KTM bikes are now a totally different company to KTM motorcycles, but they share the same Austrian hometown, and the Bark proves you don’t need an engine to enjoy the trails.
Ride & handling: Tight tracking but not a technical heavyweight
The heavy unsprung wheel weight and the long, low chainstays noticeably affect suspension action, with the back end slapping into square edges and slowing, rather than moving up and back to suck them up and sustain speed. It can also get out of its depth trying to respond to multiple hits, and these will eventually find the limits of the Sektor fork, too.
While the angles are fine for an aggro trail bike, the short front, long back and high bottom bracket proportions of the Bark make it feel upright and pitch-prone, rather than low and ready to plough through stuff.
The bars are definitely lacking in leverage when the trail starts to bully you about, and we found ourselves really having to brace to tip the tall ride height into corners or keep it on line in rodeo moments. This all means that long, random rock gardens definitely aren’t its favourite food and it’s not a natural manual or lofted drop machine.
The plush forks and fat tyres mean surefooted ground connection though, and the back end is supple and smooth over smaller stuff. The frame is stiff too, so once you’re used to the narrower bar and ‘forward control’ handling and position, you can whip the KTM through tight, twisty tree sections quick sharp without taking any Bark off.
On technical climbs the long back/short front keeps the nose anchored for steering traction, while the high bottom bracket means loads of pedalling clearance for keeping the power on.
The extra length of the back of the bike actually seems to drive forward on the bounce if you’re pedalling with the lock-out off. The instant saddle stowage of the Reverb post makes keeping momentum on steep uphill and downhill trails much easier too, although the heavy bike weight means that your legs are going to boil over pretty fast if you’re really pushing the pace.
Frame & equipment: Forward position and narrow bars, but sluggish wheels
KTM have certainly worked hard to give their Bark frame a neat, contemporary look. A tapered head tube and 142x12mm screw-through dropouts tighten up front and rear tracking. The big colour-coded rocker link is a neatly dovetailed two-piece construction with a broad back end for excellent mud clearance, even with a 2.4in tyre.
Internally routed gear cables disappear into staggered blister ports on the S-curved down tube before popping out ahead of the bottom bracket to run neatly along the chainstays. There are bolt-on guides for the Reverb dropper post hose and a neat chainstay mounted rear brake too. The Pro Damping System mounts the bottom of the shock onto the long, forward, low pivot chainstays to give a more linear spring rate.
There are no ISCG mounts, but you can sandwich a plate mount behind the conventional screw-in bottom bracket cups if you need to. The under-BB bottle cage mount is almost certainly the daftest we’ve ever seen, though, so it’s good there’s a normal one on the down tube.
The RockShox Reverb dropper post plugged into the super chunky seat collar is the obvious spec highlight of the Bark, and underlines its serious tech trail focus.
Don’t think the cheap Sektor RL fork that’s effectively paid for it is a problem, either. Its super smooth coil-sprung internals and tight tracking 15mm axled structure mean it’s probably our favourite RockShox trail fork.
The triple-ring setup – rather than double-and-bash – on the Shimano SLX cranks is a hint at the KTM’s trail rather than super techy focus, but they’re still super tough, cost-effective performers, and the XT rear mech upgrade is a nice touch.
The crooked lever SLX brakes are absolutely outstanding performers and the finned Ice-Tec pads are properly Alp-proof too, if you wanted to take the KTM back to somewhere near its birthplace.
But while the stem is nice and short, the Truvativ bars are on the narrow side for a big bike. And although the big footprint and extra grip are welcome, the fat tyred wheels weigh an absolute ton. Added to the heavy fork and frame they make the Bark relatively chunky, and it rapidly begins to show on arms and legs if you’re manhandling it round tight techy trails or up steep climbs.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.