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KTM 790 Adventure Reviewed

Photo Credits: James Carr, Bitchin' action shots. Boring static shots? Max Klein

"You may have to clean it though... I firmly believe adv bikes don’t need to be cleaned..."

That was what my buddy Tym said when I asked if I could borrow his KTM 790 Adventure for the trip down to Long Beach for the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. While this is a motorcycle review, full disclosure, it was not a stock motorcycle that I was borrowing. I should also add that I have not ridden this bike in stock form yet, and it was running on a brand new set of Shinko 705's. A list of the other modifications will follow my review.

Tym and I agreed that this was an adventure bike, hell, it is right there in the name, but KTM places this motorcycle in the "travel" section of their website, right in-between "enduro" and "sports tourer". My plan was to see if that was where it fit. On paper it seemed right. There was a bit too much bling for the eduro category, but most sports-touring machines do not have the suspension travel that the 790 Travel... Err, I mean, Adventure R does.

I loaded a med kit, tire repair kit, and portable pump into the Givi top case (not standard), as well as a couple bottles of water and met up with my friend and photographer James "Koi" Carr for a Wednesday run up to Knoxville/Berryessa. For those of you not in the San Francisco Bay Area, this stretch of road was made for masochists by sadists, and it is carefully maintained by a team of highly trained demons. It starts off relatively smooth, think the racing surface at Sears Point - kidding, it is nicer than that - but after a couple minutes it turns into 50% potholes. Shortly after, the potholes are big enough that you need to refer to them as craters, much like after a certain size a boat must be called a yacht. Then what passes as pavement narrows, the asphalt broken and twisted, resembling swirled soft-serve ice cream than pavement. Right when you think it can't get any worse... it does. Fortunately there is a turn off to a much smoother dirt road right around that point. In other words, absolutely the perfect conditions to test out the 240mm of travel of the WP forks and shock.

Both front and rear suspension allows you to fiddle with compression and rebound with very easy to use knobs. The 48mm forks split the duties keeping compression in one leg, rebound in the other. KTM was even nice enough to put some basic suggested settings for dirt, street, and everything in between under the seat. Getting to the road I refer to as Satan's varicose vein from my place requires a bit of freeway travel. When you twist the go stick, the 799cc LC8c motor pulls stronger than it's size might make you think. For those not familiar with the LC8c, it is an 8 valve, DOHC parallel twin which has been tuned for torque rather than horsepower. That said, the 95 horsepower is no slouch, especially with 65 foot pounds of torque available right in the middle of the rev range. My quest to get up to the flow of traffic rapidly was aided by an almost flawless quickshifter. Almost, as it occasionally left me hanging in fourth when I asked for fifth.

Like many motorcycles being made these days the throttle inputs are controlled by a wire and not a cable, allowing the rider to dial in appropriate-for-conditions ride modes. In the case of the 790 Adventure R, the choices are Street, Off-Road, Rain, and Rally. Street is full monty power and torque, off-road reduces the likelihood of whisky-throttling your way off the trail by limiting peak horsepower, and rain is just plain neutered. Rally gets its own time due to the nine levels of customization within the mode. Throttle response is quicker than off-road but not quite at street at level one, and level nine is pretty close to rain mode.

If you needed even more adjustability on your ride, KTM gives you control over ABS as well. Street mode features "Cornering ABS" which in theory will let you grab a handful at full lean without tossing yourself on the ground. While I didn't give it a go at MotoGP levels of lean, I did add brakes mid corner without fear and did not get any unwanted feedback from the lever. I could tell it was working, but the lever didn't pulse, shudder, or otherwise vibrate in a distracting manner. Off-road ABS removes the cornering algorithms from the front and disables rear ABS intervention entirely. I tried riding in the dirt using both, and the difference was immediate. Being able to lock the rear to slide into corners was not only fun but practical. For those that believe that electronics are the devil, you can shut the ABS off and take full responsibility for your actions.

The 790 Adventure R also has a lean-sensitive traction control you can shut off if you are feeling like a bad-ass. KTM says that their MTC "reacts immediately the instant rear wheel rotation speed becomes disproportionate to the riding situation. In mere milliseconds, MTC reduces engine output with an extremely smooth, barely perceptible intervention at the throttle valves until slippage is reduced to optimum proportions for the selected ride mode and current angle of lean."

Simple translation?

It is hard to wheelie with it on. You can manually shut it off in the menu system, or simply set the power and ABS modes to off-road and the MTC takes a hint and lets you get on with the shenanigans. With or without the ABS enabled a pair of four-piston, radial mount calipers and 320mm rotors team up to handle the bulk of your stopping power. Out back is a single 260mm rotor with a twin piston caliper.

The 21" front and 18" wheels are of the spoked variety, yet run tubeless tires. KTM offers an optional narrower "enduro" wheel set for those that plan to spend more time off the tarmac. According to the owner, the stock tires "are terrible on-road...and lasted around 2k miles before the front started scalloping tread sections." He replaced them with a set of Shinko 705's, and proceeded to put them to the test by not only doing some dual sport riding, but also put some miles on the track (three days worth) as an instructor for Fun Track Dayz. Even with the more aggressive track riding he managed to get 5000 miles out of the Shinkos. They still had at least another 500 miles on them, but since I was going to be doing much more than that he spooned on a fresh set.

The quickshifter that I mentioned earlier also autoblips your downshifts making it almost cheating with the stock slipper clutch. Stomping two quick downshifts as I leaned into a decreasing radius right while on the brakes was much less of a pucker moment than it should have been when I had to add more lean to avoid the dipshit in the BMW who thought he was driving in England.

All the best electronics, motor tech, and suspension adjustability are worthless without a decent frame, and KTM conveniently didn't skimp there, either. CroMo steel in tubular form uses the motor as a stressed member for the main frame, and a steel trellis subframe supported me and an arguably over-loaded Givi top case for 1334 miles over mixed terrain.

The geometry felt "right" both on and off road, which isn't always an easy task for a motorcycle. From slow-speed maneuvers in the dirt to triple digit runs on tarmac, the 790 Adventure always felt planted, even without me fiddling with the suspension.

Rider geometry is a little adjustable thanks to a six position adjustable handlebar mount. This allows for 30mm of custom fitting, something that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to long-distance comfort. Another feature of the cockpit was the centrally mounted power plug which kept my phone going all trip. As mentioned, I did borrow the bike to head down to Long Beach for IMS. The plan was to do a spirited yet leisurely run down the coast for a bit, then transition to 101 for the remainder. I stopped at Alice's Restaurant for breakfast, and if you have never been there might I suggest 11am on a Thursday. No traffic, exceptional service, and you are dealing with your check right as the lunch crowd shows up. I had ham and eggs (over easy), sourdough toast if it helps put you in my shoes for the rest of the review.

From there I worked my may down 84 to the coast and took Pacific Coast Highway down to Laguna Seca to say hi to some friends that were spinning laps in their cars. I burned enough time there that I decided it would be in my best interest to stop lollygagging and get on my merry way before it got dark. I changed directions, hopped on 101 and as the sun started to descend below the horizon, the temperature dropped just as rapidly. The first part of the ride the dash told me it was 62 degrees, but right at dusk the displayed number dropped to 55. Did I mention that I was wearing the unlined Aerostich R3 Light? With just jeans and a fleece base layer up top, 55 degrees is the functional basement of comfort, so I called another travel audible.

I checked traffic on both 101 and 5, and it looked like due to multiple accidents and general LA area driving douchebaggery it was going to be quicker for me to abandon the fun and drone down five...Eventually. I ended up cutting over on 58, which for a freeway transition road - at night - was actually pretty fun. The headlights were exceptional, showing me not only the path ahead but also enough of the sides of the road so I had plenty of time to slow down for the deer that peppered my route.

Prior to riding this bike at night, on a freeway, I really didn't have much bad to say about it. I was able to travel much farther than my aging knees wanted to thanks to a massive 5.3 gallon tank. Don't worry, the tank is designed to carry that much weight pretty low on the machine, aiding to a lower center of gravity. KTM claims that one could go 280 miles without refueling. I never really pushed that boundary, (see above about my protesting knees) but I was over 200 miles every time I stopped to fuel up. The fuel gauge has a half tank indicator, meaning that if you are above a half tank, all you know is that you have more than 2.65 gallons. The estimated miles remaining, when above a half tank, just kinda sits at "124+" for about 130 miles. You motor on in blissful ignorance, thinking about nothing but the road, wondering why the second verse of "Parents Just Don't Understand" is stuck in your head. Seriously, you have not heard that song in years. Then you drop below 2.65 gallons. Suddenly, that "124+" is only "99", no plus at the end. In the pitch black of a road you have not been on since the last time you heard anything by Will Smith on the radio, you wonder if you should have topped off 20 miles ago when your right knee made the suggestion. Once you see "99" on the display, the little mathematician that lives behind the 5" TFT display whips out his abacus and starts counting down. Rapidly. You become hyper aware that not only do you not remember passing a gas station for an hour, you don't see any lights up ahead indicating that there is one in your future.

Yes, we have reached the part of the review where I start picking nits.

The quirky fuel gauge was not the only bit I would have changed if I was in the design room. The 790 Adventure R uses throttle by wire, meaning that the bike could very easily have cruise control standard. But it doesn't. The feature can be enabled by the dealer who is going to want $229.99 to do so. Oh, yeah, you are going to need an $84.99 (retail) part as well. So something that could be activated from the day it is assembled for maybe 50 bucks worth of parts (at cost) will set you back $314.98. Why not just bump the MSRP up a hundred bucks to $13,599 and make it an included feature? Yeah, I know, shit like this is used as a bargaining tool for consumer and dealer alike, but c'mon.

On the subject of stuff that should be standard on a "travel" motorcycle, lets talk heated grips. More specifically, lets talk about how this bike did not have them, and that KTM will happily sell you a set for just under two bills... plus installation. The hand guards do a decent job of blocking the wind when the temps are in the 50's. When the mercury dropped to 41 degrees, however, I wanted to punch the bean-counter that left heated grips and cruise control off the standard features list. If the bike had cruise I could have done the old warm-your-hands-on-the-engine-cases trick without having to operate the throttle with my left hand.

The seat was comfortable enough for the first 500ish miles, but after that I was looking for a wooden plank or even an appropriately sized rock for comfort. Surprise, KTM has upgraded seats as well, for a price. Not sure how much more plush they might be for just this side of 180 bucks or if they are designed to adjust the ergonomics. Honestly I could be the weak link as I have not done much distance riding recently, but this is a review of the bike, not my ass.

I want to place the short windscreen in the miss column as well, but the more I think about it, the less it bothers me. It kept the wind off my body, and even though that meant my face was directly in the aero flow I had no buffeting issues at all. I only really noticed that my head was in the jet stream when I stood up on the pegs on the freeway and everything got a bit quieter. Any bigger it would have been a pain in the ass in off-road situations, so while not ideal for me, it is right for the application.

By the end of my trip the little mathematician in the dash let me know that in the 18 hours of riding to, from, and around Long Beach I averaged 62mph and got 55.2 mpg along the way. All in reasonable comfort, and with the ability to leave the road behind. KTM calls it a travel bike, it is up to you to make it an adventure.


Since I reviewed this machine in a non-stock form, it is only fair that I left some things out. Below I have included the changes that Tym made, why he made them, and then because I can't help myself, my take on the upgrades where applicable:

Givi Box: "Shit... have no idea... had that box for like 10+ years"

That was his response when I asked what model it was. It is a big one, and using my standard measurement of Chinese Food and Beer, or C-FaB, I would estimate it could easily handle dinner for four, with leftovers for a couple days and a sixer of Tsingtao. 4.2.6 on the C-FaB scale

1190 Mirrors: "The originals were super lightweight and vibrated so badly I couldn’t see anything. The mirrors off the 1190 are slightly better..."

There was a bit of blurring, but mostly at night. The 1190's mirrors look better, giving the as-equipped 790 bonus posing points for showing up with its big brother's mirrors..

Camel ADV 1-Finger Clutch: "The factory clutch had like zero friction zone, it basically was an on/off toggle switch. The adapter Kit by Camel ADV added about 50% friction zone and reduced pull from around 14lbs to like half at 7lbs."

Camel ADV was able to make this happen by making their anodized 6061 billet aluminum clutch arm 19mm longer than the stocker. Since I didn't ride the stock machine, I can't chime in on the performance gained by this switch, but I can say that clutch feel was very light and consistent.

Enduro Engineering Skidplate: "I changed the skidplate, because the one from the factory was aluminum-can thin and mounted directly to the bottom of the engine."

I am never going to say anything bad about a skidplate coming stock on an ADV machine, especially if it is a metal one. The number of ADV bikes that I have reviewed in the past that had a thin plastic part - or worse, without one - is disturbing. Good job, KTM on including a metal skidplate on a bike that you know is going to need it. That said, this aftermarket part looks to be leaps and bounds better than stock.

Vysto IMX323 Dual Hi-Def DVR Camera system: "The camera system is basically the moto version of a dash cam... I thought it would be nice to have some video “evidence” if anything ever happens while riding around/commuting."

Front and rear, wide angle cameras with 1080 up front, 720 rear. The video quality was perfect for the application he chose, and the whole system is pretty compact. The brain unit of the system seems to be pretty durable. It is held in place by a magnet, in this case under the seat. It starts recording when the bike is started and records for a couple minutes after you stop. It also records when an impact is detected, even if the bike is off.

Grip Puppies: "The original grips were ridiculously skinny."

Grip Puppies slide over the stock grips for additional thickness, and in theory reduce some vibration. If it was my bike, I could have done without them and would have added heated grips instead. I still shiver when I think about part of my trip.

Rear LED turn signals: "The originals were huge and fragile."

'Nuff said.

Shinko 705's: "The OEM Karoo 3’s are terrible on-road...and lasted around 2k miles before the front started scalloping tread sections."

I already kinda talked about this change in the article. I liked them enough that when the time comes to put some new meats on the 'Strom it will be a set of these.

Pivot Pegz: "Mostly because I got a good deal on them. "I like them for how they feel better on my ankles when shifting or just riding in general, kind like mini shocks-ish."

Believe it or not, this was my first experience with Pivot Pegz, and I was completely disappointed with how little I noticed the pivot action. Re-read that last bit sarcastically if you didn't the first time. They gripped well and the hot pivot action was comfortable and subtly noticeable. You almost don't notice the difference until after a long day on the bike. My knees, and it seems Tym's ankles, appreciate this.

Delkevic Exhaust: "I got it mostly because the factory exhaust was dripping white weird stuff all over the swingarm from condensation." Plus, the Delkevic sounds pretty good to me as well, although in hindsight I would have ordered the brushed stainless, not the shiny version, especially since they were same price." It was not obnoxiously loud, but rather had a great tone to it. Aesthetically is was a little off to me. Not ugly, but if the pipe was bent a little more it would have looked less aftermarket.


All the high res pics can be seen at Oxymoron Photography.

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