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Test ride: Supermotos from one end to another

Typically the first step to riding a supermoto is buying a set of 17-inch wheels to a motocross bike. But how much better is an all-out factory racer?

The SMXV450 is a fully-kitted race bike from the factory. 

I had never ridden a proper race supermoto, when I got a call from Team Aprilia Finland. They had four bikes, built to different specification, starting from a motocross bike and on the other end was a factory race bike. Naturally, I wanted a ride.

The first one was a stock MXV450 motocross bike simply fitted with 17-inch wheels and supermoto tyres. The first impression was the suspension is way too soft. The bike moves about excessively. While braking, the front dives deep, and the bike becomes unstable. On acceleration the rear goes down, and it’s hard to keep the line on corner exits. Tiny motocross front brake isn’t up to the task either, and even though I squeeze the lever as hard as my fingers manage, slowing down isn’t nearly as effective as I’d hope for. If that wasn’t bad enough, the brakes also overheat and start fading.
Still, this is a cheap way to enter the world of supermoto. In addition to the cost of the bike, a set of wheels and tyres will set you back about a thousand euros.

The next bike is an MXV450 motocross bike with a stiffer rear spring, upgraded rear shock and larger front brake. The difference they make is surprising. 
Especially the front brake is amazing. First, careful experiments lead to lifting the rear wheel off the ground. When I familiarize myself with the provided feedback, the brake is extremely effective. Also the changes to the rear suspension make a big difference, and the bike’s behaviour is much calmer and more predictable. The rear end doesn’t dive as heavily when accelerating, so it’s easier to hold the line, and although the front still dives, the rear doesn’t rise as quickly, which makes the bike easier to brake as well.
With only slight changes, the bike’s been completely transformed. It's fast and really easy to ride. The only real complaint is the lack of a slipper clutch. Price-wise this is about a thousand euros more than the first bike.

Now it’s time for the big guns. The bike is still based on the MXV450, but it’s completely modified for supermoto racing. The front fork and rear swing arm originate from SXV. The camshafts and ECU are pure racing parts. In addition to that, the bike has a slipper clutch.
Straight away it’s clear that this is a proper racer. There’s significantly more oomph than the previous bikes had. The suspension, tailor-made for racing, works like a charm, and riding is simply bliss. The bike is lighting fast, but still very calm. For a hardcore bike such as this, it’s really easy to ride.
MXV450 modified to supermoto racing without compromise is a really fast bike, but the most amazing thing is how easy it is to ride. It comes with a cost, however. The all-out MXV costs about three to four times as much as the first bike.

Last but definitely not least is a thoroughbred Aprilia Factory Racing supermoto, the model is SMXV450, and it means we’re talking about a serious piece of kit. Engine performance is equal to the full spec-MXV, but the light and exotic (read: expensive) parts make the bike feel even wilder. It’s not common to have back-to-back comparison of two engines with otherwise equal specification, but other sporting titanium parts whereas the other relies on more common steel. The difference is surprisingly big and the SMXV's engine feels significantly more eager.
The SMXV is not as calm as the previous bike, but as it feels more responsive, it’s undoubtedly faster, when ridden by a competent rider. Mind you, the bike doesn’t do anything surprising, just seems way more reactive to everything.

In order to buy an SMXV, you’ll need good luck finding one that’s for sale, in addition to at least 20000 euros to pay for it.

For my skill level the motocross bike with upgraded rear suspension and front brake is definitely the best bet. It won't break the bank, but with it the limiting factor is definitely not the performance of the bike, but the rider.