If you know about motorcycles and keep yourself updated with the latest happenings in the two-wheeler world, then you must have an idea where KTM now stands in this industry. From being the undisputed champions of the Dakar Rally to a MotoGP team, KTM is among the biggest two-wheeler companies in the world today. But there’s a twist and dark side to the story that less are aware about.
Taking you back to the birth of KTM, it started back in 1934 in Austria by a man named Johann (Hans) Trunkenpol. His shop was named as Kraftfahrzeug Trunkenpolz Mattighofen and this is exactly where the company got its name from. Things started off and it took the company almost 16 years of business development to roll out the prototype of first ever motorcycle made by KTM. It was named R100.
After two years of making the first prototype, Ernst Kronreif, a businessman from Austria, bought a major chunk of shares in the evolving company and that was when things actually started going in the right direction for a tiny firm that had 20 people employed who were making 20 motorcycles a day. With time, KTM started making mopeds, sports motorcycles and mainly off-road bikes. KTM participated in various championships and went on to build a reputation for being a known brand in the world of off-roading.
But everything that goes up has to come down! In 1980, Ernst Kronreif died and two years later, Hans Trunkenpolz also died of a heart attack. If that was not enough, the remaining leading light of the firm, Erich Trunkenpolz, also died in 1989. In 1991, KTM applied for insolvency and that resulted in split-up of the company into four divisions. One of them was ‘KTM Sports Motorcycles Division’ and it was that seed that grew into an empire that is known as KTM.
So what was the reason that transformed a bankrupt off-road motorcycle company into a whole kingdom?
One word - KISKA.
The prodigy, Gerald Kiska, founded ‘KISKA’ in the year 1990 and it was a single-man studio that did nothing but design motorcycles day and night. In the year 1991, KTM held a contest for designing an LC4 engine-based motorcycle and it was won by Gerald and his team, which had five members at that time.
Since then, KTM has never looked back. Since 1992, the partnership between KTM and KISKA has grown stronger and it’s this studio that has designed every motorcycle for KTM, whether it’s the original DUKE that was made in 1992 or the sick Husqvarna’s concepts that amazed the world when showcased for the first time at the 2014 EICMA.
To give you a clearer idea, KISKA now is an organization made up of more than 150 employees from 28 countries and is situated at the foot of Mt. Untersburg in Anif, Austria, in a 50,000 square feet facility. KISKA started off as just a designing studio and at present, they have evolved into a controlling body in KTM that not only designs stuff but also is responsible for production of KTM’s YouTube videos, control of all aspects of KTM’s new developments and launches, and creation of KTM’s website.
Remember the 1290 SuperDuke’s ‘Beast Unleashed’ video back in 2013? It was all a KISKA thing.
Now let’s take you to a swift tour of KISKA and KTM’s R&D department.
Every time KTM asks for a new motorbike design, KISKA organizes a contest where the designers accede and forward their submissions out of which the best is chosen and brought to reality. These sketches are then tuned into 3D models, which are then converted to clay models and modified to an extent where everything just sits at the right place.
When a design is finalized, it is then forwarded to KTM’s Research and Development team, which breaks the prototype in every way possible by torturing the sensor-covered bikes to suck the maximum information out for the production version and this test reveals the information that lets engineers create lighter/stronger parts for their motorcycles.
To give you a rough idea of how knotty things are at the R&D unit, let us tell you that the Austrian motorcycle maker spent more than 50 million Euros in 2015 just for the research and development of new concepts!