KTM has always leaned into its Dakar Rally success as a way to connect the dots between race wins and its Adventure line of motorcycles. It sells the dream of shredding sand-swept deserts at breakneck speeds. Back in the days of the 950 and 990 Adventure models there was a direct correlation to the Dakar-winning 950 of Fabrizio Meoni, but it's a stretch to connect the 450cc machines raced in modern rallies and a 500-pound ADV bike. While KTM has found sales-floor success with the LC8 V-twin-powered Adventures like the 1090 Adventure R, there is a fairly large subculture of more hard-core, nearly racer-like riders who still see a 950 or 990 Adventure as the only true machine for off-road performance. They refuse to sell their aging "rally replicas," but now KTM is banking on these stalwarts to move to the 790 Adventure and Adventure R.

KTM 790
KTM’s 790 Adventure R and 790 Adventure are the first from the Austrian manufacturer using the 799cc LC8c engine.Sebas Romero

KTM's 790 Adventure and 790 Adventure R have been teased for quite some time as the next coming of the hard-core ADV bike. With release of the bikes coming soon, Cycle World was finally dropped into the Moroccan desert to ride the 790 where the Red Bull KTM Rally Team spends it time training. Rally legends like Marc Coma, Toby Price, and Sam Sunderland were on hand to lead the ride along with Baja 1000 champ Quinn Cody and extreme enduro and ADV sicko Chris Birch. KTM absolutely pulled out all the stops to sell the rally connection. After one day on the 790 Adventure R I bought it hook, line, and sinker.

790 Adventure R
In the dirt, the 790 Adventure R shines.Seba Romero

This adventure motorcycle is the second model to be powered by the newly developed LC8c. The 799cc, eight-valve, DOHC parallel twin shares its architecture with the 790 Duke, but power delivery has been tailored to suit off-road adventure. Cam profiles are optimized for low and midrange torque. KTM claims 65 pound-feet of peak torque for the Duke and Adventure, but the Adventure's comes at 6,500 rpm, 1,500 rpm sooner than the Duke's. The ADV bike gives up 10 peak horsepower to deliver 95 hp vs. the naked street weapon's 105. A forged single-piece crankshaft with a 435-degree firing order supplies the delivery and sound character of a KTM V-twin, while vibration is quelled by dual counterbalancers—one set in front of the crankshaft and the other placed in the cylinder head, driven by the exhaust camshaft.

799cc DOHC LC8c
KTM claims the 799cc DOHC LC8c is the most compact high-performance parallel-twin on the market.KTM

KTM touts the LC8c engine as the most compact performance parallel-twin on the market, resulting in tighter overall packaging and a more mass-centralized motorcycle. Designed as a stressed member, the engine is not only small, but allows for a smaller frame as well, further cutting weight and bulk. While only the Adventure and Duke use this engine currently, the KTM Group has invested heavily in the LC8c engine platform, and more midsize models from KTM and Husqvarna sporting this powerplant are expected in the future.

No discussion of adventure motorcycles is complete without covering the topic of electronics, and the 790 Adventure and Adventure R are chockablock with rider aids. Four ride modes tailor power delivery—Street, Off-road, Rain, or Rally—and are tied to KTM’s lean-sensitive Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC). Street allows for maximum power with minimal tire slip, and is the go-to for most pavement-based situations. Rain reduces maximum power with a muted throttle response and MTC intervenes early and often. Off-road allows the rider to break loose the rear wheel, but still controls slip, metering the throttle for controlled slides. Rally mode is an option on the standard model and included on the 790 Adventure R. This mode allows for 10 levels of rear-wheel traction control or slip, along with a choice of three throttle-response settings.

Dash
Multiple ride modes, ABS, and traction-control settings allow the user to set up the 790 Adventure for any situation.Marco Campelli

Adding to the safety suite is KTM’s cornering ABS. The default setting is for general use, but there is also an Off-road setting, and the user can turn off ABS completely. Motor Slip Regulation bolsters the rear wheel stability while slowing, working as an electronic slipper clutch or reverse traction control when the road surface is so slick that there is not enough traction to engage the Power Assisted Slipper Clutch (PASC). Optional goodness includes Quickshifter+ for clutchless up- and downshifts and cruise control.

Using the LC8c as a stressed member, the Adventure and Adventure R’s chrome-moly steel frame continues the compact design hugging the top of the engine. Bolted to the main frame, a steel trellis subframe keeps the weight low while allowing space for the easy to access airbox. Ease of air filter replacement was key for a model that is expected to see more extensive dirt duty. This feature alone could seal the deal for anyone who has had to change an air filter on V-twin KTM Adventures. An open-lattice cast-aluminum swingarm is long thanks to the shortness of the engine and is designed to impart stability and traction.

KTM Group-owned WP Suspension is fitted to both 790 Adventure models, but differ in spec according to each bike’s intended usage. A 43mm Apex open-cartridge fork is spec’d for the standard 790 Adventure, offering 8.7 inches of travel and no adjustments. Damping is split, one leg handling compression and the other controlling rebound. Matched to the 43mm fork is a WP Apex PDS (Progressive Damping System) shock connected directly to the swingarm and frame, giving 8.7 inches of wheel travel. Only preload is adjustable.

790 Adventure’s shock
The 790 Adventure’s shock is adjustable only for preload, but the 790 Adventure R adds compression and rebound adjustments.Sebas Romero

Suspension becomes longer and more dirt-ready on the 790 Adventure R. Travel of 9.4 inches is provided by a WP Xplor fork—the very same design that is fitted to KTM’s EXC-F dual-sports and XC-W off-road two-strokes. The Xplor fork also splits the compression and rebound functions between the two legs, and each damping circuit is adjustable by dials at fork top. An Xplor PDS rear shock gives the rear wheel 9.4 inches of travel and is fully adjustable for preload, high- and low-speed compression, and rebound damping.

48mm WP Xplor fork
A 48mm WP Xplor fork gives the 790 Adventure R 9.4 inches of suspension travel.Sebas Romero

The list of differences between the 790 Adventure and Adventure R besides the suspension is short. A taller and wider windscreen is fit to the standard while the R gets a minimal screen; each is adjusted only with a phillips screwdriver. The R is furnished with a one-piece motocross-style seat with a claimed height of 34.6 inches (880mm) and is not adjustable, while the standard features a two-piece seat that adjusts for low (32.7 inches/830mm) and high (33.5 inches/850mm). It is possible to fit the adjustable seat to the R, giving a low position of 33.9 inches (860mm). Street-friendly Avon Trailrider tires are standard on the 790 Adventure, and Metzeler Karoo 3 tires are ready for duty off road on the 790 Adventure R. Our test units were shod with Continental TKC80 meats for extra traction in the sand dunes that awaited us on the off-road day. The R also gets a high front fender. Hard numbers on the spec sheet also show the R has a 19mm (0.75 inch) longer wheelbase with more trail (4.3 inches versus 4.2) and less rake (26.7 degrees versus 25.9).

Sitting on the 790 Adventure gave me an easy reach to the pavement even in the high seat position with both feet flat on the pavement, impressive considering my 31-inch inseam. With feet up on the pegs, legroom is comfortable with a nice bend to the knees that gives an easy transition to standing. In the low position, I felt a bit cramped. On the R model, the seat is perfect for transitioning from sitting to standing and back all day long. Bars are wide and an easy reach to the middle position for my 5-foot-10 frame.

one-piece motocross-style seat
A tall one-piece motocross-style seat makes sitting to standing transitions easy on the 790 Adventure R.Sebas Romero

The most noticeable and welcome ergonomic feature is the low-slung tank. Although it looks lumpy with all the bumps in the wrong places, the tank keeps the fuel low for a centralized mass, and, more importantly, it makes for a narrow tank and seat junction. No adventure motorcycle feels this thin between the rider’s knees, optimizing body positioning for aggressive off-road riding. You can toss the bike around like a big enduro, thanks to the compact chassis and narrow feel. The 790 Adventure R has moved the ADV segment closer to dual-sport than ever before—and not just because of the excellent egros.

790 Adventure R
The line between dual-sports and adventure bikes has narrowed with the introduction of the 790 Adventure R.Marco Campelli

After spending time on the 790 Duke, I was worried the LC8c might be a little too revvy or high-strung for the 790 Adventure. Thanks to model-specific tuning the power delivery is spot-on. Right off the bottom, a torquey yet controllable snap pushes the 790 forward with authority. Lofting the front end over obstacles requires just a slight tug at the clutch. The engine’s willing grunt is perfectly suited for negotiating technical terrain; all the power you need is right there off the bottom and midrange to tackle any issue that might arise on the trail. On the road, the gearing seems short, with a busy feel in sixth gear at 90 mph—strange, as the engine is nowhere near the edge of its performance or rev range. Back it down to 75 mph, and it is much more relaxed feeling.

790 Adventure
On the street the 790 Adventure’s engine felt relaxed in the 70-80-mph range but feels busy as you push 90.Sebas Romero

Engine modes perform as they should; Steet mode is great for all situations where grip is plentiful and was the main mode of choice on the standard model. Response is immediate, but not herky-jerky. On the slick and dusty city streets of Erfoud, a slight degree of wheelspin made things lively and fun with a low probability of tossing it into one of the seemingly endless rug or fossil shops. Off-road mode is a solid partner to the street-friendly Avons on dirt roads and gets even better with knobbies. Rain muted power and response with a planted rear wheel.

Off-road mode
Off-road mode works well in dirt with the street-focused tires of the 790 Adventure.Marco Campelli

Rally mode is the star of the electronic-aids show. Ten levels of lean-sensitive traction control are at your disposal, one through nine and off. There are also three throttle-response levels; Street, Off-road, and Rally, which allow the rider to fine-tune rear-wheel spin and throttle response to their specific needs, style, and competency. In dirt on the R model, Rally response and level 2, the second least intrusive, gave a full-on dirt-bike experience, with a safety net that I couldn’t detect but increased my confidence. TC off with Rally response was the go-to set-up in the Merzouga sand dunes bordering the Saraha desert.

Bosch 9.1 MP lean-sensitive ABS is sublime in its function and better than any human can possibly be on the street or in the dirt. I only shut it off completely because I could, but even in the deepest of sand and slickest of surfaces Off-road ABS is amazing with its dirt-specific algorithm and ability for the rider to lock the rear wheel. Set it and forget it.

Off-road ABS
Off-road ABS, Rally throttle response, and traction control off—sand dune shredding.Mark Campelli

All of this makes for an excellent adventure motorcycle, but the WP suspension takes the 790 Adventure R to a level that no other ADV has yet to achieve. This motorcycle is an off-road weapon, a wolf in orange clothing, and a revolution in the segment. The fully adjustable PDS shock eats up squared-edge hits that would normally have you wincing in horror as the metallic clanks of the bike were like screams for mercy. Even when you do find the bottom of the stroke, the rear tire stays on course and in line with the front.

The 48mm Xplor fork is even better than the shock. Running stiffer springs than the heavier 1090 Adventure R and 1290 Super Adventure R, the 790 Adventure R has better holdup, keeping the bike higher in the stroke. It has larger-diameter valving as well. This makes for a massively plush initial stroke while still allowing the fork to take big hits without drama. This fork works better than the one on KTM’s EXC-F dual-sport.

KTM 790 Adventure
Action from the Apex suspension on the 790 Adventure is less impressive than the more performance-oriented Xplor suspension on the 790 Adventure R.Marco Campelli

Less impressive was the Apex suspension on the standard model. Just an hour on the 790 Adventure showed that the Apex suspension is plush and complaint, but the rear rebound damping did have a pogo-stick feel on feel bigger bumps. It was planted in dirt, but the rear-end kick was even more noticable. It’s capable, but not epic like the R.

After chasing Chris Birch through the Sahara for a fast, rock-strewn, and bump-filled day on the 790 Adventure R, I can absolutely say it sets a new standard in the adventure segment for dirt-worthiness. The low center of gravity, narrow chassis and great ergos, impressive engine, and unbelievable suspension will put all other ADV bikes on their heels in the dirt. KTM’s rally genes shine through in nearly every aspect; the dream is much closer to reality than ever before.

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

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

2019 KTM 790 Adventure Specifications

MSRP: $12,499
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: 43mm WP-USD fork fully adjustable; 8.7-in. (220mm) travel
REAR SUSPENSION: WP PDS shock; 8.7-in. (220mm) 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: 25.9°/4.2 in. (107.8mm)
WHEELBASE: 59.4 in. (1,509mm)
GROUND CLEARANCE: 9.2 in. (233mm)
SEAT HEIGHT: 33.5/32.7 in. (850/830mm)
FUEL CAPACITY: 5.3 gal. (20L)
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT: 417 lb. (189kg)
AVAILABILITY: Spring 2019
CONTACT: ktm.com