The Bike List

KTM Legarda Race 2013

Tested by Neil Watterson


I've got to admit that I didn't even know that KTM made pedal bikes until this one arrived at The Bike List HQ. I knew they made motorbikes - the company's tremendous success on the Dakar rally has made sure they're well known amongst off-roaders - but I hadn't seen anything of human-propelled machines.

The bicycle company is actually a separate company to the one which makes the motorised variety, but has been around a long time. They had shifted three million bikes by 2008, doing well in Austrian national events and they're now looking to extend their market to include the UK.

One immediately noticeable addition to the KTM Legarda Race is the side stand, a feature that's common on mainland-European commuter / hybrid bikes like this one. Everyone who has seen it has taken the mick initially, but stop on a ride and I can just flick the stand down, while they're left searching for a safe place to lean their bikes. Then they appreciate its usefulness.

That's not to say the stand doesn't get in the way. If you have to remove the wheel to fix a puncture, you have flick it down. And it's inconvenient when I dismantle the bike to fit it in the back of my Defender - leave the stand pointing backwards and it won't fit through the door aperture, fold it down and the bike's too big to fit in… But that's a trivial item, really, and you could always just remove the thing if it really bothered you.

Because the bike itself has a great spec - aluminium frame liberally festooned with Shimano XT 10-speed components, SLX hydraulic brakes and hubs, and a SR Suntour remote lock-out air fork. On relatively skinny 700C wheels, it's a bike that's been designed to be ridden hard and fast.

So, let's start with the frame. Now, I'm not going to suggest that this frame is pretty - some of the welding is almost agricultural in finish - but it gives the appearance of strength - that the bike has been designed to be thrown down mountains. The top tube exploits the inherent strength of triangles to use slightly smaller tube than are seen on many other bikes. The gear cables and rear brake hose run down the base of the downtube, recessed into a V-channel formed into the tube. This makes it very neat, but does expose the cables to mud and water around the bottom bracket.

The bottom bracket itself is a Shimano Hollowtech splined unit, with a 26/36/48 Shimano XT chainset attached. Matched to an 11-34 10-speed rear cassette, you've got a significant spread of gears to see you up and down the hills. Gear selection is precise with the XT RapidFire one-up/three-down levers and the displays clearly indicate which gear you're in.

Both the hubs and hydraulic brakes are from Shimano's SLX range - both well proven. From an ergonomic point of view, I like the SLX brake levers. They're adjustable for reach and have a degree of freeplay in them, so they move out of the way if you brush them with the back of your fingers - a boon when wearing winter or padded gloves. The brakes sing when wet, but the action is progressive and precise. So, even when riding across ice you can apply just the right amount of pressure to slow you down, rather than locking the wheels and hitting the deck.

The oversize flat handlebar is finished with Ergon GR2 grip/bar-ends, increasing comfort for longer rides. If you've not tried these before, the main grip has a flat section to rest your palm on together with some ergonomically-designed soft bar-ends. You can adjust the position of both independently using an Allen key to get the perfect set-up, increasing your available hand positions. The palm section on the grips improve control on descents as you're not twisting your wrist against your weight - it's going straight down your arms to the bar.

While I'm talking about contact points, I have to mention the saddle. It's a hard-old thing and you really know when you've been riding it. Padded shorts are a must. It features a hole in the middle which is designed to relieve pressure and promote blood circulation whilst an additional funnel forces cold air over your nether regions. I've no idea whether the funnel succeeds - it's been no hotter than +6C when I've been riding the bike and has dropped to -8C at points. And I don't think I need any more cooling at that temperature. I'd swap the saddle for something a little more comfortable, especially if I was using the bike as both a commuter hack and plaything. Which is what the tyres allow.

The reflective trim-adorned 700Cx35 Ritchey SpeedMax Cross tyres are reasonably fast on tarmac and fairly good off it. The only times I noticed the tyres losing their way was on wet clay soil where they squirmed trying to find traction and sharp rocky climbs where they spun out. The struggle on the rocky sections surprised me, but owes a lot to the fact that the frame is very stiff, so once the tyre is off the ground it's off. I could have assisted them on both surfaces by dropping the tyre pressures a touch from the 75psi I was running them at, but the routes I had picked (around Peterborough and Rutland Water plus Kielder Water at night(!)) involved a fair amount of road use.

And for road use, KTM have helpfully fitted a SR Suntour NCX-E RL Lite front fork with remote lock-out, so you remove the energy zapping bouncing from the front. Off-road, the air-sprung fork keeps the front under control, soaking up most bumps. The fact that I had to actively think about what they were doing shows that they do the job - you'll just let them get on with the task in hand. In some ways, the front/rear balance is a little off with the front being smooth and the rear bouncing around a touch.

Weighing in at a little less than 12.5kg - closer to 13kg with clipless pedals - it's no lightweight, but has an innate sturdiness. You feel that the frame is built to last. It's well equipped and very rideable. The large tyre clearance means you can go for more aggressive tyre if you want, or downsize to something with more road-bias, but I think that would spoil the bike. It's a great all-rounder: something you can commute on during the week then play on at the weekend. The relatively skinny 700Cx35 tyres (compared to MTB tyres) won't carry you well across boggy areas, but they do the job for most of the time and the bike's a joy to ride on fast singletrack and forestry fire roads, even if sometimes the rear's a bit skittish.

With next to no upgrades needed, this is one bike you can buy and just enjoy riding. No doubt we'll be seeing more of the brand in the future - and not just on the TV when the Dakar is on.

At a glance

Verdict The bike isn’t the lightest on the market, but the frame appears pretty bomb-proof, even if its finish suggests that’s indeed what it was designed to be. A good complement of components means you won’t have to make any upgrades soon, either.

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