Morocco's Merzouga dunes sit on the edge of the Sahara Desert; it's been a film location for several blockbuster movies, is a source of hundred-million-year-old fossils in marble, and KTM uses the area for rally testing and training. With 18 consecutive Dakar Rally wins, the location works. KTM has also chosen this rocky and sand-strewn location for the introduction on the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R. A bold move that infers a high off-road capability of the top-shelf R model.

Much wringing of hands and checking of finances by KTM fans and serious off-road adventurers had resulted from the 2017 EICMA prototype unveiling. Would it be the one? Could it be the one? The specs suggested yes; the marketing practically guaranteed it; the forums were ablaze with arguments for and against. November 2018 saw the production model unleashed on the public. Hopes were high; the package didn’t differ much from the year before. Maybe that prototype was not really a prototype? It didn’t matter; it was coming and it would be a hit or a massive miss.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R
2019 KTM 790 Adventure R - $13,499Sebas Romero

Blasting across the desert hot on the heels of KTM adventure wizard and superstar Chris Birch, all I could mutter to myself for the first few miles was, “Unbelievable.” Cutting to the point, it’s as close to rally promise as any KTM Adventure has ever achieved. Bull’s-eye. Hero status is imminent—a qualified successor to the legendary 990 Adventure. Its larger siblings are irrelevant when viewed from behind the handlebars of the 790 Adventure R.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R in the desert
Dakar fantasies become more real than ever before on the 790 Adventure R.Sebas Romero

While the 799cc LC8c parallel twin is impressive in its torquey power delivery (and V-twin-like sound) and its lean-sensitive traction control, uncanny ABS functions, and multiple ride modes are better than the rider can ever be, it is the 240mm of WP Xplor suspension that steals the show. Sprung stiffer than a 1290 Super Adventure R, with larger valving combined with a lighter 460-pound wet weight make for nearly enduro or dual-sport levels of capability. The line between a KTM EXC-F and the 790 is closer than any before it.

Attacking the Merzouga sand dunes highlighted the dirt bike-like handling and ergonomics of the 790 Adventure R. It's a weapon. Yamaha's 700 Ténéré had better be good—real good to compete with the new king of extreme adventure.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R in the sand
The 790 Adventure R is an off-road weapon.Marco Campelli

Styling of the 790 Adventure R is the only real miss. But that is okay, from the seat you can’t see the funky beak and bulbous fuel tank. But you can feel the slim tank and seat area and the low center of gravity thanks to the low-slung mass of the tank. As is often the case for KTM, form follows function.

Watch the video below for all the details, but know this: The 2019 KTM Adventure R is the new high-water mark for serious off-road adventure motorcycles. All other midsize ADVs may have just become off-roading fossils.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R handling in the sand
A slim tank and seat give the rider plenty of room to move during hard riding.Marco Campelli

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Specifications

MSRP: $13,499
ENGINE: 799cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC parallel twin
BORE X STROKE: 88.0mm x 65.7mm
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE: 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER: 95 hp @ 8,000 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE: 65 lb.-ft. @ 6,600 rpm
FUEL SYSTEM: 46mm DKK Dell’Orto throttle body
CLUTCH: PASC slipper clutch, cable operation
ENGINE MANAGEMENT/IGNITION: Bosch EMS w/ RBW
FRAME: Chromium-molybdenum steel
FRONT SUSPENSION: 48mm WP-USD fork fully adjustable; 9.4-in. (240mm) travel
REAR SUSPENSION: WP PDS shock; 9.4-in. (240mm) travel
FRONT BRAKE: 4-piston radial caliper, dual 320mm discs w/ Bosch 9.1 MP cornering ABS and Off-road mode (disengageable)
REAR BRAKE: 1-piston floating caliper, 260mm disc w/ Bosch 9.1 MP cornering ABS and Off-road mode (disengageable)
WHEELS, FRONT/REAR: Spoked wheels w/ aluminum rims, 2.50 x 21 in. / 4.50 x 18 in.
TIRES, FRONT/REAR: 90/90-21 / 150/70-18
RAKE/TRAIL: 26.3°/4.3 in. (110.4mm)
WHEELBASE: 60.2 in. (1,528mm)
GROUND CLEARANCE: 10.4 in. (263mm)
SEAT HEIGHT: 34.6 in. (880mm)
FUEL CAPACITY: 5.3 gal. (20L)
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT: 417 lb. (189kg)
AVAILABILITY: Spring 2019
CONTACT: ktm.com