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2019 KTM 790 Adventure & 790 Adventure R – First Ride

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Adventure Motorcycle

When a manufacturer states their new model is “the most off-road capable travel bike” on the market, you can expect a claim like that to be received with a fair amount of skepticism. That is unless the manufacturer is KTM. They’ve produced so many of the top off-road adventure touring bikes over the years, it’s become expected.

Going back to 2003, KTM produced their first twin-cylinder adventure bike – the 950 Adventure – a snarling beast that shared 75% of its parts with the race bike that won the Dakar Rally the previous year. Over a decade, KTM produced several different variants of the 950 S/990 R series before bringing the 1190 Adventure R in 2013 – a completely new platform with sophisticated electronics, more power and improved creature comforts. KTM reloaded in 2017 with a stripped-down, smaller-displacement 1090 Adventure R that sported premium off-road suspension and more-usable power delivery.


Arguably, these LC8-powered machines were the most off-road capable big bikes of their time and with advancements in technology, they became safer, more comfortable and easier to ride off-road. Yet these bikes also grew in weight and size over the years, leaving many dirt-loving KTM fans longing for something smaller, lighter and more agile.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

KTM is positioning the standard 790 Adventure as an off-road capable travel bike, while the 790 Adventure R is their travel capable off-road bike.

KTM has been listening to their customers and working hard developing an all-new adventure bike platform they feel meets the demands of long-distance overland travelers and hardcore off-road riders alike. The standard 790 Adventure R is designed to be a balanced machine for those that want a nimble, comfortable travel bike that is still extremely capable and manageable in the dirt. While the 790 Adventure R is a more performance-focused off-road bike that is capable of traveling longer distances.

So did KTM deliver on its promise? Or is more firepower required to dispatch the entrenched competition? We got a chance to ride both models at the International Press Launch last week in Morocco. Read on below to see how they stack up, but first let’s go through some of the key features and technology.

A New Chapter Begins With A Parallel Twin

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Gone is the legendary LC8 75-degree V-Twin that powered KTM’s long line of big-bore ADV bikes, replaced by a compact parallel-twin with a matching 435-degree crank firing order.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of KTM’s big-bore adventure bikes has always been the sweet-sounding LC8 75-degree V-Twin powerplant. The new 790 Adventure retains this same throaty V-Twin exhaust note but it’s now powered by a parallel-twin. Remarkably, KTM engineers were able to match the LC8c parallel-twin’s crank firing order to the V-Twin LC8’s for an almost identical sound.

Why the switch? There are several advantages to a parallel twin, one of them being a more compact design, and KTM claims the new LC8c is the most compact engine in this segment. What’s more, there is no rear-facing cylinder that sits next to your leg, emanating heat on a hot day. Relocating the second cylinder to the front also frees up room for a lower seat, and allows for easy access to the battery and air filter.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Access to the air filter is now much easier than previous KTM Adventure models for quick maintenance on the road.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

The 799cc LC8c motor has instant torque off idle and maintains roll-on grunt throughout the midrange.

To keep the vibes under control, the LC8c motor utilizes two balancer shafts for a smoother ride on the highway. A power assisted slipper clutch (PASC) also reduces pressure on the clutch plates during deceleration in order to prevent wheel chatter. Another advantage of PASC is an easy clutch pull, which allowed KTM to use a dead simple clutch cable rather than a hydraulic setup.

KTM’s power numbers are often the highest in the class and the new 790 Adventure is no different, boasting 95 horsepower @ 8,000 rpm and 64.9 ft-lbs @ 6,600 rpm from its 799cc engine. On the numbers, the 790 Adventure bests its closest rivals – the BMW F850GS and Triumph Tiger 800. It even bests the Africa Twin on horsepower, despite the Honda’s 200cc advantage. And contrary to rumors, the 790’s powerplant, and the entire bike for that matter, is being built in Austria, not China.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

With the second piston now located at the front of the engine, there are no more issues with excessive heat exiting the bodywork directly on your legs as with the previous V-Twin configuration.

WATCH: Quick close-up look at the KTM 790 Adventure and a sound sample of the LC8c parallel-twin powerplant.

New Electronics

Further aiding the slipper clutch under braking is MSR (Motor Slip Regulation). If, due to quick downshifts or abrupt throttle chopping, the engine drag is too high, the ride-by-wire system auto-blips the throttle to prevent rear wheel chatter. This system is also lean-angle sensitive.

Ride modes are similar to what’s been available on the 1090, 1190 and 1290 Adventure models, with the ability to choose an optimal throttle response and traction control setting for Street, Rain and Offroad environments. What’s changed is the replacement of ‘Sport’ with ‘Rally’ ride mode.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Recommended usage of the Rally mode’s nine different Traction Control levels.

Rally mode decouples TC and throttle response so you can configure them independently. Previously if you wanted Sport throttle response off-road, you either had to ride with asphalt TC or turn TC off completely. Now in Rally Mode, you can select the Rally throttle response (similar to the old Sport mode), then you can select from 9 levels of traction control (or turn it off). Rally mode also lets you match 9 levels of TC with either Offroad or Street throttle response using the “Preferred Throttle Response” setting. Traction Control level 9 is comparable to Rain mode while 1 is virtually no intervention at all.

The electronics also prevent wheelies in Rain or Street mode but allow them in either Rally or Offroad mode to make it easier to clear obstacles. Traction Control is lean-angle sensing in Street or Rain mode as well but disabled in Rally or Offroad mode to prevent intervention when the rider takes berm-style turns. All settings are retained when you turn off the key, with the exception of turning ABS or TC off.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Both models come with a compact color TFT display that is easy to read day or night.

Bringing the bike to a halt is a sophisticated ABS system linked to twin 320mm front disks with 4-piston radially mounted calipers, and a 260mm rear disk actuated by a double-piston floating caliper. ABS can be configured to run in Street mode, Offroad mode (front abs only) or completely off, and the system is lean-angle sensing for better accuracy.

All of these rider aids are managed with handlebar switches and a color TFT display, featuring automatic brightness adjustment to compensate for varying light conditions. The display also features a rev counter that blinks to indicate when to shift and a customizable home screen. In addition, KTM placed a 12-volt port on the dash for convenient charging of electronic gizmos.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Electronic rider aids are managed with simple left-hand thumb controls.

For those who want to further enhance performance and comfort on their rides, KTM offers electronic cruise control, heated grips, tire pressure monitoring, a quickshifter, and Bluetooth phone connectivity, all as optional equipment.

790 Adventure Chassis

KTM’s main intention with the 790 Adventure platform was to produce a lightweight, compact, low CG chassis with sporty handling and class-leading off-road performance. The design was also optimized to offer excellent ground clearance while still keeping a low seat h.

It starts with a chrome-molly trellis frame that uses the engine as a stressed member to reduce weight and carry it low on the bike. This allows for a shorter wheelbase, while retaining a fairly-long swingarm for improved traction. Both models ride on big 21” / 18” tubeless wire-spoke wheels for added durability and stability, and a WP steering damper is provided to help prevent head shake during aggressive riding.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

The standard 790 Adventure has a low seat setting of 32.7 inches, but you can go 0.3 inches lower with the low seat option or up 1.4 inches with the high seat option.

A low-slung fuel tank is one of the 790 Adventure’s most recognizable features. This not only lowers the center of gravity, but also provides the rider with greater mobility for off-road riding body positioning (sitting and standing). With its 5.3 gallon (20 L) capacity and a fuel efficient engine, the 790 is capable of achieving around 280 mi (450 km) in range. To guard the tank from scratches, KTM uses replaceable protective panels rather than crash bars. This helps to keep weight down and maintains a slimmer profile. And while we are on the topic of bodywork, KTM uses high-quality polymer body panels that are molded in color (not painted) to keep them looking fresh after a fall. Plastic hand guards, rear racks and a robust skid plate are also included on both models.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

The low-slung tank design not only keeps the center of gravity low, it also allows you to slide for weight forward on the tank during performance off-road riding.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Both models come with a skid plate, plastic tank protectors and hand guards. Carbon fiber tank protectors, aluminum-backed hand guards and a headlight protector are available as options.

KTM 790 Adventure vs Adventure R

The suspension is the main area where the standard 790 Adventure and the 790 Adventure R differ. The 790 Adventure features a WP APEX 43mm USD fork and WP APEX PDS (Progressive Damping System) shock. With its traveling focus, KTM believes this market is less likely to use suspension settings. For that reason, the only adjustability is preload on the shock and it requires tools. With the traveler in mind, KTM also wanted to keep the seat h low (32.7 inches in low setting), so the suspension travel is a reasonable 7.9 inches (200 mm).

KTM 790 Adventure vs KTM Adventure R Motorcycle

With the 790 Adventure R’s focus on maximum off-road performance, it sports a WP XPLOR 48mm fork and WP XPLOR PDS shock supported by a progressive spring. Both are fully adjustable for compression damping, rebound damping, and preload. Suspension travel is 9.5 inches (240mm) to maximize bump absorption, which in turn raises the seat h up to 34.6 inches.

There are a few other key components that set the two models apart. The seat on the standard model is a two-piece with a high/low setting that adjusts seat h by 0.8 inches (20mm). Its stepped design also adds some additional comfort for two-up riding. The R model uses a one-piece design with only a small bump separating the pilot and passenger, allowing more freedom of movement off-road.

KTM 790 Adventure vs KTM Adventure R Motorcycle

The standard 790 Adventure comes with an adjustable two-piece seat, while the R model gets a single-piece non-adjustable unit. The R also gets a shorty windscreen and high front fender.

Another distinctive feature is the low front fender used on the standard 790 for better aerodynamics, engine cooling and less water spray, but the 790 R gets a mud-friendly high fender. The windscreen is shorter on the R to give the rider more helmet room in technical terrain, while the standard model gets a taller screen for the highway. Both are adjustable in h with a tool.

Electronics are identical on both models, except Rally mode is optional on the standard model and included on the R model. Tires also differ, with the R model getting off-road-biased Metzeler Karoo 3s and the standard 790 getting more street-oriented Avon Trailriders. In addition, the standard model has a shorter wheelbase for better maneuverability (1,509 mm vs. 1,528 mm), while the longer wheelbase on the R gives it better high-speed stability.

First Look

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

Fit and finish are top notch and all 790 Adventures are being built at KTM’s Austrian plant – including the motor.

Our first opportunity to get some seat time during the press launch came on the standard KTM 790 Adventure. The seat h feels low, giving the bike even more of a small bike feel compared to other mid-sized ADV bikes. Adjusting the seat to the high position was incredibly easy, which provided a more comfortable knee bend for my longer legs. Bar clamps allow six positions of adjustment for the handlebar to further optimize rider ergonomics. And wide platform footpegs can be run with vibration damping rubber inserts for a smoother ride or without for extra grip off-road.

KTM 790 Adventure Motorcycle

The bike has nice dirt bike ergos for both sitting down and standing positions, and it’s a shorter reach to the bars than on its LC8 predecessors. The low-profile tank also lets you slide forward on the seat to get more weight over the front wheel. Standing on the pegs, the bars are a nice h even for tall riders and there is plenty of room for your knees and calves to move around.

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