KTM 990 Adventure

KTM 990 Adventure Review

There was a brief spell in the mid 1990s when it was cool to drink orange Tango. This was due in the most part to.

KTM 990 Adventure Review

There was a brief spell in the mid 1990s when it was cool to drink orange Tango. This was due in the most part to a series of insane tv ads involving the citrus-based abuse of some unsuspecting dope, culminating in the catch line: You know when you’ve been Tangoed. I was young back then, and those ads appealed to my burgeoning sense of teenage anarchy.

They made me laugh, because I couldn’t really believe a serious beverage company would try to sell its products with such blatantly silly advertising.

Orange Tango anyone?

The KTM 990 Adventure made me laugh when I rode it because I couldn’t believe a serious manufacturer would engineer a practical form of transport so it felt like it escaped from the nut farm.

This bike is brilliant fun to ride. The engine has been set-up to deliver the most punch in the mid range where you actually need it, and with a light flywheel it spins up with an intoxicating buzz, driving you forward with free-spinning charisma. And it sounds great too, even with the standard pipes.

But this much I was expecting from the LC8 engine, and when it met my expectations I simply ticked that mental box.

However, what makes the whole package work is the chassis KTM have magically created around that great engine. The centre of gravity far lower than you’d think thanks to the side-mounted fuel tanks, and the KTM responds with gusto to really aggressive inputs from the rider, and no matter how hard I tried to unsettle the bike it simply responded with startling composure. Its incredible how that narrow, nobbly front tyre behaves under extreme pressure.

You imagine its going to feel vague and remote, and that it will squirm about on its off-road profile, but it just doesn’t. It feels utterly planted, and inspires completely unexpected levels of confidence. After 20 minutes I was scrapping me knee around roundabouts intoxicated by the KTM’s startling handling.

Knee downs are easy on this machine, although you do have to absale down the side of thing to get down to the ground.

Yes, the Adventure is ugly from the front, but anyone following in a Lamborghini will think it looks great.

However, after a while I started to explore the whole big trailie / super moto experience, and quit the knee dragging tom-foolery. And thats where this huge bike played its Joker on me. I have never ridden a bike like this before, and it did take a little while for me to embrace the sat-up, feet forward attack position.

But when I did, the bike went from being an impressive engineering tour-de-force, to being the Ruprect the Monkey Boy. I giggled constantly as I threw the bike around under me rather than shifting my own body weight about. This bike is tall, and when you crank it over it feels like it just leans and leans and leans, and it is such fun.

Who needs knee-sliders – I started sticking my foot out and burning the rubber off the sole of my boot. You slide your hips forward on the seat, which seems to extend right up to the handle bars, and wrestle the bull horns from side to side with bent elbows to hurl the bike about. Come to a corner and throw the bike down, then blast out with a satisfying growl from the engine. Excellent.

You can also ride this bike standing up. It may sound ridiculous but I loved doing that. At one point I approached the top of a very steep hill, and as I did so I stood up on the pegs so I was standing about 10ft in the air, and could not see any part of the bike.

The sensation of flight as I dropped over the crest of the hill was fantastic, and I don’t think I would ever tire of it. The Adventure scores 10 out of 10 for enjoyment.

The Adventure obviously has off-road roots, and for a rider used to road bike manners it has a few tricks up its sleeves. Firstly there is the off road riding position, which translates into very comfortable road-going ergonomics, then there is the height and ground clearance which give a commanding view ahead, and almost limitless lean angles. However, the real treat is the way this machine generates traction.

The best bike for modern pot-holed British roads?

There is a stretch of the A24 just south of Dorking which rises and falls over a tall ridge, crossing back and forth with fast sweepers. The road is very wide, but in the middle the surface is shockingly bad. On one side of the hill a gorgeous left hander is rendered treacherous for any normal bike by a massive sweeping crack in the road right along the biking line, and on the other side there are a series of road islands punctured by more white paint than it takes to paint the Taj Mahal.

On my VFR overtaking through this section results in severe white-lining, tyre squirming and uncontrolled pogoing. I quite enjoy this, but it does show up the limits in the VFR’s design brief.

I’ve never gone through that section of road anything like as fast as I did on the 990. The massive WP suspension just soaked up all the crap the road had to offer, and let me lay down power and simply blast onwards. Up until this point I had never really considered that grip was a combination of the tyre and the suspension working together, but the Adventure shows you what can be done, and it was a genuine eye-opener.

The confidence the suspension inspired was utterly addictive, and I just went faster and faster.

Sherpa Tenzig, let us prepare for the final ascent

All this tremendous traction does come at a cost though, and that is felt under hard braking and acceleration, when the bike dips forward and rears up far more than a standard road bike. However, truth be told I really rather enjoyed all the movement. The bike felt limber and flexible and somehow alive, especially in comparison to a VFR or the like. It just all added to the bonkers spirit this bike has.

Its like a giant puppy – all floppy ears and big paws.

There are some problems with the Adventure which might worry some. For example, the gear box is not very good, and requires a deliberate approach. It will quick shift nicely under acceleration, but I kept finding a false neutral between fifth and sixth, and changing down has to be done one step at a time.

However, for me this was not really a problem, as I’m used to riding classic racing bikes with gear changes you have to book a week in advance.

The brakes are also not brilliant, but again they are sufficient and if you load their performance into the solution plotting part of your biking brain you can ride around the problem.

Other problems come as a result of the off-road bias. For example the saddle is very tall. I’m just under 6ft and I managed, but any smaller and it would be a genuine issue I think. The riding position does put a lot of weight through the lower back, and I started to feel that at times. However, I did ride for about an hour and a half and I was fine at the end.

The seating area is very large too, as a result of the length of the saddle, so there is plenty of scope for moving around to relieve pressure.

I also had some issues with the height of the handle bars, and in particular on several occasions when I braked hard I actually rolled the throttle open rather than shut.

There is also no getting around the looks. I’ll concede that this is an ugly bike, although for me that doesn’t really come into the equation too much. It does look better in the flesh, and in particular the orange paint and general quality finish do come across.

Boxer Boys eat your heart out

Some of you may remember that I posed the question here about this bike’s commuting abilities. On my test ride I went up into Town on my commute route to try it out through the traffic. All I can say was that it was excellent, thanks to its height, and very narrow profile.

The widest part of the bike is the bars, and they are not very wide at all. I went sailing trough the traffic with no problems.

I’ve read several reviews which criticise the low speed fueling, and I deliberately experimented at slow speeds in traffic situations to suss it out. There is no doubt it can be very abrupt if you use a ham-fist, but a rider with any real throttle and clutch control will have no problems. I had an unfair advantage in that the low speed fuelling on the VFR is also poor, so I am very used to it and it never bothers me.

I would simply say that if you lack confidence then the fuelling could well be a problem worth bearing in mind.

So, overall this bike has some ordinary parts, but the combination of the luxurious engine, extraordinary chassis and the off-road style traction over rough roads, made it very enjoyable. I was expecting this bike to be good, but I was not expecting it to be that good, nor to surprise me in areas I simply hadn’t anticipated. I think I’ve just been Tangoed.

The dealer told me the entire stock of 2008 orange bikes has sold out! So its either black, or this special with an Ј800 Dream Machine paint job.

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