KTM 790 Adventure & Adventure R Review: Next Generation Adventure bikes
KTM 790 Adventure & Adventure R Review: Next Generation Adventure bikes
KTM don’t do half measures. So when they decided to design a new adventure bike they were always going to come up with something pretty special. The KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R take the sector to new levels of off-road capability. By combining the manufacturers vast experience in off-road riding with the practicality of design needed to take on big adventures in any terrain, the KTM 790 Adventure promised much, but could it deliver? Ride Expeditions had to investigate …
With so many competent and powerful motors within the catalogue, it would have been easy for KTM to simply develop an existing powerplant for the new bike. But KTM don’t do easy, and the motor for the 790 is an all new unit, developed in parallel with the one for the 790 Duke which came out a year before the Adventure and Adventure R.
The engine is an incredibly compact DOHC 8 valve, parallel twin cylinder unit displacing 799 cc. The motor puts out a healthy 96 bhp at 8,000 rpm and 89nm of torque at a slightly lower 6,800 rpm through the six speed gearbox. Further evidence of the different characteristics of the road and adventure versions of the motor can be seen in the power graphs of the two bikes, with the adventure incarnation developing peak power far lower down the rev range.
The motor runs a single and fairly huge centrally mounted radiator which comes fitted with twin cooling fans and there is also an oil cooler to keep things under control. KTM tested this bike in the desert under 40 degree heat to properly test the cooling system during the development process and even made substantial changes late into the design process to increase the cooling efficiency of the motor.
KTM have turned to electronics for the throttle, with a ride by wire system controlling the 46mm DKK Del’Orto throttle bodies via the bikes EMU – Engine Management Unit. There’s also an electronic quick shifter on both bikes which allows clutchless changes, and in what will be a surprise to KTM owners, the clutch is a manual cable controlled unit, rather than the more usual hydraulic unit.
Unlike many more road focussed adventure bikes, the 790 Adventure and Adventure R uses a conventional chain and sprocket transmission as with all its adventure bikes. If you want shaft drive, you better look elsewhere!
So with the motor being developed specifically for the new bike, it was evident that the frame needed to be developed specifically for the requirements of the adventure platform. You might have expected a trellis style frame as found on KTMs Dakar winning 450s, but while there is a trellis design to the rear subframe, the main frame is a chromoly steel frame that runs over the top of the new motor. The engine fulfills a structural role as a stressed member of the frame to help reduce weight and lower the bike’s centre of gravity and overall height.
The frames on the 790 Adventure and Adventure R are slightly different at the front, with the more off-road focussed R having a shallower steering angle and a marginally longer wheelbase to keep things stable when on the dirt. Like the KTM 690 R, the swingarm runs on the outside of the lower frame rails, but unlike the smaller bike, the actual swingarm is a highly engineered open lattice design that has bracing bars within the construction.
The subframe on the bike is perhaps more substantial than you might expect, but given that this bike might be bought to go round the world with two people and substantial luggage on board, then anything less would be broken before you got to Dover!
And being made from steel rather than aluminium, if you do manage to break it, then it can be welded back together anywhere from Toledo to Timbuctu.
There are some equipment differences between the KTM 790 Adventure and 790 Adventure R as you might expect. The R version gets Metzeller Karoo 3 tyres for the 21″ front and 18″ rear which run on tubeless rims, although these can be uprated to a stronger rim that can use tubed tyres. The Adventure 790 gets the more dual sport styled Avon Trailrider hoops fitted to the same wheels. and both versions have the option of tyre pressure monitoring systems – TPMS.
For the R you get a one-piece seat and a small squat screen, whereas on the non-R you get a two-piece seat and a taller adjustable height screen. Both parts are interchangeable between the models however, so if you want an R with a two piece seat and a tall screen, you just need to order them!
OK so while the rest of the bike is relatively conventional, it’s the petrol tank that has attracted the most controversy. In an effort to keep the bike relatively low and give a manageable seat height – an essential requirement for most adventure riders, and also to deliver a low centre of gravity, the KTM Engineers thought outside the box.
So while the petrol cap is in the usual place behind the headstock, the tank splits into two parts either side of the engine, with the bulk of the fuel being held alongside the engines crankcases. The naysayers have been quick to predict disaster in this concept, a fact that perhaps overlooks the extensive testing that KTM have put into the fuel tank placement and design. The tanks have a substantial plastic cover as stock, and this can be upgraded to carbon fibre if you wish. And if that’s still making you nervous, within a few weeks of the bikes launch the aftermarket firms had already got crash bars in the catalogues.
If the new KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R were really going to excel as true off-road adventure bikes, then the suspension needed to be priority. And happily KTM have stepped up with some high spec units that use all the technology and control of the suspension on their phenomenally successful enduro and rally bikes. Forget the electronics and multiple ride and rider modes that bedeck the more road focussed bikes, there’s none of that here.
At the front, the 790 Adventure gets 43mm Apex Open cartridge USD forks giving 220mm of travel, whereas the R version gets the full enduro spec 48mm Xplor USD forks that allows 240mm.
At the back of the bike, KTM keep with their ultra reliable and linkage free PDS system. An Apex unit for the Adventure and the Adventure R getting the higher spec enduro unit again in the form of the WP Xplor shock with adjustment for both compression and rebound damping through the reservoir mounted dials. The travel at the rear matches the figures at the front, so 220mm for the Adventure and 240mm for the R.
So while the suspension relies on no circuityry whatsoever, this doesn’t mean that the KTM has kept the 790 Adventure firmly set in the old-school. Not a bit of it.
From the large TFT screen to the cornering sensitive ABS, traction control and variable riding modes the new bike is bang up-to-date with all the electronic trickery that the best of the adventure bikes are kitted out with. Toggling between the options is through the left-hand switchgear, with the options appearing in the clear and uncomplicated display.
With quite so many variables to select, you are able to fine tune the bike to every conceivable terrain from polished rocks to deep sand, axle-deep mud to billiard table-smooth tarmac. And tap it into Rally mode with minimum traction control and it will light up the back wheel and disappear into the distance with more speed than you may be ready for …
So as you would expect, the rest of the bike is well thought out, from the wrap around hand guards to the sensibly sized foot pegs with removable rubber inserts. There’s a centrally mounted USB port for electronic hook ups, and should you need to wire in anything else or indeed jumpstart the bike, the battery is easily accessible under a small cover under the seat.
The cassette style air filter is held high and out of harm’s way at the rear of the bike and be changed with by two small bolts. Standard mirrors are pleasingly large but about as stylish as a polyester suit – just proves you can’t get it right all the time!
So while both bikes are clearly designed for adventure motorcycling and all the challenges that can bring, there is a fundamental difference between the thinking on the two 790 Adventure variants. KTM make the distinction by defining the riders that they envisage buying and using the bikes. If you are an adventure rider that likes to go off-road during those adventures, then the 790 Adventure is the one you should chose. It’s got the more road based dimensions, dual sport tyres, lower suspension, two-piece seat and the higher adjustable screen. One up or solo, the bike is ready to go.
If however you are a committed off-road rider who likes to go on adventures and take on the more extremes that the planet can offer then the 790 Adventure R is the bike for you. While the basics are the same, the R has the uprated Enduro Spec suspension, the one-piece seat to allow far more movement, the off-road steering angle and wheelbase, the off-road biased tyres, the shorty screen – it’s an off-road weapon that can take you round the world with or without tarmac.
ON THE ROAD
So as the 790 Adventure is the more road based option, then we spent far more time on the tarmac on this bike than the R. And it’s a pretty damn nice place to be.
The 790 is incredibly well balanced on the road, thanks to that low seat height and even lower centre of gravity. The effect of the low tanks is not dissimilar to the balancing effect of BMW’s boxer engine, delivering fantastic feel and balance at whatever speed you choose. While the KTM isn’t the most powerful adventure bike on the market, the 100 odd BHP is plenty enough to have you grinning all day and enjoying the way it flops effortlessly into the bends before powering out. If you can’t survive without 150 bhp then this isn’t the bike for you, but if you are more into realistic and usable power, then the 790 ticks the boxes.
The KTM is positively loaded with electronic riding aids, and while it takes a while to get used to how to navigate and swap between the options, once you get there, you can really feel the difference the systems make. From the different power modes to the variable traction control, the selectable ABS or the cornering ABS, the 790’s brain looks after every aspect of your ride if you want it to. This means that if you suddenly encounter sketchy conditions, you can swiftly adjust things to control your bike and keep safe. There’s a lot of people that don’t like this type of electronic assistance, but there are just as many that love the technical advances that modern adventure bikes now have.
For long sections the bikes cruise control is one of those immediately appreciable touches that allow you to just sit back and take in the scenery, or in the case of the UK’s so called ‘smart motorways’ avoid speeding convictions …
When you eventually come to haul up the 790, the massive 320mm twin discs and radial 4 pot calipers are incredibly responsive and strong – you feel they could stop a train, let alone a 200 kilo bike. At the rear theres a 260 mm disc and a twin pot caliper to keep the back in line, and the feel is equally responsive – the 790s brakes are very very good.
When it comes to spending time with the 790 Adventure R on the tarmac, the bikes is not wildly dissimilar to its sibling. There’s a touch more draft from the lower screen, a touch more noise from the tyres and the steering is a tad slower thanks to the longer wheelbase. But that’s about it – you don’t really notice the taller suspension unless you are trying to and the bike feels equally planted even at high speeds. Most of the road based options such as the screen and seat can be added to the R, so if you want to mix and match that’s OK with KTM.
Whichever option you chose, the new KTM is superbly designed to allow you to ride massive distances in comfort and yet is spritely enough for those weekend blasts round the A roads – job done then.
OFF THE ROAD
While the road manners of the 790 are important, for KTM to have achieved their stated intention of redefining the capabilities of an adventure bike, then it’s off the black top that the 790 needs to excel. And we are happy to confirm that the KTM is everything we wanted it to be.
The combination of the incredible balance and the top rated suspension delivers a riding experience that is totally addictive and better than anything else currently on the adventure bike market. The 790 Adventure R can be ridden harder and faster than your brain tells you is sensible and it will just soak it up and press on. Once on the pegs, the bike feels almost like an EXC thanks to it’s simple uncluttered ergos, narrow central profile and open enduro style cockpit. The relationship between bars, pegs and seat allow east transitions from seated to standing, and the long and relatively comfortable seat allow you to slide forward in the corners and get the weight back on the straights. This is a well thought out machine.
And don’t think that the electronics are only useful on the tarmac. The range of traction control and power settings mean that you can fine tune the bike to the terrain, so if you are tackling deep sand you can wind back the TC and up the power to take you through effortlessly the dunes. But if the next section is a mass of slippery rocks littered with climbs and descents, you can toggle the settings to give you the delicate control of a mountain goat.
Clearly the R version has the edge on the harder off -road going, but the standard Adventure 790 is no slouch away from the roads. OK so the punchy ‘Rally’ setting is an option rather than there as stock, and the suspension can’t handle the bigger hits quite as hard, but for most riders you will run out of talent before the bike throws in the towel.
OK so the look of all the KTM adventure bikes is a bit Marmite – you either love it or hare it. The 790 has the familiar Mantis face and looks strangely long and low, but if you focus on this you are missing the point.
KTMs are notoriously tough and built to take on the world and come out the other side. But our only concern is with all those electronic components – things could get expensive if they go wrong.
While you might think you would want maximum comfort on an adventure bike, then this rarely happens on any KTM, and the 790 is no exception. It’s plenty comfortable enough, it’s just not an armchair.
Again, the KTM doesn’t score maximum points here because it is relatively expensive if you are not going to use the bike to it’s full potential. But if you are a committed adventurer, there’s nothing better on the market.
RIDE EXPEDITIONS RATING - KTM 790 AdVENTURE & ADVENTURE R
So when KTM started on the 790 Adventure project they were looking to produce the most off-road capable adventure bike on the market. And they have succeeded on every level – the bike takes the sector to new levels of performance and handling and allows capable riders to do things that no other similar bike will do. It is simply an exceptional bike.
But is it too much for regular riders? Are the guys that currently have an Africa Twin or a GSA going to jump ship and go orange? We’re not so sure …
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