Large Adventure Bikes, while desireable, have become a sort of mixed blessing these days. While there's a lot of power, their increasing engine size and weight have also made them unwieldy to handle on trails.
The Adventure Bike arms race
Perhaps it's BMW we have to blame (or credit) for that, popularizing the Adventure Bike segment and kicking off an arms race of putting the largest and most powerful engines on a bike. Large engines have become a necessity, as these bikes are supposed to take their rider (and his luggage) on prolonged transcontinental journeys and across unforgiving roads. As a result, massive fuel tanks coupled with worthy tires (street and off-road use) for the trip, have become staples as well.
Unfortunately, there's a drawback: weight. These large adventure bikes are like a kalabaw in terms of weight and size. If the bike fell on its side or got stuck in the mud, it would require a great deal of effort just to bring the bike and its rider back upright again. To have that striking balance between power and weight management, manufacturers have begun to go back to the drawing board to create what they claim as “real adventure bikes,” which possess some dirt bike capabilities yet with enough muscle to pull heavy loads over long distances. Some examples of these are bikes like the BMW F850 GS, Triumph Tiger 800, and the Yamaha Tenere 700.
The KTM 790 Adventure with other traditional large adventure bikes.
For KTM, there's the 790 Adventure. KTM boasts that the 790 Adventure “specializes in adventure touring with the ability to explore further off-road when the tarmac ends.” The part that says, “explore further off-road,” kind of stuck in my head. So when our friends from KTM BGC handed us the keys of their 790 Adventure with only 6,700 kilometers on the clock for the weekend, I was almost unable to sleep that night. I couldn't think of a better place to take it than the back roads of General Nakar in Quezon. it's just a few kilometers from the tip of MaRiLaQue road and just 40 or so kilometers from Dingalan Bay in Quezon.
One of the hanging bridges along the back roads of General Nakar in Quezon.
The 790 Adventure basically has an 800cc, parallel-twin DOHC with a slipper clutch. The bike churns out 95 Ps of power @ 8,000 rpm plus 88 Nm of torque @ 6,600 rpm. That should be enough to propel the bike to highway speeds or faster. I'm sorry to the folks out there that wanted to know the bike's top speed because I NEVER intended to find out. I'm more inclined to test it the way an adventure bike should be tested: on longer more leisurely rides with some offroading.
For those kinds of rides, it has 21-inch front and 18-inch wire wheels with upgraded Karoo 3 tires (for this demo bike only); it has a 5-inch TFT screen with Bluetooth connectivity; a fuel tank capacity of 20 liters (for up to 450 kilometers in one top-up); and has a wet weight of only 204 kilograms. By comparison, a BMW F 850 GS tips the scales at 229 kilograms, while the Honda Africa Twin CRF 1000 weighs 242 kilograms.
This brake pedal can be inverted for offroad use by way of two screws
Upon entry to the off-road section of General Nakar on the way to Dapi Rock Formation, I immediately felt the WP Apex suspension for both the front (43mm) and rear (with preload adjustment) working. They just ate the big rocks and ruts that we encountered along the way, and it felt really close to that of a KTM dirt bike. After all, these were developed from KTM's experience in various off-road races throughout the world, including Dakar itself; one of the most grueling of them all.
This demo unit's windshield was a bit loose and wiggled frequently.
For the electronic aids, the 790 Adventure has three ride modes available: Road, Rain, and Off-road. The Road setting has the full 95 Ps of power and wheelspin intervention (traction control or MTC), while the Rain mode will give the rider a reduced powerband and quick MTC intervention. Finally, there's the Off-road mode, which has a minimal reduction in engine power output but with more low-end grunt, and very minimal MTC intervention which can also be switched off. Also, the ABS can be switched off when in the Off-road setting. I also liked the 790 Adventure's Off-road ABS. It works by turning off the rear ABS but still keeps the front on to allow for minimal wheel lock or skid.
While we're at it, the 790 Adventure's stopping power is handled by twin 4-piston calipers on 320mm floating discs, while the rear has a 2-piston caliper on a 260mm disc. Some KTM adventure bikes are notorious for losing brake bite, especially during challenging adventure rides, but this demo bike pulled it off and I never experienced any such brake failure.
Equipped with 4-piston calipers on floating discs
Stand up riding while off-roading is the way to go. This is because it puts the rider's weight as low as possible (on the footpegs). It's also easy to hop back on due to the 790 Adventure's pretty decent seat height of only 830mm on low setting (850mm default). To better help with the weight distribution, the 790 Adventure tank sits on the side of the engine, much like an upside-down letter U. According to KTM's engineers, it was designed as such so that the fuel will be equally distributed on either side, improving the bike's weight distribution and keeping it on the bottom during serious adventure riding.
KTM engineers claim that it would really take a lot of serious beating before someone can puncture this tank – to which they tried and failed
One might ask “What if the bike falls hard and punctures the plastic tank? Is this design safe?” Believe me, I had that same question at the back of my head. KTM assures us that it would take more than just dropping the bike to puncture the plastic tank. They claim that their test riders have tried pretty much every drop and slide to try and puncture the tank but they all failed. For any owner's peace of mind, there are already tons of aftermarket crash protectors available to give those side tanks extra protection.
This demo unit's tire was upgraded to Karoo 3s, the same tires on the more offroad-oriented 790 Adventure R
While trying to manage the tighter sections of the back roads of General Nakar, I noticed that I was only using my index finger to pull the clutch. This shows that the clutch resistance is very light, even though it was only using a cable and not a hydraulic mechanism. The engine brake during sudden downshifts is minimized by a Motor Slip Regulation system that feeds enough throttle to keep deceleration smooth and stable – something I felt when decelerating at the sandy portion of the ride.
Dapi Rocks Formation, General Nakar, Quezon
We reached our destination, Dapi Rocks, just past noon. After some photo ops, our group back-tracked through the bumpy roads of General Nakar and headed straight to Real, Quezon for a sumptuous late lunch at 3 PM.
Music apps on your mobile phone, connected via Bluetooth, can be controlled using the toggle switches on the left handlebar.
While cruising back to civilization on regular roads, I used the 790 Adventure's Bluetooth connectivity to listen to the music streaming app on my phone.
These roads showed how the 790 Adventure is also a worthy road touring companion. The toggle switches can be easily accessed through the buttons on the left handlebar. The upright riding ergonomics are just right for me (of average Filipino height), coupled with the 790's very comfortable seat. I could already imagine myself riding this adventure bike for hours at a time or until it empties its full 20-liter tank.
Long term maintenance should be fairly easy. It has a 15,000-kilometer valve adjustment interval. For DIY-ers, there's an easy-to-remove air filter that is just below the seat, which is much more accessible than any KTM adventure bike available now. The reason why I'm emphasizing this is that off-roading generally requires shorter maintenance intervals, especially when it comes to cleaning or changing the air filter. The more easily the air filter can be pulled out, the better.
Areas of improvement
It's not a perfect bike, and there are some things to be wary of. I can say that the windshield on the demo unit was loose and wiggling, even though the bolt holding it was already tight.
Another thing that needs improvement is the 790 Adventure's tricky fuel gauge. You would need to burn through more than half the tank before the fuel bar indicator moves, and sometimes it lights up the reserve warning light even though there's still plenty of fuel remaining. It will normalize after riding the bike for a few kilometers through which could indicate that this phenomenon may have something to do with where the fuel gauge float is positioned. A cruise control is also non-existent.
The LED headlights are kind of dim for my preference, even when on bright. This shouldn't be much of a concern as it is practically a crime not to add auxiliary lights on an adventure bike, right?
Unlike most large KTM motorcycles, the 790 Adventure's engine heat is surprisingly very tolerable even in slow-moving traffic.
There's a lot to like about the new KTM 790 Adventure. I rode it like I was riding a real dirtbike and it did not disappoint. The electronics are A-rate, weight distribution is superb for its size and NOT top-heavy, and again, it can be ridden like a lighter dirt bike, which I loved the most.
I wish I had more time with the 790 Adventure, just for the chance to ride it further to Tabuk, Kalinga or to Pudtol, Apayao. I had a great time riding the bike, as it provided a natural transition for me. I generally ride small dirt bikes and the 790 Adventure, in my opinion, moves a bit closer to a dirt bike / Philippine trail-capable adventure bike. Aren't these adventure bikes “big dirt bikes” after all?