Long before it unleashed the Beast, KTM made bikes for a much wider range of riders.
There are several OEMs out there with long, characterful histories. Harley-Davidson, Ducati, BMW, and Honda all call to mind decades upon decades of craftsmanship, determination, and pluck.
KTM has a long history as well, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem to be as well-known outside of the realm of KTM superfans. Of course, that's why any good OEM worth its salt has some kind of museum dedicated to showcasing its history. Your favorite Austrian moto manufacturer is no exception, as this video deftly illustrates.
It all started in 1934, when company founder Hans Trunkenpolz first formed Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen to sell DKW motorcycles in Austria. Of course, if you’re going to sell people motorcycles, those customers also need somewhere to go for repairs, service, and parts—and soon, KTM got into the repair business, as well.
By 1951, KTM put out its very first motorcycle—the unassuming-looking R100. The company wasn’t designing its own engines yet; that wouldn’t come until nearly two decades later. The company changed its name to “Kronreif Trunkenpolz Mattighofen” early in the ‘50s, after businessman Ernst Kronreif purchased a considerable share of the company. Cleverly, the KTM branding stayed intact, despite the change in what it stood for.
Although the company’s motto now is “ready to race,” KTM put out a wide range of different types of bikes in its earlier days. It participated in competitions like the International Six Days Trial, as well as the Austrian National Championships and various motocross series from the start, so you could definitely say that racing is in the brand’s blood.
KTM also started producing scooters and mopeds in 1959, so that everyday people could get around in an economical, easy way. Like some other early motorcycle and scooter makers, it also developed some “ladies models” meant to appeal to women who wanted to keep their clothes clean and neat on their journeys—and also not get long skirts caught up in any moving mechanical parts. While dirtbikes have been a part of KTM’s DNA from the off, the scooters only stayed in production until 1988. Here’s a video walkaround of a very nice example of a KTM Ponny scooter (audio in German, but cool to see in any language).
There’s far too much in the KTM Motohall to cover in just one video, but that’s the point—to make you want to go and visit the Motohall for yourself, once it’s safe to do so. For example, KTM first started making inroads into the American market in the late 1960s, entirely due to John Penton. He was a Husqvarna dealer and off-road racer who talked KTM into making some prototype bikes for competition use in the U.S. Their massive racing successes only added to KTM’s racing glory, eventually resulting in production competition bikes that Penton supported for American customers.
Company founder Hans Trunkenpolz eventually died in 1989, and by 1991, the company entered bankruptcy. It was a fork in the road, not an end; the company split into four different, completely independent branches, of which the motorcycles are just one. The full KTM name changed a few more times, but the colloquial “KTM” that everyone knows has stayed remarkably consistent throughout the company’s many ups and downs.