Few new bikes of recent years have been launched with the level of expectation that greeted the KTM 790 Adventure. After all, open-class adventure bikes have been so successful for so long, becoming increasingly powerful and expensive along the way, that a clear gap has opened up for a new generation of lighter, cheaper and more manageable middleweights.
Who better than the orange-tinted Austrians to fill it, given the Mattighofen firm’s amazing growth to become Europe’s biggest manufacturer? Not to mention their range of excellent large-capacity Adventure V-twins and their phenomenal off-road competition record, which ranges from Supercross titles to 18 straight wins in the Dakar Rally.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that last year’s outstanding streetbike was arguably KTM’s 790 Duke, with its lively all-new 799cc parallel twin engine, fine-handling chassis and superbike-style electronics. No wonder the closely related 790 Adventure and its more dirt-friendly Adventure R sibling, which shares most parts except suspension, have been eagerly awaited.
For Adventure use the twin cam, eight-valve engine is softened with new cams and injection, adding midrange and lopping 10bhp off the top-end to leave a peak of 94bhp. The chrome-molybdenum tubular steel frame is redesigned to hold a fairing, bigger radiator, aluminium bash-plate and a fuel tank that extends down to each side of the motor to give a generous 20-litre capacity.
Wheels are wire-spoked, in 21” front, 18” rear diameters, and wearing road-biased Avon Trailrider rubber. Suspension is by in-house experts WP, with 200mm travel at each end. As with the 790 Duke, shock preload is the only adjustment. The height-adjustable seat allows most riders to get both feet on the ground, and at 189kg dry the 790 feels notably lighter than large-capacity adventure bikes, especially as its tank shape keeps the centre of gravity very low.
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As with the Duke there are three riding modes (Street, Offroad or softer still Rain), selected by familiar button on the left bar, and displayed on a colourful TFT screen. Throttle response is sweet in all three. The Adventure responds cleanly from low down, comes properly alive at about 6000rpm, then picks up the pace with a wonderfully loose, free-revving feel thanks to its twin balancer shafts. Some parallel twins feel slightly dull but this KTM follows the Duke in having a truly engaging character, despite a silencer that keeps the noise down very efficiently.
That’s not so true of the screen, which gives reasonable wind protection and has 40mm of vertical adjustment, after you’re undone a few screws, but generates some noisy turbulence in either position. More range and tool-free adjustability, like KTM’s Super Adventure screens, would be a definite asset, though to be fair the buffeting was no worse than you get from the likes of BMW’s F850GS and Honda’s Africa Twin, the 790’s closest rivals.
Chassis performance is very good, at least on the road, where most of the Moroccan riding launch took place. The KTM was stable in curves and impressively manoeuvrable in bends, despite its 21” front wheel. The Avons coped fine with some slippery roads. And there was plenty of stopping power from the front brake’s blend of 320mm discs and four-piston radial J-Juan calipers, with the added reassurance of cornering ABS.
The Adventure’s lack of suspension adjustability wasn’t a problem on the road, any more than it is with the Duke. On a few occasions the shock jarred slightly over bigger bumps, but spring and damping rates at both ends seemed very well chosen, giving a fairly plush ride with minimal pitching. Off-road riding was limited to a short section that was mainly dirt and gravel, where again the KTM’s suspension felt well controlled, and was backed up by the excellent electronics that allowed entertaining rear-wheel drifting.
The Adventure coped with that brief off-road excursion sufficiently effortlessly to make me think it will also take much more demanding terrain in its stride. Back on the asphalt and its seat seemed reasonably comfortable, while the twin averaged well over 50mpg despite some fairly enthusiastic throttle abuse; good for a range of more than 200 miles. That’s sufficient to make it genuinely versatile for everything from commuting to touring. Numerous larger adventure bikes would make more relaxing roadsters, but few would be more fun.
It’s well detailed too, with features including hand-guards, twin cooling fans, quickly accessible under-seat air filter, plus storage compartments below the seat and behind both sidepanels. Arguably the Adventure’s only real drawback is that at £11,099 it’s roughly 25 per cent more expensive than the 790 Duke that shares its basic engine and chassis layout, even before adding the £350 quick-shifter that the roadster has as standard.
Perhaps more to the point, by the time you’ve added the shifter and a few other accessories such as a tasty titanium Akrapovic can or carbon-fibre protectors for that low-slung fuel tank, you’re getting close to the price of some very capable and popular large-capacity adventure bikes. (And a long way away from the sub-£9000 cost of Yamaha’s less sophisticated but promising Ténéré 700.)
But in a way that’s not the point, because for many riders the 790 Adventure will combine sufficient all-round performance with a lightness, compact size and off-road capability that a bigger, heavier open-classer simply couldn’t match. If those attributes are as important to you as power and speed, KTM’s middleweight contender could just hit the sweet spot just as precisely as its specification sheet and heritage suggested it would.
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Alternatively, the 790 Adventure R might just be better still. It combines the same engine and frame (except for orange paint) with more sophisticated, multi-adjustable WP suspension that gives an extra 40mm at each end. It also has a shorter screen, taller front mudguard and one-piece seat, and comes with chunkier Metzeler Karoo 3 tyres. And it has an additional Rally riding mode (a £174 extra on the standard model), which allows traction control to be adjusted on the move. At £11,999 it’s more expensive, but well worth the extra if you’re planning serious off-road riding.
KTM 790 Adventure [Adventure R]
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled parallel twin|
|Valve arrangement||DOHC, 8 valves|
|Bore x stroke||88 x 65.7mm|
|Clutch||Wet multiplate power-assisted slipper|
|Maximum power||94bhp @ 8000rpm|
|Maximum torque||89Nm @ 6600rpm|
|Front suspension||43mm WP upside-down telescopic fork, 200mm travel [240mm travel, adjustable for preload, compression & rebound damping]|
|Rear suspension||WP single shock, 200mm travel [240mm travel, adjustable for preload, compression & rebound damping]|
|Front brake||2, four-piston J Juan radial calipers, 320mm discs with cornering ABS|
|Rear brake||Twin-piston caliper, 260mm disc with cornering ABS|
|Front wheel||2.50 x 21in wire spoked|
|Rear wheel||4.50 x 18in wire spoked|
|Front tyre||90/90 x 21in Avon Trailrider [Metzeler Karoo 3]|
|Rear tyre||150/70 x 18in Avon Trailrider [Metzeler Karoo 3]|
|Rake/trail||25.9 degrees/107.8mm [26.3 degrees/110.4mm]|
|Seat height||850/830mm [880mm]|
|Fuel capacity||20 litres|
Words: Roland Brown
Photos: Marco Campelli and Sebas Romero