January 2014

First Impressions: 2008 KTM 690 Enduro

I took delivery of my 2008 KTM 690 Enduro on Saturday afternoon and immediately headed up into the Santa Cruz mountains to break it in properly. Over the next 66 miles I formed the following initial impressions of the bike. In comparison, my most recent motorcycle has been a 1999 Kawasaki KLR650 which was designed for the same purpose: To allow riders to travel in reasonable comfort both on- and off-pavement.

The two bikes, however, are separated by nearly two decades of engineering practice, and the KTM is nearly twice the cost of a KLR. What would 20 years and five thousand more dollars bring?

When getting on the bike for the first time I was immediately struck by two things: The seat feels significantly higher than my KLR, but it’s also narrower at the front, allowing me to still comfortably get the toes of both feet on the ground. The bike also felt much lighter, as it was very easy to lift it off the side stand. This makes sense, as the KLR is about 420 pounds, while the KTM is about 100 pounds lighter (both wet weights).

When I switched the ignition on the instrument gauge fully lit up as the tach swept across its full range of travel and the speedo indicated the number of front wheel revolutions per mile it was set for. This latter feature is very nice, as the circumference of different tiresespecially if you switch from knobbies to street tirescan significantly affect the speedometer’s accuracy. It was also a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to continually subtract about 8% from the displayed speed, like I had to do to compensate for the overly optimistic speedo on the KLR.

It was especially thrilling to see an odometer that displayed all zeros and briefly imagine all the adventures to come. A short press of the starter button and the bike burbled to life, the automatic choke and cold start routines of the fuel injection system quickly settling the motor into an easy rhythm.


I then also realized that the suspension had settled very little when I got on the bike. As I started to ride off this impression magnified into wow, this is the most stiffly sprung motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. I haven’t had a chance to measure the sag yet, so I’m very curious to see if my perception is accurate. The footpegs are also a bit closer to the seat, so my knees are bent a little more than usual.

Not uncomfortably so, but it was noticeable.

As I made my way through the city streets and up towards the mountains the brake pads started bedding into the rotors and the smooth surface on the knobs of the Pirelli MT-21 tires started roughing up and gaining more traction. Testing the front 300 mm brake revealed a surprising amount of braking powerfar more than what’s available on my KLR, even with its upgraded 320 mm disc. It must be the twin-piston brake calipers on the 690 that are responsible for the difference, as the KLR has only a single piston.

Now the coolant temperature was getting towards the middle of the gauge, so I started getting more aggressive with the throttle. Because of the stiff suspension the bike is deceptively fast. On the KLR you definitely feel the bike squat as you gas it, but the 690 keeps a nearly even keel and it just goes.

It’s trivially easy to wheelie in first gear, and even though the bike’s ECU restricts the power in second and third gears, the front end can get precariously light as the RPMs climb. While there’s a good amount of power throughout the RPM range, there’s a huge hit around 5,000 RPM that has you tenaciously gripping the bars as your peripheral vision blurs. Because the engine was still new I couldn’t fully enjoy the rush to redline (7,750 RPM) as the 6,000 RPM break-in limit came on so quickly, but the future promises some tremendous fun up there.


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