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2021 KTM 890 Adventure R: MD Ride Review

For 2021, KTM took a still relatively new platform in the 790 Adventure series, and made some significant changes. Most notably, engine displacement was increased from 799cc to 890cc. The old 790 Adventure was a very good bike, and MD did a long-term evaluation and modification series on the 790. The 890 promises to make a very good bike even better, and that’s what our testing was designed to find out.

The subject of our test is the more dirt-focused R model. Compared to the S model it features longer travel suspension, more dirt worthy tires, and some other minor changes. Otherwise, the two platforms are identical.

Together with the larger displacement, KTM refined the parallel twin in the 790. The 890 has larger intake and exhaust valves and a higher lift cam, together with a higher compression ratio. Crankshaft weight is up 20% to smooth low rpm operation, and dual balance shafts were tuned for even smoother performance.

A stronger clutch handles the increased power output, and the overly-long shift lever travel found on the 790 has been reduced on the 890. The already good suspension on the 790 R has been further refined and updated with new settings, and an aluminum steering head replaces the old steel design.

Having tested both versions of the KTM 790 Adventure and having thousands of miles on our long-term test bike, the 790 S, I was immediately impressed with two aspects of the new, larger displacement motor found in the 890. For various reasons, including, certainly, the heavier crankshaft, the 890 feels significantly smoother than the 790. The 790 was already reasonably smooth for a large displacement twin, but the 890 takes this smoothness to another level.

The next thing I noticed about the motor was the increased power, particularly the torque response in the low and mid-range. Published dyno charts do not show a huge increase in peak torque or horsepower between the 790 and then 890, but the low-end and mid-range get a very significant bump in torque, which is exactly where you need it off road, and when on the road at the most typical throttle settings. The power delivery is just meatier and more immediate where you tend to use it most.

The old 790 R already had excellent suspension, and I can’t report that I noticed much difference between it and the 890 R in this regard. The 890 R has supple, but reasonably firm suspension for use both on the road and off. With adjustable units at both ends, the 890 Adventure R seems ready to tackle everything from a smooth, highway cruise to a hard core attack through a gnarly off-road trail. The unique fuel tank design helps create a feeling of balance, with much of the fuel carried very low on the bike.

Just like the 790, the 890 handles surprisingly well on the street. I noticed the front brake works much better, with better feel, as well as more power, compared to the 790. The shorter shift travel is also noticeable and appreciated.

Off-road, this is still a big bike compared to the motocross machines I used to race, but it handles much better than just about any full-size adventure bike I have ridden, with the possible exception of the Honda Africa Twin, which is also exceptional off-road.

Ergonomics are essentially unchanged from the 790, but that is just fine. Once you are moving, you are in a very upright, comfortable position with plenty of legroom. At a stop, however, shorter riders will be challenged by the seat height (over 34-inches). Unfortunately, this is typical of many adventure machines with longer travel suspension. I have a 31-inch inseam, and I made it work, but was on tippy toes at stops.

I should mention that our bike had the Tech Pack, a $550 option, that is basically a software download at your dealer. The standard model comes with three riding modes, integrated with an IMU, including Street, Rain and Off-Road. The Tech Pack adds a Rally mode, which includes a more aggressive throttle response and the ability to adjust a number of parameters, such as traction control and ABS.

The bottom line is that KTM has made an excellent motorcycle better. The 890 Adventure R can literally do it all, from commuting to touring to tackling relatively hard-core off-roading.

At a base price of $14,199, the KTM 890 Adventure R is not inexpensive, but this is a bike that hits a sweet spot in terms of power and weight, offers adjustable, well set-up suspension, and even good range from a 5.3 gallon fuel tank. Take a look at KTM‘s website for additional details and specifications.

37 Comments

  1. Donk says:

    Compared to buying a BMW with the required “premium” package the cost of the option KTM upgrades is reasonable. Moreover you can pick the options you want. Rally pack may not be for everyone so why should they have to pay extra for it? I find KTM’s a la carte style option choices a refreshing change. My 890 has the Rally Pack, I seldom use it but every once in a while when I get a wild hair it’s well worth the money.

  2. TP says:

    KTM is sort of the Kawasaki of Europe with its strong engines but none of its bikes appeals to me. I don’t like orange and I don’t care for KTM’s pinched and angular styling.

    • Mick says:

      For me it is a decent looking bike with some weird prop from a cheap sciance fiction movie for a headlight.

      I wonder how difficult it is to replace it with a regular dirt bike headlight. Or a round rally style one with a bit of a brush guard.

  3. mickey says:

    KTM certainly seemes to be making the effort these days

  4. Jim says:

    I traded in a Super Duke on one of these last spring. I felt it was time to get back to my roots and start riding off road again. However I did not want to invest in another off road only dirt bike. I have other bikes and my garage is full.

    This bike is a big heavy bike and can not be confused with a dedicated dirt bike or a dual sport such as a DRZ of some of the KTMs. It is however vary capable, especially on the logging roads found where I live. It has the smoothest throttle response I have experienced since fuel injection became the norm. The brakes are KTM branded brakes and don’t have the best feel but I am hoping a different set of pads will help. Suspension is terrific both off and on road. For the first couple of weeks I tiptoed around on the road because I didn’t trust the knobby tires. I shouldn’t have worried. I don’t plan on any track days with this bike and they work very well for anything I would do on the street. They are wearing pretty quickly though. I ordered a Seat Concepts seat because I felt the stock seat was uncomfortable. However, the replacement seat took so long to arrive that I had become accustomed to the stock seat. Maybe I needed to break my butt in like on a bicycle seat.

    I resisted Adventure bikes for years, feeling they weren’t good off road and too compromised on road. I now realize that I got it all wrong. The versatility of this bike is amazing. A couple of weeks ago I rode 50 miles across the Olympic Peninsula on logging roads and at the end of the day, I popped out on to paved roads and rode comfortably the 50 miles back home. Did I mention that this bike has a 240 mile range? Some of the logging roads were in pretty bad shape. Try doing that on any street bike or small dual sport.

    • todd says:

      Thanks for your report, Jim. It’s good to hear real-life experience. I have ridden my 1972 Yamaha RT2 360 enduro the 36 highway miles to Carnegie, rode the trails all day, filled up and rode the 36 miles back home. The seat is a bit thin for that but the bike easily did it. The Yamaha could use more suspension and a better brake but it was fun. For places farther away, I load a dirt bike onto the hitch of my Westfalia. I’m headed to Baja this winter with it.

    • Curtis says:

      Thanks for the detailed report (I’ve owned a Super Duke too, and can’t wait to replace it). I have a 1290 Super Adventure S and recently started riding with a fellow who owns a 790 R. That. Bike. Rips. No question. He does things off road that I’d never do on any 1200-1300 sized ADV bike, and I ride (real) dirt bikes. It sounds like the 890 fixes several key concerns. My impression is that the 790/890 series are massively capable.

  5. WillieB says:

    when is the Duke GT or SMT version of this coming? ever?
    I don’t want to ride offroad so I don’t need super long suspension travel or a 21″ front wheel.

  6. John says:

    They do this because the media is easily led. They make something bigger every year and the media loves the increase in size or power. Every time. Look at an original Honda Civic vs today’s car. I want smaller, not bigger.

    • Bud says:

      I owned a 2nd gen Civic CVCC. In no way was it superior to a modem Civic.

    • Wes says:

      So the CRF300 Rally or the KLX 300 should suit you fine.

      • todd says:

        The Versys 300 is always sold out. The two other bikes you mentioned are great for just about everything though except for 100+ miles on the freeway, having owned earlier versions of both. Don’t forget the 390 Adventure, the DRZ400 or even the Himalayan, all loads of fun but I haven’t gotten the chance to ride any of them.

  7. Roadrash1 says:

    The Tech Pack…..hmmmmmm.
    I bought a 2018 690 Duke, and by the time I got around to the dealer to get the “track pack” a few months after purchase, they couldn’t sell it. It was also just an electronic unlock of features that were already in the bike.
    Yeah, still bummed.

    • todd says:

      Same here. Dealer never mentioned that it was no longer available, I don’t think he knew. I realize that it’s really just a resistor setting for the throttle to speed up or slow down the throttle rate or ramp. It also provides traction/wheelie control and the ability to shut it off. I don’t think I need the track pack.

      • Roadrash1 says:

        Wheelie Control? Now I WANT it more! Lol!
        Actually, the best thing I did for my 690 Duke was to install the fueling dongle from Rottweiler. I just looked it my review. I still stand behind it! Get the O2 plug at same time.

        The low end on my 2018 KTM 690 Duke is silky-smooth now, and runs perfectly through the entire RPM range.
        It’s now possible to ride at 65 MPH in 6th gear without feeling like my teeth are going to fall out.

        • todd says:

          My 2018 actually runs smoother without the mods. I bought the Rotty plug, then Kev’s O2 controller and fuel mod devices. The best it has ever ran is when I pulled all that back off and did the throttle calibration cycle. Smooth down to 2,500 RPM and loads of power, especially with the air box opened, cat removed and a LeoVince pipe. I was thinking of getting one of the throttle resistor switches that they sell for the Enduro to get a quicker throttle ramp but that’s not entirely important.

    • Mick says:

      I just drove a 1500 mile round trip to buy a 2012 bike. The wife wanted me to buy a new one. But the 2012 has an advanced feature that became unavailable the next year and may never be available ever again.

      It’s called a throttle cable. It’s fantastic. It allows the rider direct access to the throttle setting. It’s really quite simple. There is a mechanical cable that runs from the throttle on the handlebar to the actual throttles on engine. It allows the rider to make up any ride mode he or she she chooses in real time with absolutely no delay whatsoever.

      It’s a feature that is still widely available to dirt bikers. But has been deemed to dangerous for street bikers.

      Fortunately, if you look, you can find a low miles non-current bike that has this feature. Mine had 1437 miles on the clock when I bought it.

      • mickey says:

        Incredible that someone would buy a new bike and only put 1400 miles on it in 10 years. Can’t imagine.

        I bought my 2021 NC 750DCT on July 22 of this year and will turn over 6000 miles on it in a couple of days…and it shares mileage with my CB 1100. Sub par year for me but I should still put over 10 times the mileage on my bikes in one year, that that rider put on in a whole decade.

        I don’t for the life of me understand why people buy motorcycles and then not ride them.

        • Mick says:

          I bought the bike from the third owner who put about 100 miles on it in the five months that he owned it. Young guy.

          It’s a Ducati. Weird things happen to them. High end sports cars are like that too.

          It fuels very lean and the power is pretty brutal. It’s kind of like the open class motocross bikes in the 80s and early nineties. Guys with little or no experience would buy them thinking that they are big guys and need a big bike. Then they ride it and find that they bought something with sharp claws and long fangs. So it sits in the garage until they sell it.

          I’ll have it tuned to richen it up a little. It’s so lean that the on and off throttle reponse suffers a bit. I have a 2004 with basically the same engine. It has a Ducati Preformance air box and exhaust mods and a Ducati Preformance ECU. I bought it set up that way with 1100 miles on it. It fuels perfectly. With a bit richer map the 2012 will run that way too. Emissions restrictions are a curse that can be exorcized.

          The 2004 was the only bike that I ever bought that I didn’t consider to be a work in progress. Nothing comes from the factory “jetted” properly. Even if they are fuel injected.

          Two stroke dirt bikes, when they were carbureted, all came with rich throttle slides. If they didn’t, the press would complain that the bike had no “hit” and made no power, even if dyno testing proved them wrong. “Hit” was a rich burble caused by the main fuel circuit coming on line before the engine was ready for it. When it cleared all hell broke loose. The press wanted it that way. Odd. I have a ton of throttle slides.

  8. Steve McMahon says:

    Hmmm- the 790 was good, the 890 better, imagine if KTM made a 990.

  9. Tommy D says:

    The 20% heavier flywheel fixed the 790’s tendency to flame out at low RPM. The 790 felt a little like a two stroke at low speeds. You rev’d it more and slip the clutch to pilot slow speed gnar. The 890 offloads a lot of that concentration required on the 790’s rev management. It just runs and doesn’t ever flame out. I traded my well loved 790 for the 890 and never looked back. If you find yourself doing trials type riding on these big bikes the 890 is the way to go. Also 3rd gear wheelies on the 890 are a thing. Unfortunately even with the traction control turned all the way down, the 3rd gear mingers are shut off after about 5 seconds of bliss. Oh well you can’t have everything.

    • todd says:

      Tip: get a second ABS sensor and attach it to your rear wheel. Wire it and the front sensor to a toggle switch so you can choose between the two. When you want to keep the front end from staying on the ground, toggle the front ABS input to the rear sensor and, bam, Bob’s your uncle.

  10. Randy Singer says:

    103hp, very similar to the Honda Africa Twin.

  11. Jim says:

    $550 for a 10 minute re-flash. Customer or cash-cow?

    • L. Ron Jeremy says:

      Really not unreasonable, considering that Tesla charges $199 a month (or a one time charge of $10,000) for their advanced driver features. Downloaded through the air…

    • todd says:

      That’s almost like charging a customer $550 for a little key to access the tool pouch under the seat.

    • Jeremy says:

      Welcome to the paywall age. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually we probably won’t even be able to start our cars or motorcycles without a subscription to do so.

  12. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Beautiful comparison, and great product evolution. What are the black covers around the engine ?