KTM 950 Adventure

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: Ramona Eichhorn, Uwe Krauss

Ohio, the Spring of 2006. It was standing there, all dressed-up in day-glow orange, seeming to stare, as though daring me, through its double headlights. I thought, this is definitely not the bike you would buy for a Sunday outing to the next café, although it would certainly draw plenty of attention. No, this is a bike meant to be ridden hard and pushed to the limits, wherever and whatever they might be.

Its name and concept, directly derived from the 950 model KTM used for the Paris - Dakar Rally, suggests that the KTM Adventure can take you anywhere. And that's how Ramona and I treated it, taking it anywhere - and everywhere. Some of the toughest test rides North America has to offer anyone who isn't a motocross champion were waiting for us. Our route took us through New England and into Newfoundland, where the bike had to undergo its first rough challenge, crossing the entire island on an abandoned railway line. All of the ties had been ripped out, and the KTM took the loose gravel, deep sand, and river crossings in stride, almost as though we were riding in the park.

Not just an off-road expert, the 950 also showed good form with its highway capabilities - comfort and high-speed stability - from the northeast corner of the continent all the way to Tennessee, where we put it through more trials on the Trans-America Trail, an extremely tough, off-road traverse of some 4,800 miles to the coast of Oregon. That description hardly does it justice, though. In fact, Sam Correro, the man who mapped the trail, recommends that the route is "Only for use with light, off-road, single-cylinder bikes." And there we were with two cylinders, a bit on the heavy side, and carrying lots of luggage to boot - clearly not the setup originally envisaged! But, true to its name, this capable orange machine mastered the whole adventure very well, and the off-road riding was so much fun, we were always looking for the next stretch of gravel.

After the Trans-America trip, we headed into Canada again. Another abandoned railway line, this time in British Columbia, provided more off-pavement excitement. Finally, as winter approached, we did follow one recommendation: that of the Canadian geese - to go south. We then roamed from Canada down to the border of Mexico, via Washington, Oregon, and California, traveling half of the way off-road.

Concept and Transformation
"Producing bikes without compromises" is KTM's simple mission statement, and it's no wonder that the 950 Adventure is one of the most capable, off-road, twin-cylinder bikes available. Ready-to-race suspension, spoke wheels, durable plastics, and a light package are the main ingredients to satisfy a committed off-road pleasure seeker; but for everyone else, the truly critical question to answer may be: Can I take it grocery shopping? In other words, is this bike suitable for everyday use, too?

Engine and Transmission
The 128-pound, 75-degree V-twin is the lightest engine of its kind on the market. This helps keep the total weight down to only 436 pounds. This most "bearable lightness of being" was immediately evident when I first pushed the big bike around the parking lot. According to the specifications, the 950ccs produce 98hp, plenty of juice for the highway but what about gravel? As it turns out, the power delivery is predictable and linear, making the bike very easy to handle off-road, much easier than 98hp would indicate. Every twist on the throttle is perfectly transformed into acceleration. Drifting around corners becomes a fascinating game, and only rarely did I miss the sudden punch and the light weight a single-cylinder machine provides - for instance, when the need to lift the front in a wheelie over an obstacle arises.

When the terrain gets tricky, the Magura hydraulic clutch also makes life very easy. Its functionality remains constant even under heavy usage, and the gearbox always worked smoothly, never missing a shift throughout 20,000 miles of grueling testing. Fuel consumption averaged 41mpg, a number that undoubtedly rises dramatically in less fun-oriented driving modes, and without the excessive luggage we forced the 950 to carry.

During the test, we made two unplanned service stops: the first, right at the beginning of our trip, was caused by vacuum hose power loss (between 4,000 - 5,000rpm) that was probably overlooked during the bike's 600-mile service at KTM. A ride from upstate New York to a "nearby" KTM dealership, 100 miles away in Vermont, solved the problem handily. The second time, we stopped to replace a worn starter part. The first indication of this problem was a sharp metallic scraping noise noticed when starting the bike. We were able to continue for some 5,200 miles, but then it quit and the starter wouldn't engage at all. Action Cycles in Halifax, Nova Scotia, came to our rescue and saved the day in a most unconventional manner: they took the needed part from a showroom bike and installed it on ours! According to KTM, this starter problem was known to the company, and has been solved by installing different parts in later series. But this problem - the torque limiter, to be specific - plagued us again after 19,000 miles. And although the starter continued to work, the sound was horrific.

Chassis and Brakes
The KTM posters read that it's "Ready to Race," which is definitely a fair description of the very stiff tubular frame and the sporty, state-of-the-art suspension from White Power, resulting in high-speed stability that can instill dangerous confidence on loose surfaces. A handle that unfolds from the left side of the bodywork is a neat touch that makes preload changes to the rear shock easy. Damping in rebound and compression are also fully adjustable, as are the 48mm inverted forks. Long travel suspension is a must for any adventure bike; so you needn't be at all concerned with those piddling potholes in the city on this one - we took the KTM through two-foot washouts, with luggage, and suffered no harm.

The 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels add to the bike's off-road prowess, without noticeable compromises when on-road. The original Pirelli Scorpion AT tires are an excellent choice for durability, street handling, and dry off-road sections. Slogging through deep mud is not the bike's strong suit; but then again, deep mud is not the most appropriate playground for the 400-plus pounds (not counting luggage) of Austrian engineering. In fact, it is common for the front wheel to stop once enough mud accumulates under the front fender. This tendency caused several crashes in Nevada and Utah. However, a dirt-bike style fender available from Touratech will remedy that. We did change the rear tire at 7,300 miles; and at 17,000 miles, we switched to Continental's TKC 80s, which provide better traction off-road.

The brakes work well even when the bike is fully loaded, but don't expect the sports-bike bite of triple-piston brakes. Although we didn't care for the limited steering radius in tight spots, the bike performs excellently in city traffic, and the upright seating position, providing a great vantage point, makes riding in crowded conditions feel much safer.

Accessories and Arrangements
For our long journey, the bike was equipped with original KTM panniers and a tank bag. The double-layer plastic panniers were unbelievably sturdy and waterproof, so much so that they should be designated the new standard for panniers. We crashed frequently yet we were still able to mount them easily to the bike, and they stayed sealed. The only problem: for their size, they don't offer a lot of storage space. A nice accessory to have for carrying more is Touratech's luggage-rack extension. The KTM tankbag is strong but a map doesn't fit it very well, which, for people wandering about the country, is annoying at best.

The gas tank, though, is an ingenious concept - it's separated into two halves. Thus, if you damage one side on a rock, you still have enough of a reserve to get you back to civilization. Two lightweight, carbon-fiber tank guards help prevent damage on the lower parts of the tanks. Another advantage of the double-filler caps is that you can fill up without taking off the tankbag; the disadvantage is that you have to fill both tanks.

Additional accessories included a lower seat and a Garmin 276C GPS, with mount, from Touratech, which we plugged into one of the two serial power connectors situated underneath the KTM's front fairing. These connectors are a simple but extremely useful feature: one provides a constant power supply and the other is hot when you turn on the ignition. The lowered seat from Touratech looks hard, but it's surprisingly comfortable, and cuts the height by 1.5 inches. Touratech also offers a seat for taller riders and a higher windshield-spoiler to go along with the raised seat height. Pillion comfort is tolerable for a day or two. But if you want to travel two-up to Alaska, there are more suitable bikes.

The 950 Adventure comes with a side-stand and a center-stand, a great help in many situations; although putting it up onto the latter position is quite a chore, especially with luggage. Fortunately, you only have to perform this exercise to lubricate the chain. It should be noted that this is not a typical 520 dirt-bike chain, and a spare master-link from the bottom of your tool box will not solve a trail-side chain problem. The good news was that we did not have any problems with the chain or sprockets. With regular maintenance, they lasted a very long time, and they were still in decent shape when we did change them after 17,000 miles.

One negative, and serious, side effect of the fabulous motor is a very hot exhaust - the catalytic converters melted our soft luggage more than once. Installing the optional Akrapovic mufflers will probably solve this problem, with the added benefit of unleashing some extra horses and subtracting a few pounds from the bike.

Test Summary
After 23,000 miles (about half of that off-road), it was time to return the bike - a difficult separation for us. After all those miles, I had become quite attached to this orange beauty and the "can-do-it all" attitude it inspires. Despite the numerous crashes we experienced and the other abuse we dished out, the KTM plowed through it all with nothing more than a bent clutch lever, some missing paint, and a set of bald tires. And yes, we did take it back and forth to the grocery store.

There are a few bikes that can handle a combination of city traffic, interstate boredom, twisty byways, and off-road riding. But there is only one bike that does it this well. And now you don't have to go all the way to Dakar to fall in love with the KTM 950 Adventure. But, of course, you could if you wanted to.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

KTM 950 Adventure

+ suspension, versatility, fun factor

- starter, hot exhaust, front fender

DistributorKTM North America www.ktmusa.com
MSRP $ 13,998
Engine 75° V Twin, DOHC
Displacement 942cc
Bore x Stroke 100 x 60 mm Carburetioncarburetor, Mikuni BST 40
Power 98hp@6,000rpm
Cooling liquid
Ignition Denso battery ignition
Transmission six-speed
Frame tubular chromoly space frame, power-coated
Front Suspension WP-USD 1.89in (48mm), 8.27in (210mm) travel
Rear Suspension WP-PDS suspension strut with hydr. spring preload, 8.27in (210mm) travel
Rake/Trail 26.6°/ 4.69in (119mm)
Brakes Front/Rear two 300mm discs /one 240mm disc disc (220mm)
Tires Front/Rear 90/90 ZR 21 150/70 ZR 18
Dry Weight 436.5lbs (198kg)
Wheelbase 61.8in (1,570mm)
Seat Height 33.9in (860mm)
Fuel Capacity 5.81 gallons (22 liters)
Fuel Consumption 41mpg
Colors orange, black