KTM 690 Enduro R Test
By nature, dual sport bikes are a mix of street and dirt technologies and capabilities. By shading the intended use in a certain direction, you can expect the resulting design to visually reflect that preference. In the world of 650-class dual sport bikes, the KTM 690 Enduro R stands alone.
For those who prefer the street, there are the adventure models from Suzuki and BMW. If you’re looking for a bit more action in the dirt, you have the Kawasaki KLR650 and the aging-but-capable Honda XR650L, which has a racing heritage. However, for motorcyclists who want to do some serious dirt riding and still demand street legality, the KTM 690 Enduro R delivers, just as you would expect from a company with a focus on off-road competition.
Last year, the 690 Enduro R was the happy recipient of a number of upgrades, which KTM has carried over into 2013. Most noticeably, compared to earlier versions, the latest edition is a true 690cc machine (a longer stroke did the trick, though it is still well oversquare at 102mm x 84.5mm) with more power, updated WP suspension settings, a new seat and lower seat height (it still sits at nearly 36-inches high, unladen), a brighter headlight, and modernized plastic.
Unusual in the off-road world, and something we expect to see from Italy rather than Austria, is the chromoly trellis frame. The DOHC LC4 motor does hang down from there, though there is a subframe running under the motor that is protected by a sizable skidplate. The airbox and snorkel is above the motor, where you’d expect to see the modest-capacity 3.2-gallon fuel tank, which is under the seat for centralization of mass and improved handling.
Once aboard the 690 Enduro R, you immediately gravitate toward the dirt. The ergonomics and firm-but comfortable seat are all about off-road. This isn’t quite the racebike-with-lights that the smaller EXC models are, and that is a good thing if you’re not racing. The 690 is about having a great time in the dirt, and having road access to get there.
Vibration, gearing, and dirt-focused handling conspire to limit the 690’s street capabilities. KTM refused to compromise on gearing, so despite the big single’s 66 horses and 49 ft/lbs of torque – huge numbers for a real dirt bike – the Enduro R still gets a close-ratio transmission.
This means that first is relatively high, so you have to slip the KTM’s hydraulic clutch a bit pulling away from lights, and top gear doesn’t let you relax on the highway as much as you would hope on a bike this size. With agile dirt geometry, the 690 is a blast in canyons, and the dirt-friendly tires (shod on high-end D.I.D. DirtStar rims) do not let you down.
At Interstate speeds, the KTM is a bit on the shaky side – both from engine vibration and front-end behavior. Fortunately, if you expect to be riding the bike at freeway velocity regularly, effective steering dampers are available from companies such as Scotts Performance Products, GPR Stabilizer, and KTM PowerParts. The only solution to the vibration would be gearing the bike up, though that would compromise its primary mission – off-road riding.
Initial forays on the bike were explorations of local dirt roads. For this sort of riding, the 690 is spectacular. It is willing to be turned with its rear wheel, as the motor will let you roost to your heart’s content.
The WP suspension travel is less than 10 inches at both ends, so the R doesn’t ride as high as a true dirt bike. Further, plush suspension settles in and smoothes out the bumps in the road. Overcook a turn and the brakes, which are strong on the street, have plenty of feel when the pavement disappears.
With semi-short suspension and soft response, one might expect that its single-track credentials will be compromised. In some ways, the answer is yes, though not in a meaningful way for most riders.
This is not a lightweight 450cc woods racebike that is intended to take on the roughest trails at the highest speeds possible, and comparing it to that sort of machine is to miss the point. The 690 Enduro R is a powerful trail machine for the rider who doesn’t want to have to work too hard – the easily controlled motor is there for that job – and is not interested in competitive speeds.
At sensible speeds, even on choppy trails that constantly slalom through the trees, the big KTM is a pure pleasure. You aren’t sitting too high, so the suspension makes the trail imperfections nearly disappear, and you don’t have to spend most of the ride shifting. Simply pick a gear ratio appropriate for the speed you want to travel, and just dial the throttle back and forth as needed. Truly, the R is that easy to ride.
As you push harder, all the attributes noted will become liabilities, except that the motor is more than willing to oblige your indulgences. Weighing a bit over 300 pounds sans liquids, you want to treat whoops and jumps with respect – this is not Charlie Mullins’ Grand National Cross Country winning 450 SX-F.
If pavement and high-speeds will be seen infrequently, you will probably want to drop a tooth on the R’s countershaft sprocket, making first gear more usable in the tightest terrain. The motor has the grunt, but often there is no substitute for a lower ratio cog. Similarly, full-on, terrain-specific off-road tires will improve handling; if you want to keep street legality, Pirelli’s formidable Scorpion XC Mid Hard is an excellent choice.
We could easily nitpick the KTM here and there, but we know better. Every choice made on the 690 Enduro R was made for a specific reason. If it falls short, it is because the bike was aimed in a different direction than you want to go. Still, given that it is not quite a full-on off-roader, we will beg the factory for a wide-ratio transmission that would go perfectly with the rest of a truly outstanding open-class dual-sport motorcycle.
Photography by Rudi Schedl and Sebas Romero