KTM 990 Adventure

Upstaging BMW and everyone else with a bigger, better Adventure

Welcome to Fuerteventura Country--a barren, sun-kissed volcanic island off Africa's west coast, ringed by perfect and almost perfectly deserted roads and criss-crossed by dozens of unpaved tracks. On the new Adventure 990, this is KTM country. Rumbling along at a comfortable 90 mph, flicking through smooth mountain hairpins at giddy angles or sliding down a rocky trail to the beach, I can't think of another bike that could keep up.

To create the 999cc twin, KTM increased bore and stroke from 100 x 60mm to 101 x 62.4mm. That capacity is shared with the new Super Duke, but the Adventure gets different cylinder heads with revised porting, softer cams and new forged pistons. There's also Super Duke-style fuel injection, with 48mm throttle bodies in place of the 942cc engine's carbs. Peak power--99 bhp at 8500 rpm--is unchanged, and well down on the Super Duke's 120 bhp.

The route looked promising as my Adventure fired up with an engaging thrap. Heading up the southern tip of Fuerteventura, the big V-twin pulls with delicious enthusiasm. It's flexible and easy to ride, if not quite as grunty as the Super Duke. The Adventure is plenty fast, lifting its front wheel on the throttle, and punching out of bends with a deliciously urgent feel. On one short straight it rumbled well past 100 mph with more to come. Top speed should match the 950's 125mph, but extra torque makes the 990 feel quicker.

This bike also shares the Super Duke's snatchy power delivery below 4000 rpm, making it difficult to hold a steady speed in the lower gears without a bit of jerking. The injection system, though generally very good, is not quite perfect.

Out of town and back on the gas, the 75-degree V-twin vibrates a fair bit moving toward its 9500-rpm limiter. At least the gearing is tall enough to sit at an indicated 100 mph in sixth with just 6000 rpm on the tacho, feeling smooth and relaxed. At that speed the Adventure's small fairing keeps enough wind off to allow stress-free cruising. This standard Adventure's stepped seat seemed significantly more comfortable than the original 950's. Two fuel tanks hold a total of 5.8 gallons: enough for 150 miles of normal use. Rumbling down the superbly twisty coast road, the Adventure does a fair impersonation of a sportbike despite pitching on its long-travel suspension under acceleration and braking.

Still, there's 20mm less travel at each end than the 950 Adventure, and the 990's WP fork and shock are firm and controlled. Pitch it into blind bends and the Adventure rails 'round with its impressively grippy Pirelli Scorpion tires. Brakes are impressive as well. KTM's ABS system--developed in conjunction with Bosch and Brembo--separates front and rear antilock circuits. It certainly works on the road, and I was surprised by how well it worked in the dirt. You can brake hard before the front ABS kicks in, with better control than the occasionally wonky BMW version.

The light, superbly suspended KTM has a distinct edge over BMW's R1200GS in the rough stuff as well, thundering out of slow, loose-surfaced turns in wonderful fashion. Chassis balance and suspension control are superb over rough surfaces despite Pirelli's road-biased tires. At 439 pounds (plus a bit for the ABS), this one weighs about the same as its predecessor. All things considered, the Adventure's off-road poise gives it a slight edge over the sublime R1200GS. Several days later the adrenaline has subsided, but I haven't changed my mind.MC

The good news? Polaris money has allowed KTM to speed up homologation and delivery of Super Duke 990s, which should be available later this year.
Identical in most respects, the S version has revised WP suspension. Travel at each end is increased from 210 to 245mm; ground clearance beneath the engine goes from 261 to 296mm. The S model also has a more off-road oriented seat, which at 895mm is 35mm taller than the standard model's, and there's no ABS. Unless most of your riding is off-road, you'll be better off with the standard model.