Spied! Rally-Style KTM Single Prototype

Is this the new 390 Adventure or something more extreme?

Prototype KTM small ADV
KTM’s latest prototype caught in testing. It appears bigger than a 390 but smaller than the current 690. The Dakar-inspired bodywork combined with street tires suggests this will be a new, road-going model to appeal to KTM’s ADV customers looking for seriously rugged capability and looks.Photo: BMH Images

While the KTM 790 Adventure spied testing alongside it looks nearly ready for the showroom, this prototype is clearly at a much earlier stage of development and could become a completely new model at the lower end of KTM's adventure range. For years many industry-watchers have expected KTM to create an entry-level adventure bike based on the engine from its 390 Duke. This isn't that bike, but could perform a similar function.

The engine appears to be completely new. While it’s obviously a fairly compact, single-cylinder design, the castings are nothing like the ones on the 390 Duke engine and its overall size appears a little larger. Could it be a new 500cc or 600cc motor? It could make a lot of sense. The rest of the bike is very much a prototype. The frame appears to be an extremely simple tubular steel design—typical of KTM—while the swingarm looks like it might be machined from a single piece of aluminum. Not a practical production part, but ideal for testing purposes.

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The bodywork is similarly lashed-together. The entire front section and the massive carbon fiber mount for the instruments come straight from the existing 450 Rally, KTM’s Dakar racer. Whatever this bike eventually becomes, it’s sure to have a different face by the time it reaches production. The rest of the bodywork is simply made of flat sheets of plastic, zip-tied to the chassis, while the fuel tank is hand-welded from flat sheets of metal. None of it gives much clue to the final shapes that will be applied.

As with the 790 Adventure, test versions of this new single have been spotted with both road-oriented and off-road biased tires. That suggests the bike is more than merely an engine testbed, and that the frame design is also under development. So the overall stance and the on/off-road attitude are elements that are destined to be taken forward to a production bike—presuming the project gets that far, of course, as machines this early in their development can still easily be cancelled or repurposed before being signed-off for mass manufacture. It’s also clear that the engine is being developed with road-going intentions.

Spy shot of small KTM ADV
Whatever the size of this engine, the overall bike is small and appears truly ready for adventure. The carbon-fiber subframe up front looks all business, while the small prototype fuel tank cobbled together suggests that at least this test bike gets good mileage. We would expect a larger-capacity tank on a production version of this machine.Photo: BMH Images

The handmade exhaust has a collector box, and possibly even a catalytic converter, suggesting its being prototyped with intentions of meeting legal requirements for noise and emissions. Oxygen sensors bolted to the pipe also reveal that engine test work is going on, although the prototype isn't carrying the large data-logging computers that are sometimes seen on development machines. Whatever this bike turns into, the early state of the current prototype suggests we shouldn't be expecting it to be a 2018 model. It's likely that the final bike won't appear until the 2019 or even 2020 model year.

By then, the existing 690 single in the 690 Duke will be ripe for retirement. During 2020 and 2021, Europe will be introducing even tougher emissions rules (the Euro5 standards) and many manufacturers are already hard at work designing new engines to meet them. This may well be just such a design, and alongside the '790' LC8c parallel twin engine (LC8 representing liquid cooled and eight valves, the final 'c' meaning compact, as opposed to the bulkier LC8 V-twin that's already in production) could be an ideal replacement for the long-lived 690.