KTM’s 2019 Dakar bikes revealed – what’s new for 2019, how different are the factory bikes from customer 450 RRs and why the KTM Factory riders must know their bikes like the back of their hands.
KTM’s record at the Dakar Rally is almost unbelievable. 17 consecutive victories at the world’s biggest off road race. Naturally every record stands to be beaten and no doubt Honda and Yamaha are just two manufacturers trying everything to stop that run of wins.
But it can be no accident that this record stands. So ahead of the 2019 Dakar Rally we’ve taken a closer look at the KTM Factory Rally bikes with the help of KTM Factory Rally Team Leader, Stefan Huber.
How has the bike evolved since last year’s Dakar, what are the differences are between rider set-up, how does the production 450 Rally Replica compare to the Factory race bikes and also answer questions like: how much bike maintenance actually goes on during this most gruelling of off road races?
You went to Dakar in 2018 with all-new race bikes, then the production bike has arrived which many privateers will race in the 2019 Dakar – how close is the production bike to the race bikes?
Stefan Huber: “Really it is almost identical. There are some small details but so much is the same: the Factory bike and customer bike has a factory piston and Pankl con-rod for example. We try to put the same stuff in the customer bike to have the same quality for everyone.
“The biggest differences are the factory bikes are made with the fastest riders in the world in mind so with the production bike we have to step back a bit with the set-up of suspension, with the 48mm Cone Valve suspension for example. On the factory bikes the 52mm forks and stiffer shock is what the riders needs. If we go with the level these guys are riding to the production bike it is too hard so we make a compromise for the ‘normal’ rider.
“Between the two bikes there’s a difference in the horse power but only a small amount, a different head on the factory bike, the Hinson clutch and the mapping is slightly different for the customer bike but again not much.”
Are the bikes the Factory riders are racing in Dakar 2019 much different to last year?
“It is the same base but we improve a lot over the year. There is some detail work done in particular the suspension linkage and engine performance changes.
“Over the previous model we improved the stability and the way the bike behaves at speed and on rough terrain – the rear of the bike, the linkage, the way the riders can hit bumps and know the bike is not doing something strange, sideways kicking but stays straight more. The new bike is a safer bike let’s say.”
The pattern or trend these days for rally riders is to be so, so fast all the time. Does that affect the development of the race bikes?
“The level of these guys is amazing really, they have to go fast all the time. The set-up is partly different now because the previous bike was developed with a different kind of rider – Marc Coma for example is not coming from a motocross background like these guys are now and rode in a different way. It is a different generation of riders who want different things from a bike.”
Is there much difference between different rider set-up in the team?
“Very little. A little bit of difference in spring rate on the suspension, maybe a different handlebar height but they are all within 5mm of each other and still most run the same. Honestly there is very little difference between the bikes.
“If the riders are on a marathon stage and one rider wants to help another it is better if they have the same set-up so they can share parts. If they have completely other stuff on the bike, spare parts it is much easier to have everything similar or the same.
“For sure though we still try to make every rider happy and able to get to their level with the bike set-up they need.”
It is well-documented but part of the training for the riders is technically and mechanical training in the workshop so they can fix their own bikes…
“Yeah, of course in this sport it is an important aspect to be able to fix their own bike. If they run into some trouble in the stage they must be able to fix the problem.
“For example if you have a broken oil line and how to bypass that or if one of the tanks is damaged and leaking they want to know how to switch fuel supply so they don’t lose all the fuel.
“We try to have mechanical training at each test to help the riders learn as much as possible how the bike is working in every aspect. The last three or so training sessions before Dakar we always have this. They all have training bikes at home so they work a little bit on their own bikes there too.”
During a day’s racing, when a rider comes in for a service check, what kind of work typically happens on the bike?
“In a normal race really it is simply checking the wheels go round, the bars are straight, the handguards are not broken and this sort of stuff. The air filter is in a high position so really isn’t getting so much dust and also in most events the service stops in a stage are just for fuel. You are not allowed to work on the bikes. If a rider has a problem they have to work on that for themselves. It is not like a typical enduro with service points.
“On the daily service after the stage it is washing the bike normally, the air filter, every second day also the oil (depends how hard the stage is on the engine) the clutch gets checked every second day and some brake pads also.
“Apart from that it is normal service stuff most riders would do themselves like check the chain, lube stuff and obviously change the tyres and mousses. Like on an enduro bike.
“Typically this takes two to three hours if there has been no major crash or something. The bike is pretty easy to work on and the guys are pretty fast with the work.”
And for the marathon stages the riders just do the minimum checks themselves?
“Yeah, they do the normal checks around the bike to make sure there is no oil leaks or problems. It is spokes, chain, just the same as normal.
“It is better they don’t have to work to much because the bike should naturally survive two stages without any issues.”
In other forms of racing the machines can arrive at the finish line exhausted and ready to go in a skip, is that the case with the Rally bikes or could they turn around and go and race it all again?
“Actually they are still good. We can sometimes use these engines in training bikes for durability testing to keep going and see what problems come with kilometres. Most of the time we run them for a season in the training bikes so they are still going long after the Dakar has finished.
“Also the bikes can be used in the World Championship – for sure they get completely serviced but they can go on to race the World Championship but some parts will still be from Dakar.
“This is important because the customer bike must do this of course. Lower budget riding means the bikes can move from Dakar to the World Championship.”
The Dakar Rally begins January 6 in Lima, Peru.
Photo Credit: Sebas Romero Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Testerjon.firstname.lastname@example.org