There are rally bikes, then there’s the Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R—the most macho motorcycle this side of the Dakar Rally.
Photography by Kit Palmer
Ricky Johnson once said, “When you look up macho in the dictionary, there should be a picture of a trophy truck.” But what happens if you’re looking for the two-wheeled version of those desert destroyers? In that case, I think I have the bike for you. This is the Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R—a purpose-built, custom race machine designed to take on and beat bikes half its size in some of the world’s toughest rallies.
In the hands of the burly Wes Vannieuwenhuise, the Rottweiler racer finished fourth in the 2020 Sonora Rally, won by current Dakar Champion Ricky Brabec on the factory Monster Energy Honda. The only riders in front of Wes besides Brabec were fellow Dakar racer Skyler Howes and rally veteran, Bill Conger. And Wes was just 90 seconds off the overall podium. On an adventure bike.
Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R | The Build
The man behind this most macho of motorcycles is Rottweiler owner Chris Parker. Parker and I have a history together, as he built the intake systems for the KTM 1290 Super Duke R racers Chris Fillmore and I used to finish first and second in the 2017 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and he’s built a solid business around modifying KTM’s from the early adventure models, right through to 2019-released 790.
“Basically, what we wanted to do was prove what the bike can do from a consumer standpoint,” Parker says. “We didn’t want to go so over-the-top with it that people would disassociate with it. We wanted to really test what we sell.”
To do so, Chris entered Vannieuwenhuise (pronounced van-newen-house) in the 2020 Sonora Rally as the sole entrant in the ADV Pro category, which served as a starting point to measure his equipment against the crop of 450cc racers also competing.
“We built it up with all the typical things that would protect the bike—the skid pans and the protection, that sort of thing, and outfitted it with a Rally Kit,” said Parker. “Basically, we want to go out and prove the parts we’re selling are actually durable and improve the bike.”
The motor is essentially stock, just a Power Commander V with an auto tuner, the Rottweiler intake system, and a full Arrow race exhaust. Chris fitted a Rekluse TorqDrive clutch kit, “because it’s about 15 percent more clutch material on there,” and one of his Transaver shift devices. Chris created the Transaver to stop riders from banging on the gear lever once they get to first gear, inevitably doing damage to the transmission. When in first, if the rider puts excess pressure on the lever, it simply gives way, rather than putting that pressure into the gearbox. Other than those mods, the motor is exactly as you’ll find in your KTM dealership.
“We had some issues with that bike because basically on the other bikes you can unplug the O2’s (oxygen sensors), put dongles in there, remap the system, and there’s no engine light, everything’s fine,” Parker says. “On this bike, we couldn’t defeat the engine light. It’s too smart. But on a race bike, we don’t care about engine lights. Engine lights don’t really tell you anything other than your signals are unplugged, or something like that. Anything that’s serious, like oil pressure, you’re going to get a big display on your dash. So, an engine light is not a big deal to us. The way to defeat that is to unplug the O2s. It makes the system blind to the emissions stuff, and then we’re able to retune it from scratch via the Power Commander with the auto tune, which makes the thing run really, really hard. In stock trim, the 790 R’s a little bit lethargic. They’re going to run hot and they’re going to run lean. You’re missing out on about 10 horsepower to the ground, which we’re getting back with the remapping and with the exhaust.”
The suspension is where most of the work goes. A stock 790, while having an excellent fork developed by American Quinn Cody, would simply not stand up to the punishment Vannieuwenhuise dished out on the Sonora Rally, so Parker went with the WP Pro Components catalog for the race bike.
“It’s not stock, but the suspension is available to the public,” Parker says. “It’s WP pro components, valved and sprung by Konflict Motorsports in Texas. This particular fork is stressed to 270mm. The pro components you can buy are 240mm of travel, which is about 10 inches. These are stretched to 270mm, which is about 11 inches. So, in order for Wes to run that hard, we need as much travel as we can get. It’s a little bit of a horse to get on, especially with the KTM PowerParts seat. You’re on your toes, but in order for a bike to go that fast, that’s what you need. But once you’re on it, it feels like a normal dirt bike. If you go from that bike to a stocker, you feel like you’re on a scooter. You feel cramped again because of the pullback on the bars.”
Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R | What About The Rear?
“Same thing, WP Pro Components,” says Parker. “The front you can stretch with the stock components, but the rear takes a different shaft. Conflict Motorsports has a custom shaft put in the shock. That’s where we get the extra travel out of the rear.”
The show rolls on a Dunlop D908 RR Rally Raid tire (IRC M5B in the sand dunes) at the rear and a Golden Tire GT 216AA Fatty up front.
“Wes will put more damage on a 908 in 150 miles than I’ll do in 1000 miles at Baja,” says Parker. “He’s just twisting the thing. We literally went through a mousse tube a day, which gets expensive, but we don’t want to risk that thing disintegrating. They don’t really make mousse inserts for the big bikes yet. They’re still kind of soft. They simulate really low pressure and they get beat up, so we have to swap it every day.”
As for the navigation kit, Parker teamed up with Rally X to fit one of the Italian rally kits. “The Rebel X rally kits are quite popular. They use some of the KTM factory rally components in there and they kind of build the system,” Parker says. “Rebel X has great components for this that you can buy, but it’s kind of one-size-fits-all for everybody. Because we have a machine shop and a full fabrication shop, we can make anything we want. So, we built the billet tower that’s fully adjustable. We’re going to do a second iteration where it’s crushable, not as strong. It’s a balance because you want the towers to be strong, but if the rider hits it, you want it to give way. You want it to be like a crumple zone in a car. It’s a balance. You don’t want to make it too delicate so it just breaks for no reason, and you don’t want to make it so strong that it’s going to hurt the rider—like when Pablo Quintanilla went off the dune in Dakar a few years ago.”
Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R | The Ride
Imagine being in your current shape and going up against UFC Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier. That’s kind of the feeling you get when you first climb on board the Rottweiler racer. It’s super tall, with a seat height that feels like you’re sitting about six feet off the ground. In reality, the seat height is only 2.4 inches taller than a stock 790 R at 37 inches, but it feels much more than that. The view is commanding, with your vision encapsulated by the scrolling rally notes and the standard dash partially hidden by the Dynojet reader.
The flatter handlebar angle, sitting on 20mm risers, forces you to get out of the seat and get your weight over the front—this is a brute of a bike, and you need to be the one in charge, lest it take charge of you.
Firing the 790 up, you switch off the traction control system the same way you would a stock 790 via the dash (it defaults to “on” when the motor/ignition is killed even with the race bike) and you’re greeting with that booming exhaust note from the full Arrow system. It’s loud and buxom like a Metallica gig, making even a hot 450 motor sound wheezy in comparison. Once you get moving, the immediate difference in the motor is not just the sound but how much freer it feels with the exhaust emissions stuff ripped off. Get the motor spinning and it pulls like a train—up and down the rev range everything feels less restricted, with the throttle response absolutely immediate compared to the slight delay you get with a standard motor.
The Rottweiler racer delivers speed not with subtlety but with sheer force. Point it in your chosen direction, get in the attack ride position, light the fuse and hang on! It devours the desert like dessert, hurtling you over shrubs and small bushes like they weren’t even there as you click up the smooth quickshifter-equipped gearbox. Keeping this thing on line and staying on course with the rally notes must take some serious skill.
Once that straight is behind you and you’re into the technical, twisty stuff, the second characteristic of the Rottweiler racer shines through. The Konflict-tuned suspension does an exceptional job of keeping you rubber side down as it soaks up the rocks and washouts while you do your level best to use the excessive weight to your advantage. The 790 is a big bike, and its weight is carried lower in the chassis than even the 450 race bikes it was competing against in the Sonora Rally. You need to be absolutely deliberate with your movements on this bike: you cannot simply change lines on a whim, you have to pick your lines and stick with them, using the weight to effectively bounce off obstacles and keep the chassis driving forward. If you get lazy, the Rottweiler racer will plow not through turns but over them, and you’ll be on the ground very quickly wondering what the hell happened.
Having said that, the 790 changes direction quickly for something so big. Chris has taken one half of the front brakes off—with the right-side caliper and disc gone it saves about seven pounds of unsprung weight, which adds a touch of nimbleness to the handling. You absolutely do not need that extra caliper, as braking power and feel is more than adequate for such a bike. If anything, the brakes are slightly touchy, and if you over-apply the front Brembo RCS-15 master-cylinder and M50 caliper in the tight stuff, it will force the front end down quickly and, again, you’ll wash out and be on your head.
All these things aside, however, the Rottweiler racer is remarkably easy to ride once you get used to it. Having the power there from that big twin-cylinder motor is one thing, but it’s only really useful once you’ve got the space to use it, and on a rally stage, that’s only a small percentage of time.
For a bike so big, so damn macho, the Rottweiler racer handled everything I could throw at it with one arm tied behind its back. You need someone the skill of Wes Vannieuwenhuise to take this bull by the horns and run with it to be able to really exploit the outer reaches of its performance. But you could easily take this racer down to Baja with your buddies, as the extra travel from the brilliant Konflict-fetted WP Pro Components suspension, and the extra ground clearance it offers, takes away much of the advantage of a regular 450 for big-mile days.
I’m left with sheer admiration of Mr. Vannieuwenhuise, because an hour on his bike beat the crap out of me. I can’t imagine doing it for the best part of a week straight. I tip my cap to not just Wes but also Chris Parker for taking an already beefy bike and creating the modern-day equivalent of the burly Dakar racers of the 1980s and ’90s.
VIDEO | Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Racer
Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure | The Pilot
We sit down for a quick chat with the man who made this bike famous, Mr. Vannieuwenhuise.
What were your experiences like from racing this bike?
I have a decent amount of experience racing and riding those adventure bikes. The way this one is setup is by far the best I’ve ever ridden, probably the best set up bike in general I’ve ever ridden or raced, from the front to the back. It makes it a lot easier to race at those speeds having something like that to ride on, for sure.
Did you get to do any testing on the bike before you raced it?
We did one race, the Parker 250, on that bike before. We did one test day, just mostly for suspension stuff before the Parker 250. That was pretty much our only testing on that bike and the only experience I have on a 790. Then I talked Chris into doing this race, so that was pretty cool.
The Parker 250 was a good experience. I learned a lot about bike setup and what we need to fix to make it last a whole week of racing.
How was it over a whole Sonora Rally week?
I was probably the most sore and spent I’ve ever been. It was definitely a lot of work every day getting that bike to the finish. It is way heavier than everything else. So, it just takes more physical effort. But overall, it was great. It’s a blast to ride.
What were some of the bike’s strong points?
The power delivery—just get on it, and that bike is a rocket. It takes off. You’re already into the next corner or next section before you know it. The second thing is the suspension. If it wasn’t for how Konflict set up the bike with the WP Pro components, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to even get close to the podium, for sure.
I noticed when I was riding it you kind of had to pick your line and stick with it and plow through it.
Yeah, for sure. Some instances you’re sliding into a corner and you’re committed to whatever you’re doing. So, you’re either going over the corner or you’re going to make it. It can be a little scary sometimes, but, overall, it’s really good.
What did the other guys think of it in the race? Were they pretty blown away?
Yeah. Everybody is astonished what that bike is capable of, especially lasting the whole week. Nobody thought that was going to happen, so that’s pretty cool. Then every day somebody sees me pulling a wheelie, doing 100 miles an hour or something!
Are you going to do more racing on it?
That’s the plan. We’ll see what opens back up here in the next couple months and go from there. Our next one was supposed to be the Silver State 300, but that got pushed back to I don’t know when. Then we want to do the Vegas to Reno on it, or Reno to Vegas, so we’ll see if that’s going to happen still. That would be our next big one if that happens. CN
Rottweiler Performance KTM 790 Adventure R | The List
Here’s the list of exactly what’s been done to Wes’ race bike:
Weight and bias (full tank):
- Stock: 470 lbs.
- Rally Build: 439 lbs. (Front 50.5% / Rear 49.5%)
- Rottweiler 790 Adv PowerPlate air box pre-filter (changed once a day)
- Rottweiler master-cylinder guard
- Rottweiler Transaver
- Rottweiler headlight bracing kit
- Rottweiler quick-fill gas-cap adaptor
- Rottweiler kickstand-sensor relocator
- Rottweiler CRG clutch lever and cable
- Rottweiler single-sided front-brake kit
- Rottweiler racing fuel-line kit
- Rottweiler titanium O2 plug kit
- Rottweiler block-off kit
- Rottweiler graphic kit
- Custom Cyclops KTM Headlight with Pegasus dual cubes
- Konflict Motorsports sprung and valved WP Pro Components fork and shock, both stretched to 270mm/10.6-inch wheel travel
- Rebel X 790 Adventure navigation tower
- Rottweiler Performance custom road-book holder
- F2R road-book controller
- F2R road book
- ICO meters
- Dynojet Power Commander V
- Dynojet Auto Tune
- Dynojet Auto Tune switch
- Dynojet POD-300 Data Logger
- Maxima Pro + engine oil
- Maxima coolant
- Maxima fuel stabilizer
- Maxima grease and lubricants
- Arrow race header pipe
- Arrow De-Cat mid-pipe
- Arrow titanium muffler
- Antigravity Restart battery
- BRP KTM 790 Adventure submount kit
- Scotts steering damper
- Rottweiler 20mm bar risers
- Brembo RCS-15 master cylinder
- BRP handguard mounts
- KTM PowerParts white handguards
- Rekluse TorqDrive clutch pack
- Drive Systems 15/45 sprockets
- D.I.D ZVMX chain
- Factory Pro shift kit
- Vanasche countershaft protection
- BRP chain guide
- Custom Dubya Wheels with Excel rims/Talon Hubs/Bulldog spokes
- 2.5 in. wide rear for gravel
- 3.5 in. wide rear for sand dunes
- 1.85 in. front
- Rear gravel: Dunlop 908
- Rear sand dunes: IRC M5B
- Front: Goldentyre GT 216AA Fatty
- Rear: Bridgestone Ultra Heavy Duty
- Front: Bib Mousse stuffed into an ultra-heavy-duty carcass
- IMS Core footpegs
- AXP Skid Pan
- Galfer wave rotors
- Brembo M50 front single side caliper
- Brembo RCS-15 master-cylinder
- Rottweiler Performance single-sided brake-line kit