Back in 2016 I sold my BMW G650 xCountry in Argentina and returned to the UK. I wanted another bike, and had a strict criteria. It had to be over 75hp, had to weigh less than 200kg fuelled, still be in production, have 21/18 wheel setup, at least 8 inches of suspension travel and achieve 50mpg.
That bike basically didn’t exist so as a stop gap I ended up buying a 2004 KTM 950 Adventure. It failed the criteria miserably in terms of weight, and fuel economy, but it was probably the best bike I’ve owned, and definitely the one I should have taken to South America, there it would have eaten up the ‘ripio’. I may soon be looking at Street Bobs and potentially get one as my next adventure bike.
I used the 950 at Sweet Lamb Rally Complex in Wales, and directly afterwards on a tour of Ireland. It was then stolen, and I moved on sailing adventures. Fast forward four years and I’m back on dry land and itching to get back in the saddle.
A lot has changed during that time. Whilst Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and BMW have been asleep at the wheel, KTM has updated the 690 Enduro to the twin balance shaft motor that first appeared in the Duke and then he Husky 701. The power has also increased to 74hp. Yamaha released the T700 based on their T7 concept from 6 years ago, and KTM surprised the world with the 790 (and now 890) adventure series.
KTM 690 Enduro / Husky 701
Back in South America I was lusting over the 690 Enduro particularly the power and handling advantages it had over the BMW G650x, and not least the availability of aftermarket parts. The rocker arm issue (on certain models) put me off a little, and by the time I got back to the UK I couldn’t find any decent used models. Then I bought the 950 and that spoiled me. It was confidence inspiring off road, and had oodles of power on tap. One magazine described it as: “…riding a lion that has a bad case of blue balls and anger management issues.”
It was truly thrilling, and made me think it would be a mistake to go back to a single cylinder. After all one of my gripes about the xCountry was its performance during long days on tar, and when doing 10,000 miles tours there are more than a few.
The 690 and by extension the 701 meet the criteria for power, weight, suspension performance, and fuel economy, though the range is more limited than the comfortable 200 miles plus I’d like. The problem with them is the on road performance, and the fact that they be a massive compromise at times when I want to carry a pillion. Most people choose to go more dirt focused and sacrifice on-road performance, but on big tours, when crossing continents, I the road riding is the most tedious part.
Yamaha Tenere 700
Enter the Yamaha Tenere 700. By all accounts this is a great bike, every reviewer is wax lyrical about it, and best of all is it’s cheap. Less than £9000 (originally £8,000) will get you a brand new one off the dealership floor. It’s roomer than the single cylinder enduros, and more suitable to long distance touring out of the box.
The engine, stolen from the MT-07 is supposed to be great to, but detuned to 72hp it makes less power than either the 690 or the 701 singles, yet weighs 54kg more. Ok more like 30kg more once the other two have been modded to be adventure touring ready, but still, that doesn’t sound great. The fuel range is there (just about), and the community have taken well to it so aftermarket parts are plentiful, but the suspension is lacking. Yes it meets my 8″ requirement, but would be a downgrade from the 950 adventure, and even the xCountry.
My biggest gripe about the T700 though is that it just seems too basic, too sensible. Had it come out 6 years ago hot on the heels of the T7 concept, it would have been fantastic, but bikes have moved on since then. Other than the frame it’s basically a parts bin special. That’s not necessarily bad, but not what I’m looking for.
The lack of electronics is also a drawback for me. Cruise control in particular (for those long days on tar) is something I want. Traction control would be nice too. As for a quick shifter or electronic suspension, unless the latter is fully active I’d rather do without.
All that being said, if I hadn’t seen the new KTM this probably would be my bike of choice, though perhaps the Tiger 900 pro might have something to say about that.
KTM 790/890 Advenutre
Living on a boat for 4 years I was completely obviously to what was happening in the adventure motorcycle world. A world that for the most part was behind me. When I discovered the KMT 790 Adventure I feverishly scoured YouTube for reviews (as I did for the Tenere), then moved on to magazine articles. The news was positive, the bike was lauded by the press and new owners alike.
A 950/990 Adventure beater
In late 2020 early 2021 it even got a bump in capacity to 890cc. Now there existed an adventure bike with more power than the KTM 990 Adventure, more torque, better brakes, better suspension (9.4″ in the R and over 10″ in the Rally), better fuel economy with nearly 300 miles range, and all in a lighter package.
The down side was the price. At £12,000 in the UK (oddly one of the cheapest places in Europe to buy it), it is far more expensive than any other model under consideration. Add to that a number of famously KTM problems. Water in the dash display (remember that from the 950 adventure upwards), electronics packages not working, and brake issues. Still this is a bike that is a 950/990 Adventure beater, and with some careful mods could even be brought down to 200kg wet weight. Here’s a few extracts from ADVRider comparing the bikes.
A properly sorted 790 destroys a properly sorted 990…and a properly sorted SE – Nowwhatt
Honestly, I wasn’t immediately sold on the 790.. It was after 3 or so hours and getting into better trails that I clicked with it, and “went bionic” as I like to say.. I then swapped back to my SE and it felt like a dinosaur. – CC Ryder
The 990 is an iconic bike that was the benchmark for many years.
890 is next level, especially the Rally with WP Pro suspension. – Noneking
My 790R has 20K+ miles, and is so much better than my 950 adventure it isn’t even close. With engine and suspension mods, it does everything I need it to do, and keeps me smiling the whole time. I rode a T7 as well, and found it very disappointing. – AdvRonski
We have a verdict
Whilst the 890 Adventure looks to be a clear winner for me it’s not that straight forward. There are things about it that I’m not keen. I hate orange for one. But seriously, like anything it has its compromises, wind protection being a big one, long distance comfort another. Some will claim it’s still too heavy for an adventure bike, but they are often the people that confuse adventure travel with hard enduro. Hopefully everything else can be fixed with aftermarket parts.
Perhaps if Honda had an 800-850cc Africa Twin as is rumoured, Yamaha come out with an updated T700 with modern electronics, or the other manufacturers… actually forget the other manufacturers, Suzuki, Kawasaki and BMW are far too lazy to do anything than churn out old models in new ‘adventure’ style clothing.