KTM’s familiar 75-degree V-Twin doesn’t have the ponies of the bigger engines, but it’s smooth and extremely tractable, with a higher redline than the others (9500 rpm vs. the BMW’s 8500 and the Yamaha’s 7750) and a commendably flat torque curve. The KTM has noticeably less flywheel effect, giving the engine a snappier feel and, well, there are times when 90-plus horsepower is just too much for the dirt.
Yamaha’s 1199cc parallel-Twin has a character all its own. Using a 270-degree crank, the Yamaha’s narrow engine feels more like a very large, very smooth Single. Power delivery follows suit, with a grittier personality and the ability, even with the standard traction-control system switched off, to find traction.
We love almost everything about the Yamaha but the YCCT—Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle—ride-by-wire system. The Super T has two modes: S for Sport and T for Touring. In the S mode, initial throttle response is slightly languid but then wakes up with a bang, only to flatten out slightly. The soft-hard-soft character makes the bike very difficult to ride smoothly. In the T mode, the Ténéré is much more manageable but feels dull. We’d love you to take one more stab at this one, Yamaha, especially given that your competition needs no such electrickery to provide a seamless, predictable translation from twistgrip movement to forward thrust.
The more time we spent in the dirt, the more we came to dislike the electronics fitted to the BMW and the Yamaha. Our 990 Adventure came with ABS, which can be switched off, and brakes with soft enough onset that they were immediately at home over challenging terrain. In fact, the whole KTM felt like it was born to be spewing chunks of terra firma from the back tire.
For safety off-road and fairness in the comparison, all three wore Continental TKC 80 street-rated knobby tires. The KTM has a traditional 21/18-inch combination, while the other two sport compromise 19/17-inch wheel sizes. To some degree, the BMW and Yamaha disliked the Contis’ profiles (the BMW quite a lot, actually), but the KTM could well have been delivered on these tires—it felt that natural.
Electronics, then? Yes, the BMW’s two-stage traction control can be turned off, as can its linked ABS, but doing so takes a series of button presses and a thorough understanding of the icons on the LCD panel. Yamaha allows you to select one of two TC levels as well as Off, but you can’t easily disable ABS. Here’s the deal, dear manufacturers: If you really want these bikes to go off road, you need to make it easier to configure them for that purpose.