2019 KTM 790 Adventure and 790 Adventure R Review: Mid-Size ADVing
Arguably the hottest place in adventure motorcycling is smack in the middle of the brawl for the most capable mid-sized adventure bike.With the Triumph Tiger 800XCa and BMW F 800 GS trading blows since the ADV segment began, and with Yamaha’s debut of the Ténéré 700 in the North American market coming in MY2021. With all of the chaos, conditions were perfect for the Austrians to swoop in and drop the mic with the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R.
Ultimate Motorcycling journeyed to the Merzouga Dunes of southern Morocco to flog the freshman middleweight contender. Here are the 21 fast facts that you need to know about the all-new duo—the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure and 790 Adventure R.1. We asked for it—the KTM 790 Adventure was designed with the help of everyday adventure riders like you and me. With KTM engineers and ambassadors embedded into local adventure rides and rallies all across North America and Europe, they rode, camped out, and shared stories with the everyday rider. Feedback like “I don’t need 160 horsepower” was commonplace, and the overall theme was the desire for increased confidence in tackling off-road scenarios.2. The KTM 790 Adventure is not a downsized KTM 1290 or 1090 Adventure, but an entirely new mid-sized adventure platform. Utilizing the LC8c parallel twin engine that debuted on the 790 Duke, and a low-slung fuel tank inspired by the KTM Rally 450 Replica, the 790 Adventure is an easy-to-use package offering a broader swath of riders more accessibility to the ADV genre.3. KTM plays an interesting word game when positioning the two motorcycles. According to KTM, the standard 790 Adventure is “the most off-road capable travel bike,” while the R is “The most travel-capable off-road bike.”4. The key difference between the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure and the R model is the suspension components. The standard model is equipped with a non-adjustable 43mm conventional open-cartridge WP Apex fork, while the Adventure R model is adorned with fully adjustable 48mm WP closed-cartridge Xplor fork, similar to those found on the KTM EXC enduro lineup. The WP Apex PDS rear shock on the standard model is not adjustable other than the spring-preload collar, while the R model WP Xplor shock has fully adjustable high and low-speed compression, as well as rebound damping. The rear spring-preload adjuster on both models requires simple tools to adjust, rather than a tool-free knob.5. The rear suspension design on both 790 Adventures is linkage-free. Instead, they rely on WP’s PDS (Progressive Damping System) suspension technology. Some enduro models in KTM’s lineup use this system rather than an array of linkage.6. The WP Xplor suspension on the 790 Adventure R works deceptively well. The R feels like it’s floating across desert chop at incredibly high speeds, so a keen eye is necessary to look out for fast-approaching obstacles. The 48mm fork stays up in the stroke and soaks up large G-outs. This provides for soft and controlled landings when launching at speed, all the while the rear stays straight and balanced. The experience is confidence-inspiring and more akin to riding a 450cc enduro bike than a twin cylinder adventure bike. For increased stability, a WP steering damper is a welcome standard feature.7. Although the WP Apex suspension on the standard KTM 790 Adventure is not adjustable, the out-of-the-box setup works well. The 43mm fork is comparable to the rest of the mid-size ADV segment and works well on and off the tarmac. Big hits off-road tend to feel a bit harsh on the front-end. Still, for the average rider, the standard suspension is more than adequate.8. With 95 horsepower and 66 ft/lbs of torque, the compact 799cc parallel twin packs a solid punch. The broad torquey feel comes on early with a linear build and peaks at 6500 rpm, providing plenty of grunt and arm-straitening pull. Dual counter-balancers create a near vibration-free ride.9. Both the 790 Adventure and the R model have a host of electronic aids, including cornering ABS and traction control, with the Rally Mode as the standout favorite. Rally mode provides the most direct throttle response, and it allows the rider to select traction control settings on-the-fly—from a super-safe level 9 to a power-sliding and barely perceptible level 1. I used levels 1-4 for off-road situations and bumped it up to level 9 when on the sand-slick tarmac. If riding two-up, the Street and Offroad modes would provide a smoother throttle response, though only Rally mode allows for on-the-fly selection of 9 levels of traction control. Rally mode is standard on the R model, and an optional firmware upgrade for the standard Adventure.10. The positioning of the low-slung rally-style fuel tank changes the game completely. With a capacity of 5.3 gallons, the fuel tank sits between the rider’s knees and the footpegs. This concentrates the mass and lowering the center gravity for excellent and consistent handling, from full fuel load to empty. The low-slung design also completely protects the engine and provides for a very slim feel on the top of the bike for more natural body positioning and maneuverability in technical sections.11. Deep sand is considered kryptonite to adventure bikes, but the KTM 790 Adventure R thrives in it with the right rubber. With Continental Twinduro TKC 80 knobby tires mounted up—Metzeler Karoo 3 tires are standard—riding in the deep dunes of the Merzouga Desert was like carving fresh powder on a snowboard—absolutely exhilarating! Yes, the bike still weighs over 400 pounds—KTM claims no curb weight—but the same principles of dune riding on a 450cc enduro bike apply to the KTM 790 Adventure R. In the world of adventure riding, this is truly rarefied air.12. Thanks to a 280-mile fuel range, the KTM 790 Adventure can go the distance. Even in the vast expanse and desolation of Baja Mexico, this is the kind of flexibility that is necessary to get to your Plan B gas station, just in case the Plan A gas station is fuera de servicio.13. The cable-actuated clutch has a light pull, and is simple to fix in the field. I was surprised to see a cable-actuated clutch on a KTM ADV motorcycle, though simplicity and lightweight is the name of the adventure game. In rough and technical first-gear situations, the clutch feel and operation was entirely adequate. As advanced electronics continue to aid the rider in these types of situations, the importance of the clutch lever becomes diminished.14. The optional up/down Quickshifter+ is seamless and should be standard equipment. With the ability to flawlessly shift up and down and having the electronics rev-matching the transmission, it can not be any easier to accelerate and decelerate through the desert and the tarmac. Coupled with the PASC slipper clutch, the overall operation worked flawlessly. I never had to lift the throttle to engage a gear, again lessening the need to pull the clutch lever.15. With a bright five-inch TFT display, information on the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure is easy to read in all light conditions and from all angles. Moreover, customizable data fields allow the rider to easily view pertinent information and smartphone Bluetooth connectivity is supported via the KTM My Ride app for music, phone calls, and navigation.16. The compact parallel-twin engine design allows for lower seat heights without compromising overall ground clearance. The standard 790 Adventure has a full 9.2 inches of ground clearance. It utilizes a split rider/pillion seat that can be positioned at the very low height of 32.7 inches from the standard height of 33.5 inches. The R model has 10.4 inches of ground clearance, and its one-piece seat has a fixed height of 34.6 inches. Even for my 30-inch inseam, I preferred the higher seat position on the Adventure and the standard seat height on the R model worked well for me.17. A big thumbs-up for simple but effective travel accouterments. Items such as a 12v socket on the dash for powering phones or a GPS and under-seat USB charging is a big plus. The bottom of the seat on the 790 Adventure includes cell phone storage, and there is tool or innertube storage behind the left side plate, both of which are appropriately accessible without tools. Both windscreens are adjustable, and switchable between the motorcycles should you prefer different overall heights. As you’d expect, the R screen is a lower design.18. Two luggage options are available from KTM Power Parts. You can go with the plastic/aluminum KTM Touring case set for the street, or larger Touratech cases for challenging the off-road elements. Both sets offer panniers and a top box, plus they lock with the ignition key. Further, there will be a soft side bag set for though who like to travel light, plus a Quick-Lock tank bag. All are available through KTM Power Parts.19. KTM offers the 2019 790 Adventure and Adventure R their own sets of KTM Power Parts. Generally, the Adventure options are street-oriented, with the R parts focused on making it more durable. Both motorcycles can get added with an ergo seat and an Akrapovic slip-on titanium muffler. The R gets goodies such as beefier footpegs and a rear sprocket, along with aluminum handguards and protection for the radiators and headlights. A centerstand, additional lighting, heated grips, and cruise control can be fitted to the standard Adventure.20. An extended service interval means more time riding and less time wrenching. With a 15,000 km (9320-mile) service interval, chances are that you can time it so servicing takes place in the garage at home and not on the side of the trail. To make things even easier, the air filter is easily accessible by removing the seat and sliding out the cartridge. That means you are much more likely to keep it clean and keep the engine happy.21. The 2019 KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R are priced low to disrupt the market. All of this performance, which is arguably either class-leading or in a class of its own, is priced well below the competition. With an MSRP for the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure of $12,499 and only a grand more for the R model, complete with WP Xplor suspension and Rally Mode as standard equipment, true hardcore adventure is more accessible than ever.Photography by Marco Campelli and Sebas RomeroRIDING STYLE:
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!