When we were researching what kit to bring on our expedition, we were looking for equipment that was strong, durable and lightweight. The Austrian KTM brand is synonymous with adventure, being well known as an excellent off road motorbike brand, and recently as the bikes that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman couldn’t get for their Long Way Round trip. But now thankfully, they’ve used their years of experience in the motorbike field to make top notch bicycles, and from first glance, you can see the time and effort they’ve put into designing their bikes.
The Race Action bike is KTM’s top end aluminium hardtail (no back suspension) cross country bike, fitted with a full Shimano XT groupset, Rock Shox Reba air forks, and Richey, Azonic and Mavic finishing kit. The frame is designed and built in Austria, and constructed from beautifully contoured 6061 aluminium tubing which is hydroformed (where water is forced into a tube under pressure to force the metal outward to a mould) into the optimal shape. The elegant rear triangle is a wishbone design which ensures maximum stiffness, so that all your pedalling effort will be transferred to forward thrust. Being a race bike, the position is quite long and stretched out, but this puts the rider in an excellent position for pedalling efficiently.
The Rock Shox Reba forks are air sprung and are a good deal lighter than coil sprung forks, the weight saving being appreciated on the long uphills. Many people question the durability of air forks as if the seals go, the fork will no longer work properly. We haven’t had any problems with ours and they are still running fine, 20500km after we first rode them. The Reba forks come with lockout that can be done from a lever on the handlebar which is handy if you need to switch them back on in a hurry.
The XT groupset is one of the few Shimano groupsets that is still being made in Japan, and you can see that every millimetre of this groupset has been designed meticulously. XT is slightly heavier than the top of the line XTR, but we felt that the reliability is worth the slight weight penalty. The hydraulic disc brakes are often a cause for concern for tourers and many have been horrified, saying that we should stick to old fashioned mechanical V-brakes. Disc brakes are far more powerful than rim brakes, they work on a buckled wheel, in mud and rain, and will continue working on long downhills long after V brakes would have given up the ghost and their user tumbled off the cliff edge. There were many times in the Andes and in the many steep downhills in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan that I was glad to have consistent, reliable stopping power that disc brakes provide.
We had a few customisations done to our bikes, namely getting the excellent Shwalbe Marathon Plus tyres; curvy, multi position Euro style handlebars and heavy duty Mavic downhill rims that have stayed round and true despite many big knocks. After much deliberation we eventually plumped for the Selle SMP saddle that is designed to reduce pressure in sensetive areas which has generally been good, though since the pressure is taken away from the sensetive bits there is increased pressure on the sit bones which sometimes led to us getting saddle sores. I found that this only really happened when after extended periods in one position, like on the flat straight roads of the Chaco in Argentina, or the Northern Desert in Peru. Once in the mountains or on rolling, twisty terrain, I never had any problems with the saddle.
For 2010, there has been some refinements done to the frame and components making it even better. The Race Action is a true race pedigree from an exceptional bike company.