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MODEL EVALUATION – The KTM 790 Adventure R

The KTM 790 Adventure R is the real deal; a monster dirt bike that also rides big on the pavement. With the development and release of the 2019 790 Adventure R, KTM takes another leap toward “that’s not possible” territory. It’s near 70 pounds lighter than the company’s previous lightest ADV model, the 1090 Adventure R. The 790 attacks the middleweight segment of adventure bike versatility with an ideal blend of pavement performance and full off-road capability. KTM has focused on power to weight ratios in recent years. The 790 punctuates that effort, slotting directly between the 690 Enduro R (single) and 1090 Adventure R (V-twin) in the company’s “Travel” lineup. The brand has plenty of high-per-formance research and development from which to draw, as KTM has won the Dakar Rally 18 years in a row, and counting. Not content with winning competitions, KTM has also been devoted to dominating the entire dual-sport segment. The 790 Adventure R is priced lowest among midsize competitors—no-table for a mount this good. With plenty of adjustment capabilities, electronics and other rider conveniences, could this bike be the ultimate combination of serious off-road excellence, highway stability and nimble handling?


KTM’s new 799cc LC8c inline twin-cylinder is a water-cooled, four-stroke engine. This unit measured 88 horsepower at the rear wheel, with 56 pound-feet of torque. Power delivery is smooth, thanks to electronic fuel injection, dual balancer shafts and dialed-in ride-by-wire throttling. The bike will effortlessly push into triple-digits—ludicrous speed for off-road travel, unless a dry lakebed suddenly appears.

Engine power can be tuned electronically. Simply toggle between Street, Rain, Off-road and Rally by selecting the desired mode, then closing the throttle briefly. Rain and Off-road modes rein in some of the engine’s awesome thrust, for more safe and sane power delivery to the rear wheel. Slightly more wheel slip is allowed in Off-road than in Rain mode. Rally mode (unlocked by a dealer on the base model), hooks up full power and throttle response, disables wheelie control, and allows cornering-sensitive
traction control levels to be set from 0 to 9. In this mode, the bike is a beast.
The 790 schooled us quickly about its preference for fast over slow in Rally mode, as we experienced lugging, throttle lag and chain slap under 2,300 rpm. However, once above 2,700 rpm, throttle response was instant, and power delivery linear and hearty, up to 9,000 rpm. A power drop-off of approximately 15% was perceptible in Rain and Off-road modes. In Street mode, the 790 cruised lazily at 80 or better, without whine or shudder.

Despite this prodigious power, we averaged 53 miles per gallon of 91 octane
fuel, which provides a range of nearly 300 miles on one fill-up. Impressive.


The six-speed gearbox and a PASC slipper clutch performed well. Once we
started using the quick shifter, we pretty much forgot about the clutch, as it is excellent in both highway and off-road use. Unfortunately, the quick shifter costs $350 extra to have a dealer activate via software. We believe that when technology is already included on a vehicle, it should be enabled without an upcharge to unlock it.


The 790 is still a big motorcycle, and not recommended for new riders. As trim as it is, it’s twice the weight of a KTM 450— the platform from which the company’s Dakar and ISDE racers are derived. It is also tall in the saddle, at 34.5 inches. With nearly 90 horsepower, a rider must be skilled and strong, not only to get the most out of it, but to stay out of trouble on challenging terrain. We loved the 790’s WP suspension, and a few owners we spoke with do as well. The tunable fork and monoshock are one of the best stock adventure segment setups. Handy wingnuts atop each fork tube facilitate adjustment of compression (white, on the left) and rebound and damping (red, on the right) of the WP XPLOR 48 upside-down, split-function springs, without needing a toolkit. In the rear, the WP XPLOR PDS (progressive damping system) is a KTM trademark feature that even saves a little weight, by not requiring a linkage. We pushed the stock steering damper at unfair speeds for Metzeler Karoo 3 tires on pavement, and felt a wiggle up over 90 mph. Experts who plan to travel at that rate will most likely upgrade, revalve or try a heavier oil. But at 80 mph and below, the ride was smooth and stable. Once up and in the saddle, the 790 rides like a dream. The chromoly tubular steel frame incorporates the engine as a stressed member. Around town, it dashed and darted like the big dirt bike
that it is. Off the pavement, we were always respectful of the bike’s ample
power, which is advisable while getting a feel for its dynamics. While the bike generally feels nimble, entering turns a little hot will provide a quick reminder of the bike’s weight.


The combination of 21-inch front and 18-inch rear spoked wheels is the classic off-road setup and delivered feel on the street as good as in the dirt. In normal street riding, the front brakes with dual 320mm discs and 4-piston calipers, were good, with no fade, good initial bite and decent feel. The cornering ABS was intrusive in both Rain and Street modes. In the more aggressive Rally mode, the off-road specific ABS loosened up noticeably and allowed a bit of sliding.

In more aggressive testing, the Karoos slipped and slid precipitously on the hot summer pavement, and limited optimal braking with their knobby tread. We also experienced a bit of sluggishness and low-speed hop with
the rear brake out in the dirt, though at higher speeds it was more responsive. Braking could have been better. The Metzeler Karoo 3’s are compromise tires, and don’t transition between street and trail as well as the 790 Adventure R does. Quite simply, the 790 would be much better on the pavement with good street tires; much better in the dirt with full knobbies. Anyone planning extended, adventure-type rides may want to seek out a more optimal dual-sport tire choice.


Seat contour was comfortable for long periods in the saddle and the geometry of the rider triangle was near-perfect. Posture is enduro- and motocross-inspired, and the off-road pegs are set with a little extra room, to accommodate off-road boots. The narrow frame made thigh grabbing and steering easy and comfortable. The windshield is laughably small, but strangely effective.


We loved the binary cornering ABS and traction control in RALLY mode, which allowed rear steering and rear-wheel locks, without affecting front ABS. As usual, the KTM ECU and electronics are well tuned and configured together. The simple, four-way, left thumb toggle is easy to navigate right from the start. We felt like less was more here. Data and settings were easy to read, without too much cluttering the board. The colored dash display automatically changes brightness with an increase or decrease in ambient light. We’d love to see tire pressure sensors on this bike, but that’s a minor niggle.


The tapered aluminum handlebar has 30mm of adjustability over six
mounting positions, an added value for various rider sizes and riding styles. Also nice are the plastic handguards, removable rubber footpeg inserts and
an easy-to-remove seat, which hides the easy-access air filter. Near the left thumb switch cube, there’s a handy little rail that guides the thumb to the tiny turn signal lever. This is a nice touch, as a tactile reference point for the other switches. We also loved the sprocket casting on the left swingarm—quite handy to hold the chain during wheel changes. This is a design someone should have introduced long ago. Quality engineer-
ing all-around. Heated grips, heated seats and cruise control are available as options at additional cost.


The 790 Adventure R is a strong value at $13,499, priced directly between KTM’s own 690 Enduro R ($11,699) and the 1090 Adventure R ($14,999).
The base model 790 Adventure ($12,499) does not include the Rally pack, with its off-road specific braking, traction and throttle adjustments, though it can be optioned. The base model also has shorter-travel suspen-
sion, with only a rear preload setting, and a 2-inch lower seat. Street riders
should consider saving $1,000 by opting for the base model. Pricing compares well with the 790’s chief rival, BMW’s F 850 GS ($15,595), as well as other dirt-worthy entries such as the Triumph Tiger 800XCx ($14,600), Honda’s Africa Twin Sports ($15,099) and the

Ducati MultiStrada 950 ($16,995).


“I’m always on thelookout for that perfect, 50/50 bike, and this is pretty close. Much lighter than KTM’s 1090, and much more sturdy and comfortable on the road than the 690 Super Enduro. The 790 Adventure R
flirts with perfect balance. Still, it runs into the same compromises as other ADV bikes, which are always heavy for the trail. My dual-sport KTM
450 EXC is off-road perfection. It’s dirt bike light and nimble, and soaks up the bumps, but a little rough for the street. At 464 pounds wet, the 790 is a handful. On the street it is good, but could be great with top-notch street tires. See what I mean? Still, the power is amazing, especially in Rally mode. This is a big boy bike all the way, with a huge upside.”

—Russell Evans

“Well-tuned rider aids and a punchy power plant has KTM coming through yet again. Nice little details are sprinkled about the bike, like wing nut suspension adjusters and chain hanger castings on the swing-arm for easier wheel changes. In Rally Mode, the binary ABS and wheelie control allowed a bunch of hooligan fun, and saved me from a few dirt naps. The ride modes allowed sideways riding, as one would do in the dirt, yet still offered the gentle touch of rider assistance. The headlight spread is tall and wide. Made Sunset Blvd. at night feel like Dakar. Some lugging down low, but above 2,300 rpm, the 799cc motor makes this thing feel light. Capable for
dirty frolicking that’s certainly beyond my limits.”

—Brant Wiwi


MSRP: $13,499
Category: Adventure
Displacement: 799cc
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled,
four-stroke, inline twin-cylinder
Warranty: 12 months or 12,000 miles
GVWR: 992 lbs.
Wet Weight: 464 lbs.
Carry Capacity: 528 lbs.
Seat Height: 34.75 in.
Colors: Orange/Black/White
Valvetrain: DOHC, 4-valves per cyl.
Bore & Stroke: 88mm x 65.7mm
Comp. Ratio: 12.7 : 1
Transmission: 6-speed, claw-shifted
Final Drive: Chain
Fueling: EFI
Tank Capacity: 5.3 gal.
Fuel Grade: ROZ 95/RON 95/PON 91
Exhaust: 2-into-1
Ground Clearance: 11.0 in.
Wheelbase: 60.2 in.
Rake & Trail: 26.3° / 4.3 in.
Tires: Metzeler Karoo 3 90/90 – 21 M/C 54R M+S TL, front; 150/70 – 18 M/C 70R M+S TL, rear.
Brakes: Dual 320mm disc with radially mounted four-piston brake calipers,
floating brake discs, front; Single 260mm disc with dual-piston brake caliper, floating brake disc
Suspension: WP SuspensionXPLOR

5548, compression and rebound/damp-
ing adjustable, 9.45-in. travel, front; WP

SuspensionXPLOR 5746 monoshock,
9.45-in. travel, rear.
Battery: 12V, 10Ah, 400W
Ignition: Electronic
Instruments: Speedo, tach, odometer,
Trip 1 & 2, ambient temp., date, clock,
fuel level, engine temp., battery charge.
Indicators: Gear, mode, kill switch, turn,
high beam, ABS, TC, throttle, slip, cruise.
($130/hr.) Miles Labor Parts Total
Routine 9,300 $110 $150 $260
Valves 18,600 $160 $590 $750

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