It’s time for adventure riders around the world to join hands and sing kumbaya, for the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R is finally here.
This is the most important KTM ADV machine released in a decade. Designed to be all things to all adventure riders, the 790 R is a ground-up new design and one that has seen a change in company policy in Mattighofen away from the arms race of the big travel ADV bikes that have dominated the segment in recent years.
The 790 Adventure R is part of a two-pronged attack from KTM, pairing it with the base model 790 that’s aimed more at road adventurers than those who want a hardcore dirt weapon. We’ll cover the base 790 a little later in this article as we only rode it for an hour or so in Morocco, whereas we got a full day on the Adventure R in and around the mesmerizing Merzouga Dunes.
Adventure riding is by far the hottest ticket in town for the major motorcycle manufacturers, and the bikes that are seeing the most development and publicity in the segment are mid-size like the 790, BMW’s new F 850 GS, Triumph’s Tiger 800 and the soon coming (eventually) Yamaha Tenere. These machines represent a global push from bike makers to get you out of your comfort zone on something that isn’t as intimidating as a bike like a full house 1090 Adventure R—with all the weight and horsepower that goes with it.
The name of the 790 R game is lightness. Less weight means more maneuverability and the 790 R tips the scales at a claimed 460 lb wet, ready to ride. That’s nearly 50 lb lighter than the 1090 Adventure R, with the 790’s 5.2-gallon tank giving the rider a claimed 280 miles of range before requiring a top-up. And given that you’ve got a claimed 95 hp on tap from the 799cc parallel-twin four-stroke, you’ve got plenty of go to match the show and all the electronics in the world to back you up.
Under the skin of the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R
So what’s new with the 790? In short, everything. Nothing on this ride owes its origin to another KTM Adventure bike. Even the PDS shock that saw its debut in the 1090 R is dramatically different. Let’s get under the skin and see what’s what.
2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Engine
Mounted as a stressed member of the chassis, the 790 runs the same LC8c eight-valve, DOHC, 799cc, parallel-twin, four-stroke that first saw action in the KTM 790 Duke, released in the U.S. last year. KTM claims about 95 hp at 8250 rpm and 65 lb-ft of torque at 6600 rpm for the fuel injected unit, which is also the most compact of its kind in the mid-size ADV class. Having such a compact unit allows for greater freedom when designing the rest of the bike—a tall engine will impact on ground clearance or if you mount it higher in the chassis, the seat height will be much taller. Both are factors you don’t want in a mid-size ADV machine.
The 790 runs twin balancer shafts—one driven off the crank and the other off the exhaust camshaft—to smooth out the initial throttle response, and the result is silky smooth power the second you crack open the gas. The Adventure R has slightly different cam timing compared to the 790 Duke, with peak torque moved about 2000 rpm down the rev range, peaking at 6600 rpm compared to the Duke.
The exhaust is stainless steel all the way through, with Akrapovic making a PowerParts titanium muffler you see in the photos.
The six-speed gearbox is matched to the optional KTM Quickshifter+ unit for clutchless up and downshifts, with KTM running the same Power Assisted Slipper Clutch (PASC) seen in the larger LC8 motors like the 1090’s. The clutch itself is cable operated rather than hydraulic, simply because you can fix a clutch cable in the middle of nowhere easily as opposed to a hydraulic unit—and the PASC system doesn’t need one, anyway.
An area proper ADV riders will be pleased with is the air filter, which now takes about two minutes to change. The airbox is located under the seat and the intake is at the rear of the chassis—simply take the seat off, undo the top cover and the air filter is out. Ideal for super dirty weekends.
2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Chassis and suspension and brakes
In typical KTM fashion, the 790 Adventure R’s chassis and subframe are a tubular steel units with the shock mounted at 45° compared to the near straight up/down shock of a 1090 R. That gives the engineers the ability to lower the seat height to a starting point of 880mm, one that can be changed to 900mm with different seats.
As with any motorcycle but especially one designed to go over serious off-road terrain, much of the 790 R’s development went into the suspension. The KTM doesn’t run electronically-adjustable forks like what can is found on the BMW F 850 GS Adventure, instead preferring the mechanically adjusted WP XPLOR fork and the WP APEX PDS shock.
This is the first time the XPLOR fork has been used in a production KTM. At 48mm, its 5mm up on the unadjustable unit from the base 790 Adventure, is fully adjustable and gives 240 mm of wheel travel. This fork first saw use in proper rally racing, with development riders like KTM USA’s Quinn Cody and Spanish Dakar legend Jordi Villadoms tasked with the job of developing it for public use.
Unlike the WP AER air forks currently in use on the KTM motocross machines, the XPLOR fork is a spring unit with compression and rebound circuits separated into the left (comp) and right (rebound) fork legs. The front-end also houses an unadjustable WP steering damper.
At the rear, the APEX PDS shock also has 240 mm of wheel travel and is fully adjustable with separate high and low-speed rebound and compression damping circuits. The shock lays at near 45° and mounts directly to the swingarm with a wheelbase of 1528 mm. Being the PDS system that first saw use in the 1090 R, the shock doesn’t need to run linkages, with bottoming resistance provided by a second piston working together with a closed cup at the end of the stroke, supported by a progressive rate spring.
The spoked, tubeless wheels are 21-inch up front and 18-inch at the rear and come standard with Metzeler Karoo 3 tires—however, on the launch, we ran Continental TKC 80s to better handle the rough Moroccan terrain.
Brakes are dual radial-mounted four-piston calipers clamping down on 320mm discs up front and a twin-piston caliper biting a 260 mm disc at the back. KTM is using their own Cornering ABS that’s lean angle sensitive and switchable on the 790.
2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Bodywork and ergonomics
The single biggest thing anyone will (or should) notice when looking at the bodywork of the 790 Adventure is that gigantic 5.2-gallon gas tank. Running down either side of the motor, the tank’s volume is kept as low as possible in the chassis, giving a low center of gravity and ensuring the fuel mass stays centralized as the tank progressively runs out of fuel. Keeping the C-of-G low gives the 790 a nice, light feeling at the bars and allows the engineers to run a lower seat height—something you can easily change if you’re longer legged.
KTM is claiming a stout 280 miles between fill-ups, but we’ll have to get a 790 R for ourselves to confirm that claim.
With the mass of the fuel running down either side of the motor, that gives the engineers the freedom to make the tank narrower at the rider’s knees that would otherwise be allowed and for the use of a longer seat. The side panels are made from plastic and are not painted from the factory, so if you dump your bike you won’t worry about scratching the paint—you’re going to scratch and adventure bike, anyway.
Under the LED headlight of the 790 Adventure R sits a proper dirtbike-style high front fender compared to the more traditional lower fender seen on the base 790, thus ensuring almost nothing will get snagged between the wheels and the fender when off-road riding.
Ergonomics-wise the 790 Adventure R can be altered almost to your heart’s content. When you buy it from a dealer, it’ll come with a long single-piece rally-style seat of 880 mm height. You can change this to the base model 790’s 830-850mm tall seat if you wish. The top triple clamp has six different mounting points for the handlebar, allowing you to move positions across 30 mm.
The 790 R runs a bash plate as standard, as well as hand guards and tank shrouds, although there’s plenty more protection in the PowerParts catalog.
2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Electronics
Like every new bike these days with a headlight and license plate, electronics play a massive role in how the 790 Adventure R performs. Via the TFT dash, the 790 Adventure R rider gets all the modes as standard in Street, Off-Road, Rain and Rally, a first for any KTM adventure machine.
In all but Rally mode, you cannot independently vary the Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) system intervention. The MTC is lean angle sensitive, intervening when rear wheel slippage falls outside a certain parameter for a given lean angle.
Street mode will give you the most direct throttle response, a medium level of MTC intervention and lean angle sensitive/Cornering ABS; Off Road gives a slightly softer throttle response, disengages the anti-wheelie and lean angle sensitive ABS on the rear wheel and provides less TC intervention to allow you to slide and drift; Rain mode gives full MTC and lean angle sensitive/Cornering intervention, a light throttle response and reduces peak power.
As mentioned, this is the first KTM adventure machine to come with the new Rally mode, which allows the rider to get into the ECU and independently vary traction control on the fly (from off (zero) to the maximum intervention of level nine). It’s like Race mode on the Super Duke.
Through Rally mode, the rider is also able to vary the specific throttle response they want—Street, Off-Road or the separate Rally map, which gives a more aggressive throttle response compared to Off-Road. Like Off-Road mode, Rally mode also disengages lean angle sensitive ABS and allows you to lock the rear wheel while having ABS on the front—or you can switch the system off entirely and do skiddies all day long. In Rally mode, you can make the bike as soft or as aggressive as you want. Like Road throttle with no MTC or ABS? Go for it. Like Off-Road throttle with level 5 MTC and Off-Road ABS? Rally mode lets you do that.
The 790 also runs KTM’s Motor Slip Regulation system that works together with the PASC to reduce the chance of the rear wheel hopping and locking under deceleration. This system is, however, disengaged in Off-Road and Rally mode.
One thing that is annoying is if you’re in Rally mode with ABS switched off and you kill the ignition, the system will default to ABS on when you start up again. You have to make a conscious decision to switch the ABS off each time.
Further into the electronics, you get a 12V socket for charging devices (although not a USB port) and the Adventure R can come with Cruise Control, heated grips the Quickshifter+ system, but these are optional extras.
From the hot seat: Testing the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R
The main thing you probably want to know is, does all that tech amount to a good bike? The answer is, unequivocally, yes.
The 790 R absolutely lives up to the hype, and the best part is it’s got next to nothing to do with the electronics. The chassis and motor combine to give an amazing riding experience, throwing so much confidence at the rider you begin thinking you can explore areas you’d otherwise not have dreamed of.
The first thing you notice is the 790 is pretty tall with its 34.6-inch seat height, which is a great thing if you’re over six feet. Taller riders will feel immediately at home on the 790 R, and when you stand on the pegs you’re the centerpiece of that ideal dirt bike ergonomic triangle. It just feels right.
The 95 hp on tap is about the ideal amount for a real adventure bike. The big bike arms race for power north of 140 hp might now be a pointless exercise for anyone other than road adventurers because KTM has mapped their 790 so well you don’t miss the power a bigger motor would give you at all. Throttle response is both delightfully smooth and immediate in the Rally mode, which is where I spent most of my time after sampling the other three modes of Street, Rain and Off-Road. Street-mode will give you all the fruit under acceleration, but I liked the ability to vary traction control independently of rider map so I left my test bike in Rally mode most of the day. I used Street throttle, anyway.
We ran the optional Quickshifter+ system for clutchless shifts. The terrain at the start of the day in Morocco was a mix of hard packed, scorched desert, intertwined with sporadic sand pits you’d hit almost before you’d see them at 60 mph. Two factors stood out here. The first how good the traction control system is when set to level three or below. And the second was how fine the work carried out by Quinn Cody and Co. on the 790’s suspension was.
Cody’s work in creating a fork that soaks up pretty much anything I could throw at it shouldn’t be underestimated. The XPLOR 48mm fork has a beautifully clear and concise feel to it. It has superb high-speed compression damping one of its strong points. A well set up, conventionally adjusted fork is almost always better than an electronically-adjusted unit. The two legs holding the 790’s front wheel are proof of this. Electronic suspension is getting very, very good these days—especially on sport bikes. However, KTM still feels old-school is the way to go and I must agree with them.
The APEX PDS shock likewise works exceptionally well. Under acceleration over sharp edges when flying through the desert and at the opposite scale of slow speed, technical terrain like when climbing rocky inclines, the 790’s chassis remains poised and balanced, always letting the rider know exactly where everything is. Road comfort could be a little better with the 790 R, but that’s because the overall suspension package has been tuned for top-level dirt performance—it’s a tradeoff I think most 790 R owners will be willing to make. Besides, you’re running knobbies anyway, so you can only ask for so much on the tar.
Remember when I said the bike was good because it had next to nothing to do with the electronics? That’s not to say they didn’t play a very important part of the machine’s overall performance.
Level 3 was a nice and safe MTC number to cruise most of the day on, allowing me to drift the back end around without the feeling of imminent launching. Its intervention is extremely smooth. You can feel it working if you really thrash the throttle, but it’s in no way intrusive. Not like what you’d find on an earlier 1190 R, for example. You can really lean on the 790’s system in the dirt. The bike gives you that safety net and keeping you from hitting the deck.
But where the MTC system really shone for me was climbing a gnarly, rocky hill at the mid-point of the day. The hill didn’t look like much, but image riding up a 50° incline covered in golf balls. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Hitting the hill with Level 2 MTC, I got about 2/3 of the way up before spinning out. The rear wouldn’t grip, and I didn’t have the deft throttle touch required to keep everything on track and moving.
At Cody’s request, I ratcheted the MTC up to Level 7 and gave it another go. Cue light bulb moment. The 790 R crawled up that hill in the same way a 4×4 does in when you select low range. It didn’t even break a sweat and I was at the top—no spinning, no cutting from the MTC—just beautiful, uninterrupted drive. It dawned on me while looking at the rock formation at the top of the hill, I’d been using adventure bike traction control wrong all these years!
But there is a time and a place to switch all that stuff off. And that, my friends, is in the dunes. I’ve ridden dunes many times before but never taken a proper ADV bike into them. It didn’t matter. The combination of the right amount of horsepower, smooth throttle response, superb chassis balance and a little help from the Continental TKC80s, made for a riding experience I’ll not forget in a hurry. Taking that 790 into the dunes was the motorcycle equivalent of carving fresh powder at Vale. And to my surprise, the 790 just lapped it up. Keep your weight back, be gentle of the handlebars and let the bike track its own line.
It was then I realized what the KTM 790 Adventure R was all about. This is a KTM dual sport bike turned into an adventure bike, not a street bike with some adventure capabilities. It has the heart and soul of a true off-roader, with enough creature comforts to make it work in any situation on tar.
The KTM 790 Adventure R is a truly excellent motorcycle. It fills every inch of its design brief perfectly. Don’t be surprised if this machine immediately shoots to the top of KTM’s top seller list.
Oh yeah, there’s another one: The KTM 790 Adventure
In the hubbub of the 790 R, it’s almost easy to forget we also rode the base model 790 for an hour on the first day. It was a very short spin, but long enough to get an initial feel for the bike.
The 790 shares the same motor and chassis as the 790 R (with a black subframe compared to the orange one on the R) but gets different suspension in the unadjustable 43mm split fork (rebound on the right, compression on the left), and a preload-adjustable Apex shock at the rear. There’s also a slightly shorter wheelbase of 59.4 inches, and a lower seat height of 32.6 to 33.4 inches.
Bodywork is also dramatically different. The 790 runs a taller screen, adjustable by 40 mm, The seat is a split design for rider and passenger versus the single saddle on the 790 R.
Electronics-wise you get the Street, Rain and Off-Road modes, with the Rally mode available as an optional extra, as is cruise control, heated grips, and Quickshifter+. Avon Trailrider tires complete the picture, running on the same size 21-inch front and 18-inch rear rims as the 790 R.
Compared to the rangy 790 R, the base model 790’s seat height—set at 33.4 inches for our ride—gives a slightly more cramped ride. I found I’d be standing on the pegs more than I expected to get some blood flow through the knees. It’s going to be a fine ride if you’re under 5’10”. Despite being a touch cramped for me, the overall position is still pretty comfortable.
With the same motor as the 790 R, there’s plenty of poke available from the base 790. Low-to mid-range torque is plentiful, and there’s even a decent top-end pull once you hit above 6000 rpm.
Where the base 790 struggles is in the suspension. Being a more road-focused proposition than the 790 R, little nuances like a pretty harsh initial high-speed compression with the fork when hitting potholes at speed and rebound that’s too quick on the rear under hard acceleration hold the bike back. The overall ride quality isn’t too bad and at medium speed on dirt roads, the 790 handles itself pretty well. But you’re definitely reminded you’re on the lower spec package compared to the 790 R.
That might not matter for many people, however. The 790 will be an excellent traffic weapon. The mirror spans are narrow enough to allow for decent lane splitting (where legal, of course). Short bursts in the city would be a piece of cake on the 790. Motorcycle couriers will love this thing, especially when paired with the luggage options.
My pick of the two easily goes to the 790 R, especially given it’s only $1000 more. But that shouldn’t come as any great surprise. The suspension on the base 790 is a drawback for outright performance. However, considering you still get all the electronics, the same brakes, same motor and chassis, there standard 790 is still an attractive package.
Five minutes with Andreas Guehlsdorph, the 790 Adventure Project Leader
We sit down for a quick chat with the 790 Adventure’s young project leader.
How long was the 790 in development for?
The first idea was about six years ago and then start with the pre-concept. We had to get the main things done—like the engine, the main frame, and swingarm. But the concept was to have the 790 Duke finished first.
Were you part of the team that worked on the Duke?
No. I started with the Adventure at the beginning of 2016. It takes more or less three years to get the bike done. Starting at the beginning of ’16 is when we put the bike to the designer. We made the clay model, doing the design things and so on.
We had to be sure the geometry was done correctly, and the ergonomics well defined.
During testing, we had problems with the radiator, with the cooling, also problems with the suspension.
When we started, we had the split fork from the 1090 R on the 790 and the shock. Then the test riders realized that the concept is capable of going fast. It’s a very compact, powerful engine. But the limiting factor was the suspension. We decided to change it.
So, we got together and asked, “do we want to have the best off-road Adventure on the market?” We said, yes, we have to do that. This is KTM—we go for performance. Then we changed to the XPLOR fork and the PDS rear shock. That was a big decision. After that, all the work began again.
Was that development through Quinn Cody or were there other riders in Austria as well?
We had to get this decision done really early. There was a test in October 2016, in Spain. They (test riders) realized the limiting factor was the suspension. Then after the decision that we go to the XPLOR fork and new shock, we started all the tests. We tested in Austria, southern California, in Spain, different conditions. I had to sort out every rider has his own preferences. Quinn goes fast. He’s a top rider. He needs stiffer springs, stiffer suspension. The other riders are more or less 60-70 kg (132-154 lb) so they like a bit more enduro-style, softer suspension. You must sort out what’s the best way to have it all done.
Tell us about the work adapting the electronics for the 790
We decided that as the base is from the Duke, so are the electronics. We decided to have a different dashboard, as the dash has a lot of influence. In general, the electronics are from the Duke. The idea behind that is the same.
What we don’t have is the launch control, which is on the Duke. We tested that in California with Quinn, but it came out as not the correct thing for this bike. So we skipped the launch control, but we need to stability adjustment (MSC—Motorcycle Stability Control).
The modes, we named them a little bit different. Street, Rain, Off-Road. On the Duke, you have Street, Sport, Rain. We said, “okay, we have to have a sport mode”. We made the Street mode sporty, but the bike is nice, KTM-style. You need a Rain mode first, but it’s an off-road bike, so you need this Off-Road mode. The Off-Road mode was a big part of Quinn’s work. We made a really smooth throttle response so can get through everything, and also the off-road traction control map.
He (Quinn Cody) tried the Adventure already last year in prototype-form at the KTM Adventure Rally and he was very satisfied with that (Off-Road traction control).
As far as the engine goes, you changed cam timing and what else?
Also, the inlets to the throttle body. We fitted the longest we could get.
Is the motor an easy thing for this bike in that you didn’t have to change it?
The good thing was it was developed for the Duke. So, it was just to convince everybody what we need to change. We have a really good package for the Adventure. We do not need 105 horsepower on the Adventure like we have on the Duke. 95 horsepower is enough.
You spoke earlier about the ease of maintenance with this bike versus some of the other bikes.
Yeah. From a packaging point of view, it’s pretty easy. That was the main focus. The packaging, one thing is the centralization of the masses. If you want to go to the engine, you have to take off the tank. Four screws, some clips and that’s it. It’s totally easy.
A big thing was to put the air box in the rear of the bike. This gives easy access to the air filter. You also put the electronics between the rider and the tank. The battery is there, the ECU, the fuse box, is on there, the OBD (On Board Diagnostics), the compartments. Everything is lumped together there. Underneath the tank, there is the ABS modulator, but normally don’t need to get to this. Everything in the front is down. Having the tank down keeps the center of gravity down, and in the rear, there is not too much weight. Just the airbox. That was a pretty big thing. The engine guys always want to have an airbox as big as possible. The designer wants to have the bike as slim as possible. It’s easier said than done. That was not so easy.
2019 KTM 790 Adventure PowerParts
The 790 Adventure wouldn’t be a KTM if it didn’t come with a massive array of PowerParts.
Our test bikes were fitted with the optional Akrapovic titanium muffler. This gave the bikes a nice loud bark on acceleration, but there’s so much more. You can get hard and soft luggage, headlight, body, engine, and radiator protectors, enduro-style footpegs, tougher hand guards, different seats, and gearing options.
As the 790 comes with a 12V socket you can run external navigation, or you can use the KTM My Ride app you can purchase from the app store for $7.99 so you can use turn-by-turn navigation through the TFT dash. For the full list of PowerParts, click this link here.
2019 KTM 790 Adventure and Adventure R Specifications
Engine: DOHC parallel-twin, liquid-cooled, four-stroke
Bore x stroke: 88 x 65.7 mm
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Clutch: Wet multi-plate
Chassis: Tubular steel trellis, the engine used as a stressed member
Front suspension: WP 43mm inverted fork, unadjustable (Adventure R: 48mm WP XPLOR fork, fully adjustable). 7.8 in. wheel travel
Rear suspension: WP monoshock, preload adjustable (Adventure R: WP PDS shock, fully adjustable). 9.4 in. wheel travel
Front brake: Dual 320 mm discs, dual four-piston radially-mounted calipers, Bosch Cornering ABS as standard
Rear brake: 260 mm disc, twin-piston caliper, Bosch Cornering ABS as standard
Front wheel: 2.50 x 21 in.
Rear wheel: 4.50 x 18 in.
Front tire: 90/90-21
Rear tire: 150/70-18
Steering head angle: 64.1° (Adventure R: 63.7°)
Wheelbase: 59.4 in. (Adventure R: 60.1 in.)
Seat height: 33.4/32.6 in. (Adventure R: 34.6 in.)
Fuel capacity: 5.2 gal.
Weight: 460 lb (wet, claimed).
MSRP: $12,499 (Adventure R: $13,499)
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