It used to be that if you were a dirt rider, you would be very familiar with KTM as a brand. One of the dominant forces in all aspects of racing in the dirt, KTM made a name for itself there.
Lately, however, you might even know KTM as a street bike company, too. With a full range of street bikes like the 890 Duke and adventure bikes like the 1290 Super Adventure, the brand’s portfolio is evenly spread. But how did the company get to where it is now? The simple answer: Racing.
KTM has been actively involved in racing, and its dominance in various motorsport disciplines is nothing short of impressive. This post will explore KTM's racing history, its success in off-road and road racing, its racing philosophy, and its impact on the motorsports industry.
KTM's Racing History
Many people associate KTM with dirt bikes, but KTM got its start making road bikes in the early years after WWII. Hans Trunkenpolz—the T in KTM—knew that, in order to get around, cars would be less attainable than a motorcycle. Thus came the birth of KTM’s first motorcycle, the R 100, in the early 1950s.
Only one year later, the R 125 would come out, and by 1954 KTM had produced over 1,000 motorcycles. Naturally, owners took them racing – both in the dirt and on the roads.
The rest, as they say, is history. KTM has since evolved into a racing powerhouse with a long history of success in various motorsport disciplines. KTM's most notable racing accomplishments include 18 consecutive Dakar Rally victories, multiple Motocross and Supercross championships, Moto3 championships, and race wins in MotoGP.
KTM's Dominance in Off-Road Racing
KTM has had unparalleled success in off-road racing, with multiple championships across every engine category it entered. This includes winning what is now the Enduro World Championship and even Hard Enduro events that test man and machine to the extreme.
But, of course, KTM has built its brand on the success it has achieved in motocross and rally events. Counting its victories through the 2022 racing season, KTM has amassed an incredible 333 FIM World Titles. And it doesn’t show any signs of stopping.
KTM's off-road racing success is a result of good machinery, like the 450 Rally, 450 SX-F (Ryan Dungey!), and its big range of two-strokes, but also to the incredible talent on board the machinery, including legends such as five-time Dakar winner, and six-time FIM Cross-Country Rally champion Marc Coma, Motocross legend Tony Cairolli, and fellow Dakar champ Toby Price—just to name a few.
KTM's Growing Presence in Road Racing
In more recent years, KTM has invested heavily in expanding its presence and returning to where the company started – making street bikes. This huge investment has also meant tackling the world of road racing, with participation in the highest road racing series in the world: MotoGP.
KTM fields a factory team in every MotoGP category, including the premier MotoGP class, the intermediate Moto2 category, and the Moto3 category. It even has teams in junior categories all over the world in order to foster the next generation of world champions. Save for the Moto2 category, which uses a standard engine from another manufacturer, KTM builds the complete motorcycle for practically every category it competes.
Despite its relatively short history competing at the MotoGP level, KTM's success in road racing has been impressive, with multiple Moto3 championships, podium finishes, and race victories in both Moto2 and MotoGP.
KTM's Racing Philosophy and Approach
KTM's approach to racing can be characterized as aggressive. In contrast, many of the established Japanese companies it competes against prefer a more methodical approach to racing, KTM chooses not to stand idly by and take big swings, supported by a commitment to innovation and development.
This takes a big investment, and KTM's sales have put it in a position to afford those investments. Now it’s reaping the rewards. KTM’s focus on developing and refining its racing bikes has been key to its success.
From developing new technologies, innovating the most advanced electronics possible, to hiring the most accomplished test riders possible, KTM's racing philosophy is centered around pushing the limits of what is possible, and this has resulted in a range of highly successful racing bikes and riders.
KTM's Impact on Motorsports
KTM's dominance in motorsports has had a significant impact. The adage about winning on Sunday and selling on Monday is still alive and well at KTM, as its success on the dealership sales floor is continually booming year after year.
This is at least partially thanks to the racing efforts of the factory. Those innovations and technologies first developed on the track eventually find their way to the KTMs you can buy and take home.
For example, KTM developed a fuel-injected two-stroke engine when many of its competitors gave up on two-strokes altogether! But even on the four-stroke side, KTM’s enduro, SX, and even adventure lines have continually leapfrogged the competition, forcing them to play catch-up.
In fact, in 2021, bitter rival Honda won the Dakar Rally, finally snapping KTM’s nearly two-decades long stranglehold on the Dakar Rally. Then Honda won again the following year, too. In 2023, however, Kevin Benavides (a Honda pilot in 2021 and 2022, ironically) started KTM’s next streak and won that year’s Dakar.
KTM is a company that has made a significant impact on the motorsports industry. Its racing success is unparalleled, and its approach to racing has set a high bar for other companies to aspire to.
The scary thing is, at least for its rivals, as KTM continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in motorsports, we’ve only seen the beginning of what KTM has in store. Its racing aspirations are enormous, and with several carrots still to chase, KTM isn’t showing signs of slowing down. For more information, check out KTM's racing products and history.