How legendary Enduro and Rally racer Giovanni Sala used the feedback collected from thousands of racing miles to help chisel a lineage that stretches through the latest KTM ADVENTURE production machines.
Whether it’s the power of the KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE range, the versatility of the KTM 790 ADVENTURE line-up or the nimble agility of the KTM 390 ADVENTURE, KTM’s ADVENTURE models carry a lineage molded from lessons and mileage of offroad competition. Investing in racing in order to improve a motorcycle or component is one of the primal reasons why KTM gets on the track and the importance of the right rider in that package cannot be understated.
That’s why KTM turned to Giovanni Sala when they needed to revolutionize their modern line of Enduro machines more than two decades ago. Sala, now 56-years old and a six-time FIM Enduro World Champion and four-times winner of the International Six Days Enduro, would become renowned for his fitness, determination, adaptability and sensitivity to any motorcycle he cared to swing a leg over.
“KTM worked strongly to have a better product,” he smiles now at the memory. “I was the rider that started to use the new, important generation of engine, back in 1990: we went into the world championship with that small 4-stroke.” A title winner in 1993-95, 1998-1999, Sala began a relationship with KTM that stretched up to the evolution of modern-day motorcycles. His technical input helped create the character of the offroaders ridden on tracks and trails to this day.
“The EXC models have reached the top level, and KTM now have a really good bike for every hobby rider and level,” the Italian assesses. “They are powerful bikes but very easy to ride for both amateurs and racers. You can use it in any condition – extreme or fun – so the suspension, engine and frame is at a top level.”
Sala’s impact in Enduro was evident. So KTM began to use his feedback and skills for wider projects. “I remember years ago – around ‘94-‘95 – the first project for the Dakar Rally started around Heinz Kinigadner and I was involved in the single cylinder development. Then later KTM asked me if I wanted to race, so my first Dakar was ’98 with the 640, then the 660 until 2002 when KTM wanted to compete with the twin cylinder. I remember spending a lot of days in the desert in Tunisia with Fabrizio Meoni to make the bike as strong as possible and in 2002 Fabrizio won. The next year I rode again – when the bike was even more developed – and I finished sixth in 2004.”
Sala totaled eight stage victories in the Dakar Rally to further boost his burgeoning CV.
When KTM claim their 2020 ADVENTURE models are gleaned from the technical base, education and DNA of the machines gunned at international Rally racing events then this is not marketing hyperbole. Sala has intimate experience of prototypes and initial technical ideas and is in position to detect their influence in the bikes that are now steered on trails and roads. Whether it is geometry, chassis stiffness, suspension set-up or engine responsiveness, Sala and the other professional racers and test riders that KTM enlist have contributed towards the highly-rated blend of Street and Offroad comfort and thrill that the ADVENTURE models now provide.
“The factory has a lot of experience…and that helps so much to build a really good bike,” he understates. “For example, KTM has been in the Dakar from 1995 and won it for 18 years in a row: this record shows you how important it is to take advantage of experience and to use what you learn. New things come as do new generations of bikes, but that knowledge from the past is important to develop the bike in the right way.”
A sign that Sala feels vindicated in his work for KTM and the pleasure he finds in the ADVENTURE series can be seen in his continuing presence at KTM ADVENTURE RALLIES and outings where he gets to mix with other riders and fans and recount anecdotes and tales of his days fighting a stopwatch. In 2019 he was spotted traversing geography in Bosnia and South Africa as part of the group, and with his KTM 790 ADVENTURE R.
“Honestly, I think those KTM ADVENTURE RALLIES are a good opportunity for the fans and riders to discover some beautiful places,” he opines on the scheme. “They are well organized, and the team has discovered some excellent landscapes and good paths. I find the 790 ADVENTURE R is a lot of fun: I love the twin cylinder engine because it has a lot of power but also makes the bike easy to handle well. It is a pleasure to discover new places on that motorcycle and spend some time with the customers.”
He may be approaching his seventh decade of leaving tire prints in the dirt, but Sala is not dabbing the brakes any softer… and that’s a blessing for KTM’s ceaseless work in the R&D department.
Giovanni Sala’s championship-winning KTM 400 EXC machine is on display at the KTM Motohall in Mattighofen, Austria.