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First Ride: 2019 KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R Review

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Published in: Bikes

The wait is over—they’re finally here! And, let me tell you, KTM’s 790 ADV models are well worth the wait! The Austrian company recently added an R&D facility here in North America, and this is one of the first bikes to receive the benefits. KTM set out to produce one of the most capable middle-weight bikes in its class and, with Quinn Cody as a significant contributor to the development of this bike, it really shows. 

The adventure market is shifting, in that riders are discovering that less is more and smaller displacement bikes will do what the big 1200s do while being a lot more fun off road. ADVMoto spent two days riding the new KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R models in the epic mountains of Big Bear Lake, California. Day One was dedicated to carving up the twisties on the Adventure model around Big Bear and Arrowhead. We spent Day Two on the Adventure R model in the high desert just outside Pioneer Town, riding fast and technical terrain. 

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• Engine/Performance

KTM got out of their comfort zone of the traditional V-twin LC8 to develop the all-new, ultra-compact (smallest in class) LC8c DOHC 799cc parallel twin, which is offered in the new, more street-oriented 790 Duke. This all-new platform is a horizontally split case with a 75-degree crankpin offset that results in a 435-degree firing order and gives off a V-twin exhaust note. Nikasil-coated cylinders for wear resistance produce a whopping 95 hp at 8,250 rpm and 65.6 ft.-lb. of torque at 6,500 rpm. An open deck cylinder design offers optimum cooling in extreme temperatures. A 46mm DKK Dell’Orto ride-by-wire throttle body handles the fuel delivery. Cruise control is optional on both models.

The motor is extremely smooth, thanks to the twin balancer, using one on the crank assembly and another on the cam assembly. This configuration results in a practically vibe-free motor. The oscillation is barely noticeable and really only detectable on the R model with the rubber peg inserts removed.

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Power is put to the pavement via KTM’s PASC (Power Assisted Slipper Clutch) which is operated via traditional cable. Yes, you read that right. KTM opted to go with the traditional clutch cable for easier trail side fixes. The clutch is very light, yet has a hydraulic clutch feel you’d expect to find on a KTM. Optional on both models is KTM’s Quickshifter+. This feature allows for shifting without the use of the clutch. Ride-ability is further enhanced with modes you can select based on riding conditions:

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Street—Sporty throttle response with the MTC (motorcycle traction control) set up to allow a minimal degree of slip before engaging.
Off-Road—Smooth throttle response with MTC practically disengaged to allow maximum slippage, to keep forward momentum on loose surfaces. Anti-wheelie feature is disengaged to allow front wheel lofting for getting over obstacles. Lean angle is not active in Off-Road mode allowing you to carve gnarly berms.
Rain—Ultra-smooth throttle response with reduced maximum power for blip-free incidents when conditions are less than perfect. Full MTC to keep the rear wheel from breaking traction in crucial rainy situations.
Rally—Standard on the R and optional for the Adventure. Allows the rider more direct control over a variety of functions. Rally mode also allows you to take control of the MTC functions via handlebar-mounted controls dialing in the level of traction from 1–9, with 9 being the highest level of traction.

Changing the air filter on the 1090–1290s is something anybody that’s owned one dreads. Thankfully the 790’s is located under the rear seat and is easily accessible with the removal of two 8mm bolts. KTM’s thought behind this was if you ride off-road with your ADV bike, you need to service it like you would a dirt bike.

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• Chassis

Finding the balance of frame geometry was a tricky endeavor since both bikes have very different intended uses. KTM opted for a steering head angle and trail combo that addresses both street and off-road uses, all while maintaining high-speed stability. We tested this in the long high-speed stretches of hard-packed desert. A WP Steering Damper further assists in unwanted high-speed wobbles. Although both models use the same frame/sub-frame, each feels totally different and the suspension set-up is what makes it work.

The Adventure R model uses WP 48 mm XPLOR forks with springs on both sides and damping separated with compression on the left and rebound on the right. Rear WP XPLOR is fully pre-load adjustable (with a spanner wrench) with separate high- and low-speed compression and damping. Suspension travel for front and rear is 9.4 inches, which gives the R model 10.4 inches of ground clearance to get you over just about any obstacle.

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The Adventure uses WP 43mm Apex front forks, non-adjustable. The folks at KTM pointed out that the diameter of the fork tubes is the same. So, you could technically swap out the forks for beefier 48mm forks if you desire. In the rear is a WP APEX shock with only pre-load adjustability (with a spanner wrench). Suspension travel is 7.9 inches for both front and rear, giving you a respectable 9.4 inches of ground clearance.

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Both models use the KTM tubeless non-TPMS (thank you) wheel system running 21-inch tires with dual 320-mm rotors up front and 18-inch, 260-mm rotor in the rear. This will give folks who select the Adventure model a wide array of more off-road oriented tire choices should they want more aggressive rubber for serious back road exploration. Off the showroom floor the R gets the Metzeler Karoo 3s with the Adventure receiving Avon Trailriders.

• Ergos

As stated earlier, the two models, although very similar, feel very different. The R model uses a 34.6-inch high, one-piece seat which allows you to move around on the bike more easily for off-road riding. The Adventure uses a two-piece seat with adjustability from 33.5 inches in standard position to 32.7 inches in the low position (KTM Power Parts does offer a low and high option for the R model). With the limited time we had on the bikes it’s hard to tell how seat comfort will be after a long day in the saddle. No real complaints during the time spent testing them, though.

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Standard tapered aluminum handlebars offer six positions of adjustment on the triple clamp, giving you 30mm of adjustability. The bikes were set up to factory specs for the testing and I didn’t need to make any adjustments to the controls or handlebar positions. Factory settings put me in a very natural riding position.

With the current big KTM Adventure models, their big, bulbous tanks don’t allow you to get forward on the tank and seat. The majority of the 790’s fuel capacity is down low on the chassis which gives you a svelte feeling in the cockpit. Not only that, it gives the bike a very well-balanced and nimble feeling while riding off road. Tipping the scales at 417 lb. dry and approximately 450 lb. wet, they’re definitely the lightest middle-weight bikes we’ve ridden to date.

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The Adventure offers a little more wind protection with a taller screen option and two positions of adjustability. Although it’s adjustable, it’s not on the fly, as we’ve become accustomed to on the bigger KTM Adventures. You need a small wrench to remove a screw to move the screen to the next position. Not a deal breaker, in my opinion. But, I can see where it might get some complaints. The R model comes standard with a low adjustable (same as the Adventure), more sporty screen design better suited for off-road riding. Obviously, the wind protection was better on the Adventure. But, I didn’t have any complaints with either one.

• Electronics

As new model bikes hit showroom floors each year we’ve seen more and more technology showing up. The 790 Adventure is no exception, as it’s chock full of both technical and visual tech to satisfy any tech head. First off, KTM brings the visually pleasing full-color TFT display over from the 1290 Adventure. You can customize the information you want displayed and it automatically adjusts to varying light conditions so you always have a clear visual on important data. Also available is the optional KTM My Ride which allows you to connect your smart phone via Bluetooth so that you can receive calls. It also has the ability to show directions on the TFT display. We did not play with this feature during our test but hope to explore this feature on the long-term demo.

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Finally, we get LED lighting on a price-conscious model. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do any night riding, so I don’t know how well the lights actually work. Again, we’ll do an update once we get to spend a little more time with it.

Additional engine management controls come from a lean angle sensor that engages traction control and ABS in the street riding mode based on conditions while riding. Cornering ABS utilizes the powerful braking potential even while exceeding the available grip in any riding situation, even while leaning through a corner. Off-road ABS allows the rear wheel to be fully disengaged from ABS while still providing limited ABS in the front wheel. This allows you to steer with the rear wheel all while not letting the front wheel lock up, to prevent front wheel wash-outs. I use this feature all the time while riding off road on the 1190.

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MSR (Motor Slip Regulation) is standard on both models. This feature balances the engine torque by mirroring the throttle input typically felt through quick down-shifts—basically adding more throttle when you down-shift too quickly.

KTM hit the nail on the head. Until now no manufacturer has listened to what riders are looking for in a do-all, middle-weight platform. Both models performed well in their respective roles. I only wished we could have ridden the Adventure off road a bit to see how it compared to the more robust R. But, I feel the consumer will know exactly which bike will meet their needs. I look forward to spending more time on the 790 to find the true potential this model is promising riders. Kudos to KTM for listening to what riders are looking for in the ever-changing ADV segment.


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• Slim ergos
• Easy service air filter
• Well balanced and light feeling

• No pre-load knob
• Center stand is optional
• KTM can’t make them fast enough

• Specifications

MSRP: $12,499 for the Adventure, $13,499 for the R model.
Displacement: 799cc.
Transmission: 6-speed.
Clutch: PASC (power assisted slipper clutch), mechanically operated.
Front Suspension: WP 48 mm XPLOR fully adjustable R model. WP 43 mm Apex non-adjustable.
Rear Suspension: WP monoshock full adjustable on the R model. Pre-load only on the Adventure.
Suspension Travel Front/Rear: 9.4 inches R model and 7.9 inches on the Adventure.
Front/Rear Brakes: Disc Brake 320 mm/260 mm.
Front/Rear Tires: 90/90-21;150/70-18.
Ground Clearance: 10.4 inches on the R model and 9.4 inches on the Adventure.
Seat Height: 34.6 inches on the R model; 33.5 inches in standard and 32.7 inches in low position.
Tank Capacity: 5.3 U.S. Gallons.
Dry Weight: 416.7 lb. and approximately 450 lb. wet.



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