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Taking Midsize Adventure Seriously

October 2, 2019

KTM’s long-awaited 790 Adventure bikes hit the sweet spot between smaller dual-sport bikes and larger adventure bikes.

Story by: Costa Mouzouris

Photos by: Mike Emery

KTM is best known for its single-cylinder dirt bikes and for its larger, V-twin-powered road-oriented bikes, including the Adventure models and the Dukes. The firm’s new middleweight adventure bike, the 2019 790 Adventure, breaks new ground for KTM: it’s the Austria-based bike maker’s first-ever off-roader to feature a parallel-twin engine. KTM launched the new 790 Adventure and its off-road sibling, the 790 Adventure R, in Big Bear, Calif., where we sampled both machines in their natural habitats — on winding mountain roads and on rocky, sandy trails.  

The 799 cc liquid-cooled twin first appeared on the street-oriented 790 Duke last year. Unlike the parallel twins of other manufacturers, which feature either 180-degree, 270-degree or 360-degree crankpin layouts, the KTM twin features a unique 285-degree crankpin arrangement. This gives the KTM twin a 75-degree firing order, which gives the 790 a familiar KTM sound and feel because that’s the same firing order as the firm’s 75-degree V-twins. KTM claims the engine produces 94 horsepower and 66 ft-lb of torque, which is right on par with the 790’s principal competitors, the Honda Africa Twin and the BMW F850GS.

Made in Austria

2019 KTM 790 AdventureBefore we dig further into the machine, we need to refute a rumour. Contrary to some early online reports that claimed KTM’s 790-series bikes were to be built in
China as of 2020, this will not be the case. While KTM did form an alliance with China-based motorcycle manufacturer CFMoto in 2018 and the latter will produce small-displacement singles in China, we received confirmation that all 790 models will be manufactured in Austria. 

One of the main reasons that KTM chose the parallel-twin layout for this new middleweight was to achieve a low seat height – at least by adventure bike standards. The 790 Adventure’s two-position seat sits at either 830 or 850 mm from the ground; the taller Adventure R’s perch sits at 880 mm and is not adjustable. While the latter is only 10 mm lower than the 1090 Adventure R’s seat, the 790 also has a narrower midsection, which makes planting both feet on the ground easier.

The earlier comparison to the Africa Twin and the F850GS wasn’t random; like those two machines, both 790 Adventure models utilize 21-inch front wheels, which is the ideal wheel size if you plan on veering off the pavement and riding where few bikes go. Large-diameter wheels roll over rough terrain with more ease than smaller 19-inch wheels found on bikes such as the R1250GS. The 790 also has an 18-inch rear wheel, which facilitates tire selection when choosing aggressively treaded off-road tires. Among the 790’s competitors, only the Honda rolls on an 18-inch rear wheel; all others use 17-inch rears, which narrows knobby tire choices.

Sounds Familiar

Riding the 2019 KTM 790 AdventureWe began our ride on the Adventure R. Among the first things I noticed on startup was how much the 790’s parallel twin sounds like one of KTM’s V-twins – again, due to the cylinders’ firing order.

I didn’t take long after hitting the dirt to realize that the Adventure R is just about the best adventure bike I’ve ridden to date. Yes, that’s a bold statement, but we hit rough gravel roads with the fuel tank filled, and those roads quickly turned to rocky, undulating trails and, eventually, to sandy tracks. The bike is remarkably light at 204 kg, undercutting the fully fuelled BMW and Honda by 25 kilos – and that’s a lot. And that’s with the Adventure R’s larger 20-litre fuel tank filled (versus 15 litres and 18.8 litres, respectively, for the BMW and Honda).

Unlike other adventure bikes, which have a conventional fuel tank atop the engine and feel top-heavy and cumbersome when full, the KTM’s fuel tank is a unique design that slings over the frame and has two bladder-like compartments hanging low to either side of the engine. KTM did this to maintain a low centre of gravity when the bike is filled to capacity, and that design works as claimed. The Adventure R also is narrow between the knees. However, the tank does look as if it could be easily damaged should you take a hard spill. Despite trying to be as thorough as possible when testing motorcycles, I didn’t test the 790 Adventure’s crashworthiness, so I’ll rely on KTM’s claim that the bike survived extensive, severe off-road testing without issue. Replaceable plastic covers protect the tank, and there’s also a large aluminum skid plate to protect the bike’s undercarriage. 

Precise Steering and Suspension

Dashboard of the 2019 KTM 790 AdventureWhere the Adventure R really edges out its rivals is in its suspension, which is provided by KTM-owned WP Suspension and is fully adjustable. The R’s tall suspension easily soaked up even the biggest bumps without bottoming during my test ride and allowed a surprisingly quick pace. The…

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