KTM Factory Racing is, as the brand likes to point out at every opportunity, READY TO RACE at the 2018 Dakar Rally with Red Bull riders Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner, Toby Price, Antoine Meo along with Laia Sanz and Luciano Benavides.

Officially launched at the recent EICMA show in Milan, complete with its traditional Red Bull livery, the all-new 450 Factory Rally boasts many performance improvements over last year’s model. A new engine and management system gives riders more accurate throttle response, a new chassis and swingarm provides sharper handling and newly designed fuel tanks and bodywork ensure the bike feels slimmer and is more manoeuvrable.

Reigning Dakar Champ, Sam Sunderland, feels good about the teams chances of tasting success once again at the Dakar.

“I am feeling really positive, he says. I’m feeling really fast and strong on the new 450 – my fitness is good at the moment and I have no injuries. We have had the final shake down test on the new bike and it went very well. There’s always a lot of work and preparation in the last couple of months on the run up to Dakar. Trying to balance all the factors of testing, training and travelling always makes for a busy time before Dakar.

“Now I would like to be able to reward the team for all their hard work with a good result, which is what I’m working towards. We were able to do that at the bike’s first outing in Morocco when Matthias took the win. Everyone in the team is focused on Dakar.”

With 16 consecutive wins at one of the most notoriously tough races on the planet, KTM and the all-new 450 Factory Rally machine will be battling for success when the 40th Edition of the Dakar Rally begins in Lima, Peru on January 6th.



Liam Draper was in sensational form on his Husqvarna FC250 at the weekend. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

 It is a record three wins in a row for Husqvarna star Liam Draper after he again won the annual Dead Toad cross-country race in the Woodhill Forest, west of Auckland, on Sunday.

 This event, which also doubled as the sixth round of seven in the separate NZXC Series, was also won by the 21-year-old Howick man in 2015 and in 2016 and his convincing win on Sunday made him the first rider to win it three times consecutively.

It was also Draper’s third major success since returning to the race track after spending more than seven months recovering from injury.

However, since receiving the “all clear” to race again, he has wasted no time in building up his strength, speed and stamina.

He took his Husqvarna FC250 four-stroke to win the third round of four in the popular Woodhill Two-man Cross-country Series west of Auckland in September, then backed that up with another impressive win at round five of the NZXC Series at Matata last month.

“I managed to get a reasonable start on Sunday and then quickly picked off each of the riders ahead of me. I passed (Muriwai’s) Luke Mobberley for second place and then (Helensville’s) Tom Buxton for the lead about halfway through the opening lap,” Draper explained.

“I put the hammer down for the next lap and a half and opened out a bit of a gap over the (more than 50) riders chasing me.

“The sand was so soft that it was very tiring to race and the track got quite rough in the end.”

 Manawatu’s Paul Whibley, a two-time former Grand National Cross-country (GNCC) champion in the United States, was also fighting through traffic and he made his way up to second place, eventually finishing the five-lap race one minute and 10 seconds adrift of Draper.

Third overall was Titirangi’s Callan May, with Mobberley and Buxton rounding out the top five.

Draper’s win at the weekend is further vindication that he will be ready to push ahead with his plans to race in the United States next year.

“I crashed at the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville in late January and snapped a tricep muscle in my left arm. I was in a sling for a long time and had to have surgery too, but I was still able to train and keep a core fitness,” he explained.

Before his injury, Draper had already been planning to race in the United States and now those plans have simply been pushed on 12 months.

“I will be heading to South Carolina to race the Grand National Cross-country Series there in 2018 and I’m pretty excited about that.”

Meanwhile, the seventh and final round of the NZXC series is set for Pahiatua on December 3.

Words and photo by Andy McGechan



KTM have pulled the covers off the new Freeride E-XC, with a host of improvements to the bike giving riders even more performance and battery life.

The 2018 Freeride E-XC is powered by a state-of-the-art electric motor which makes  18 kW of power at its peak. The new motor (not an engine as the E-XC uses no fuel) is fitted into a re-designed composite frame that KTM assures us provides even better stability.

Thanks to a new PowerPack battery, the E-XC now boasts a 50% capacity increase, which translates to up to one and a half hours of riding time with just one battery charge. New for 2018 also is the adaption of  energy recuperation technology when coasting or braking for an additional range boost. KTM claims the battery has a quick charging time, too, while also providing 70 % of its initial capacity after 700 charge cycles.

In addition, the nimble little Freeride also scores a new set of  WP Xplor 43 USD forks with enhanced sensitivity, and a new WP PDS Xplor shock absorber with improved progression and adjustment options out back.

Harnessing the newfound power is down to the rider, with  three riding modes – Economy, Enduro and Cross – to pick from.

As an EV, it’s easy for beginning riders to just jump on and have a blast with no clutch or gear shift lever to worry about. Seat height is also confidence inspiring, coming in at just  just over 900mm. KTM hope that this combined with its extreme cross-country agility, will ensure that the Freeride E-XC will be the ultimate electrically powered machine for both beginners and experienced riders.

New bodywork with new graphics, trim and colours, a new dashboard and re-positioned ignition lock provide further benefits over the previous model. 

This latest e-powered machine is part of KTM’s long-term commitment to e-mobility, which began over 10 years ago in KTM’s research and development department in Mattighofen, Austria.

KTM’s CEO, Stefan Pierer says the company is committed to producing further electric options in the future.

“The new KTM Freeride E-XC marks the next step in development of e-mobility within KTM and is a continuation of our commitment to this segment. We know that e-mobility will change the landscape of travel in the future, and our vision is very clear. Looking ahead to 2025 we expect to have a wider range of models available with a focus in the commuting arena. We also plan crossover machines with our collaboration with PEXCO, as well as using our e-mobility expertise in other applications.”

The Austrian brand plans a range of machines for the future including e-mini, and an e-scooter, as well as maximising its partnership with PEXCO with a new possibility to produce crossover products in the bicycle sector. The vision is clear, and by 2025 KTM will increase emphasis on machines from 250 watt to 11kWh due to market suitability and efficiency.

Matthias Walkner Wins Final Rally of 2017

Matthias Walkner Wins The 2017 OiLibya Morocco Rally

Topping the standings on the sixth and final day of competition in Morocco’s OiLibya Rally, it was steadfast KTM rider Matthias Walkner who came out on top of the last round of the 2017 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. Collecting valuable points, the Austrian rider moved up to third in the series’ final standings behind Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla and Honda’s Kevin Benavides.

“It’s been a long event and I’m really happy that I won it, the Austrian said from the finish line. “During the last few days we were faced with overflowing rivers, long stages with tricky navigation and a series of other things that could have completely changed the outcome of the event. This is my first victory in the championship and it feels good.”

“The new bike has given me a lot of confidence to push and take my riding into a new level. I’m happy with my performance here in Morocco and this is very important heading into the Dakar Rally now. It makes the next three months a lot easier for me. The team have done an awesome job and we are all looking forward to the Dakar Rally.”

Honda’s Kevin Benavides went in search of victory throughout the race, knowing that in doing so, he could also snatch the world title. However, a minor error was enough to cause him to miss out on the chance of winning the special. The second position in the OiLibya Morocco Rally however meant that the Argentinean rider sealed runner-up spot in the overall world championship standings.

Meanwhile, Paulo Gonçalves also returned to his home in Esposende ahead of schedule. The Portuguese, who had arrived in Fez as a potential contender just five points behind the leader of the overall championship, suffered a fall during the second stage injuring his right hand. The pain forced him to retire after finishing the third day of racing.

Ultimately however, the day was Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Racing Team’s Pablo Quintanilla, who sealed the championship by just 3 points.

Successfully defending the title he won in 2016, the FR 450 Rally mounted rider wrapped up the 2017 OiLibya Morocco Rally with a top six result in the event’s final overall standings to steal the championship from Kevin Benavides.

“I’m over the moon with securing this title, Quintanilla said post race. “This year’s Morocco Rally has been a tough one and with all the incidents on day two I had to dig really deep to defend my championship. I did my best to remain focused until the end as my main goal was to be world champion again. Everything went well and I never lost my focus. Overall, I felt very strong racing here in Morocco. I felt strong with my navigation and the bike, and this is very important for the coming Dakar Rally. I just want to thank all the members of the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team for their hard work and dedication. We’ve all worked really hard during the season and this title is the best reward for all the sacrifices.”

The FIM XC Rallies Championship returns on January 6th next year with arguably the biggest event of the year, the 2018 Dakar Rally.

Final Standings – 2017 OiLibya Rally of Morocco

1. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 10:03:49
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 10:17:31 +13:42
3. Ricky Brabec (USA), Honda, 10:20:47 +16:58
4. Antoine Meo (FRA), KTM, 10:22:16 +18:27
5. Joan Pedrero (ESP), Sherco, 10:26:17 +22:28

Final Standings – 2017 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship

1. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), Husqvarna, 100pts
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 97pts
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 94pts
4. Paulo Goncalves (POR), Honda, 85pts
5. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 84pts

Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro Returns


Only the brave need apply … or the extremely talented …. or the lucky.

Howick’s Liam Draper (Husqvarna), one of the favourites to win the Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa at Labour Weekend. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

The second annual Husqvarna Hard Adventure Enduro near Tokoroa next weekend is expected to be a “last man standing” affair again this year, with plenty lined up to trap, trick and wear down even the most experienced of dirt bike racers. 

The event, in forestry land between Putaruru and Taupo, will take place over two-and-a-half days over Labour Weekend – starting Friday, October 20, and winding up on Sunday, October 22 – and, when the bike engines are switched off, or the riders cry “enough”, late on Sunday afternoon, that “last man” will have earned every accolade that could be heaped.

The event is designed to be difficult. Using a similar format to the notorious Red Bull Romaniacs international hard enduro held each year in Romania, the New Zealand Husqvarna Hard Enduro event will be held in the forestry zone between Putaruru, Tokoroa and Taupo. 

Each day’s track will be different , will be up to 150-kilometres in length and will feature Gold, Silver and Bronze-graded sections.

“This event will not be a typical New Zealand hard enduro; it will be real Adventure Enduro, and each grade will be set to give riders a real sense of adventure, as well as testing rider’s ability to complete the grade that they have entered,” said organiser Sean Clarke, himself a Kiwi international with outstanding racing credentials. 

He explained that riders would follow a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) course that is re-set daily and uploaded to their handlebar-mounted GPS device.

It kicks off on Friday with riders signing in and then undergoing motorcycle and equipment scrutineering from 3pm.

Starting in the SATCO logging attachments yard in Tokoroa at 5pm will be the event “prologue”, with riders tackling a man-made course to determine qualification and starting positions for the following day. 

Riders will complete one lap of that obstacle course to determine their start order for the main race. From about 7pm, the Gold, Silver and Bronze races will be held, with the top 10 riders qualifying to compete in finals for each grade.

Any rider that does not complete one lap of the prologue course will receive a 30-minute penalty and, although he or she will still be able to start the race on Saturday, it will be from the rear of the field.

Two days of gruelling riding then lie ahead for the contestants and not all are expected to make it to the finish.

Riders will be set off, one at a time, every 30 seconds. The first day’s start order will be decided by the prologue results and day two’s start order will be determined by the results from day one.

“The riders can expect two days of hard riding that will push them to their limits,” said Clarke.

“Although not quite as hard as the Romaniacs, it will still be a good work-out, with a lot of trail riding between the hard bits. There will be between six and eight hard sections per day and total riding time for the fastest in the Gold grade is expected to be between five and six hours.”

He said the Silver and Bronze grade courses will be slightly easier, although still very challenging.

 An indication of just how challenging the racing might be is in a note to riders that they must also carry “survival equipment”, including a cell phone, first aid kit and survival blanket.

 Some of the leading riders listed among the entries include Howick’s Liam Draper, Manawatu’s Paul Whibley and Cambridge’s Dylan Yearbury and these riders could be expected to be among the favourites to win, as long as the treacherous course doesn’t claim them first.

The event is sponsored by Forest Trail Events, Kiwi Rider magazine, SATCO logging attachments and Michelin tyres.