The Austrian KTM company have surely shifted away from their enduro and MX based machines, with models like the Duke 620 pointing the way ahead back in the mid 1990s.
After KTM launched a V-Twin 950cc motor a few years back, it was obvious that a generation of bikes would be based around this grunty, puposeful power unit and the KTM 990 Adventure is a bored out and subtly tweaked rival to machines like the BMW R1150 GS Adventure – the most successful large capacity off-roader in the UK market by a long way.
But without the celebrity cachet of Ewan and his mate on TV to push sales along, can KTM’s big twin cut it? Chris Moss went to the launch to find out.
Not too long ago I wouldn´t have liked a bike like this. Like many British bikers, I thought off-road styled bikes were just too unattractive and un-sexy. Luckily for me though, a start in bike journalism gave me a chance to try them and discover just what I´d been missing.
It´s true that ‘adventure´ bikes are slowly becoming more popular in the UK, but there´s still a lot of prejudice and most riders still don´t rate them. All I would say to anyone in that camp is try the new KTM 990 Adventure and then see what you think. If you don´t come way impressed then I´d be amazed. Either that, or I´d be inclined to say that you haven´t got a heart!
Put simply, the 990 is one of the most inspirational bikes out there that just makes you want to ride all day long and anywhere you fancy. It´s a highly enjoyable piece of kit, with loads of character and all-round ability. In fact, it can do so much, so well, it makes a Honda VFR seem a bit too narrowly focused!
Now I was very lucky to discover all of the new Adventure´s attributes, as KTM very cleverly, at the bike´s launch in Fuertaventura, chose a test route for us that included rides on the road, dirt, and even on a bloody beach! And no matter what sort of surface I rode the bike on, it coped brilliantly – and sometimes a lot better than me. Let me tell you more about the superb day I had on it.
My enthusiasm for the 990 began almost straightaway. It´s a very manageable bike to master, and its height and size, which might make it appear a little intimidating to some, evaporates within moments of getting underway. Despite its dimensions, the KTM is actually a very easy bike to master. The dominant riding position, with widely spaced bars and footrests, lets you to lever the bike around dead easily – unlike some very focused sports bikes with their ‘wraparound´ riding arrangement that makes it awkward to move about on them. Never mind shift the actual bike itself around when you want to get it through a corner.
But if the riding position´s ease of use puts you in a relaxed mood, then the engine´s power characteristics will chill you out even more. The 999cc V-twin, now with an extra 57ccs and fuel-injection, is even lazier and more useful with a bit more midrange than the 950 Adventure it replaces. It cares not what gear you´ve selected, or how much you´re revving it, whenever you twist the throttle it delivers the goods. It´s as simple as that. Exiting corners and overtaking couldn´t be much simpler. With a claimed 98bhp maximum on tap, the KTM is pretty swift too and getting up to speeds of 100mph and above is never a tough task for it. Hang onto the overdrive-type top gear for long enough and you´ll see nigh-on 140mph on the speedo. And that, combined with such immediate throttle response gives the bike enough zip to be content with and, if you fancy, a chance to dice with the sort of sporty stuff you wouldn’t expect to be able to compete with.
Mind you, it´s the handling that gives the KTM this speedy ability as much as the engine. And once you learn to trust the movement in the long travel suspension and not confuse it with things like the tyres letting go, you´ll be more than impressed with its corner-conquering. The roads we rode the bike on in Fuertaventura weren´t just tricky, but risky too, and any mistakes would be punished severely. Errors were not on the agenda and to ride quickly and safely required a bike that was easy and trustworthy. The KTM ticked both of those boxes, and made the ride not just a lot less risky, but massively enjoyable too.
The weight distribution, steering, suspension and impressive new ABS brakes have clearly been thought out well and combine to give a neutral, un-fussed, do-as-you-fancy type of ride that inspires both confidence and sheer enjoyment. But though the road ride was giving me a real buzz, the experience was about to get even better.
As an adventure/enduro type machine, the 990 has naturally been designed to be ridden off road so that´s precisely the sort of terrain we tackled next. And though I´m not the world’s best at off road, the KTM gave me a much needed helping hand. To be fair, the trails were fairly solid and didn´t need Dakar riders´ levels of skills to deal with them, but riding slightly out of shape at around 60mph wasn´t just a great reflection of what the bike could do, but just how confident it made me feel too. It was a brilliant experience and I really enjoyed getting out into the wilderness and away from the masses. But once more, it was about to get even better.
Just to further underline the KTM´s capabilities we then rode it along a beach, splashing through the sea waves as they crashed onto the shore. And despite my initial terror at the prospect, I didn´t just manage the task, I totally loved it. I did crash a fair few times, but both the bike and I stood up well and went back for more as soon as we were upright again. And to think how well the 990 had performed on road, dirt, and then beach, really highlights what amazing versatility it has. I can´t think of another bike that could perform as well all-round as the KTM had.
After the frolics in the Atlantic Ocean, we headed back for the long ride to the hotel. By this time I was getting a bit knackered from all the standing up on the pegs from the off road-sections, and just wanted to get back to a swig a beer and relax. And though the 990 couldn´t help me with the booze, once again it helped me to chill out with its laid back nature. The screen particularly helped with the easy nature of it all, and even at over 100mph it gave brilliant levels of protection.
By this time I was wondering if there was anything the bike couldn´t do well. Maybe if I looked hard enough I might find a bottle of beer within its bodywork after all.
There’s a range of optional extras available too;
Luggage rack/mounting kit – £166.40
35-litre aluminium pannier (each) – £179.10
41-litre aluminium pannier (each) – £179.10 (same as above)
32-litre plastic panniers (set of 2) – £332.20
42-litre plastic top case (each) – £165.80.
Top case mounting top plate £39.95.
Tank bag – £92.50
Akrapovic end cans – £615.90
Alarm system – £232.40
Crash bars – £132.50
With another 50 miles of the test left I then tried the S version of the bike, which is designed more for off-road duties with its longer travel suspension and standard non-ABS brakes. The ride on this bike is equally impressive, though the 35mm taller seat height was just a bit too much for me for everyday duties, and the stability when flat out on the road not quite as solid as on the rock-like standard version.
But whatever your choice, you can´t fail to be impressed by the performance of either. My day on them was hugely enjoyable and memorable, the only regret being that, like all good things, it had to come to an end. Sometimes you forget just how fortunate you are to be a bike tester, but the ride on the new 990 Adventure was a bloody good reminder.
Get KTM motorcycle insurance for the 990 Adventure 2006.
Peak Power……….98bhp @ 8500rpm
Peak Torque……….70lb/ft @ 6500rpm
Bore and Stroke……….101 x 62.4mm
Fuelling……….Keihin electronic fuel injection, 48mm throttle bodies
Chassis……….Chrome-moly tubular-steel spaceframe
Front suspension……….48mm inverted telescopic forks, multi adjustable.
Rear suspension……….rising-rate monoshock, multi adjustable
Front braking……….Twin 300mm discs, 2 piston calipers, ABS
Rear braking……….Single 240mm discs, 1 piston caliper, ABS
Wheels/Tyres……….21 inch front, 18 inch rear
Fuel Capacity……….22 litres
Est. Top Speed……….125mph