top of page

Two Lines in Motorcycle Design - Norden 901 & KTM 990

Comparing outlines. Traced outlines of the 2013 KTM 990 and 2021 Husqvarna 901 reveal a strikingly similar shape. The appeal of this rally profile is undeniable, whether from Austria or Sweden. But wait....aren't KTM and Husqvarna the same company? Yes and no.

Two key lines. The most important lines on a modern motorcycle are these. The raking red lines create muscularity and define the "rally bike" look (i.e., Dakar Rally). These angles are timeless and universally appealing in offroad circles. These fairing lines will be found on nearly all Adventure motorcycles from all manufacturers in coming years: 2022 Aprilia Tuareg 660, Yamaha Tenere 700, Ducati Desert X, and Honda Africa Twin. The great homogenization begins, but is anyone complaining?

Not sorry. Harley-Davidson sells 50% of all motorcycles sold in the US, but the greasy bagger aesthetic is rapidly becoming irrelevant to motorcyclists. While H-D may never adopt the rally aesthetic, choosing instead to court the dwindling Boomer market, its new Pan America is a step in the right direction (away from 1969, roach clips, bell bottoms).

Excuse me gentleman. Likewise, BMW and Triumph - makers of motorcycles for the landed gentry - will not soon be offering bikes with rally fairings either. Sie den Schnabel behalten. Beaks and creased tanks will remain the dominant design elements on GS and Tiger models going forward. It would seem both companies should be scrapping their mid-size models (F850 GS, Tiger 900) in favor of new deigns given the success of Yamaha's Tenere 700, but they are not. I have to say, though, the logos for both BMW and Triumph are as close to perfect as those for Coca-Cola and AT&T.

The KTM aesthetic. KTM is an Austrian manufacturer with roots tracing back to the 1930s. Fairings on their motorcycles reflect a rigid, stubborn sensibility. Apparently, the bezier curve is out of fashion in Mattighofen. Its weird, certain KTMs are sublimely beautiful while others recall icky insects. Schizophrenia in the design lab. By contrast, a company like Honda bends over backwards to create graphics packages that maintain a unified look throughout their line, from track bikes to nakeds to dual sports - you always know its a Honda. You always know its a KTM, but for different reasons. Mostly ugly ones.

The customer is always wrong. KTM trades some reliability and short maintenance intervals for performance. Unlike the Japanese companies, they make light, fast, race-ready machines that demand the care typically reserved for Belmont thoroughbreds. No question KTM produces the top-preforming Dual Sport and Adventure bikes on the market today, but they are not cheap and Corporate couldn't care less. The company is entirely uninterested in public input and appears nearly impervious to market forces strictly obeyed by Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. Instead, KTM takes design advice exclusively and unapologetically from their Dakar-winning race teams - and especially their race mechanics. "KTM: We win races. Thanks for stopping by."

The Husqvarna aesthetic. Husqvarna, now a part of the KTM Group, began as a Swedish rifle manufacturer with roots that trace to the 1600s. Today they make chainsaws, axes, and motorcycles. The Husqvarna logo, indeed their whole design aesthetic, is sophisticated and timeless. Brawny and smart. The clash of corporate cultures at KTM and Husky is perhaps best seen at company picnics. The KTM guys shows up with an RC Cola, a Moonpie, and a mouthfull of Copenhagen Long Cut. The Husqvarna fellows tuck into tidy plates of lutefisk and lefsa.

2021 Husqvarna Norden 901. Great looks, respectable performance, a bit heavy.

2013 KTM 990 Adventure. Timeless, powerful, influential.

Husqvarna logo. Professionally designed, symmetric, clean, and achingly Swedish.

KTM logo. Artwork by that tall, stubborn kid who'd rather be in Auto Shop. While he'll pass Calc 2 with a solid A grade, he will never update his logo (or wardrobe).


Last 50 Posts
All Posts by Month
    bottom of page