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KTM Makes In-House Frame and Suspension Work … All the Way to MotoGP Victory

KTM uses steel frames and WP suspension on its production bikes as well, such as the 1290 Super Duke R pictured.

KTM has had success at almost every motorcycle racing discipline. It is known most for its off-road successes in motocross, supercross and Dakar, among other categories. When it began to focus on street bikes and roadracing, it stuck with steel frames and the in-house suspension brand WP.

With success at the lower levels of GP racing, KTM chose to compete at the top level in 2017, MotoGP. Going up against the other manufacturers who had spent years, even decades, learning how to compete and win at the highest level of the sport, KTM understandably struggled with an extraordinarily steep learning curve.

Last Sunday at Brno, KTM broke through with its first MotoGP victory. Rookie Brad Binder was aboard the Austrian machine, and the dream of winning at the MotoGP level was finally realized by KTM, its Motorsports Director, Pit Beirer and its CEO, Stefan Pierer.

KTM stuck with its own design philosophy in developing a MotoGP bike. Using a steel frame and WP suspension, an in-house brand, it stayed the course when critics said it needed an aluminum frame and Öhlins suspension to be successful at this level – the approach taken by the competitors finishing ahead of KTM at the start of this project.

Check out this interview with Beirer over on Crash.net for insights on KTM’s MotoGP development curve and reaction to the success of Binder.

32 Comments

  1. Steve Donkers says:

    Its curious that no one has yet mentioned that the pictured frame is not a MotoGP frame. I’m no KTM expert, but I’m assuming its a SuperDuke or similar, no beams and single sided swingarm.

  2. Tom R says:

    This is an aberration. Marquez will return, the other teams will rebound from an off week, and KTM will return placing the norm of placing 6th through 12th, well off the winning pace.

  3. Curtis says:

    Wow, great job BB and KTM. I’m a KTM fan and I never thought they’d win this soon. I’m sure there’s a very interesting story in there, from an engineering standpoint, but good on Binder and the team, they got it done, full stop. Whether or not you are a KTM fan, if you’re a fan of the sport, when there are more potential winners on Sunday, we all win. Cheers!

    • The article touches on this point a little and you did too – they are Winning at the top-level within 4 years. Great achievement regardless if Marquez is there or not. I love that the fact they are doing it with steel trellis and their own suspension.

  4. Jim says:

    And to think Polaris almost owned them. They really dodged a bullet there!

  5. Mick says:

    I think the “conventional wisdom” that states that motorcycle frames should be made from aluminium is flawed. The same goes for Öhlins suspension.

    Chad Reed became a motocross champion in 2004 on a steel framed Yamaha. The next year on the aluminium framed bike was a disaster. The frames were inconsistent and very sensitive to having parts bolted on them. I actually have both a steel framed and an aluminium framed YZ. The aluminium one does have it’s days. But the steel one has more of those days more often.

    Take a look at the bicycle industry. The cheap bikes are made from aluminium. People will pay extra for well made steel, titanium, or carbon frames. I’m still a junkie for my titanium hard tails and rigids.

    How often to you see someone with Öhlins suspension win an off road event. Spoiler alert, very rarely. The stuff is nice, I have it on my supermoto, but it’s not magic. And it’s no fun at all to work on. The GP teams are running it because other manufacturers haven’t focused on GP. WP now has and, well…

    • TimC says:

      KTM poached an engineer from Ohlins to get the remaining wrinkles of WP worked out.

    • guu says:

      Honda ran Showa suspension (not in-house brand, but a firm with close ties) forever. In the end Öhlins just worked better.

      You won’t see Öhlins at top level motocross team’s bikes because all the japanese manufacturers are close to Kayaba or Showa at the OE level and obviously KTM, Husqvarna and Gas Gas will have WP.

  6. Randy says:

    This Brno result was a shocker! When the wife told me the results and rider, my first thought was, rain race. The paddock and web experts have been blasting steel frames and WP suspension from the beginning. My steel frames have always been my favorite bikes whether dirt(KTM),street (Duc,Buell) or bicycle. I learned a lot about how steel FEELS during my bicycle days after switching from Cannondale to Bianci. double and even triple butted, rifled. They could tune the feel so well as long as they had the welders and suppliers. Good to see KTM finally bringing a day in the sun to these geniuses!

    • Dirck Edge says:

      I had an expensive carbon fiber bicycle that I loved, but then began riding a second bike made from steel. Ended up enjoying the ride of the steel framed bicycle so much, I gave away the carbon bike to my son.

      • Mick says:

        I sold my carbon hard tail fat bike in favor of a titanium one. The Ti bike is a little heavier. But it’s flex characteristics are magic by comparison.

        • Dave says:

          Here’s the thing about carbon fiber bicycles – there are very few inherent characteristics of the material the way there are with he “metals”. Carbon is a very engineer-able material. There are carbon bikes that ride as smooth as butter and there are bikes that’ll rattle your teeth out. Titanium had a similar problem (good ones & bad ones that were flex noodles) but it was generally so expensive that it never got as popular as carbon has become.

          That said, there are some fantastic aluminum bikes being made. They’ve learned a lot about how to not to make it ride so harsh and wider tires are becoming more popular, which makes a bigger difference to ride comfort (try some really good 28 or 32c tires with latex tubes..) than frame material,does.

      • Kermit The Frog says:

        Steel can be soooooo classy. Rivendell Bicycle Works makes some of the most beautiful lugged steel frame bicycles in the world.

        Congratulations to KTM. I don’t really follow nor understand racing but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of people doing so.

    • Jeremy says:

      I think the skepticism was over the steel trellis, not necessarily steel itself. While KTM is still using steel, the chassis architecture now mimics their competition.

      From a Kevin Cameron article concerning Ducati: Why was the Tamburini trellis abandoned in MotoGP but continued on most production ­Ducatis? The likely explanation is that ever-increasing slick tire grip in ­MotoGP had finally overpowered the directional stability of the steel-tube frame. As Casey Stoner put it at the time, “On that thing,” pointing to the trellis-framed MotoGP bike, “you can’t hit the same point two laps running.”

      • Jeremy – good point. At about 1:50 mark of this video, there’s a side-by-side view of aluminum & steel frames. The architecture is very similar. 1:07 could be their GP frame

        Dirck – great topic! I wish there were more of this for fans to read & think about.

        worth re-peating: look at what KTM has done in under 4 years!

        https://youtu.be/wmx4JpF7Uws

  7. Goose Lavel says:

    Very interesting image. It appears that the top of the air box is mostly clear. Just a photo chopped image or is it really clear? I vote photo chop.

  8. Tommy says:

    As a SD GT owner, the Brno race and results were supremely satisfying and invigorating. Hats off to the whole KTM team.

  9. Dan-o says:

    Unfortunately, KTMs look better to me without the bodywork.

    • Mechanicus says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Cover that cool chassis up with plastic manga origami… what a waste.

      • TimC says:

        ME TOO. Dang if they’d just tone it down and round thing off just a bit.

        That thing would look AMAZING.

        I mean s–t, the Moto GP bike of theirs is a looker.

    • Provologna says:

      That opinion may be as cruel as it is common. When staring at that bike image with body work, the left side of my brain (mathematics, performance, the physical world) works overtime trying to convince the right side (beauty, abstraction, creation) to accept it, but the right side is unconvinced, replying to the L side: “Go away, and take that image with you!”

      Orange is not exactly a warm and fuzzy color, often used to catch your attention for safety reasons rather than beauty. A little sliver of orange goes a long way in an orchid.

      To be fair, KTM has achieved a positively phenomenal success already, something I would have bet impossible 3 years ago. Congratulations big orange!

      Austrian KTM has happily achieved something their German neighbors @ BMW could not. From the little reading I did on this subject, I suspect snubbing BMW was possibly a personal goal of KTM’s highest management, the potential result of an unseen war between the two makers. KTM encroached on BMW’s street market, BMW released dirt bikes, and it looks the war was on.

    • Reginald Van Blunt says:

      Yes, the essence of a motorcycle is viewable and pleasant, which emphasizes the value of bodywork in forming an image of functionality, real or not. Gimme a 60s bike any day. Teardrop tanks, side covers and round headlights forever.

      • bmbktmracer says:

        And spindly forks, crappy suspension, flexy frames, meager horsepower, and spotty reliability? hahaha

        Just giving you a bad time. I know you’re speaking in terms of style. I’d probably just say that I appreciate good style. New Panigale is quite stunning. Most of the new Triumphs are lovely. The Neo-Sport Honda 1000 is pretty good until one reaches the back end of the seat, at which point the stylists apparently ran out of charge number.

        • fred says:

          While almost all of us can agree that bikes have improved technically, style is quite subjective.

          I suspect that many of us like the style of bikes that we owned or wanted when we first started riding. Our first loves in the motorcycling world often remain as our standard of beauty.

    • agree. The above pic of a 1290 Super Duke R would make for a great custom bike. That frame is clean. You can see the form and function in it. Straight shot from neck to arm pivot point.