Your mind likely turns to off-road domination when the brand KTM is mentioned. That’s because KTM has built a reputation of winning that filters down to its high-performance adventure bikes that can handle rugged terrain and long-distance riding.
KTM is so dominant in the dirt that the Austrian brand has become a victim of its own success. Mainly the problem comes down to this: with so many options, which KTM adventure bike is right for you?
We'll answer that question by exploring the best KTM models for adventure riding, explaining the pros and cons of each, and we’ll even compare them with some of their main rivals, including the BMW R 1250 GS.
2023 KTM Adventure Bike Lineup
To go through every adventure bike KTM has made throughout the years would require more space and time than we have room for here. So instead, we’ll focus on what’s on offer from KTM’s 2023 adventure motorcycle lineup, including the 390 Adventure, 690 Enduro R, 890 Adventure, 890 Adventure R, 1290 Super Adventure S, and 1290 Super Adventure R.
Each model arrives with its own set of features and specifications, making it suitable for different types of riders.
Here's a brief overview of the key features and specifications of each model:
- KTM 390 Adventure: 373cc single cylinder, 379 lbs, 33.7 in seat height
- KTM 690 Enduro R: 693cc single cylinder, 322 lbs, 35.8 in seat height
- KTM 890 Adventure and 890 Adventure R: 889cc engine, 417 lbs (189 kg) weight, 34.6 in seat height, 21/18 in wheel sizes. The R is more focused on off-road riding, while the non-R is oriented toward travel/touring.
- KTM 1290 Super Adventure S: 1301cc engine, 160 hp, 502 lbs (228 kg) weight, 33.5 in (850 mm) seat height, 19/17 in (483/432 mm) wheel sizes. Oriented more for travel/touring with light off-road.
- KTM 1290 Super Adventure R: 1301cc engine, 160 hp, 478 lbs (217 kg) weight, 35 in (890 mm) seat height, 21/18 in (533/457 mm) wheel sizes. A dedicated off-road motorcycle. KTM’s flagship adventure bike.
Considerations for Choosing an Adventure Bike:
When choosing an adventure bike, it's essential to be honest with yourself and consider factors like riding style, intended usage, and, most importantly, skill level. In addition, adventure bikes come in various shapes and sizes, and the biggest models are relatively a bit heavier than a regular dirt bike, which makes them intimidating for less experienced riders.
They certainly are not meant for beginners or those who can’t pick them back up if they fall down. But, then again, veteran riders who can get the most out of something like a 1290 Super Adventure might get bored quickly on, say, a 390.
After coming to grips with your skillset, consider what you want to do with the bike and where you intend to go. Those who predominantly ride off-road will have different wants and needs than those more interested in touring and/or pavement riding with light off-road. KTM has different versions of certain models to meet those needs. Each model has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the kind of riding you want to do.
For example, if you're a new or inexperienced rider, choose a smaller and lighter bike like the KTM 390 Adventure. It’s relatively light, which will make it easier to pick up if/when you drop it; it doesn’t have mind-bending power, so you can learn the ropes easier; and it still has respectable off-road capabilities that surpass similar-sized models from other manufacturers.
Conversely, experienced veterans may prefer a larger and more powerful bike like the KTM 890 Adventure R or even the 1290 Super Adventure R.
Many riders, including the legendary KTM ambassador Chris Birch, say the 890 is the perfect compromise between size and power. It’s a bike that can truly do it all.
However, some riders love having the best of the best, and the 1290 Super Adventure R could be the bike for them. Loaded with cutting-edge electronic aids and outrageous power, if you can handle it, there’s virtually nothing it can’t do.
The Best KTM Models for Adventure Riding
Now that you have a better understanding of what to look for in a KTM adventure bike based on the considerations outlined above, here is a more detailed list of pros and cons for each model:
KTM 390 Adventure
- Pros: Small and lightweight with very manageable power. Perfect for the newer or inexperienced rider. It comes with electronic rider aids that some other competitor models don’t offer.
- Cons: Some might outgrow the powerband quickly or advance beyond what the suspension and off-road capabilities can handle. It also has a tall seat height, like all adventure bikes, which might be a concern if you don’t plan on modifying the bike to address this.
- Main rival: BMW G 310 GS
KTM 690 Enduro R
- Pros: If you’re looking for a bike that can handle extremely technical terrain while still being road legal (meaning you can put a license plate on it), this is it. A “real” dirt bike that’s street-legal and has enough motor to tackle longer jaunts on the street. The 690 engine is modest enough for less experienced riders but still lively enough to entertain experienced riders, too.
- Cons: Its single-cylinder engine is fast enough for highway speeds but a little buzzy at those speeds. If you’re doing sustained pavement riding, the 890 or 1290 might be a better choice.
- Main rivals: Husqvarna 701 Enduro (like a twin sister), Honda XR650L, Suzuki DR650S
KTM 890 Adventure/R
- Pros: The engine hits the sweet spot between having too much power and not having enough. It’s just right. The R version has upgraded suspension and focused tires to handle nearly anything you can throw at it. The standard version provides a comfortable ride on the street while still being able to handle light off-road. Both bikes feature an array of electronic rider aids to act as a safety net or convenience, depending on the conditions. A respectable-size fuel tank places the weight low for good off-road handling and lets you ride for a while before worrying about filling up.
- Cons: The 890 is fast, but some riders might want even more power than what the 890 offers, particularly for longer rides on pavement, but a few simple upgrades can help them achieve that.
- Main rivals: Yamaha Tenere 700, Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro, BMW F 850 GS, Ducati DesertX, Husqvarna Norden 901
KTM 1290 Super Adventure S/R
- Pros: This is the one for those who want it all. If the ultimate adventure bike is what you’re looking for, the R model comes with the best suspension WP has to offer, along with the best wheel combination for optimum rubber. Not to mention you have an extremely powerful 1301cc V-Twin engine to kick up massive roost and blast you through the dirt. You also get KTM’s premier electronics suite to help tame this otherwise gnarly beast of a motorcycle. The S model has the same powerful engine, and can even perform a lot of the same duties off-road as the R model, but this one prefers touring and slightly mellower rides. The wheel sizes are better suited towards road rubber, and the suspension is slightly tuned for the streets.
- Cons: The 1290 Super Adventure’s biggest fault, if you want to call it that, is its size and power. If you’re not experienced enough, the power and size of the bike can get you into trouble.
- Main rivals: BMW R 1250 GS, Ducati Multistrada V4 Rally, Triumph Tiger 1200 Rally, Honda Africa Twin, Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250, Triumph Tiger 1200 GT Pro
KTM Adventure Bike Accessories and Upgrades
KTM offers a range of accessories and upgrades for its adventure bikes through KTM PowerParts. The best part about KTM PowerParts is that you know the fit, finish, and quality will be top-notch because these are made by the same people who make the bikes to begin with. In addition, KTM PowerParts are designed alongside each respective model to ensure optimum compatibility and functionality.
Some of the most popular and useful accessories include:
- Skid plates and crash bars. It should be obvious why these two items are so popular, but if you’re new to adventure riding, skid plates, and crash bars protect vital components, like the engine, against impact and debris.
- Luggage racks and panniers. You’ll want to carry gear and supplies on an adventure bike, and sometimes aftermarket luggage solutions don’t work as well as luggage designed specifically for your bike.
- Navigation systems and GPS mounts for easy navigation.
- Comfort seats and windshields for improved comfort on long rides. You probably understand why a seat with more padding is important, but don’t neglect the impact wind can have in riding long distances. A larger windscreen that can divert more air away from you will help keep you fresher for longer.
Choosing the right KTM adventure bike for your needs and preferences can be a challenging task. Still, we can’t stress enough how important it is to consider your riding style, intended use, and personal preferences when picking a bike.
Be honest with yourself; the result will be a motorcycle you truly enjoy. We’ve highlighted here what the KTM adventure bike range offers, but if you want to know more about a specific bike, visit KTM World online or at its Cedartown, Ga., location and find the perfect adventure bike for your next journey.