In the past five years, KTM has had exciting ideas of what their mid-weight adventure bike should be. First came the 1050, with the 1090 in quick succession. It was a good bike, but few riders noticed it. Maybe it was too close to the 1290. Then the 790 arrived. At last, a light, nimble, go-anywhere bike for roosting up Sani pass. It was the closest KTM got to the true off-road adventure feeling and capabilities of the 990, 950 and 640 Adventures. Then KTM’s engineers decided they could do even better, so they created the new 890 Adventure and 890 Adventure R. Story by Willem van der Berg. Photos by Willem and KTM.
Design of the 890 Adventure R
Yes, the KTM 890 Adventure R does look exactly like the 790 Adventure R. But there’s no problem with that, because the 790 looks great, and much thought had gone into its design. Consider its 20-litre fuel tank, shaped like an inverted U. Those clever Austrians draped it over the engine instead of positioning it against the rider’s belly, or in the bike’s frame.
At first it looked a bit weird (on the 790) and the letters W, T and F came to mind. But it works! With most of the fuel carried very low, the bike has a low centre of gravity. It also makes the top of the tank narrow. Together with the fairly narrow and not-so-high seat (880 mm), riders gain much freedom to move their bodies on the bike, especially when riding on technical terrain. The material for the tank is highly impact resistant and was proven in a similar tank used by the KTM Factory Racing Team in the Dakar Rally.
Speaking of dusty environments, the airbox is located under the seat with the intake at the rear of the bike. This means easy access to the filter, so you can quickly clean or service it wherever you are.
ABS and improved Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) helps to keep the wheels grounded and the rider safe. The updated MTC provides smoother traction control and the intervention at the throttle bodies is less abrupt. Different ride modes can be selected, and the best part is that your chosen settings won’t be deactivated or changed when the ignition is switched off.
Then there’s Rally Mode, that you have to pay extra for. It unlocks an almost instant throttle response and allows for nine levels of wheel-slip control. The slip control works brilliantly, and you can adjust the amount you want on-the-fly. Level 9 is comparable to Rain Mode, allowing a minimum of slip, while level 1 gives the back wheel freedom to go sideways. It’s a pity that you have to shell out extra for this, because it will be in Rally Mode where you and the 890 truly bond. All this information and more is shown on a five-inch, full-colour TFT display.
Engine and gearbox
The 889 cc parallel twin engine produces 77 kW and 100 Nm, compared to the KTM 790 Adventure’s 70k W and 88 Nm. KTM has made improvements to the cylinder head, pistons, con-rods, crank case, crankshaft, balancer shafts and oil cooler. All of this helps the engine to run cooler and smoother, while performing a lot better.
The 6-speed transmission, together with the Power Assist Clutch (PASC), ensure fast and precise shifting, performed with just one finger on the clutch lever. Very quiet, very smooth. A quickshifter is an optional extra.
On paper, the additional power and torque of the 890’s engine do not look like much, compared to what the 790 offers. But take it beyond 3 000 rpm, keep the throttle open and you will be surprised at how quickly other bikes in this class disappear in the dust behind you. The power delivery from mid range to top end revolutions is a revelation.
On Verneukpan, the 890’s only match – in speed – was a tuned liquid-cooled BMW R 1200 GS. The 890 is truly quick. There is enough torque to pull away in fifth, while cruising on a dirt road. But I preferred to gear one down and give it a fist full of throttle. It likes that sort of riding too. If you steer clear of Veneukpan the 890’s fuel consumption is excellent. I got 400km from a tank on a gravel route, riding hard.
Ride and handling
The WP XPLOR 48mm fork and WP XPLOR shock give you 240mm of travel in the front and back. Both are fully adjustable (manually). That means you can set up the suspension perfectly for any terrain and every occasion. I kept the settings on standard and it felt just a little too stiff when I hit small bumps on a gravel road. But, riding hard on jeep tracks, jumping bigger bumps, and going fast through ditches and sandy patches, it felt like a Dakar winner. It feels like it’s more fun on a farm track than the open road. Off course, it does both so, so well. But on a twisty tweespoor in the Tankwa, it will be the 890 in front and its rider with the biggest grin on the face.
Besides the fantastic suspension, a steering damper helps to keep the front end steady. And the low centre of gravity makes the bike feel amazingly light and nimble.
The brakes are excellent. And for some reason I used the front brakes more often and harder than I usually do. The tyres are tubeless, and the Metzeler Karoo3 tyres performed very well on gravel roads and jeep tracks, where rocks, sand and a bit of mud kept me on my toes.
Verdict and rating
Once in a lifetime – if you’re lucky – you will encounter a bike that fuses your body and soul to its seat, pegs, handlebar and frame. When the process is complete, there’s no telling where the bike ends and the rider begins. Like a sword in the hands of a master, the KTM 890 Adventure R will endow you with a sense that you can conquer continents, with little effort. When riding fast, its miracle suspension tricks your mind into thinking the bike is hovering above ground, blurring the scenery. This is when you realise you have fallen madly in love with it.
After four days in the Karoo and then dispatching the 890 back to KTM, I am struggling to be myself. I can’t stop thinking about the bike: How good it felt on the wild farm track between Middelpos and Williston, the sand between Verneukpan and Van Wyksvlei, and how the rear wheel danced through the tight twists of Perdekloof.
If I could, I would go to Orange County KTM in Bloemfontein right now, sign for an 890 Adventure R, add Rally Mode and set off on the nearest gravel road to anywhere. Until that happens, I will miss you 890!
Specifications of the KTM 890 Adventure R (2022)
Engine 889 cc, liquid cooled, parallel twin
Transmission 6-speed, chain drive, slipper clutch
Power 77 kW at 8 000 rpm
Torque 100 Nm at 6 500 rpm
Weight 196 kg (dry)
Seat height 880 mm
Wheels 21” front and 17” rear with steel spokes, tubeless
Fuel tank 20 litres
Consumption 4.5 litres/100 km (claimed)
Range 440 km
Warranty and service intervals 2 years and 15 000 km
Price R239 999