Riders buy Adventure motorcycles for different reasons. Some like the comfort, touring ability, two up suitability and general all round competence. Others like to venture off the beaten track, and then others where there is virtually no track! No matter what your reason for buying an Adventure bike, when it comes down to bar room bragging rights it is the off road capability of your ride that makes or breaks it.
Somewhere in the dark recesses of our imagination we picture ourselves sporting at least a weeks worth of stubble and travel grime, astride our equally travel stained ride, gazing in steely eyed fashion across an arid plain in some far flung land, contemplating the next leg of an epic adventure. Truth is, these pictures could put us on any bike for, as the old saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way”. However, if the scene playing in your mind is as hard core as such imaginings usually are, you would be on an orange bike. Fact is, KTM’s are quite simply the most hard core and badass adventure bikes out there! As you get cruisers and then you get Harleys, so, in the hard Adventure world you get KTM and then everything else. I mean 18 consecutive Dakar wins. How conclusive a credentials argument is that?.
In this context, when you ride, and then consider the qualities of the new 790 Adventure and Adventure R from the Austrian manufacturer, you realize that they are not simply a shot across the bow of the competition. It is more like the famous World War 2 sea battle between the German pocket Battleship Bismarck and the daunting and seemingly invincible pride of the Royal Navy, the battleship HMS Hood, which, up until then had ruled the seas. The Bismarck didn’t bother with a warning shot across the Hood’s bow. Instead they put one straight into the ammunition magazine of the Hood and blew it all to hell! Perhaps the 790 Adventure could still be considered a shot across the bow, but the R version simply blows the competition away. KTM’S catch phrase for the new 790’s is “Adventure harder” and it could not be more apt.
So who is the competition? Because of the wide skill set that the 790’s posses it is not only the obvious BMW R850 GS, Triumph Tiger 800 XC, Honda Africa Twin and Suzuki V–Strom but KTM’s own 690 Enduro as well as the Husky 701. Criticism of the first four, and please don’t misunderstand me for a moment, as they are all good bikes in their own right, is that they are all big and a bit porky. The weight that they carry and the distribution thereof is a limiting factor when off road adventures get a tad extreme. KTM’s 1090 in my opinion is the best current adventure bike in terms of off road ability. The Africa Twin runs it a close second but only after you have re-valved the suspension. The 690 and 701 are really Dual Sports and not Adventure bikes in that they carry too little fuel and lack open road legs.
This has always been the compromise. Long distance comfort, fuel range and speed versus off road ability. I met a BMW R1200 GS Adventure mounted couple at the turn off to Elephant Sands just north of Nata a while back. They were trying to pluck up the courage to venture down the sandy track to the lodge on the hefty Bimmer. I did my best to encourage them with tales of elli’s and the like but to no avail. The thought of the big bike in the deep sand was a no no. Now we all now how capable a well ridden GS is, but for many riders the idea of wrestling a heavy Adventure bike through thick sand is a bridge too far. The weight of the bike puts many riders off riding slightly technical terrain.
The cry of many such a rider has been for a lighter, more manageable and less intimidating truly off road worthy adventure bike. KTM has heard that cry. Yamaha too, heard that cry and responded with their incredibly well received T7 concept bike. Despite confirming that it would go into production, four years has elapsed and still no Yamaha has come along to scratch the itch they created. KTM in the meantime, a scant year or so after launching their exciting Duke 790 road bike, have produced not one, but two brilliant Adventure variants featuring a retuned version of the powerful and playful 799cc parallel twin. Talk about sucker punching Yamaha!
In Adventure form the motor churns out 95 horses @ 8000 rpm, just shading the Africa Twin litre bike. Torque is equally impressive at 88Nm @ 6500 rpm. This propels a bike that is at least 20 to 30 Kg’s lighter than any of it’s peers. The end result, not surprisingly, is ability that has set a new benchmark for the class. I actually think it has reinvented the class. I asked the question after attending the new 1200 Rallye GS launch, why it was that Adventure bikes had got heavier rather than lighter over the years. The original ‘80’s model R80 GS weighed the same as the new KTM 790’S. Why then should the latest GS’s be closer to 240 Kg’s fully fuelled?
The 790’s in both Adventure and R guise look the goods. As with their off road bikes the colour is not painted but rather moulded into the plastic body panels. The 20 litre fuel tanks have deep sides which both carry the weight low and offer a remarkable degree of crash protection too. Powerparts supply tough covers to enhance this feature. The bikes have wide handlebar lock, so coupled to the low centre of gravity they turn on the proverbial tickey.
The Duke got instant acclaim for it’s playful nature. The Adventures are no different. The inherent abilities together with the playfulness makes them unique in the Adventure bike class. How can I make a statement like that you may ask? ‘cause I rode them in Adventure bike heaven, that’s how!
KTM SA flew a bunch of SA journos to Morocco hot on the heels of the World Launch of the 790 Adventures. Riaan Neveling, KTM SA’s National Sales Manager, in consultation with Hein Engelbrecht from ADA, decided that the world journos were wusses and that the SA chaps needed a bit more of a challenge, so they tacked on a few more embellishments to what was already a hectic Adventure route. Unfortunately for us Riaan does crazy s**t on any motorcycle and thinks its easy! I detest a kid with talent!
After flying in from Casablanca and being briefed on the new bikes and riding plans for the next two days, I went off to bed with butterflies in the stomach resembling a WW 2 dogfight. Tomorrow was game on! The sun only rises around 7am at this time of year in Morocco so we rode out from the hotel into a beautiful golden glow over the arid landscape. Day one was riding the Adventure variant shod with Avon dual sport rubber with a 70 to 80% road bias. The days riding was in an area near the towns of Erfoud and Merzouga, of Merzouga Rally Raid fame. This is about 350 kay’s as the crow flies east south east of Casablanca.
As we rode out I thought back to Riaan’s briefing. The aim for KTM was to build bikes that can “adventure harder, ride further and push your adventure riding goals”. What I am going to do is give you the low down on the Adventure and then we will explore the R model.
KTM 790 ADVENTURE
This is meant to be the user friendly, go anywhere, one up or two up with luggage if needs be, comfortable and very capable model. Understand that “capable” in KTM speak means way above average off road prowess. A 20 litre tank with frugal fuel consumption equates to a 450 kay plus range. We rode them a bit like we stole them and yet at the end of the day my computer reported 4,9 l/100. Ease of maintenance was another design parameter. To this end the air filter is located under the seat. Whip off the seat and you can clean or replace the filter in a flash. Clever!.
Speaking of seats, there is a low setting at 830mm or a high setting at 850mm. The clutch is cable, rather than hydraulically actuated again for ease of maintenance in remote locations. Windscreen is taller and adjustable by 40mm. Sustained high speeds were comfortable even for my 6’ 3” frame, with no untoward buffeting even whilst wearing a peaked adventure helmet. (Screens are interchangeable between the two models). There is 200mm of suspension travel at both ends, with preload adjustment only on the rear shock. The factory has done a better than average job with the spring and damping rates, so unless you have gone to town on the pies (or Burger King, Mr Portman) you should be quite happy. Even at silly speeds over some dodgy surfaces the Adventure stayed tidy. Wheel sizes are the same on both models at 90/90×21 in front and 150/70×18 at the rear. Spoked and tubeless, they are easy to plug and bomb in the event of a puncture. This is just as well as neither variant is equipped with a main stand.
The seat is a two piece and is comfy but firm in typical Katoom fashion. Zoon Cronje, the photographer, spent two full days on the back of Riaan’s bike and had no complaints. (About the seat, that is. The danger pay is an ongoing dispute, I am sure!) The bike has the now familiar to KTM riders TFT dash display which gives you all the vital information that you need to know and then some. The full electronics package has been thrown at these bikes. Off road ABS, cornering ABS, Slip control (a more adjustable version of traction control designed for you to slide the bike controllably like a riding God), rider modes including “Rally” with adjustable throttle mapping. Flip! This is confusing as hell for an old school dude like me!. Fact is these modes all work. Don’t get clever. Put your ego as deep as it will go in your pocket, or better still, lose it! The rider aids are proper and make a better and safer rider out of you.
A 12 V socket is located conveniently directly in front of the rider and there is a dedicated spot for you to mount your GPS so that you don’t miss the turn-off to Katmandu. Ergonomics are like baby bear’s porridge; just right. The handlebars are adjustable by rotating the clamps, though length job’s like me will have to ideally install risers for when standing off road. Mirrors work well, giving a good view and staying unblurred at all speeds. Back to the ride.
A scant 20 kay’s into the ride, after meandering through a quaint town, riding on the right side of the road, as they do in Morocco, Riaan hooked a right onto a rocky goat track through a stone quarry to the top of a cliff. Despite a few sphincter clenching moments we all made it safely to the top and started to realize that these bikes make the difficult ordinary. Oh yes, the view was great too. Back on the road the little KTM continued to impress. The torquey twin has found it’s rightful place in this style of bike. Smooth and willing it whips you along effortlessly to a top end (indicated) of just over 200 kph. Decent power and light weight always was the recipe for superior performance.
This light weight and grunt translates into a really fun ride. You forget, after a diet of podgy bikes, how engaging and fun a light pokey bike is to ride. You feel in control all of the time. Those of us with a penchant for riding on only the back wheel were having a real wheelie fest. One day when i’m big…..The Adventure is a joy in the mountains, railing through bends at warp speed and blasting down the straights. A veritable weapon on a windey road.
By the end of the day we had seen sights and ridden places that many would not feel up to going on the typical Adv bike out there. (like that flippen’ rock garden up the mountain, Riaan) The 790’s were never found wanting. The 320mm front discs hauled us down from speed without fuss or bother, yet gave plenty of feel on dirt. To sum up. I would hop on this bike and depart on a round the world trip in a heartbeat, secure in the knowledge that whatever we faced together we would be able to handle it. A new class is born. The “hard adventure bike”. Flip, now how good is the R?
RIDING THE R
“Why would you need more than that offered by the straight Adventure?”, I was asking myself. And then I rode the R. Joining us for the R ride, which was going to be almost exclusively “off piste”, as the Dakar dudes say, was Ross Branch, the “Kalahari Ferrari”, the Botswana boytjie that caused such a stir with his incredible Dakar debut. Botswana is close enough for us to call him ours, isn’t it?. From the moment we turned onto the dirt, the fun began. Well, if the truth be known, for me it was initially fear, translating into fun as I got to grips with the R, and it’s talents started to shine through.
We encountered fast gravel plains interspersed with rocks, ruts, washes and sand. Lots of sand. That “S” word that strikes fear like a dagger to the heart of many an Adventure bike rider. With my bike in Rally mode and my seat in the 850mm low position, in case I needed to dab a foot down, (905mm in the high position) and the slip control allowing decent controlled slides with off road ABS engaged I was G for go. Please understand that whilst I don’t totally suck at off road adventure bike riding, I’m by no means an off road boff. Adding to my potential woes was the fact that our TKC 80’s were pumped to 2.5 bar to prevent pinch flats or cuts on the sharp rocky lurkers that we were hitting at speed. No help in the sand there then!
The quickshifters fitted to the bike were a revelation. As you dirt donks out there will know you have two choices when riding a motorcycle in sand. For those who have not yet experienced this unique experience, allow me to explain. Option one. Proceed slowly and carefully as if you are looking out for mines in a minefield. The front wheel is pushed this way and that by the sand demon that lives in the sand, so you spin your legs like a roadrunner as if you are a twin paddle Mississippi paddle steamer. Trouble is, the paddles soon go limp as you run out of steam and inevitably grind to a halt. At this point your quivering spent pins can no longer hold you up, so you capsize in the sand, often under the bike. If all you have to get through is a 20 metre wide river bed then option one will work, however if you have kilometres of sand in which to battle the sand demon then you have to come up with another plan.
That plan is this. Hook second gear and slip the clutch out so the bike doesn’t stall. First gear will simply dig a hole in the sand and roost the crap out of your ex buddy who was waiting patiently behind you for his turn to have a go at said sand demon. As you accelerate, the front wheel rises up out of the sand and the sand demon falls off. Suddenly you are no longer flapping your arms around like an Outsurance pointsman, because the bike is running relatively straight. Be warned, this technique is not for the faint hearted as you are now proceeding at a rate of knots, so should you abandon ship at this stage it is most likely going to hurt. As the sand demon falls off you need to stand up, grip the bike between your knees and try and relax your death grip on the bars. Now you can put your butt back to get the front even lighter and make it even more difficult for that pesky demon to mess with your front wheel.
A word of caution. Many riders, at this point, make the mistake of studying the sand in front of their wheels, presumably to take avoiding action if they see a particularly nasty sand demon lurking ahead. Don’t fall for this heinous plot! Cast your gaze ahead, with only your peripheral vision scanning for nearby lurkers, and ride towards that distant point. This way you will use those nasty demons for traction rather than fall into there clutches.
Why did I share this dark secret with you? Because you need to understand that the other variable, hitherto unmentioned, is the bike that you are riding. As you who have previously fallen foul of the sand demon know, gravity sucks! So, the heavier the bike you are riding the more chance the demon has to grab your front wheel. Darn!, now you get it, don’t you? Enter the KTM 790 Adventure R. This baby, defying gravity as she does, simply hoiks the front wheel out of the clutches of Monsieur Le Sand demon all the while flashing him a single finger salute! Defeating the sand demon has never been this easy on an adventure bike. If we all start riding Adventure R’s’ or straight Adventures for that matter, the sand demon will have to go on the dole or find another day job. That’s a fact! The quickshifter is another sand secret weapon, because you stay on the throttle and hook it through the gears, never giving the demon a chance to retard your progress enough to grab the wheel. All of a sudden you have brought a gun to a knife fight and your confidence spikes and you start playing with the sand monster. How cool is that?
Ross Branch is so good at beating the daylights out of the sand demon that, and I have it on good authority, old demon runs and hides when he sees Ross coming. Asked his opinion of the 790 R in the sand he beamed. “It’s even easier than my Rally 450 because the twin cylinder hit is less brutal and more linear, I love it”. I can’t say that the R turned me into even a “Kalahari Kia” in the dirt, but what it did do was turn my apprehension into enjoyment.
We stopped for lunch at a spot literally on the edge of the famed Merzouga sand dunes. I looked out over the amazing expanse of rust coloured sand and felt an oily snake of caution filling my gut. Intuitively I knew that it was not the sand demon that dwelt there but rather his evil sibling, with twice the guile and venom. We had stumbled upon the lair of the dune demon himself! Being older and perhaps wiser I witnessed some of my countrymen, full of confidence from their defeat of the sand demon, sally forth against this new foe. The battle raged hither and thither and when we at last were forced to regroup we had lost one of our number. Veritably the bravest of us all. The dune demon feinted, providing traction and then struck! Thrown from his noble steed he suffered grievous wounds and was forced to retire from the field of battle.
Ok, enough of the medieval imagery. The fact that the bikes could even traverse the dunes was testimony to their ability. While we were there, two guys on new GS’s arrived, took one look at what the guys were doing with the R’s on the dunes, took a quick photo, then got the hell out of there! Perhaps they were chilled to the bone by the mournful wail of the dune demon. What remained was a brisk trail ride back on a track circumventing the dunes. Back at the hotel everyone was gushing over the ability of the bikes. Riding these bikes you need to constantly remind yourself that you are on an Adventure bike and not a pukka dirt bike, lest you overstep the mark and reap the whirlwind.
Watching Ross in the dunes was amazing. Clearly you need to be able to “read” the dune in all it’s incredible complexity’ levels of traction change constantly, as do the inclines of the dune face that you encounter. Misjudge a slope angle or slip face and you hit a lethal drop off, only to crash down in a heap. Not for the faint hearted! Having said this, the bike had the guys doing things that I honestly don’t think they would typically attempt on an Adventure bike. KTM’S 790 Adventure R is in my humble opinion in a class of one, albeit even a new class entirely in terms of off road prowess. Combine that with it’s many other talents and you have a huge winner. It is incredible that 240mm of suspension travel and a couple more mm of ground clearance can make a bike feel so different. Admittedly the R suspension is fully adjustable, and, in the way of serious KTM’s, proper! It negotiates whoops and ruts with a finesse that I have only experienced on a fully fledged dirt bike. It also has a slightly more relaxed head angle, thus increasing the wheelbase slightly and enhancing stability at speed. A steering damper is there as a catch fence.
KTM have broken new ground, with their only competition coming from within. If your adventure is going to be “hard” in nature, you would be well advised to equip yourself with one of these weapons. The bike will thrill you and extract every ounce of your riding ability in the best possible way. The R can be had for a bargain R185999. The Adventure segment revolution has officially began and the guillotine doing the damage is most definitely orange!
A huge shout out to Franziska and Riaan and the other members of the KTM SA team like Shondor and Stefan, who rode along and made the experience so epic. The passion you have for your brand is inspirational!. Thank you for the privilege of putting your new bikes to the test in magnificent Morocco. Thanks are also in order for Hein and Dieter Engelbrecht from ADA who shepherded us on the rides. You gentlemen rock.
And finally, kudos to the most badass, hardcore adventure motorcycles on the planet. The 790 KTM Adventure and R, thanks to you the colour of extreme adventure is most certainly orange.
For more information visit: www.ktm.com/za