2019 KTM 790 Adventure/790 Adventure R:

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Sebas Romero, Marco Campelli

We’ve heard about KTM’s plans for a midsize Adventure model from as early as 2013. In the meantime, we have seen the 1190, 1290, and 1090 introduced, and during this time the Austrian manufacturer has worked feverishly on the 790. Project managers and engineers attended KTM’s rallies around the world to solicit feedback and find out exactly what riders were looking for. KTM won its 18th consecutive Dakar title earlier this year (a triple sweep, actually, followed by fourth- and fifth-place finishes by Husqvarna, which is owned by KTM), and improvements learned during the world’s most grueling race have found their way into the two similar yet different 790 Adventure models. “Ready to Race” isn’t just KTM’s slogan. It feels like the way of life for everybody at the company and is apparent in every motorcycle they produce. This is no more evident than allowing me to test the latest Adventure in the Martian landscape of Morocco, on wide, open hardpack and sand dunes that once hosted the Dakar Rally, and still host many rallies, including the Merzouga Rally. Simply put, the bike’s got pedigree.

Overview

Based on the research, KTM came up with the 790 Adventure for the rider who primarily travels on paved roads and values long range and comfort for two-up, but doesn’t shy away when the pavement ends. If you ride 90% or more on the road, then this is your ride. If you’re constantly looking to play in the dirt, and seek out challenging trails (and maybe still own a 950 or 990), then look no further than the 790 Adventure R.

Both models have something very obvious in common that anybody will notice when standing next to them: size. The whole package isn’t very intimidating at all. It has low-slung lines, the bulk of the gas tank sits very low, and yes, there’s a low seat height that makes this KTM in particular not just for long-legged riders anymore. The 799cc engine is the most compact in its class, and it’s actually smaller than most 450s. These characteristics combined made it super easy to ride. Everything from clutch lever pull to weighting the pegs felt light, requiring very little effort.

On the software side, the 790 Adventure has Street, Rain, and Offroad riding modes, with Rally as an option. The 790 R comes with Rally as the fourth and standard mode. Cornering and off-road ABS systems work well, and the 790s saw the addition of a traction control that allows fine tuning of rear wheel spin from 1 (little intervention) to 9 (comparable to Rain mode). In the sand dunes, setting 1 was needed. Performing controlled drifts for photo ops was easily done with it set on 5. Knowing that the bike won’t spin out completely if grabbing too much throttle goes a long way.

The 790 Adventure comes standard with a split seat that offers a little more comfort, especially for the passenger. The 790 Adventure R comes with a single-piece off-road-style seat that proved to be comfortable and also allowed me to squeeze it with my legs in the right places, giving me more control overall. The seats are interchangeable and have an underside compartment for storing papers and more. No rubber band here. With the seat removed, the battery and particularly the air filter are super easy to access. Another nifty feature: the side panels, which can be snapped off easily in one piece, revealing the backside for more storage. And the side panels are a single piece, so that no pants or boots can get snagged on them. 

790 Adventure

Joe Pichler, world-renowned motorcycle traveler and documentarist, is the epitome of the most extreme customer. Joe and his wife, Renate, ride two-up for very long distances, and they never shy away from a dirt road. They’ve already put 12,000 miles on the 790 Adventure, traveling from Chad in a big clockwise direction to Morocco, where I met him in early March for my own test ride.

The more street-oriented 790 lends itself perfectly for spirited travels. Keep in mind it’s still “Ready to Race” and it’s not easy taking it easy. The traction control worked wonders on Morocco’s slippery roads. Constant wind and sand have made the pavement quite slick. Strong desert winds blew hard from the side, and I was glad I wore a borrowed street helmet. My luggage, including my Arai XD4, never showed up (and as of our print date, my luggage is still lost). From slow to fast, the midsize Adventure is one of the easiest motorcycles to ride. The instrument panel with TFT display was easy to see, and the menu is much better than what was on the first 1190 Adventure. 

The WP Suspension components consist of the APEX 43mm open cartridge upside-down fork with a split function, which separates the compression and rebound damping between the two fork legs. The rear is stocked with the APEX shock absorber with adjustable preload. Suspension travel is 200mm front and rear.

Visually, the fuel tank takes the most warming up to. It just looks different, because it carries most of it very low. The 5.3-gallon tank makes 240-plus miles possible, with KTM even claiming a range of 450 km (280 miles). But that claimed figure doesn’t consider how much fun people usually have.

790 Adventure R

Who better to lead off-road test rides than five-time Dakar winner Marc Coma and current Rally Sport Manager Jordi Viladoms? Well, no one, except current champion Toby Price, who was in attendance but healing from a wrist injury.

I got to test ride the R model much more than the other one, and the route included a little pavement to get to hardpacked paths that eventually led us to the Merzouga sand dunes. While all of the electronic rider aids are fantastic, it still requires me to stop and select a different ride mode and set my spin preference, etc. It does remember my last settings, so I don’t always have to start from zero. In a way, that extra minute is a good break to mentally prepare for off-road conditions. Beside some sand washes, the route was relatively easy (because it was mostly straight), but the curves, inclines, rocks, and obstacles I did encounter proved to be no challenge at all. And I’m an average off-road rider who has to pay close attention to form and inputs. I really enjoy tearing up a twisty section of paved road, but off-road riding always offers more challenges that force me to become a better rider. Just like playing golf, you can continually get better, but it takes years of practice. 

The premium WP suspension shined off-road. The motorcycle felt in complete control at all times and provided excellent feedback. I can’t overstate it enough: The 790 Adventure has a fantastic suspension setup.

After lunch, I met my match in the sand dunes. I set the bike to Rally mode (which gives it a snappy throttle, better than even whisky throttle) and slip control to 1. Test bikes had Continental TKC 80 tires spooned on, and they plowed through the sand. As I leaned back and stayed on the throttle, most of the sand was “fun” until I underestimated one angle of descent. My body came forward, increased weight on the handlebar, the front wheel dug in, and you can imagine the rest. This lead me to another discovery: This bike is really easy to pick up.

The rest of the afternoon ride consisted of more hardpacked paths through the rocky and barren Moroccan landscape. With the help of the software package, playing with the settings, along with the superb suspension, I was able to push my speed through the sweeping corners. This is what adventure travel is all about.

The Lowdown

Service intervals are 15,000 km (9,320 miles). The 790 Adventure and 790 Adventure R come ready to ride with premium parts. The street model has a low front fender, while the R has a much taller front fender, which is great because I’ve snapped off too many front fenders in the mud. The sharp angular design, LED lights, and aggressive stance invoke emotion. KTM has two rallies in North America and a demo fleet. Check online for specifics and try one yourself.