. Rattray, who trained with Aldon Baker as an athlete, then hooked-up with the revered specialist once more … but in a different capacity.


Tyla Rattray (RSA) Atlanta (USA) 2018 © James Lissimore Photography

Rattray’s personal self-orientated perspective of racing has widened to incorporate five other riders, mostly on the TLD program, and from the confines of the exclusive Baker’s Factory on the east coast. There are not too many other world champions and AMA national race winners active in such a capacity in the Supercross and Motocross paddock.

‘Styla’ was renowned for his work ethic as an athlete and ‘un-showy’ approach to his racing. That he knows the hard graft necessary for the job is beyond doubt but whether he can transmit that – and all of his vast international competition experience – onto impressionable youngsters is another matter. KTM, TLD and Baker believe steadfastly in his potential but it felt timely to ask some questions.

As per usual Rattray can be found friendly, accessible and open to conversation and debate. He is now a much more articulate speaker than those awkward first years in Grand Prix and the maturing effects of fatherhood and the highs-and-lows of Motocross have helped shape a rounded character.

Tyla, how difficult was the transition from being a rider to a trainer?
“Basically since I was five years old all I’ve known is to ride and race. It starts as fun, becomes a profession and then is a job. We all know this sport doesn’t last forever as a racer. It has to come to an end sometime. When it’s over you almost sit back and think ‘wow … this chapter has finished. The book is closed. What’s next in life?’ I always wanted to get into training and I tried to learn as much as I could when I was racing. I was learning about my body and what worked best. KTM and TLD were looking for someone to help their guys and Aldon is obviously the man when it comes to training in this sport and there is only a certain number of guys he can take. They wanted to find someone to help and with my history with Aldon for five-six years I had a lot of knowledge about putting-in the right kind of work and how important things like rest can be. There are no shortcuts in this sport and you have to do the work to get the results. It wasn’t like I was waiting around for a while to see what I’d do; I came back from Europe and started with these guys almost right away. I’ve been learning again and it has been a great transition.”

What about changing that mentality of a racer and only having to worry about one person to suddenly thinking about the surroundings of five other guys?
“That’s a thing about being a racer – especially one that wins – they are very selfish. It is all about them. When I was racing in Europe and I won the world championship then it was all about me. Afterwards I was trying to win national championships and it was the same. I knew I’d need to take a step back away from that … and I think a lot of people don’t like doing that. They still want some of the limelight. My goal now is to help these athletes be the best they can be and get to their full potential: it’s a great opportunity. Especially at the Baker´s Factory. I wish I had something like that when I was racing: this exclusive facility with the best tracks, track guys and infrastructure. It is first-class. And for any rider to compete against that is very tough. We have seen good results through the 450 program and now we have the whole 250 division and it is all about them now and not about me any more. I’m trying to get my experiences and mistakes across and help the riders minimize their own mistakes.”


Tyla Rattray (RSA) Atlanta (USA) 2018 © James Lissimore Photography

Did having children help with that ability to get some distance from the intensity of racing?
“Yeah. We had Brooke in 2010 and I wouldn’t change anything about that. It is fun to go to the track, do the work and come home to a bundle of joy. It was good for me and it motivated me. People say having children can be a distraction but if anything it motivated me to keep pushing and getting results. I had a family to provide for. Then we had Brody and then Blake, so three now! It would be pretty crazy to be racing now with three kids. The timing worked out perfectly.”

Was that also ‘schooling’ for how to handle the different personalities of younger riders? Everyone has their own quirks and ways to interact …
“Definitely and the kids coming through will only get younger 18, 19, 20 because that’s the whole deal with KTM, the facility and program to attract the kids from amateurs and develop them through the 250 scheme. Those first years as a pro, that’s when riders learn the most. The goal is obviously for them to win championships and then step over to the 450 program. You have to be hard sometimes. I’ll be 33 at the end of the year and I feel that this age gap is pretty good. I think there is that ‘respect’ factor and it’ll help moving forwards because I think with a group closer in age then the respect is not really there as much as dealing with someone that is a lot older. You also see it on Aldon’s side and the way the riders respect him. I think it grows every year because the age gap parts ways. I think the whole structure is still quite new to us and the communication channels will only improve because if a guy comes through the 250 side and heads into his 450 program then Aldon will want all possible information on him to see where he is at and what kind of ‘loads’ he can handle. I need to work on that: to really keep track of these guys on a daily basis.”

“It’s a dangerous sport and we want to be a prepared as we can be but a kid in the amateurs will see the riders on TV, the fireworks, the show, the money … and Supercross is only getting bigger.”

Aldon is renowned for his program and the discipline and commitment it requires. You obviously went through that and people might wonder ‘why do – or go near it – again?!’ How is the relationship between you both now?
“Well, we have a business down there in Florida and like any business you want it to grow and be successful, be bigger and better. That’s what he has been doing. I feel we have some more challenges on the 250 side because the guys coming in are slightly newer to it all; whether that’s Supercross or even a set of whoops and there have been a few crashes. Just before we came out to California for the start of Supercross Aldon had to spend thousands on a new machine just to fix and take better care of the whoops for the kids. It is a business that is evolving and I’m sure it will get better but we’re at the baby steps stage at the moment. Aldon and I have a good relationship. He has never really had an issue with me in terms of commitment, even when I was riding with him as I’d always put-in the work and he never had cause to doubt that. I was maybe not the best rider in terms of skills and technique but I got the job done. It is the same now with being a trainer. I am all-in and I want the guys to win championships and look to the 450s.”

Do you feel a bit like a rookie again? What worked for you might not work for Shane and you need to adjust to someone else’s needs …
“Yeah, I’m still learning but the basic fact underlying everything is that the work has to be done: the motos, the graft and the belief. You cannot think for a second that it will be easy. Every athlete is different and I’m learning about that. Some can recover quicker than others and obviously the younger ones have that ‘kid power’. My plate is not too full and I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to lose careful track of these guys. It is a monitoring process almost on a daily basis. It would be easy to copy-paste and email out fitness programs – you could do that for a hundred guys – but to give the right load it has to be day-by-day even down to sleep patterns and regular heart rates.”

“Rolling out at a Supercross is scary but when you are in the gate then your focus is on racing and you black everything [else] out. When I did my first A1 I was like ‘Holy Smokes! This is crazy!’ and I got on the podium; so you have a different switch ‘upstairs’. Racing has a different type of focus and it is something I miss.”

What about the mental side and the adversity of professional sport? You have your own experience but can you read or learn more to help with that aspect of the job?
“I’ve done a lot of research on it. The main issue is the variety of athletes: some are very strong mentally and others need a bit more of a helping hand. It is crazy to see how different they are but then watch when they go on the track and how close and similar are the lap-times. There is a special mentality to racing. I’m learning to help them be the best they can be when it comes to race day … but being down there in Florida they are already ahead of the game. This game is not easy. If it was then there would be a lot more professional motorcycle racers. There are only three podium spots. Many of the guys are already mentally strong. They know how to play the game and to have their head in the right place.”

Is it interesting to see how people go about the job? You would have seen teammates and friends in race teams in the past but now you have a very overall view of a spread …
“Yeah, all kinds. Some guys are really talented and coordinated and it all comes easier to them whereas others struggle to get the rhythm. At the end of the day the guys still come down there and give 100% effort and that’s what we want. It doesn’t matter one day if they are fastest or two seconds off the pace, we just want them to use their potential and do the best they can. It is also hard because you cannot expect a kid to jump out of amateurs and go straight into winning 250 SX main events. You’ll have guys in their mid-late twenties winning those races and there is a big gap to breach there. The kids need to be mature. An eighteen-nineteen year old coming into pros has to be like a normal twenty-four/twenty-five year old. They have to quickly gain experience in just a few months. The young guys at the Factory can also learn from the slightly older ones to work on their consistency at a younger age.”


Tyla Rattray (RSA) Atlanta (USA) 2018 © James Lissimore Photography

Do you think kids are a lot more switched on now?
“I think they have to be if you see where the sport is going. When I was winning in Europe it was on 125cc 2-strokes. Back then we thought ‘wow, these are fast’. We were eighteen then and the kids at the same age now have even faster bikes and 250 4-strokes. We’d have something like 38hp and think ‘we’re crushing it …’ now they’ll have 50+ with better traction and torque. The human body and its limits have not really changed … but the bikes have. Physically there is almost no time off when it comes to racing in the US and kids need to have so much strength. Add to that the gap from the kids coming through to the riders that are winning races and championships can be about eight years. So there is still a long way to go before making an impression in the 250s and transitioning into the 450s. Age and experience: it is the big separator.”

“There are a lot of factors that play a huge part in being successful in this sport. You cannot just dip in-and-out like it is golf or something.”

Can you imagine being seventeen again now and doing this?
“I was on a 125 when I was eighteen! You have seventeen year olds on fast, factory 250 4-strokes and I think the injuries now are more severe than back in the day. You are hitting the deck at higher speed. We try and develop these kids to have the strength and stamina so that when they do turn pro and head into Supercross at eighteen-nineteen they can go the distance. You want them to have confidence as well and not just get crunched every weekend. You want them to stay healthy, get the best out of them and get their mind in the game – if they are winning in amateurs then they will want to win in the pros too – but that’s tough! And how does that translate into the years they need? They need to take steps and climb that ladder.”

You talk about educating them on mistakes. Give an example of one you made: would it be something to do with racecraft or decision-making?
“Hmm, mistakes like when you are under pressure. When you should be focusing on yourself. It can be easy to lose concentration and get involved with another rider on the track that then messes your race up. Steam might be coming out of your eyes and you want go hunting for that guy at the next race because he messed up your podium position. You have to let the race come to you. If you are eighteen and a twenty-six year old who is fighting for the championship overtakes you then follow him, instead of trying a reckless pass in the next turn and crashing and paying for it. So it can be racecraft and polishing it as well.”


Tyla Rattray (RSA) Atlanta (USA) 2018 © James Lissimore Photography

Lastly is 450 SX the biggest stage for a racer? Is that what you drink-in the most as a pro?
“Once it gets down to the 450 division and making the podium there in Supercross then it is a big deal. When it comes to fans and all that then I still love the Euro scene. It is a lot different. The GPs are really professional with their podiums and setup. The crowds go a bit crazy; if you are in France fighting a French guy for the win then the atmosphere is insane. I miss that side of racing and I had a great time in Europe as well as the US.”

Photos: James Lissimore Photography


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      “We know he can go fast with what we have given him, and sometimes new riders can get lost if you give them too much to go in their own way. Firstly, he needs to live up to the abilities of the bike and then we can do more. He is demanding and he knows what he wants.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      Don’t underestimate the role and experience of the team in smoothing Vialle’s transition to Grand Prix life. For Gruebel and co the rookie was a different type of project after concentrating on world championship winning pedigree for at least half a decade with Herlings, Tixier, Jonass and Prado. “It cannot be like that every year where you are spoilt by having two title contenders!” Gruebel smiles. “We need to take care of the youngsters and Tom is one of those now but I think he will live up to the billing. It is still exciting because winning is really nice but sometimes also the way to win is just as nice. It is our job to guide and help riders and it is great to see how some develop.”
      Vialle had to contend with a factory bike and while the emphasis has been more on acclimatization rather than development it was still a different set of tools for the youngster to deal with. “On the suspension and the engine; it was not easy to get used to,” he says. “I had to learn a lot about it.”
      “I judge a rider by how hungry they are to get on the bike and if you change something then how they can feel it and give feedback,” Gruebel adds. “If you have a guy that gives good feedback quickly then it is easier to get them moving faster forward because you know the direction. Tom was pretty easy with that.”
      Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      From Vialle’s side the presence of his dad and family – the people who were key and central to his racing before the KTM chance arose – is another factor. Red Bull KTM have witnessed different types of family scenarios; some overbearing parents, some the opposite. With the Vialles the chemistry seems to be promising. “Tom had a good education and is a nice person but he is also very realistic and humble,” says Smets. “They knew from the first day when the contract was signed that this was just the start, and they were not at the top yet. They have their feet on the ground.”
      “It is something very different for the family,” Frederic Vialle observes. “Last year we had a stock bike and were on a privateer team, just me and Tom. So, a factory team is very different: two mechanics, Dirk, Joel and the winter training, living in Lommel … I just keep an eye on Tom now because the organization around him is so good.”
      “Many riders have pressure but we look at it like we have a very good team and a very good motorcycle – the KTM is very fast – and with these tools if you have a good rider then he should make a good result,” he understates.
      “The family situation helps a lot,” stresses Smets. “Even in my day racing I could see how situations with parents could go very wrong and then since retiring and watching young kids then a lot more. Ok, it’s not easy to be a mum or dad of a sports guy that is at a high level but the Vialles are very stable and they know that hard work is the only way to ‘get there’. It is not flashy bikes or equipment or a Red Bull helmet that will make you win: It is the hard work that will decide if you make it or not.”
      Vialle family Pietramurata (ITA) 2019 © Ray Archer
      What next? Vialle has already caused a stir with his results. “That surprised me a lot and clearly he is making a big improvement, coming from the European Championship it is not easy to already be so good in the first two rounds,” Tony Cairoli said of Vialle’s first podium walk at round two. “I’m really happy for him and I hope he can continue in this stride and be on the podium a lot more: I think he can do it, he is very technical and focused and I don’t see many mistakes.”
      The team are still being protective. “We shouldn’t make the mistake to create too high expectations,” warns Smets. “We must have realistic goal setting.” There is also frank awareness of his weakness (his level of English is another area to work on). “He maybe has the same problems that Jorge had in 2017,” Gruebel assesses. “He is riding good and has talent but maybe does not have the strength yet to push all the way until the end of the race. If he has a good start then he can run up front for a while and hold on as long as he can. In his first year Jorge won four GPs but also didn’t finish four GPs. He wasn’t strong enough but he also developed and the more he races the better he’ll get.”
      “He has a very nice style and is a good starter but just needs to improve his speed,” opines Vialle Senior. “The gap between EMX and GP is seen in the strength of the riders and the physical condition. The bike is very fast and he needs time to adapt. He will take so much experience in the next months. I think he has the speed over one lap and he has the technique but because everything is so new for him he needs as much racing as possible … and to avoid the crashes.”
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F Matterley Basin (GBR) 2019 © Ray Archer
      In the first phases of MXGP in 2019 Red Bull KTM are again flying. Prado is undefeated, Cairoli holds the red plate and Vialle has, amazingly, stepped up to be their peer. It is a slightly surprising situation for the racing team and the management but not an unusual one considering the impact of their former racers. Somehow the magic keeps being mixed.
      Photos: Ray Archer | P. Haudiquert
    • De Dementor
      Getting into MotoGP™
      Posted in People, Racing Breaking into the high profile but highly-occupying MotoGPTM paddock is understandably tough (it’s the peak of motorcycle sport after all) so we decided to ask John Eyre, one of our Red Bull KTM technicians, about making it as a mechanic.
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      One of the hallmarks of 21st century life to date has been the increased ease to self-market. Social media, networking platforms and recruitment websites mean that it is possible to make shortcuts and directly target the vocational niche of your choosing.
      While there are still no substitutes for experience, contacts and knowledge, the possibilities to break into a desired field like MotoGPTM racing can seem a little clearer. There are even specific ‘race engineering academies’ that can train an aspiring mechanic in the processes and demands of preparing competition-spec equipment. In Spain ‘schools’ like the Monlau facility in Barcelona now have an element of prestige.
      There are different ways in. Alex Merhand, part of Miguel Oliveira’s Tech3 crew, studied and qualified as a data engineer, served his ‘laptop apprenticeship’ for two years for a factory team in MXGP and then graduated to MotoGPTM. On the other side of the ‘entry coin’ is John Eyre, a Brit now three years in Red Bull KTM as a mechanic looking after one of Johann Zarco’s KTM RC16s. Almost two decades in MotoGPTM John submerged himself in the scene by working part-time for a local rider in the British Superbike series. “The best thing to do now is to get a good qualification if you want to be working with data or electronics but if you want to be a mechanic then you just have to get experience and see if you can find someone that will take you on for weekends,” he says. “Do your studies during the week and get to the track at weekends. A lot of people at BSB will do that.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & Adam Wheeler (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre started his journey as an eager kid obsessed by bikes. “Everybody asks ‘how did you start?’. Well I began working at races in the British Championship for a guy in the 250 series who was from the same village as me. Instead of taking holidays I went racing on the weekends. That was between 1993 and 1998 mainly as a kid.”
      “My Dad used to race grass track, road racing and vintage bikes – I have vintage bikes at home – so it was a bit of a passion thing [inherited] from him,” he says. “I did a bit of racing but you quickly realize that it’s expensive and if you crash then you still need to go to work on a Monday morning. So, I went more into mechanic-ing and the technical side.”
      KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      Once in the race paddock then the relationships John made, the work he performed and a particular character towards the job meant he was in a position to start moving: A role working for Paul Brown in Supersport led to a year with Steve Hislop in Superbike and then finally the opening to arrive to Grand Prix at the end of 2000. “Steve was really good and I really enjoyed working with him,” he recalls. “I always wanted to get into Grand Prix and a friend was working at the Shell Advance Team and a job came up. I was thinking about it because I was 21 and it meant moving to Spain. That was 2001 and it was with Leon Haslam in the 500s.”
      As well as a mechanical mind, concentration and diligence seem to be two essential skills. Making a mistake in race bike prep can be perilous but Eyre is quite forthright about the mentality required. “A motorcycle is only nuts and bots: You just have to put it together properly. I always double check everything and was brought up to be extra sure. Then when you are in a team you bounce off each other in terms of the jobs: When that feels easy and second nature then you know you are in a good crew.”
      John Eyre (GBR) KTM RC16 © Rob Gray
      At MotoGPTM level a stripped-down racing prototype looks like a complicated collection of exotic parts and tech. For Eyre and his peers it is all relative. “It is technical … but the bike still has two wheels, two handlebars, a seat! I have worked on a lot of bikes; 2-strokes and a lot of engine stripping. Nowadays you get an engine and you just place it in the chassis. Before you had to do all the maintenance yourself with the pistons, rings, cranks: That was almost a daily job. I miss working inside the engine: the gearbox, cylinders. We used to build everything but now it is just placement of the engine, there is even a specific guy just for the gearbox.”
      “When new stuff comes you have to have a little look and think about it … but generally if it is made right and properly then it should go together nicely,” he adds on the evolution of parts and ideas in MotoGPTM.
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Eyre could be the best spannerman in the business but a crucial part of his job (and something anyone looking to reach his position should be aware of) is blending with his co-workers – around 5-6 in the immediate vicinity – and making the best team environment. “I think you have to be easy-going with everybody,” he says of the personality needed to spend so many days and hours on the road and in pitboxes. “You have to be open-minded and then you’ll warm to them and them to you. We have a new Crew Chief this year and he has been absolutely brilliant.”
      He spent more than ten years at HRC (as part of the unit around KTM’s new test rider Dani Pedrosa, “I’d worked with Mike [Leitner] for about nine years and I was looking for a different challenge”) and this was a big marker on his CV. It meant that his name and face was firmly entrenched in the MotoGPTM scene: Another boost to employment prospects. “It’s not easy,” he smiles of making contacts and the ‘networking’ element of breaking into the paddock. “I remember one guy telling me it was easier to get in the Arsenal football club first eleven than it was to get into our team in BSB!”
      Knowing the job, being good with people (thus building contacts) and having the disposition to handle a race situation: If a wannabe mechanic still believes they are suitable then the next step is persistence. “What you cannot beat is race experience,” Eyre stresses. “You can have all the qualifications under the sun but that experience counts for a lot. The group really matters as well. When you have a good group of lads then you tend to know what they want before they know themselves and vice-versa. There are a lot of shortcuts and it seems to click.”
      John Eyre (GBR) & co-workers © Rob Gray
      To achieve any goal takes sacrifice. Reaching MotoGPTM might be a promised land for many but, as with anything “you have to take the rough with the smooth,” Eyre says. Nineteen weekends of racing on five continents plus tests means a long haul of kilometers on the road and in the air, and many days away from home. Much of the work formerly done in workshops is also carried out in the pitboxes of the circuits.
      “The travelling is massive. There has to be a compromise now because if they keep putting more and more races then there won’t be an off-season. I remember when I first started Grands Prix then we didn’t begin racing until April and we’d have a test in Malaysia and Jerez and that was it. Now we start the day after the last race of the year! Testing is hard work compared to racing. The travelling can be a burden but if you want to be in the world championship then you have to deal with it. I enjoy the job when I’m here.”
      Above all – and like the riders themselves and anybody else striving for results at elite level sport – Eyre says commitment and determination is what will help you make it in the end. “If you are into it then just keep trying and don’t give up,” he insists. “You have to have a passion for it. I remember being at school and saying that I wanted to go grand prix racing. Half of the teachers said ‘you won’t do anything like that’ but if you keep your head down and carry on …”
      John Eyre (GBR) © Rob Gray
      Photos: Rob Gray 
    • De Dementor
      Switchcraft: Ride modes for your mood
      Posted in Bikes, Riding KTM BLOG discovers more about the host of electronic rider aids on the new KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R, including the new riding modes easily operated by the push of a button.
      KTM 690 SMC R & KTM 690 ENDURO R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      A psycho supermoto and a long-distance enduro that are both high performance, big capacity single cylinders that are hardcore and street legal. These distinctive attributes aren’t commonplace in the motorcycle market and require a certain character who wants one. And these are the characters KTM likes building bikes for.
      Creating such unique machines around the various regulations placed on manufacturers isn’t easy. But for the new KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R, both bikes didn’t just get updated for compliance but had a whole host of new features developed for them.
      A whole host of electronic systems come fitted straight out of the box – ABS with cornering sensitivity, lean-angle sensitive traction control, Quickshifter+ and two different ride modes that can be easily selected from a new bar-mounted switch. The previous versions of these models had ABS and just a switch under the seat to choose from three selectable engine maps (comfort, street, sport) and an additional “bad fuel” map; nice to have the options, but not very practical on the fly …
      ABS has been mandatory (and rightly so) on new motorcycles from 125cc and above in Europe since 2016 but KTM took the opportunity to also fit the cornering ABS function to these bikes – it allows the rider to commit to their line mid-turn and apply full braking power should the unexpected happen. Not a system to rely on at every corner but incredibly comforting to know it’s there. With a KTM PowerParts dongle, Supermoto and Offroad ABS functions are also available, allowing the rear wheel to be blocked and removing the anti-roll function. The ABS can also be completely turned off, if you’re that way inclined …
      The Quickshifter+ is purely performance orientated and makes a big difference to riding comfortable, saving time, mental effort and, of course, energy in everything from flat-out missions to gentle commutes. So, what about traction control? Is it really necessary on a single?
      KTM LC4 MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      Power wise, these bikes take advantage of the increased performance from the latest generation LC4 and, at 74hp, are the most powerful production single cylinder bikes. Very healthy indeed, but not MotoGPTM or KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R leagues. The 690s do, however, make a big punch of torque – 73.5 Nm. This is around 10 Nm less than a modern 1000cc sportsbike in a package that weighs at least a quarter less. Epic fun in the right conditions, but think about that on patchy tarmac or deep mud …
      “The KTM approach to fitting electronic systems has always been the same – to add to the riding performance of the bike and increase safety without diluting the experience,” said KTM Product Manager, Adriaan Sinke, to the world’s media in Portugal at the launch of the two bikes in February. “The ride modes are there to allow riders to get the most from the KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R in all situations and conditions.”
      Indeed. The Mattighofen massive decided to implement motorcycle traction control (MTC) with cornering sensitivity to the KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R. And as part of its two selectable ride modes operated by a new switch cube on the left bar, the amount of traction, anti-wheelie and the throttle response can be quickly altered to suit the riders’ ambition, ability and conditions.
      The layout of the switch is simple and is formed for easy application with gloves on the move. The ‘map’ button at the bottom allows the selection of the two ride modes, which are illuminated when active – white for ‘1’ and green for ‘2’. The map mode can be pressed at any time and after that gives the rider five seconds to close the throttle in order for the desired mode to be activated. The five seconds and chopped throttle is to cover for accidental selection.
      At the top is a ‘TC’ button and also an orange TC-LED, that flashes when the system is detecting and reacting to a slide and, when held down for 5 seconds, deactivates the traction control altogether and remains illuminated.
      Switch cube KTM LC4 MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      So, what are the modes?
      KTM 690 SMC R
      Mode 1: “Street mode” – Sporty throttle response with cornering sensitive MTC, limiting wheel slip and wheelies to a minimum for optimal street riding performance.
      Mode 2: “Sport mode” – More aggressive throttle response, cornering sensitivity remains but with reduced traction control to allow drifts and full control of the slide, aimed at track or very sporty street usage.
      KTM 690 ENDURO R
      Mode 1: “Street mode” – Sporty throttle response with cornering sensitive MTC, limiting wheel slip and wheelies to a minimum for optimal street riding performance.
      Mode 2: “Offroad mode” – More aggressive throttle response with offroad traction control, allowing wheel slip and lifting of the front wheel for offroad usage without hindering the performance.
      KTM 690 SMC R & KTM 690 ENDURO R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      To give you an idea of the level of effort and development put into the new ride modes, this little controller is the first CAN bus related switch for a KTM and represents almost two years of work and the integration of much personnel from the KTM R&D team responsible for these new bikes. We grabbed a quick word with two of those people responsible.
      Thomas Nussbaumer, KTM R&D Team Leader Electronic Sensors/Actuators: “When we started with these new 690s, the questions we asked ourselves was how many modes are necessary. And what options do we have for changing these modes while riding. The challenge was to find an agreement between the modes, implement this in the switch cube and for the rider to be able to change between the modes without much thought. To keep it simple as possible.”
      “It’s the first time a KTM mode switch is communicating via CAN bus with the engine management control unit and ABS control unit. It’s getting data from the wheel speed sensors, lean angle (5D/6D sensor) sensor and the engine management is getting data from the ride by wire – such as requested torque – then we get the data from which map is requested. On the old versions of these bikes you couldn’t do that while riding. But with this switch we’ve been able to build up the architecture to do this when riding – even with anti-wheelie functions.”
      Daniel Esterbauer, KTM R&D Electronic Sensors/Actuators, continues: “The two ride modes we have are perfect. Take the SMC R for example, we had to focus on two different rider levels: Road riders with less track experience or aspirations and then professional riders who spend a lot of time on circuit. So, we had to find a way to get both parties satisfied and here is where Street and Sport modes deliver excitement, confidence and safety, with their unique response and TC interference.”
      “We wanted to avoid a situation where a professional rider sits on the bike and the first thing they do is deactivate the TC. The system has to perform better than OK for even the best riders – making them feel like they are not being held back. But the modes can also be used to suit the terrain and weather conditions.”
      But what are the modes like in reality? Tom Booth-Amos is a Moto3 rider for the CIP Green Power KTM Team and a former two-time British Supermoto champion. He was invited to the launch and was able to test the ride modes on a very wet Kartódromo Internacional do Algarve circuit. Check out this onboard 360-degree video to see what the conditions and fun level was like.
      “I’d never ridden using traction control before the KTM 690 SMC R but I have to say the system was incredible,” said Tom. “We were on street tires in the rain and I could see the light on the switch cube blinking to tell me the TC was working, but the system was smooth in the way it intervened. Without it, I would have just been stood at the side of the track with a sad face on and not riding, but instead – and with the Supermoto ABS on – I could push the bike hard in the conditions and still slide around.”
      Tom Booth-Amos (GBR) KTM 690 SMC R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      As for the KTM 690 ENDURO R, at the same event a very experienced, fast enduro racer and KTM employee (ED – who shall remain nameless) rode for a whole day mapping out the offroad course for the media on mud and sand, thinking he’d deactivated the traction control when he actually hadn’t. On being told this, he was amazed by the traction he’d been getting all day without ever noticing the system working. How is that for impressive? He was embarrassed …
      KTM 690 ENDURO R MY2019 © Sebas Romero
      So, do riders of these bikes need these features? Well, motorcycling has been around for a long time without them. But if ride modes coupled with a brain that thinks and acts within milliseconds means you get the most from the machine whatever the conditions while having fun and be safer, isn’t it time to make a switch?
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      Discover more about the many features on both the KTM 690 SMC R and KTM 690 ENDURO R at and at the nearest KTM dealer.
      Photos: Sebas Romero
      Video: Fabbegghy Studio