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With its free-revving motor and agile chassis, KTM’s V-twin Adventure has always been at the lively end of the big trailie class. But in this highly competitive class, it never hurts to keep ahead of the game. And with a number of modifications for 2009, and the release of a hotted-up R-model, that’s just what KTM were hoping to do…

Ever since 2003, when KTM first launched its V-twin LC8 Adventure in 950 guise, I’ve suspected that the bike suffers from something of an identity crisis. It’s a tall bike with rally-race styling and fine off-road performance yet works well on-road. And it’s civilised and comfortable enough for long distance touring yet becomes a real hooligan tool at the snap of the throttle. With many dual sport machines, the compromise sticks out like a compound fracture. But not this one.

The bike hasn’t changed much since KTM slotted their fuel injected 999cc V-twin into its trellis frame back in 2006. This brought with it a welcome increase in torque (plus a somewhat UNWELCOME snatchy power delivery)  and sensibly the Austrians backed this up by giving the brakes a smidgen more bite. Now, for 2009, they’ve affected another range of mods. Would these buff out those few flaws on an otherwise polished big trailie, or would they cut through the shine to reveal a few more rough edges? On the roads and trails of Sardinia we found out…

Sports Centre

‘We make pure, sporty bikes’, exclaimed Joachim Sauer, KTM’s head of technical marketing, in the launch briefing. It may’ve been marketing spiel but it neatly explains the ethos behind the Adventure and why it’s always felt so, er, sporty. And that feeling is unlikely to change because, cosmetics aside, the biggest modification the 2009 model’s received is a big hike in power. Oh yes!

New cylinder heads (with reworked combustion chambers),  new cams, tweaks to the Keihin EFI and ‘improved’  endcans have resulted in a leap from 98hp to 106hp (claimed).  But that’s not the end of the performance modifications, oh no. Because to bring the Adventure in-line with the rest of the KTM range, the Austrians have launched an ‘R’ version of the Adventure. And thanks to some clever fuel/ignition mapping this thing’s pumping out a claimed 115hp!

The R replaces the old S-model as the off-road biased Adventure, and so retains the S’s ‘standout’  features: its seat is flat rather than stepped, its WP suspension is 55mm longer than stock and it does away with the standard bike’s ABS too. It also wears a different colourscheme and now features the trademark R-model orange frame.

For ’09 the Adventure’s motor has also been fitted with a pair of lighter conrods and the crank has shed a few grams too, in a bid to reduce engine vibes whilst improving engine response. A nice practical aside to all this performance fettling is that the construction of the new cylinder heads means that they don’t require their valves checking at the first service. So now, at the 600-mile service, the motor simply needs fresh oil and a filter change.

The chassis and cycle parts remain largely unchanged this year, ‘cept for the swingarm, fork lowers and Brembo calipers now being coloured black. There are, however, a few changes to the cockpit. The clocks are now the same latest generation parts found on the other KTM ‘road’  models – a large, centrally mounted rev counter (with white illuminated needle)  and a comprehensive digital speedo/computer.

In the panel next to the clocks the power ‘take-off’  has grown in size to the common, car cigarette lighter size. So you no longer need an adapter in order to plug in your electronic gizmos. The ABS button has migrated to the small, rubberised controls alongside the tacho and the ignition key now activates/deactivates an immobiliser.

We’ve often commented on how handy the tank-top storage compartment is on the Adventure, and the factory have revised it for 2009. Apparently certain sausage-fingered riders found its Dzus fastener mechanism tricky to operate, so it now opens via a large push-button. I’ve got to say, on our test bikes the quality of finish on these compartments was a little patchy. Some of the lids were Teutonically sturdy, whist others felt flimsier than a Korean cupholder. Still, they all closed securely and the lid can now be locked via the seat lock on the bike’s sidepanel. Very handy.

Cosmetically, the Adventures have been given new colourschemes. The standard bike comes in either orange or white (mmm, very sexy)  with a spiderweb (or thornbush, depending on your imagination)  design on the twin tanks. The R wears matt black panels with white and orange detailing, again making the link with the company’s other R-machines. Sadly the rally-inspired blue and orange paintjob has gone the same way as the African Dakar and been discontinued.

Sports Ground

Leaving the pretty port town of Alghero, our route took us south along the winding coast road. Famous on the island as a fantastic biking route, on a viciously blustery Monday morning it was all but deserted. Overhanging roadside cliffs harboured the remnants of recent rain in their shadows, and whilst the tarmac was largely smooth, surface changes and occasional potholes further tested our reactions.

There’s little doubt that the R feels like a big bike. But that’s big as in tall, rather than portly or lumbering. You sit up high, partly protected by the upright tinted screen, and with the big braceless bars the riding position is reassuringly enduro-like.

Along with the extra 55mm of suspension travel (over the stock bike),  the R receives stiffer settings. And this is immediately noticeable, though not in a bad way. The bike feels lithe and sporty (there’s that word again),  and for fast smooth riding it’s very precise. The problem comes when you move onto real stop-start twisties. Hard on the brakes, the forks dive down through their stroke and require a smooth release of braking pressure so as not to upset the balance of the bike into the corners.

The standard Adventure has no such worries. Sure, if you’ve spent your time riding sportsbikes or a Telelever’d Beemer then you’ll have to get used to a bit more movement up front, but you don’t have to be anywhere near as smooth as you do with the R, and can ride the 990 in a real point ‘n’ squirt manner.

Despite the 21in front wheel, the handling is pretty rapid and instils a great deal of confidence. With gusts of wind blowing down off the mountains, it was impossible to predict when Mother Nature’s invisible hand would sweep down mid-corner and lift the bike upright. Thankfully, when the bike was pushed towards the Armco all that was needed to get back on course was a touch of counter-steering through those wide bars and a slight shift in body weight.

There’s an abundance of feedback from the WP suspension and a surprising amount of grip from what are essentially dual sport Pirelli Scorpion tyres. Still, given that KTM are keen to push the Adventure as an on-road model, as well as a giant dirtbike, I had to ask why they didn’t fit the basic bike with a 19in front wheel? ‘It doesn’t need it’, came the simple, and somewhat predictable reply. ‘Plus we wanted to keep the bike’s off-road ability.’  Ah yes, the Adventure’s dirt prowess…

Island Hopping

After miles of switchbacks and long straights, hairpins and flat-out kinks, we hit a small section of off-road. A typical Mediterranean hardpack trail led away from the sea and its verdigris-coloured rocks, and up into an area of scrubland. Riding the stock bike it was time to switch off the ABS (it reactivates every time the engine stops)  and have a bit of a play. And the Adventure loves to play…

The occasional rain rut caused a few heart-in-mouth moments – get one of these things cross-rutted and you’re suddenly reminded it’s a 200+ kilo motorcycle – but the only other obstacle to cause the Adventure any worry was a series of flat rocks, interspersed with the kind of foul smelling treacherous gloop normally found on the menu of vegan restaurants. Thankfully, trickling along at a little over idle wasn’t a problem and nor was clawing up and over the innumerable small rocksteps. With a front tyre slathered in goober, trying to find a safe spot to turn without the front-end washing-out on the marble-smooth stone was a different matter entirely, and it took a couple of big dabs before I safely negotiated the way back to the track. Generally, feedback from the front-end is pretty good off-road, though in conditions like these (especially running dual sport rubber)  things can get a little nervy…

So it was back to the firmer surface of the main track, where the bike’s rally heritage shines through. Get up on the pegs, lean forward and steer it on the throttle. Does the newfound power mean the rear-end spins up more readily? It’s hard to say. After all, if you’re exploring the upper reaches of the LC8’s rev range on the dirt it’s tricky to think of anything other than the terrain that’s rushing towards you! Besides, last year’s bike was still making nigh-on 100hp! Personally, I reckon the drive is still as predictable as ever and the mild bottom-end allows you to search out grip when required.

Ridden at a pace, the stocker feels a little softly suspended yet still confidence-inspiring charging along dusty tracks, and it’s only when you really clang it into a bump that you reach the limits of its shorter suspension. The lower seat can also prove useful, because whilst its stepped design doesn’t help when moving around in the saddle, it does at least make it easier to get your feet down in the snotty stuff.

Meanwhile, the R is hilarious fun. Really, this bike is so chuckable off-road that you simply HAVE to brake-turn it around sharp bends and exit corners sideways – the bike pulling itself back in line with a Shakira-esque wiggle. And you have to be doing something really wrong to upset the suspension, such is the quality of the damping. Again, it’s that rally know-how which has allowed the factory to find a set-up which works off-road on such a hefty bike.

Scooting about on the trails, it’s also clear why many of the road bike mags have moaned about the Adventure’s brakes – because KTM have struck a fine balance between blacktop retardation and having enough feel for the dirt. On the road they’re adequate, off-road they’re excellent. I guess you can’t quite please everyone with a bike like this…

Warm Up

Creeping through quite villages, the V-twin burble shaking off the crumbling plaster of tall roadside houses, it was obvious that KTM have improved the Adventure’s fuelling. Previously we’ve found the fuel injection just that bit too snatchy at city speeds or at an even throttle, and KTM freely admit it hasn’t been perfect. And it still isn’t. Though much better, you still have to ride with a steady hand at certain revs and I found a noticeable difference between the stocker and the R-model. The black bike is that little bit more abrupt in its power delivery, especially in town. Still, you barely notice this once you’re flying along, especially on fabulous roads such as these!

Grab a big handful of throttle and any little foibles are soon forgotten. The LC8 motor has always loved to rev. It might be a touch grumbly at low revs, and not a whole lot happens until the tacho needle’s the wrong side of 4000rpm, but once you get it spinning past 7000rpm it goes absolutely bonkers. Jump onto the R-model and things are even crazier. Most of the extra power has been lumped at the top-end, so when short-shifting around you barely notice any difference in the two models. It’s when you really crack the throttle or hang onto a gear that the R streaks away and keeps going right until the rev limiter kicks in. If you think big trailies are dull you wanna have a spin on one of these! It may sit in the big trailie class, but you can easily imagine the Adventure gatecrashing the sports tourer party, necking all the Bolly and pulling powerslides on the lawn!

But let’s get practical again. The screen is okay rather than great. Taller riders will have to duck a little at speed if they want a truly serene ride. And even then, a little bit of windblast creeps around the side of the screen.

The tank range isn’t fantastic either. Although we didn’t do quite enough miles to drain a tank, I wouldn’t mind betting that you’d have to ride like your grannie to see 200 miles out of a tankful. At least the seats (both that of the R and the stocker)  and the riding position are comfortable enough to see out that distance without the need to get off and stretch aching limbs or get the blood back into your extremities. Oh, and if you’re venturing off the beaten track then you can alter the ignition to burn low-grade fuel. Whip the seat off, and tucked underneath you’ll see a lone brown wire on the left-hand side. Split the connector and your bike’s all set-up for the sort of low octane swill you find in the back of beyond!

Sports Funding

Along with the extra kick in the pants from the engine modifications, the 2009 Adventure will also hit you in the wallet. Last year, you could’ve picked up an Adventure S for £8945. Now, thanks to the strong Euro, the R-model costs £9695, with the base Adventure £200 less at £9495. Yikes! But unless other manufacturers are willing to take the hit on the exchange rate, then we’re going to see these types of increases throughout the market – not that that makes it any easier to stomach.

Still, for your money you do get a real do-it-all machine. If you plan on indulging in a spot of off-roadery then you’ll find the R a fantastic and thoroughly involving ride. Just remember to keep things nice ‘n’ smooth on the black stuff. If you’ve no desire to take your Adventure away from the tarmac then I’d eschew the extra oomph of the R, and go for the better road manners of the standard bike. There isn’t that same ‘wafting along’, effortless feeling that you get aboard something like a GS12, though nor do you feel like you’re riding such a big bike. Instead the 990 feels lithe, eager and entertaining. It really puts the ‘Sport’ in Adventure Sport…

Thanks to: Shaun Sisterson and Ross Walker at KTM UK, Joachim from KTM Austria and Paolo from KTM Europe.

KTM 990 Adventure (R-model in brackets)

Price: £9495 inc OTR (£9695 at time of going to press)

Engine: Fuel injected, DOHC, 75º V-twin

Bore & stroke: 101 x 62.4mm

Displacement: 999cc

Transmission: 6-speed

Frame: Chro-moly trellis

Front susp: WP 48mm USD fork, 210mm travel (265mm)

Rear susp: WP PDS shock, 210mm travel (265mm)

Front brake: Twin Brembo two-piston caliper, 300mm floating discs, ABS (no ABS)

Seat height: 860mm (915mm)

Fuel capacity: 19.5L

Weight: 223kg fuelled, claimed (221kg)

Contact: KTM UK on 01280 709500

If you’re considering buying one of KTM’s finest V-Twin adventure bikes you might want to have a look at the KTM 950/990 Adventure Buyer’s Guide. Just click the link below…


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