Can the KTM 790 Adventure conquer its Austrian homeland?
These KTM 790 Adventures are a bit like buses. Just when I think I'm never going to jump on one, I get to ride three of 'em within the space of a month. Actually make that four - I also got to sample the higher spec R version too. Happy days!
Austria's where I got my first chance to see what the 790 is made of. And what a journey that turned out to be. Two and a half days of running around the nation where the orange bike was created was a fantastic experience. Following it up with two successive runs, both on and off-road, in Wales a couple of weeks later iced the cake nicely.
Flying out to visit Mattighofen, the town where most of the KTM empire is based, and the starting point of the trip, soon gave a clue to the size of the firm's operation. I counted four whopping great factories, then learnt there were another two nearby. Employing nearly 3,000 people, Mattighofen should be renamed Orangetown!
Before our biking adventure got rolling, we were invited to visit the recently opened Motorhall museum/exhibition complex. Crammed with scores of key KTM machines and technology from past and present, both road and race, walking round and savouring what's on display gives you a real insight into the huge history and success of the brand. Take your time and get a guide like we did, and all will be explained, understood and appreciated. It really is a superb venue and well worth diverting to see if you're anywhere nearby.
To be honest I could happily have done another couple of laps of the place, but our journey needed to get underway. In lovely 25°C ambient temperatures, two groups of us headed off along some excellent winding, undulating backroads. Not far into the trip the idyllic routes became flanked by beautiful trademark Austrian scenery.
It was a good place to be, and the 790 Adventure scored highly. Its free-revving 799cc parallel twin motor has plenty of thrilling pep if you wind it up a bit. But better still, thanks to some extent to its 285° firing order, it doesn't actually need lots of revs to deliver strong, usable drive promptly and keenly.
Allied to the KTM's light and predictable handling, and overall commendable balance, it made light work of navigating through the area's unfamiliar territory. All you seem to need to do is point it where you want to go, and it'll do the rest. Given the smoothness of the engine, lovely steering, reliable brakes, and excellent protection from the fairing and screen, even after doing just 50 miles, it was clear to see the KTM's potential for covering big miles with total ease. This is one very sorted adventure bike.
Bikers: get ye to Austria. It's like Switzerland, but without the ridiculous speeding fines and €18 Subway footlongs
At the end of that first day, we all put our Adventures through a slightly sterner test, riding off-road along some gravel trails. It passed the test well, though I would have been better off had I not overloaded the panniers. Even so, the suspension and tyres dealt with what was asked of them more than competently. We even got all our 790s through a narrow stile, an enforced diversion created by an irate farmer deciding to lock the gate of the primary through route – even though KTM had already paid him to ride through his land. Ah well, we were told it would be an adventure!
Staying overnight at the ski resort of Salbach proved very pleasant. Set in the Alpine region the surrounding vistas were stunningly pretty, and prices for drinks typically high, with the plush hotel's G&Ts coming in at a heady €17.50 a go. Glad I wasn't paying! Day two began early but was well worth getting up for. Riding to the Grossglockner region delivered epic looking landscapes and the €20 ticket to ride up the pass is top value.
Just look at it. Stunning. Majestic. Beautifully weathered by time. And Austria's quite something too.
This is a truly outstanding place to ride a bike, and I lost count of the times I gasped at the sheer scale and staggering beauty of the mountain ranges. It was a chance to explore the sporty side of the 790 Adventure more, discovering it's more than happy to boogie. A peak power output of just 95bhp might not sound too invigorating, but given the lightness of the bike, it can be put to effective use. Accelerating, braking and direction changing are all made easier when there are fewer kilos to overcome, and all in all the 790 has to be rated highly for both its sheer performance and ability as a tourer. A top all-rounder I'd call it.
Even when it started chucking it down, the KTM stayed surefooted enough to retain confidence, though the last mile or so of the second day had me worried. I'm not sure whose idea it was, but a steep, friction-free, muddy ascent to a ski chalet proved to be a daunting challenge. This may well be an adventure bike designed to cope with off-road life, but on the road tyres it was fitted with, and the wrong traction control setting, I only just got to the summit.
Descending the next morning looked like it was going to be just as treacherous thanks to a bout of pretty heavy overnight snow coating the ground thickly. But the task was made a lot easier by selecting the Off-Road setting to keep things in check, and I duly ran down the mountain quite competently. After another half day spent in the incredible region we sadly found ourselves returning to Mattighofen all too prematurely. But to round off the superb trip we upped to the pace significantly and pushed the 790 much, much harder. Again it performed well coping more than competently as a sportsbike.
Agile and stable, and a lot more perky in Rally mode (even if I later discovered this is a non-standard option KTM had cheekily fitted), the bike can be happily hurried along at a very spirited pace. Mind you, as speedily as we did cover the final kilometres, we still couldn't make the appointment we'd made for a KTM factory tour. Bugger! Hopefully, like the chance to ride the 790, it'll come along one day.
From Austria… to Wales
As much as the Austrian experience told me about the KTM, back home a couple of runs up to Wales (on a standard-spec KTM UK press bike with more suitable tyres) allowed me to examine it a lot more. Along very familiar routes, and getting the chance to ride unchaperoned, I discovered there's not much the 790 Adventure isn't happy doing. The punchy, usable motor giving enthusiastic performance and providing rapid pace, never feels intimidating.
It suits both town and country rides well, with features like its three riding modes, and near perfect fuelling helping to make the KTM all the more agreeable. The suspension might appear basic with no adjustment in the fork, and only preload to play with on the shock. But both ends show their quality by controlling the wheels and tyres well over bumps, giving a good balance of support, as well as decent ride quality. Steering stability is aided by a damper and braking power feels assured thanks to its sharpness, progression and ABS.
When I spent a few hours at the Sweet Lamb Motorsport Complex in Wales, riding the 790 off-road, I really saw just how brilliantly versatile this bike is. Sure, it can feel quite a big and weighty thing over more technical terrain, compared to a smaller and more focused enduro bike. But give it time and the KTM starts to feel very capable and manageable. Its lean-sensitive electronics are especially helpful and effective. What the front ABS brakes and their cornering control can do is almost impossible to believe. They give the 790 an almost uncrashable feel. Our very experienced guide for the day, armed with an R version of the bike, is a very handy rider and says it's one of the best bikes he's ever ridden. He reckons it feels like you're cheating such is its massive ability.
I got the chance to see what he meant the second time I rode in Wales on both the standard bike and the R. The higher spec bike's longer travel suspension draws plenty of very well deserved praise for just how well it helps the KTM's handling, especially when you're getting a move on off-road. It often makes the difference between staying on or diving off. It results in the seat height being quite a bit taller than the basic model's, which also benefits from being adjustable. Shorties like me could struggle with the R at times. When the toughness of the trails ever got a bit too much for me on the standard 790, it was always reassuring to know I'd be likely to be able to get my foot down. Superior machine the R may well be, but that taller seat and its extra cost (you need another £900) would put me off a bit. Besides its higher spec would probably be largely wasted on me.
Riding back down to Milton Keynes on the standard bike to round off the day underlined its worth yet again. After the best part of the day spent on the dirt, the prospect of the three hour road run sounded a bit of a tall order. But riding the mix of A roads and motorways turned out to be easy work. Not only does it perform well, its comfort and generous wind protection help it cover ground without any physical strain. A 200-250 mile tank range keeps the wheels turning, and the smoothing effect of the motor's twin balancer shafts and tall top gear has an overall calming effect when cruising. It'd be even nicer if it had cruise control though.
For an adventure bike to draw compliment for its competence both on and off-road is quite something. The 790 Adventure is a truly versatile, multi-purpose bit of kit that's all too easy to ride and enjoy. Few others can match its true versatility and though it's not exactly cheap at just over £11,000, as long as its questionable style is accepted, I expect it to sell well. It took a while before I got the opportunity to get a go on one, but I'm really glad the chance eventually came my way and I loved the 750 miles I ended up doing on them all. It's a great dual-purpose machine.