Friday, 5 October 2007

KTM X-bow

It’s not always a good idea to try something outlandishly different from your established forte. ‘Judas’ Dylan going electric is a good example; granted, he was right in the long run but the initial backlash was really rather spiteful. New Coke is another one: dead in the water. For that matter, what happened to Virgin Cola or Tab Clear? Or Polo Holes? Basically, it’s worth having a little goosey at where your market lies and what it’s willing to take before committing to something extraordinary.

Austrian motorcycle manufacturers KTM, like Dylan, have long been respected as elder statesmen of their genre. Established in 1934 and building bikes since 1953, they’ve positioned themselves at the cutting-edge of motorcycle technology. They were the first company to offer a liquid-cooled four-stroke engine for off-road use (subsequently supplying their radiators to Suzuki, who were playing a rapid game of catch-up), the first to offer front and rear disc brakes, linkless rear suspension, hydraulic clutch mechanisms… the list of innovations is impressively lengthy. Fans of two-wheeled motorsport will be familiar with their name, as they have countless entries in Motorcross and Supermoto events worldwide, as well as pouncing into the Superbike arena and reddening a few faces. They’re the manufacturer that the man in the street is oblivious to, yet those in the know offer enormous respect. The Morgan of bikes, if you will.

So what’s next on the list of world domination? Well, they have a cunning plan… It’s easy to imagine a certain awe and admiration about the KTM office for Soichiro Honda – a man who, at the helm of a motorcycle colossus, saw a Formula One race in 1960 and thought ‘how hard can that be?’ By 1965, Honda were at the top of the podium in Mexico. Today, they’re among the largest car manufacturers in the world. Of course, KTM don’t want to be massive… they just want to have some fun.

Enter the X-bow. An entirely new design from the ground up, it’s an astonishing achievement. In conjunction with Dallara, KTM have fashioned everything that physically can be from either carbonfibre or aluminium, leading to a size-zero kerb weight of just 700kg and an impressive practicality for racing and track applications; if anything needs replacing, it’s a simple bolt-off/bolt-on job.

Thrust is taken care of by Audi’s 2-litre FSI turbo mill, as featured across much of the VW/Audi/SEAT/Skoda group. A cheeky little number in itself, KTM’s bespoke chargecooler, fancy new LSD and clever push-pull adaptation of the Audi six-speeder equate to a respectable gain in power (up to 220bhp) and an ingenious means by which to transfer the power to the back end. 60mph arrives in just 3.9 seconds.

The suspension is equally clever, incorporating trick double-wishbones fashioned from drag-reducing wing-profile steel tubing, combined with pushrod dampers. The singularity of purpose and the purity of focus of the X-bow are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Indeed, keenly pricing the car at €40,000 (approx £31,500) means that Caterham, Westfield, Radical, Aerial and the plethora of other trackday specialists have serious cause for pillow-chewing sleeplessness.

KTM have retained a strong sense of brand identity with this new venture. Offered in their signature black and orange colour scheme, the X-bow has no doors, no roof and a narrow deflector in place of a windscreen. The superbike performance is matched by a superbike experience, the wind buffeting your head around with increasing violence as you pound towards the redline – it’s as close as you can get to a four-wheeled motorbike. Dainese, respected Italian apparel specialists, are even creating bespoke helmets and leathers to match the car.

The second-best thing about this car is the way it looks. Drink in the stark lines, the brash angularity, the two huge nostrils, the back-end-of-a-pitbull exhaust – it’s so ugly that it travels full circle into ‘stunningly beautiful’ territory. It looks like it hates you, yet in a very alluring manner…

…so what’s the best thing? Well, the simple fact that it’s been homologated for road use. You will actually be able to drive this apparition, this weapon, this force of cold logic on the Queen’s highway. Frankly, it’s worth £30k-odd of anyone’s money to look like the Stig every day… and there’s even a passenger seat, which could come in handy. If anything’s going to help you pull in Tesco’s car park, it’s this.

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