KTM bikes: How they come to be
Kiska is a prominent name when it comes to the look, shape and function of each KTM but how exactly do the two companies work together to make the motorcycles? We went to Mattighofen to ask …
The role of Austrian design agency Kiska when it comes to the look and feel of every KTM is well known. It’s unlikely the function and style that has made KTM a manufacturer impossible to ignore would have happened without their input and vision. The Salzburg set – in cahoots with KTM since the initial phases of the Pierer-era in the early 1990s and separated by a mere 45 minute drive – have arguably come more to the fore since the emergence of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R, the re-imagined DUKE family, and then models like the striking genre-less KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE GT.
We’ve had interviews and insight with the likes of Gerald Kiska himself and lead designers like Craig Dent on the KTM BLOG but wanted the KTM and engineers’ perspective of how the relationship functions.
“It is difficult to say because in the past they would make a design and we’d go in and have a look,” offers Bernhard Plazotta, Vice President R&D Offroad who reveals there is another factor involved. “Now we have changed the system quite a bit.”
“Before we start a new project we have some ‘workshops’ that involve the Kiska guys, the race teams and R&D. We have a good look at the current bike and then take input from all three parties for what we should change for the future.”
“I would say on the offroad side it is a little bit more important to have the function [as a priority] on the bike; hooking your boots on a bit of plastic is an absolute no-go. Input from the racing world is one part, our input when it comes to new technologies is quite huge and for sure the Kiska guys are also looking for new technologies and might have totally new ideas. We try to start this process from two-to-one-and-a-half years before we begin with the clay with Kiska; we already have a realistic objective about what we can do on the design side. For example if there is a request for a carbon composite component then we will already know whether it will work or whether it is realistic for costs.”
KTM’s offroaders have always carried sharp lines and some clever design thinking (look at the front and rear fender forms) but – in terms of visual impact at least – street have really charged the company’s profile forward; the increased sales figures pushing the firm to become Europe’s biggest manufacturer in the period of five years. Kiska’s synergy with a KTM R&D department that has expanded to become twenty times bigger in the space of twenty-five years (from 24 in 1992 to more than 500 staff) is no more significant when it comes to street but is perhaps more acute in the eyes of the general motorcyclist.
“The relationship is very close and it has to be. If we did our thing and Kiska did theirs then it would never fit together,” says Gerald Matschl, Vice President R&D Street. “From the first ideas for a bike we are all involved.”
“The first important thing is even before we have made the first sketches is that we are all on the same page and we all have the same understanding of the product. For a KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R it is quite easy because it is an existing bike that we all know and we have our ideas for fine-tuning and for the direction we want. For the new KTM 790 DUKE it is a bit more difficult because we need to define what the typical customer will be and what is required in terms of ergonomics, riding behavior and all these things.”
“We put everything on the table, look at the competition, go out for test rides, have workshops so we all get to that point of understanding. Then we start with technical ideas on how we think a frame or chassis could look. We go back to Kiska and they start to sketch and suggest things from a design point of view. We also start some ergonomic tests and provide these lines and info to Kiska. So it is a simultaneous process. If we do one step then we inform Kiska and they can make the next one or vice-versa.”
“The good thing is that [geographically] we are not far away from each other. And I feel it is also good to have the creative and technical part a bit separate. We meet usually every week.”
Co-operation is thus key but we couldn’t resist asking whether sometimes there were some clashes or tricky moments – not only between the two ‘K’s but also sets of engineers and designers – when it came to compromises and a united ideal for a bike.
“In the past there could be quite a few exchanges of opinion!” Plazotta smiles. “Now we work together a lot with Craig [Dent, Lead Designer], Maxime [Thouvenin] and their teams and they want our input and then they think of the design: like the front fender on the SX bikes. We were looking for a stiffer solution without adding weight and also having a nice surface on the inside that would clean the wheel. Kiska starting drawing and we spoke with the supplier about the material and we all went step-by-step to a point where we were all happy.”
Kiska comes before KTM in alphabetical terms but the companies are very intertwined when it comes to the genesis of some the most fetching orange bikes on the road, track or trail.