Review: 2003 KTM 950 Adventure

Review: 2003 KTM 950 Adventure

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wolfgang Puck, Wiener Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel and Red Bull are probably the most recognized Austrian 'products' in the US. But there is another great Austrian creation  -  KTM  -  well known in the motocross world, but not as widely recognized for their street or dual sport bikes, including the LC 4, Adventure 640, Supermoto, or the outrageous Duke. KTM will probably change all that with the introduction of their 950 Adventure.

Riding Impressions

Under bright, blue California skies we push the buttons and seven bikes roar into action for dominance on asphalt and dirt. Charly, Henrik, Mark, and our tour guide Scot are riding the 950 Adventure S bikes. They're all sitting a bit higher on these orange-and-black beauties (definitely built for taller folks) at 36 inches than I am, at a seat height of 34.6 inches, on the smaller sister, KTM's basic, silver-and-black model, the 950 Adventure. Still, the Adventure is too high for me and I always have to slide some on the seat to touch the ground with my legs. But the bike is so well balanced that I soon forget my fears of dropping it after a few stops at the traffic lights.

David and Tom are riding the silver ones, too, as Scot leads us on Hwy 79 from Temecula towards Warner Springs. On wide sweepers and tighter turns my first impressions of this Austrian miracle emerge. The bike swings easily through the curves where the acceleration of 98 horses sets in immediately, and the midrange power is overwhelming. I'm thinking bikes like the 1150 GS or the Tiger are in big trouble. They've got a serious competitor. And, no doubt, the Adventure is sportier; but it's not the ride for spoiled backsides with its firm suspension and small, hard seat. Not that it's uncomfortable but you do have to get used to it.

Near Warner Springs we take a sharp right turn onto a nameless dirt road, which connects us to S22. I'm certainly not a dirt and gravel specialist, but soon I feel comfortable with the new riding conditions and easily handle the lightweight, skipping over hedge and ditch, and grinding through the tight turns and sandy passages. This bike's incredible handling capabilities are due to a dry weight of only 436.5 pounds (15-25 percent lighter than class standards), an ideal weight distribution of 50 percent in front and 50 in the rear, plus the low mounting of the engine, which gives the machine an extremely low center of gravity. Suddenly the dirt turns into a narrow, paved, one-lane road. Like a roller-coaster track, the black ribbon winds over hills and ends in a downhill passage to S22. This road is made for the Adventure, whose supple superiority shows to best effect when swinging through the corners.

On S22 we spur the bikes like they were shot from a rail gun through the Anza Borrego Desert. I suppose Scot was moving so rapidly he couldn't read the speed limit. A string of jet jockeys, we passed the desert and finally stop near Mecca for food and drinks. The sun is beating down to the tune of 109 degrees and, of course, we're thirsty, but not so the bikes, only consuming a moderate 2.2 gallons in 100 miles. The fuel tank is its own story: You have to open two tank lids before you fill the empty tank, always beginning with the right side and then continuing with the left side. Be careful, it runs over very easily.

In the afternoon we fly through the Box Canyon and then enter Joshua Tree National Park. Here we have to behave, with 45 mph the park authority limit. But the Adventure sedately convinces us with her agreeable cruising attitudes.

Finally, we arrive in Pioneertown. Gene Autry once tied his horse to a post in this movie town, and today we park in front of an old western motif hotel. Normally, after a long day, riders will disappear but not this time. An intense discussion begins. David and I air our complaints about the seat height. Charly thinks there is bad midrange power and I totally disagree. Then we turn to Henrik, our BMW 1150 GS guy, who's a little bit speechless, searching for arguments in defense of his love for his GS. Recounting his impressions of the Adventure seemed to be a betrayal. I tease him, nonetheless, saying, 'Maybe almost everything is better on the GS, but not the gearbox.'

The Second Day

After riding around the world on the Adventure, I wake and roll out with the others. While saddling up, the Adventure presents the same problem. There are no luggage hooks and it's difficult to fix my Oxford bags. An 'adventure' bike for the big trip without hooks? The design group around Mr. Kiska has failed here, as they did in the case of the touring outfit. How can you design such an innovative, great-looking bike and then produce aluminum side bags that are so unattractive. I'm hoping you'll come up with a better solution in the very near future, Mr. Kiska!

From Pioneertown to Big Bear Lake, the Adventure is back on her preferred terrain. Sand, gravel, and dirt during the morning ride are the right way to get in a good mood. Scot herds us onward with the promise of filling our aching stomachs. 'Breakfast in Big Bear!' he calls, opening the throttle, and zipping away. It's tough hanging with experts like Scot and Charly. They're gone and I'm in fourth position behind Henrik. But I'm learning, and the bike teaches me to trust the chassis and the specially developed tires from Pirelli.

The dirt road winds sometimes steeply up to Big Bear and we pass through three different vegetation zones (desert to palm trees and then conifers) in the San Bernardino National Forest, which offers plenty of nice vistas for photo stops.

I'm becoming faster and safer at the same time and later, on the 'real ride,' I take advantage of the learning curve. Now, experiencing more fun than work, I drift through the curves and the little jumps aren't a big deal anymore. Scot and Charly are waiting when the dirt road runs into Hwy 38 and both of them see me broadcasting a very big smile. I had fun, lots of fun.

Highway 38 to Yucaipa is actually a street for sport bikes, but it's a blast on the KTM, too. Rolling way over the speed limit, we dance through the curves and I wish this drive would never end. A short intermezzo on I-10 highlights the Adventure's traveling attitudes: enough wind protection and a relaxed sitting position allows handling longer runs on the interstates pretty easily. Later, on Hwy 243 to Idyllwild, the bike impresses me again. At tremendous speed, Scot and I escape. Flying like a spooked filly, the Adventure gallops through the corners. In Idyllwild, I check my tires. I'm definitely using all the rubber  -  I'm on the edge. Amazing!

On the way back, I have only one thing in my mind. Christmas can't come soon enough, and maybe, just maybe, my 'boss' will surprise me with a KTM 950 Adventure.

Two years ago, the teams of Wolfgang Felber and Gerald Kiska created a wonderful bike. The futuristic look is extremely eye-catching. The bike comes colored either orange/black or silver/black and in two versions, the KTM 950 Adventure or the 'S', which translates into even more off-road ability.

A real dual sport bike, more like the Africa Twin (Honda) or the Super Teneré (Yamaha), it's built for the real off-road enthusiast as well as the pavement rider wanting to gain better experience on dirt or gravel.

Seat height is definitely for the reeds among us. Wind and weather protection is good. For most, on long distance rides, the seat is probably too hard. I liked it, but a few in our group complained. For traveling accessories, a buyer should wait until GIVI designs a better-looking luggage system. The original looks awful, especially on this bike.

Skull and Crossbones

The bones are made from an extremely robust, self-supporting, tubular space frame of chromium-molybdenum steel. This frame, at 24.2 lbs., represents the lightweight in her class.

Thin and tall, the skeleton of the Adventure raises riders closer to the California sun. On the KTM 950 Adventure, one overlooks the world from 34.6 inches and on the 'S' model it's 36 inches. Chasing over hedge and ditch, the 'S' model provides 12.4 inches of ground clearance, 1.34 inches more than the basic model. Not wishing to sacrifice safety for quickness, Pirelli developed a special rubber mixture for the MT90 tires.

Paints covering the frame of the KTM 950 Adventure come in a beautiful silver/black or in an orange/black coat. Her taller sister is only available in the orange/black outfit.

The Heart

Wolfgang Felber and his team manufactured a powerful heart with loads of character. The short-stroke 942cc V-engine with 75° cylinder arms produces 98hp. And, again, the KTM is a world champion in the weight category: At 127.6 pounds, the LC8 engine weighs approximately 20 percent less than her competitors. The 5.8-gallon fuel tank that feeds the engine can gobble up 220 to 250 miles, depending on riding behavior and terrain. Its good midrange power and easy handling in all terrains should make this bike a bestseller. From my point of view, September 2003 is the perfect time to drop by the nearest KTM dealer to examine, to buy  -  to enjoy.

Technical Specs

Retail Price $ 11,998 ($ 12,498)
Warranty 12 months or 12,000 miles
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,700/9,200 miles
Importer/Distributor KTM Sportmotorcycle USA, Inc.,
1119 Milan Ave., Amherst, OH 44001
Phone (619) 956 0880

2-cylinder, V, 4-stroke
Cooling liquid cooling, permanent circulation of the coolant by means of waterpump
Valve Arrangement 4 valves controlled by bucket tappets and 2 camshafts, camshafts driven with gears/chain
Bore & Stroke 100/60mm
Displacement 942cc
Compression Ratio 11,5:1
Carburetion constant pressure carburetor Ø 43mm
Exhaust Emission Control yes

Gearbox 6-speed
Clutch multi  -  disc clutch in oil bath
Final Drive chain drive

Frame chrome-molybdenum steel trellis frame, powder coated
Wheelbase 1590mm/61.8'
Rake 63.4°
Trail 119mm (4.69')
Front Suspension White Power  -  Up Side Down 4880 MXMA (multi-adjuster)
Stanchion Diameter 48mm (1.89')
Adjustments spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 230mm/ 9' 'S' 265mm/ 10.43'
Rear Suspension cast aluminum-alloy swingarm w/ single shock
Adjustments spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 230mm/ 9' 'S' 265mm/10.43'

Wheels & Tires
Type spoke wheels
Front 2.15' x 21'
Rear 4.0' x 18'
Front Tire 90/90-21 M/C 61V
Rear Tire 150/70-18M/C 70V

Front Brake 2 perforated discs, floating brake calipers
Diameter 300mm/11.8'
Rear Brake single disc, floating brake calipers
Diameter 240mm/9.45'
Combining no

Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 34.6' 'S' 36'
Wet-Weight 225kg (500lbs)
Fuel Capacity 5.8 gallons

Claimed Horsepower (measured at clutch) 98hp at 8000rpm
Torque 95 Nm at 6000rpm
Top Speed 210km/h (131mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-62.5mph): 3.3sec
Fuel Consumption 5.5l/100km (43mpg)
Fuel Range between 220 and 250 miles, depending on terrain and riding style

RoadRUNNER Test Diagram
Chassis 5/5
Brakes 5/5
Comfort 3/5
Luggage w/accessories 2/5
Equipment 4/5
Design 5/5
Bike for the buck 4/5