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#inthisyear1959: Crisis and Shifting Focus


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#inthisyear1959: Crisis and Shifting Focus

Posted in Bikes, History

When the KTM Motohall opens its doors after four years of planning, its three stories will give visitors the opportunity to experience the history of KTM first hand. The second story is dedicated to the development of KTM motorcycles, starting with the 1953 R 100 and KTM’s first engine all the way to the present day. For many years, KTM has been the biggest and brightest European motorcycle manufacturer, but that was not always the case. KTM has found itself in difficult times on several occasions throughout the history of the company, which spans six and a half decades. One such time was the European motorcycle crisis of the late 1950s.


© KTM Motohall GmbH

The post-war period of the early 1950s was defined by a desire for mobility. While owning a car was still out of reach for many people, a motorcycle was a much more affordable option. This was also the reason why KTM’s founder, Hans Trunkenpolz, decided to build a light motorcycle – the R 100 – alongside the industrial production of replacement vehicle parts. Given the conditions of the time, the R 100 was expected to sell well. Just one year later, a second model, the R 125, was produced and the 1000th KTM motorcycle rolled off the production line in 1954. The future was looking bright. 1956 saw the addition of three new models to the KTM range in the shape of the Grand Tourist, the small Tarzan sports bike, and the Mirabell scooter. At the International Six Days Enduro in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, four of the then six-person Austrian Trophy Team rode KTM motorcycles. In the world of road racing, Erwin Lechner flew past all of his competitors on a 4-stroke Apfelbeck KTM.


KTM R 125 1954 © KTM

Just like in the motorbike industry of neighboring Germany, the crisis soon began to take hold at KTM, with sales slumping significantly in the late 1950s. The economic situation in post-war Europe had stabilized enough that many people could now afford a small car and the motorcycle quickly gained a reputation for being a “poor person’s vehicle”. It was the age of the microcar – the Goggomobil, the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller [Messerschmitt Cabin Scooter], and the Zündapp Janus, in which the passengers sat back to back, all became popular, despite how absurd they may seem to our modern eyes. The increasing popularity of cars drove many German motorcycle manufacturers into bankruptcy.

A large order from the Austrian armed forces for a military version of the “Mustang” came as a huge relief for KTM and saved the company from a terrible fate, though the company’s motorsport activities had to be called off for cost reasons. While the Grand Tourist, Trophy, Tarzan, and Mustang motorcycles were nevertheless exhibited at the 1959 Vienna Spring Fair, it was already becoming clear that KTM would have to stop building motorcycles. The only new development on show was the redesigned Mecky moped with a Sachs engine, which was now a two-seater. This was a hint towards the future direction of KTM. Unlike in the motorcycle market, an increase in sales of 50 cc mopeds that did not need a driving license was expected.


KTM Trophy 1959 © KTM

In 1959, KTM entered into a partnership with ZKW, a Viennese manufacturer of vehicle components, when ZKW took over KTM co-owner Ernst Kronreif’s stake in the company after his death, thus becoming the majority shareholder. This motivated the switch from engines made by Rotax and Sachs to engines made by their Austrian competitor, Puch, one of ZKW’s biggest customers and the leading player in the Austrian moped sector. Only export models continued to use Sachs engines.

The first new model to be released after the crisis was the 1960 “Ponny moped”, a successor of the Mecky. With its distinctive twin headlamps, tail fin, and two-tone paint, the Ponny was the most elegant moped on the market at the time – it was practically a limousine on two wheels. However, for the youth of the day, the moped was not exciting enough, especially as it was advertised as a ladies moped. They longed for “sporty little machines” like the Tarzan from the 1950s, according to market research conducted by the Austrian dealers. For this reason, developing a new 50 cc moped that looked like a motorcycle became a top priority, in the hope that it would help the company gain back some ground from its main competitor, Puch. This was the push KTM needed to develop the Comet range, which went into series production in 1964 and was a huge hit right from the start. The Comet bikes, which were equipped as usual with Puch engines for the domestic market and with Sachs engines for export models, helped KTM to gain back a significant share of the market from Puch. With hindsight, taking the decision more than sixty years ago to stop producing motorcycles in favor of 50 cc models seems to have been a strategically wise thing to do. The redesigned Ponny II moped was sold until 1988 – it was certainly no one-trick pony. A variety of Comet moped and light motorcycle models were part of the KTM range until the 1980s.

Ponny 1960 Comet 1964

KTM Ponny 1960 © KTM

In the KTM Motohall visitors can experience the history of Europe’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer at first hand, starting with the R 100, the first KTM motorcycle from 1953, through the elegant mopeds and sporty 50 cc models of the 1960s and the successful Enduro and Motocross bikes, all the way to the present day.

A special story is dedicated to the KTM Heroes, where visitors can see the KTM world championship-winning bikes and get to know the champions themselves, who can be seen in their original riding gear. There are plenty of reasons to visit the KTM Motohall in Mattighofen!


© KTM Motohall GmbH

Photos: KTM Motohall GmbH | KTM


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      PC @PolarityPhotoIs your ‘world’ just a series of markers and rear wheels and distance?
      “I think it is like driving on the highway: you have a car next to you and in front of you and that becomes the reference, you know? Apply that but three-four times faster! At least that’s how your brain operates.”
      Does the level of speed reach a point where you don’t notice if you are going much faster?
      “Speed, for us, is not something you can tell too much with feeling. Once we are on the straight then we are tucked in and out of the wind. When it comes to sitting up and braking then the feeling you have from very high speed is that you are not going to stop! The first half-a-second when you roll-off and grab the brake and head into the corner, in that short moment your brain is like ‘Argh! Maybe I’m not going to stop’ but then, obviously, you get used to having that sensation. I think your brain just gets used to processing images and handling that speed. Braking from 320 or from 280 is a very small margin. You cannot tell the difference.”
      KTM racer and recent race winner Brad Binder finished fourth in the first of the Austrian double-header and is congratulated by KTM AG CEO Stefan Pierer. PC @PolarityPhotoWhat about tackling the limits at a place like Red Bull Ring?
      “Red Bull Ring with the fans is something really special. Riding for KTM you feel that way. Also, you feel like you are riding around a very old layout but with the modern-day needs of a racetrack. Everything is beautifully done: the tarmac is really smooth, hardly any bumps. It’s a privilege to ride a MotoGP bike there.”
      The buzz of the KTM fans will be missing this year but it’s still an important home GP for the Austrian manufacturer.
      PC @PhilipPlatzerYou can still be a part of the Grand Prix der Steiermark on August 23rd thanks to the KTM Fan Package. Click here to see the details and hurry while stocks last.
      To find out about KTM’s special 2021 ticket offer, The Ultimate Orange MotoGP Experience, please click here.
      Fans can stay READY TO RACE with the KTM Fan Package – available from authorized KTM dealers
      PC @KTM
    • De Dementor
      Posted in Racing A major milestone in KTM’s racing history has been reached. KTM can now class themselves as MotoGP race winners thanks to Brad Binder’s incredible victory in Brno, Czech Republic. Binder has smashed expectations and stamped himself firmly in the history books – this achievement is the Austrian manufacturer’s first win in the premier class, South Africa’s first MotoGP victory, and Binder took the top step of the podium in only his third race aboard the KTM RC16. Incredible, isn’t it?
      Brad Binder flies to his and KTM’s first ever MotoGP victory in Brno, Czech Republic.
      PC @PolarityPhotoIt was a 21 lap thriller of a race and it should definitely be noted that the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider, who won a Moto3TM title in 2016 and was second overall in Moto2 TM last season, is the first rookie to win a MotoGP race since 2013 – that rider was Marc Marquez, who is widely classed as the current benchmark and multi-time MotoGP champion. Binder’s victorious race was a calculated ride from seventh on the grid, and the 24-year-old navigated his way to the front of the field aboard his KTM RC16 before stretching out a comfortable advantage for his maiden win.
      Binder worked his way to the front of the field from seventh on the grid.
      PC @PolarityPhotoAfter the race Brad said: “Honestly, right now, I’m lost for words. I’ve dreamt of this since I was a little boy and today it came true. It is amazing to win my first GP [in MotoGP]. Thank you to everybody who supported me, and the whole team; they put an insane motorcycle beneath me today! I didn’t know if we could win but I knew we would have a go. It was the craziest ten laps of my life at the end. I was being as soft as I could. It was incredible. Unbelievable.”
      It’s a huge team effort – KTM takes a first MotoGP victory in its fourth year in the series.
      PC @PolarityPhotoHaving come through the ranks with KTM from the Red Bull KTM MotoGP TM Rookies Cup, Moto3, Moto2 and finally MotoGP, Binder achieves KTM’s vision of providing a pathway for riders right up to the top tier of racing, the pinnacle of two-wheeled motorsport. Teammate Pol Espargaró was unfortunate on the day not to be fighting for the win as he fell during a battle for third place; it should be noted here that the Spaniard has been pivotal in KTM’s MotoGP project and the KTM RC16’s development, having been involved from early on in the program. It’s KTM’s fourth year in the series, and with the help of test riders Mika Kallio and Dani Pedrosa, the Austrian manufacturer has certainly stepped up another level in 2020. But it’s unlikely anybody would have believed Binder would win so soon in his premier class career – in celebration let’s take a look at some of the images from BRAD’S BIG DAY!
      Brad Binder and the KTM RC16 at Brno, Czech Republic.
      PC @PolarityPhotoAfter hitting the front with nine laps to go, Binder stretched out a comfortable advantage.
      PC @PolarityPhotoAn emotional and historic moment for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team as Binder takes KTM’s first ever MotoGP victory.
      PC @PolarityPhotoBinder climbs onto the MotoGP podium for the first time.
      PC @PolarityPhotoBinder took a first premier class victory in only his third ever MotoGP race.
      PC @PolarityPhotoBinder scored victories in Moto2 to take runner-up in the series in 2019.
      PC @GoldAndGooseBinder won the Moto3 championship with the Red Bull KTM Ajo team in 2016.
      PC @KTMKTM’s next MotoGP outing is at the manufacturer’s ‘home race’ at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria where the teams will be looking to put on a show for all the fans at home. To show your support why not consider a KTM Fan Package so you can #STAYREADYTORACE from wherever you’ll be watching from! Visit your authorized dealer for more information or click here.