Seven Adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure – 5. 500 mad motorway miles

Bridgestone Battlax AX41

With thanks to our sponsor, Bridgestone. The KTM used Bridgestone Battlax A41 tyres

 

My trip: 497 miles | Economy: 56.3mpg | Total mileage: 2930

When you’ve ridden KTM’s 790 Adventure 473 miles the fun way to Inverness and then 523 miles the very fun way around the NC500, you might not think there’s a lot left to learn about the bike. Not in terms of, well, fun, anyway.

 

Exchanging atoms with the bike over almost 1000 miles in two days has revealed a comfy seat, bombastic motor, long-legged tank range and safe, predictable road-holding come rain or shine. It’s also shown it’s designed to deliver frisky frolics rather than life in the lap of luxury, with KTM’s traditionally lightweight, loose, gangly, argy-bargy riding dynamic feeling like a punk alternative to, say, the MOR yacht rock of Honda’s Africa Twin. The KTM ain’t no power ballad.

 

The ride so far has also revealed what’s now becoming known as standard-issue KTM electrical niggles – engine and electrical warning lights, no traction control, no cornering ABS, no quickshifter and no rider mode changes. Whatever the cause – be it a change of tyres or a sensor problem – once a manufacturer gains a reputation for building unreliable bikes it’s very hard to shake off. Ask Ducati; they’re been labelled with the ‘electrical niggles’ tag since the 1970s.

 

But now it’s my last adventure on the 790 Adventure, and this time ‘fun’ has been taken off the itinerary. I have to get back home from Inverness, and in doing so I want to know what the KTM is like when it’s being asked to grind out the distance in an unromantic, boring, steady hoof down a motorway – the kind of routine mile-munching that bikes like BMW’s GS hoover up in smooth, silent, blisteringly expeditious style. When you set out on a long motorway ride on a GS, it whisks you along with such mogadon efficiency it’s almost like you’re in a trance. That’s why the BMW is so good at covering tarmac distance so effectively, regardless of its off-road expertise, and why so many people buy them. Being ‘Ready To Race’ and able to ‘Adventure Harder’ is all very well, but if KTM want to sell the 790 Adventure to road riders, how does it cope with the basic requirement of getting you with as little fuss as possible?

 

We’re about to find out.

DISCUSSION: 7 adventures in 7 days on a 790 Adventure
The six riders who completed 3,500-miles in a week on the KTM 790 Adventure chat about the pros, cons and the details of their trips
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: You can also find my NC500 route by clicking here

 

My route will be Google Maps’ quickest: Inverness, A9 to Perth and then onto the M9 at Dunblane, the M80, M73, M74, into England on the M6, pick up the A66 at Penrith, off onto the A1 at Scotch Corner and down to Newark. Google says it’s 484 miles and will take eight hours and 40 minutes – an average speed of 56mph.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: 10.35am: this is my home for the next eight hours and 40 minutes, or 484 miles – whichever comes first.

 

It’s 10.35am when we finally trundle away from the hotel, stopping almost immediately for fuel. The 790 doesn’t need it because it still shows an 86-mile range, but although there are plenty of fuel stops on the 120 miles of A9 between Inverness and Perth, I can’t immediately think of any that don’t require leaving the A9 to get to – and I don’t want to fanny about looking for fuel. If I fill up in Inverness; the 790’s 20-litre tank and 200-mile tank range should mean a two-stop strategy to get back: one somewhere on the M74 and a last one down the A1.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: 1000 miles on the trip and the weather’s good at the start of the ride. Let’s do this!

 

The A9 between Inverness and Perth is a picturesque ride – the scenery ranges from broad swathes of conifer plantations of at the top of the end of the Cairngorms, passing between the mossy dun mountainsides, then the rich green patchwork around the river Tay. The KTM breezes along covering early ground at gentle revs with an easy, lanky gait. I knew this wouldn’t a tough slog yet – we’ll see how it feels later on.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh tarmac?

 

Roadworks and traffic lights on the A9, so I filter the 790 to the front of the queue behind a control vehicle. So far this is all a bit stop-start and it doesn’t feel as if we’ve really got into a rhythm.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Speed cameras: increasing road safety or indiscriminate cash converters for the businesses who make them, run them, and the road safety courses tens of thousands of drivers end up on each year?

 

The 790 Adventure is fit and chirpy, bombing along cheerfully. I curse the absence of cruise control – the KTM is such a responsive, lively engine it keeps wanting to run away and cruise at a higher speed than the usual 80mph or so – and it’s hard to hold it at a constant speed for any length of time. The A9 is patrolled by average speed cameras and although each lane’s camera appears to face oncoming traffic (which means, obviously, it won’t register bikes) I’m not sure if the camera on the opposite lane (which is facing the rear of the bike) is set-up with a broad field of view and can capture vehicles both sides of the road.
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: She’ll be coming round the mountains...

 

Getting stuck into the Cairngorms, the weather starts to get a bit moody so I stop and pull on my faithful waterproof Spidi one-piece. It can rain as much as it likes but inside I’m soaked in sweat. Oh well.

 

There’s a much nicer ride around the Cairngorms than the A9 – it’s taking the A95 and heading east, then along the winding, up-and-down A939. It’s an old military road around the back of the mountains, climbing and falling with a heady rush of fantastic corners and scenery; at the Cairnwell Pass it becomes the highest A-road in the UK. But it adds a good hour or so to the ride and corners aren’t the priority today. 

Amazing how the weather can go from nice and sunny...to spots of rain...to a light shower...to pissing down in a matter of minutes. But that’s mountains for you; they have their own weather systems.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Breathe in!

 

More traffic jams on the run down the A9 into Perth – the road is being widened into dual carriageway. The KTM filters with ease – not using panniers has its virtues.

 

The 790 is a good motorway filterer – the bars aren’t as wide as most adventure bikes, and its snappy motor and light weight means darting out and diving back in for gaps is easy. 
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Finally! A corner! But it’s only a roundabout. The motorway starts here...

 

Onto the M9 at Dunblane – we’re now nearly three hours and 150 miles into the ride, which is an average of 50mph. Which would be about right, allowing for refuelling at the start, roadworks, wardrobe adjustments and speed limits.

 

And so far I’m comfy, bored, warm, dry (well, damp) and wishing I was on the M90 heading back to Edinburgh and the A68. It might take a bit longer but at least it’s interesting.

Of course the KTM can bash out the miles – and if the question, at this point in the ride, is would I rather be on another bike, the answer would be it really doesn’t matter what I’ve been riding so far – something with cruise would’ve been nice; but I’ve ridden bikes with far worse screens (like a touring screen fitted to either the Africa Twin or F8650GS, both of which are so noisy and turbulent you’re better off without them). I’m not fatigued, tired or irritated by the KTM yet. It’s doing just fine.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Still in Scotland, but England’s approaching. So’s more bad weather, by the look of it.

 

Well south of Glasgow now, approaching the M6 and the border, and looking for the first fuel stop en route – which is pretty good going considering the KTM is now 212 miles from Inverness. It’s warmer now too – when I left it was 16°C, dropping to 14°C in the Cairngorms, but now a balmy 19°C. But it’s not all good news – I can feel rain approaching from the south. And it’s forecast to be heavy from here, pretty much all the way home.
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Welcome to England!

 

Stopped for fuel a few miles back at Annadale Water. The KTM drank 17.69 litres of unleaded in 228.4 miles – it was showing 12 miles left on its range, but that must be pessimistic because there ought to still be another 2.3 litres in the tank (unless there’s ‘dead’ fuel sitting below the fuel pump take-off inside the tank?).

 

Either way, 230 miles on a tank is reassuringly good, as is the 58.7mpg it works out to: I reckon 250 miles per tank is easily within reach with a bit of careful riding. And that’s a good range – it out-runs the standard Africa Twin, BMW F850GS, Triumph Tiger 800 etc and us only matched by the big-tank Adventure Sport and GSA versions.

 

Oh, and we’re in England now, warts ’n’ all. There may be trouble ahead...
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Oh, there’s a surprise. It’s an English motorway and lane discipline has already gone out of the window.

 

...and here it is. The rain sets in with a determined splattering. As I noted on the lap of the NC500 yesterday, because the 790 Adventure’s tanks are slung low there’s not a lot of meat directly in front of the rider – the ‘tank’ top is flat and leaves the impression you sit on the bike, not in it. It feels a bit exposed, especially in the rain – it’s hard to say if I’ll get any wetter on the KTM than a more conventionally-fuel-tanked adventure bike – I suspect not. But I think I’m about to find out...

Above: Is there anything more dismal than the start of the A66 off the M6, in the wet? If I had any sense I’d take the A686 up to the Hartside cafe and over the Pennines. 13°C over the A66; fortunately it’s mostly dual carriageway now.

 

With a Keis heated jacket keeping my core warm, I’m profoundly glad I’m not left to the mercy of KTM’s heated grips. When it’s a bit chilly, they’re warm enough... but even at 13°C I can tell at anything below 5°C they’d be all but useless. BMW’s heated grips basically cook your fingers at normal spring or summer temps if you wang them up flat out – which is good because it means in winter they’ll have enough grunt to keep digits warm. And they do. I’ve had the blisters to prove it. But I suspect KTM’s grips, like Honda’s on the Africa Twin, simply won’t have the warmth to drive off the winter cold.
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Hitting the A1 at Scotch Corner feels like the last leg of the journey. It ain’t.

 

Off the A66 and onto the A1, after nearly six hours on the road. Hopefully the last stretch won’t be too bad. The KTM has been good company so far, but there’s something bugging me about the ride. I did pretty much the same motorway stint on a Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak 1200 a few years ago – in fact it was an even longer ride because I rode up to the Cairngorms and back in one day – in winter. And there was something more engaging about the Ducati; I remember feeling more of a ‘one-ness’ with it; more affection for the bike. We bonded.

 

As the KTM stretches its legs on the A1 south – funny how we speed up the nearer home we get – I’m enjoying it, but not loving it and I’m struggling to articulate exactly why that should be, and why that is the case on other bikes, like the Pikes Peak, or other bikes I’ve ridden a long way on.

 

Still, as the A1 chokes up and the rain falls harder than ever, I’ve still plenty of miles and plenty of time to think about it.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Now this is proper wet riding...

 

The heavens open and down it comes.

 

It’s amazing how much water gets lifted into the air by modern car tyres. In the old days bikers got wet because rain came out of the sky and fell on us. These days we get wet because super-wide truck and car tyres pick standing water up and sling it back into the air again. The A1’s three lanes have become three tunnels of thick, opaque liquid fog – get out from behind a car and if the lane is clear, visibility will miraculously improve. I’m convinced reduced wet-driving visibility thanks to modern tyres is a contributing factor to motorway pile-ups, off-setting the improvement in wet grip in the first place. Which is ironic.

 

In the wet on the motorway, the KTM is relatively safe and secure – although I can’t tell if its vagueness at 80mph is aqua-planning or just a hallucination. It could be both. It’s been a long ride.

 

The A1 thickens up with traffic around the junction with the M62, thanks to the extra weight of traffic filtering down into two lanes a few miles further on. The extra concentration needed to filter again is a pain the ass, especially in the wet after a long ride, when all you want for everyone else on the road to just go away – or at least pull over and give a man on a KTM some bloody room. I’ve seen riders ride between cars revving the nuts off their bikes, as if it somehow alerts drivers to your presence. I prefer my philosophy – ride ‘above’ the traffic, not through it. If you treat traffic as blocks of metal just randomly moving about, devoid of pattern or intelligent control, you free your mind of the peril of second-guessing other humans, making assumptions about their behaviour or reliance on any third-party action. Instead you only solely on your reactions. You are responsible only for yourself – which is how it should be. It’s a bit mumbo-jumbo, but it works for me. So far. Oh, and always have an escape route. Never put yourself at a place, time and speed you can’t get out of. 

 

And, it must be said, the KTM is as adept at all that as any other conventional adventure bike (with the notable exception of Honda’s clutchless Africa Twin DCT, which feels like filtering with one hand tied behind your back).
Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: The end is nigh.

 

Finally, the rain eases up and the A46 appears at Newark – this is where we leave the A1 for a last bomb across the Fens.

 

Stopped for a final top-up at Muskham services on the A1 a few miles back – another 212.3 miles on the tank, with 17.54 litres used and, again, 12 miles showing as the remaining range. Maybe 12 miles is a default number? Economy over the motorway stint was 55.0mpg.

Seven adventures on a KTM 790 Adventure

Above: Home! Time for a brew. And a verdict.

 

Verdict

After 497 miles and eight hours, 23 minutes (funnily enough that’s 503 minutes – agonisingly close to 500 miles in 500 minutes, which would’ve been too spooky), the trip is done.

The KTM has beaten Google by 17 minutes and averaged 4mph faster, which is pretty good considering Google doesn’t allow for fuel stops, guzzled cans of Red Bull and wee breaks (in one end, out the other). It’s used around 47 litres of fuel, averaged 56.3mpg and only needed two stops en route (after an early fill-up) – which is very good going.

 

The bike has proved just as comfy and capable as it did over the previous two days; the total mileage is something like 1062 miles, and at no time has my bum screamed for mercy, my knees seized, my hands numbed from vibes or my vision blurred from buffeting. Comfort is, of course, largely subjective – but the KTM fits me just fine.

And there’s no doubting the convenience of a 230+ mile tank range – this thing has legs. The motor is punchy and has a nice balance of meaningful vibrations with no annoying buzzing or thumping. It’s civilised too, with easy, responsive throttle control (better than the 790 Duke) and a wide spread of performance across the revs.

 

But I don’t yearn to ride it again. It sounds crazy, but often when I’m heading back home after some insane, high mileage, high speed foreign trip, and I arrive at the junction for my road, a little masochistic voice in my head usually pipes up: “Go on, keep going, I dare you,” it says. First time I heard it was in the 1990s on a ZZ-R1100, also coming back from Scotland. It was deep mid-winter, viciously cold, but I was toasty with an old Gerbing heated jacket melting my kidneys. I felt like I could just keep riding the old girl until the world stopped turning.

 

Since then I’ve had the same feeling many, many times. These days I think it’s the bike talking; the louder the suggestion, the more... organic... the machine. From CapoNord to min-90s FireBlade, from S1000RR to GSX650F... they all say something at the end.

 

Other KTMs have definitely got the special sauce – 790 Duke, 990 SM-T, 990 Super Duke, 690 Duke, 1090 Adventure; even the 1050 Adventure. But the 790 Adventure is one of the least compelling bikes I’ve done something daft on. It didn’t annoy, irritate or aggravate, but it didn’t set the pulse racing or stir the soul during the ride. As a conveyance and a means to an end it worked perfectly (ish) – but as an object to love and cherish and admire, it doesn’t work hard enough at pure desirability. As I sit and contemplate the three day NC500-and-back-a-thon I can’t say exactly which adventure bike I’d rather have done the trip on because the truth is, it could be any of them.

 

Three things I love about the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure

  • Punchy, flexible, versatile and economical motor
  • Seat – no aches or pains in over 30 hours and 1500 miles across three days
  • Throttle response – the 790 Duke was said to be snatchy, but the Adventure is pure butter

 

Three things that aren’t so good…

  • Electrics failing – whatever the reason, it’s bad
  • Build quality – mirrors, screen, plastics are shonky
  • Extras – heated grips, centrestand, hand adjustable screen – all the least we should get for the...
  • ...price. North of £11k is too salty

 

2019 KTM 790 Adventure specification

New price

£11,099

Capacity

799cc

Bore x Stroke

88.0mm x 65.7mm

Engine layout

285° parallel twin

Engine details

8v dohc, l/c

Power

94bhp @ 8000rpm

Torque

66 lb.ft @ 6600rpm

Top speed

135mph (est)

Average fuel consumption

57.5mpg

Tank size

20 litres

Max range to empty (est)

250 miles

Rider aids

Traction control, cornering ABS, rider modes

Frame

steel tube trellis

Front suspension

43mm WP usd forks

Front suspension adjustment

none

Rear suspension

WP monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

preload only

Front brake

2 x 320mm discs, four-pot caliper, cornering ABS

Rear brake

260mm disc, two-pot caliper, cornering ABS

Front tyre

90/90-21

Rear tyre

150/70-18

Rake/Trail

25.9°/107.8mm

Wheelbase

1509mm

Seat height

830/850mm

Kerb weight (est)

209kg

Warranty

unlimited miles/2 years

Website

www.ktm.co.uk

 

Latest News from Bike Social

Latest News

  • Rebel-based street scrambler under development to cash in on retro trend
    Honda’s retro street scrambler plans
  • How to sell your bike with ease and avoid scammers
    Riding Advice: My first… eBay Sale
  • 2020 Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade and the Large Project Leader, Yuzuru Ishikawa
    Exclusive interview with the 2020 Honda Fireblade boss
  • New patent shows that Suzuki is still working on the long-awaited turbo twin
    Suzuki turbo project lives on