As I wait for my bag at the conveyor belt I suddenly become aware that no less than eight men around me are rocking bum-bags, most have their T-shirts tucked in. Three of them flash sock-clad toes from leather sandals and one guy is hitting up the tie-dye… Yep, I’m in Germany.
I’m here to get a sneak peek at the latest range of bikes from one of Europe’s biggest bike brands. Strangely though, KTM have never ventured their mountain bikes into the UK market.
That’s all set to change however when they launch their 2009 range at the London Cycle Show in October. So 13 hours ago I left Bath and headed for the Alps.
First things first, if you know anything about motorcycles or motorcycle racing you’ll undoubtedly have heard of the Austrian marque. If you’re even more of a petrolhead/geek and are up to date with your European endurance racing you’ll know they can build a pretty rapid racing car too.
However, the bikes I’m confronted with upon my arrival at their HQ in the hills above Salzburg have nothing to do with their motorised namesakes.
After some past financial turmoil KTM as a company was broken down into it’s separate divisions which were each in turn, sold off. The respective new owners then decided to keep the brand name and identity to help strengthen their new business’ under one corporate umbrella.
Despite having nothing to do with KTM‘s motor-sport thoroughbreads the bikes look good, very good. They really stand out as complete packages as opposed to cobbled together marketing after-thoughts. These are serious mountain bikes built for racing as opposed to being an optional extra on a car dealers checklist.
Once inside, everything is automatic. You walk into a room and lights flick on, air-con breezes into life and blinds flit open. Outside a massive wheat field sprawls towards the mountains in the distance in the baking 37 degree heat.
The company feels typically Austrian, it holds a lot of the precision engineered precision and clinical design of it’s Germanic neighbor but there is also an air of quirkiness too. On the production line for example each of KTM‘s 700 bicycles a day is assembled by teams of two; one man, one women. It’s explained to us that some processes in bicycle building require ‘delicate fingers’ whilst others require ‘strong arms’. Simple.
The twenty or so teams are currently hurriedly bolting together a large order of bikes for the global sweety giants, Haribo. Other oddities include some Homer Simpson graphics on their top of the range cross country full-susser, the Score and a head of design obsessed with Austin Montegos…
In the testing facilities we got to see both the Score and their new carbon hardtail frame on the in-house designed test rigs where they get given double the industry standard of pounding. Fail that and it’s back to the drawing board.
Next up was the 110 point, German only presentation. One hour and 3 filter coffees later I emerge and can’t wait to get my riding kit on and hammer some bikes.
The nearby test track is very short and consists of a long, steepening climb followed by a techy downhill section. Straight out of the van I nabbed the full-on downhill machine, the Tribute. My first problem came shortly after turn in to the first corner on the aforementioned downhill section. It was probably the coffee but I was a bit keen and hadn’t realised the brakes were set-up ‘Euro’ style i.e the wrong way round. Cue what was supposed to be a healthy back end slide into a pretty unhealthy high-side over the front clipped in…
After a dusting off and a bit of alan key waggling I’m sorted and pinning it on the Tribute. It’s certainly a very capable downhill bike with a raked out front end and a supple back end which although super-plush can be scooped up really easily. It lifts it’s feet out of corners well too getting you back up to speed in no time. I’m already looking forward to getting a test bike on flats over to the UK.
The hooliganism is followed by a couple of more sedate runs on the long-travel trail-machine, the Prowler. It too seems spot-on and just lets you get on with riding whilst it irons things out underneath you. I could see this working well down the trail centres.
It’s now full-on water bottle over the head hot so it’s into the van and back to the hotel for a cold shower and a colder beer.
So to finish, KTM make some seriously good bikes that work as well as they look. UK prices and dealerships are yet to be confirmed but if you’re in the market for something a little different that’s built by people who love bikes then you could do a lot worse in 2009…