2007 KTM 990 Adventure

Road Test Review

I’ll never forget the day it dawned on me. It was about 20 years ago, and I was riding a 1,000cc sport tourer on a twisty California mountain road when I noted a headlight in my mirror. So I stepped the pace up a bit. The light drew closer. I got on it harder and suddenly, in a short straight‚ thumpa-thumpa‚ the rider went flying by me on, of all things, a big 500cc dual-sport single with knobby mix-master tires.

I couldn’t believe it! How could 500cc pass 1,000cc that easily? Later, upon further review, I considered that great torque combined with lower gearing, lightness, a short wheelbase, mega cornering clearance, the leverage from that wide handlebar and (oh, the pain!) a superior rider could well have pulled off that pass. That’s when I realized that a smaller dual-sport motorcycle could be every bit as competent as a larger, sportier bike on a mountain road. Not to mention in the dirt.

Back in our August issue we compared four faux dual-sport motorcycles, those with the aggressive style of big gravel- road bikes but without the real-world credentials. Oh, they had all the necessary street cred, but their cut-slick street tires, exposed exhaust plumbing and 17- or 19-inch front wheels exposed them as pretenders, bikes that could be taken there but were not seriously intended for the dirt or even gravel travel. Today, the best big-inch, liter-class machines for back-road/bad-road rides to Alaska and Mexico are the BMW R1200GS, and the new KTM 990 Adventure that we test here.

The Adventure was first brought to the United States for 2003 as a 950, and for 2007 has been revamped as the 990. Its liquid-cooled, 75-degree V-twin engine has been bumped up to 999cc with a slight increase of both bore and stroke to 101.0 x 62.4mm. In addition the new model gets electronic fuel injection rather than carburetion, a new motor management system and anti-lock brakes. With its three-way catalytic converter and a Lambda sensor for each cylinder it now conforms to the Euro III emissions standard.

What gives the 990 dirt-road cred? Check out its 21-inch front wheel, semi-knob Pirelli Scorpion tires and its full bash plate with no protruding plumbing. Of course, it’s understood that a bike this heavy has no business trying to hang with the XRs, KDXs, RMs and TTs, much lighter true dirt bikes, but the Adventure should be able to get you down and back any graded gravel road and most two-tracks.

The Adventure 990’s liquid-cooled LC8 engine weighs, according to KTM, just 126 pounds and retains the dual overhead cams, balancer shaft and dry-sump lubrication system of its predecessor. KTM favored the dry sump design because without an oil pan it could have greater ground clearance.

Its lightweight pistons are designed to minimize oscillating mass, and the bike utilizes a forged, one-piece crankshaft. New for 2007 are the camshaft profiles and the 48mm throttle-body injectors, which eliminate the need for a fast-idle or choke lever.

With its 33.9-inch seat height only those long of inseam will be comfortable when stopped astride the 990 Adventure. Grasp that wide Renthal handlebar, look down and notice-what’s this-the bike has two fuel fillers, one on each side? Two nylon composite fuel tanks place the weight lower relative to the frame, and more centrally between the axles. They’re protected by a pair of large plastic panels, and as an accessory KTM offers tube-steel guards. With the engine’s compression ratio of 11.5:1 you’ll want to fill those tanks with 5.8 gallons of 91-octane premium fuel. Ours delivered a decent 42.9 mpg.

The engine starts with the press of a button, and occasionally when cold would die almost immediately but would always run when restarted. The levers are dirt-bike short, and there was insufficient room for the little finger on each hand. Pull in the hydraulically actuated clutch lever, chunk the six-speed in gear and with nearly 50 lb-ft of torque already available at just 2,500 rpm, its low 510-pound wet weight and gravel-road gearing there’s no need for revving or clutch slipping. The V-twin assumes a characteristic barking lope, aggressive and hard-edged in tone. All is smooth till about 6,000 rpm, at which point a bit of vibration begins to intrude upon the grips. When we first got the bike it had about 500 miles on it, and long freeway jaunts jangled my hands. However, by about 1,000 miles the engine had smoothed out and, while some high-end vibration remained, freeway trolling was no problem.

According to KTM the 990’s tubular-steel perimeter frame weighs just 24.2 pounds, and soon the bike’s weight seemed to melt away. Still, with a 61.8-inch wheelbase no one is going to confuse the Adventure with an actual dirt bike‚Ķthat’s the suspension’s job. That stout 48mm male-slider WP leading-axle fork and single shock each provide 8.3 inches of travel, and can be adjusted for both compression and rebound damping; the shock also offers a handy remote preload adjuster. A few minutes of experimentation, and fiddling with fingers and a screwdriver, and I had the suspension dialed in.

Our test bike had a glitch in its fuel-delivery system; a rhythmic jerking and hunting was evident at steady state, low-speed riding at around 3,000 to 4,500 rpm. The situation became especially problematic on bumpy roads as the fuel system seemed to cycle on/off abruptly over the bumps-which is the last thing you want in the dirt. While testing the Adventure we were also testing a KTM Superduke, which had a similar injection system but presented no problem. We also were not enamored of the noisy cooling fan that would activate automatically in slow-speed situations.

We lowered pressure in the tires to 20 psi and took the Adventure out to some local dirt areas. There, it confirmed my expectations that when ridden conservatively by a street rider this overgrown rock eater could indeed get through some rough areas and minor jumps, its 21-inch front tire stepping over rocks and potholes. Sand washes were scary, but with my lack of dirt experience any bike would have been so. While the Scorpions grip well and predictably while plonking around in second gear, it was easy to break the rear tire loose and slide the big guy around in open areas. At higher speeds, however, I felt like a bear on roller skates and decided to preserve my remaining virgin collarbone by exercising discretion. The press materials recommend that more aggressive dirt riders outfit the Adventure with Continental’s TKC 80 tires, in sizes which were developed specifically for KTM.

The 990 Adventure comes with KTM’s first anti-lock braking system, a joint venture with Brembo and Bosch. The company tells us that its modulator (which is placed under the seat) weighs just 3 pounds; the brakes work independently and are not linked. The rear brake lacked sensitivity, and entered into ABS mode more readily than I wished-which also could have been a factor of the tire. Otherwise, the system delivered secure stops with minimal pulsing at each control. It can be turned off with a button on the dashboard for offroad use. Note that its sibling, the 990 Adventure S, does not have ABS but offers a longer-travel suspension and is considered more dirt worthy.

Any knowledgeable rider who wants to do some real offroad work on a dual-sport will choose a smaller, lighter machine and leave the 990 Adventure for those with 90-plus-percent pavement riding in mind, so we tested it that way. In addition to the usual road riding I took the bike on a three-day, 700-mile round trip to Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey last July for the MotoGP races. A tankbag strapped in front (the tank area is not steel so a magnetic bag will not adhere) and a large nylon bag strapped to the seat and luggage rack provided ample luggage space. With a fuel cap on either side, it was not necessary to remove the tankbag to refuel. KTM offers hard-sided locking saddlebags and a top case with appropriate hardware for the Adventure.

Like a dirt bike the 990 Adventure feels tall, but riding it soon brought back my memories of that dual-sport that had passed me so long ago. Where the bike really impressed was on the backroads, while dicing with friends on their sport tourers-and running away from them. A lot of weight shifting helped, and the tires I had not fully trusted in ABS mode straight up or in the dirt now gripped like sport rubber while leaned over on the pavement. The story I’d learned 20 years ago of torque, light weight and leverage (my friends would never go with the “superior rider” fantasy) trumping horsepower and displacement came true for me on tight, winding roads. Here it was rarely necessary to rev the engine past 5,000 to 6,000 rpm, which kept it in the lower two-thirds of its 9,500-rpm rev range and out of its vibration zone.

The 990’s gauges, placed behind that tall, narrow tinted windscreen, include a digital speedometer and analog tachometer; there’s a clock and temperature gauge but no fuel gauge-one would have been welcome. As a compensating factor, in addition to the two tripmeters, the Adventure also has a tripmeter that activates with the low-fuel warning light and counts forward to inform you of how far you’ve traveled on “reserve.” The ‘screen keeps the wind off the chest, and the hand guards keep the hands warmer. There’s also an accessory plug on the dash for a battery charger or electric garments, and a centerstand, though it lacks a convenient grab handle.

One curiosity is that KTM’s press materials state that the Adventure’s fuel injection, cams and such were in the interest of “improved performance.” However, when we took it to the dyno over at Borla Performance, we found that things had gone in the other direction. The 950 Adventure we tested in our February 2005 issue spun the drum to the tune of 86.7 horsepower at 8,000 rpm, and 61.3 lb-ft of torque at 6,300 rpm. The figures on the new 990 were 84.0 horses at 7,600, and 59.8 lb-ft at 7,200 rpm, drops of around 2.5 to 3.5 percent. Our best guess is that the power drop was caused by the fuel-injection glitches, as KTM’s press person said the exhaust system was essentially the same. Perhaps it’s due to more stringent emissions requirements. Who cares-the bike is great fun to ride!

I’ll have to admit that, at first, I did not like the Adventure. The fuel-injection glitches made it difficult to ride around town, and the rear brake’s easy lockup was bothersome at speed. I didn’t trust the tires and would not ride it fast, and because of the injection could not ride it slow. However, once I dialed in the suspension, tested the tires in leaned-over mode and began riding it aggressively, its long-travel suspension and torquey engine conspired to peg the fun meter. At times like that, dyno figures do not matter. Add in the likelihood that its low-speed glitch can be corrected with a service (again, the KTM Superduke doesn’t have this problem) the Adventure will be great fun to ride! You can have yours in orange or black, for $13,998. Just add pavement‚ or gravel‚ and stir to taste.

If you’re interested in the 2007 KTM 990 Adventure, you might also be interested in Rider‘s 2009 KTM 990 Adventure Review.