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WBW Motorcycle Preview: 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R

Me on the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R.

KTM’s New ADV Class Game Changer

I spent the last two days at the Calgary Motorcycle Show gawking longingly at what is slated to be my next motorcycle. I put a deposit down on one back in November without even knowing the price or having seen it in person. Am I completely nuts?

Crazy like a fox as it turns out!

When the confirmed production bike specs were released in November 2018 at EICMA along with welcomed news of 2019 availability the situation escalated into high gear at my local dealership. Everyone suddenly realized KTM had delivered on building a bike with owner input (demands?) being priority 1.

The number of deposits put down on the 790 adventure bikes in Calgary at one dealership tripled overnight even though only people who attended EICMA saw the thing in person!

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R.

Photo by KTM

What’s So Appealing?

Firstly the specs, second a rich catalog of features which combine in my mind to make this the motorcycle of the year for 2019. I’m fully aware what a bold prediction this is for a motorcycle I haven’t even heard running and have only sat on to this point. Bear in mind I’m saying this with an asterisk to be explained later.

The Numbers

  • 799cc Inline Twin LC8c DOHC engine
  • claimed 94 horsepower (70 kW) and 65 ft lbs torque (88 Nm)
  • 6-speed transmission
  • 34.6” seat height
  • 416 lbs dry weight
  • WP adjustable suspension with Progressive Dampening System (rear only), 9.4” travel
  • 10.4” of ground clearance
  • 5.4 gallon (20 Litre) gas tank yielding approximately 280 miles (450 km) range
  • 21” front wheel 18” rear

The impressive mixture of range, power, and suspension put this bike ahead of everything in the class on paper. Imagine what power it will make with a Rottweiler Performance intake system, Akrapovic exhaust, and some fuel mapping changes. Definitely more than 100 hp making this “smallish” bike a dynamo both on and off-road.

Features & Options

WP Monoshock adjustable rear suspension with PDS.

What I really love about this 790 is the available options that make it a premium touring bike capable of going virtually anywhere. Long days on asphalt, dirt, mud, rocks, or sand.

  • TFT display with Bluetooth connectivity
  • Cornering ABS, Traction control
  • Heated grips and seat (optional)
  • 4 ride modes
  • Quick shifter (optional)
  • Cruise control
  • GPS mount
  • Center stand (optional)
  • Metzeler Karoo III tires
  • KTM My Ride Navigation App compatible
  • Wrap around bark busters (hand guards)

Metzeler Karoo 3 tires.

Cable Clutch?

It’s got all the latest bells and whistles, but in contrast to this top tier tech, it comes with a cable clutch instead of a hydraulic one. Some people will love this while others condemn it.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R cockpit.

I’m indifferent. It has a nice light pull and I think the cable will work just fine.

Must Haves

The cruise control, center stand, quick shifter, heated grips, and Bluetooth/Navigation will be must-haves on my bike I know that much.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R display.

The TFT display is in a word – PERFECT! Clear and easy to read in any kind of light. It’s the same one you’ll find on the big 1290 Adventure bikes.

Other Notable Features

Kickstand Mounting

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R kickstand.KTM has mounted the side stand on every previous ADV bike to the side of the engine block. This has at times resulted in expensive incidents where the mounting bolts get pulled out and in some cases heavily damaging the engine block when bikes fell over and the end of the kickstand impacted on a rock or something else hard.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R kickstand.

Black Dog Cycle Works has sold many kickstand relocation kits (one of them to me for my 1190) as a result of KTM’s stubbornness for many years in order to prevent this from happening.

Until now that is. I was glad to see the kickstand bolted to the frame right beside the left footpeg. Finally!

Air Filter Access

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R seat removed.

Most impressive to me is the fact the air filter can be removed/installed without removing the gas tank on the 790 Adventure. There isn’t another adventure bike on the market that can say that, shockingly. I still can’t believe that’s the case.

*** Correction: I’ve just found out the BMW F850GS also has the same style of air filter used in this new KTM 790 Adventure R ***

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R air box.In the photo below you can see the airbox with the seat removed. At the back end under the passenger area, is a cover held on with two Phillips headed screws. Underneath that is the air filter element from what I can ascertain. The snorkel for drawing in the air is behind this cover. I like that location a lot and think it should allow for deep water crossing while helping minimize the amount of dirt and sand sucked in as well.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Air filter.

Photo by KISKA

Will It Seal Out Dust Properly?

How will this completely new airbox and filter do when ridden in the sand? That’s the million dollar question. Remember the problems KTM had with the leaking airboxes on the last few models of big ADV bikes. My 1190 had the engine overhauled and repaired under warranty at only 7000 kms (4300 miles) due to sand bypassing the air filter seal and dusting the engine. A wise owner wouldn’t chance it with this new 790 and immediately switch to a Uni filter or something even better I would think. Why risk it?

Low Center of Gravity

The BMW boxer style engine design has blessed the 1200 and 1250GS bikes with an above average off-road capability thanks to a net lower center of gravity. KTM definitely took note and in a brilliant engineering move designed the gas tank on the 790 to reach all the way down both sides of the bike and hold the bulk of its contents in the exact place the BMW engine cylinder heads reside.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Gas tank.

Photo by KISKA

How about this: the 790 adventure comes with the same horsepower from factory as the F850GS and Africa Twin and weighs at least 50 lbs less.
After mods it could potentially get close to what former versions of the BMW R1200GS had and weigh about 100 lbs less.

The new 2019 1250GS got an increase in power, but it also got heavier, unfortunately.

Consider what these stats mean for a moment and you’ll begin to appreciate just how good this 790 Adventure should be. Yeah… this 790 might end up being better all around than the current best selling adventure bike on the market!

Have a look at Chris Birch taking the prototype 790R for a rip in the dirt in this video. Note the squeaky brakes.

The Big Questions On Everyone’s Mind

Will the gas tank hold up to rough terrain riding?

Putting the gas tank down low in harm’s way on an aggressive adventure bike is a bit risky for obvious reasons. I rapped my knuckles on the tank to gauge how tough it is. It seems quite thick and sturdy from what I can tell. There are also plastic shields installed on the lower areas of the tank where it’s sure to hit the dirt in the event of a tip over or spill.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R skid plate and gas tank protectors.

These stock plastic shields aren’t nearly tough enough for my liking but should make a difference unless you really tag a sharp rock at breakneck speed. I’m sure crash bars are being developed as I write this by many different shops to help prevent that. The BMW 1200GS has managed to be wildly popular despite risking damaging the engine heads while off-road so I’m sure the 790 worries will dissipate similarly.

Cold Weather?

The only wonder for me on this tank plastic durability would be in cold weather when it may become brittle. I can’t answer that question until I actually try the bike in our ever-changing and unpredictable Canadian mountain climate.

What About This Brand New LC8c Engine?

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R

Here’s a legitimate area of concern for sure. This is KTM’s first foray into a parallel twin engine design and despite all the careful testing that’s gone into it no one really knows how it will last long term.

BMW’s new F850GS has an all-new engine in it too, but they have a long history of success with similar parallel twin engines in the legendary F800GS to draw on. Despite that experience, they’ve already issued two recalls on their new engine since October 2018.

That fact gives me some pause when thinking about the KTM LC8c. I’m definitely opting for an extended warranty on this purchase and I’ll be watching the 790 Duke Scalpel recall notices. The Scalpel, which is already available in dealerships has the same engine in it but is tuned differently.

Nitpicking From Me

Protective Measures

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R Frame.

Photo by KISKA

The engine is a stressed member of the frame on the 790 Adventure R. That’s a good thing from a performance point of view, but also makes me nervous about it withstanding some big bounces and jumps bound to be encountered while off-road riding it.

The bash plate on it from the factory is only about ⅛” thick aluminum as you can see in the photos and the exhaust is directly behind it with no frame tube in between to absorb a nasty hit.

The KTM optional bash plate I had on my 1190 Adventure was over ¼” thick in comparison which put my mind at ease. I’m surprised KTM didn’t put that much beefier one on this 790 R. I know I will to protect my engine and exhaust.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R skid plate.

Short People Woes

Too short to touch ground on the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R.

As you can see in the photo above I can’t reach the ground while sitting flat on the seat. The seat height is too tall for me at 34.6 inches and I come up about ¾ of an inch short on each side. My 27.5-inch inseam isn’t up to the challenge.

Luckily there’s plenty of padding (3 to 4 inches thick) in the seat which should give me the option of shaving it down 2 inches I think, making it useable. I refuse to adjust the suspension down and to lose out on the delicious 9.4 inches of travel so it’s going to be the seat that pays the price for my genetic shortcomings.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R

Photo of the 790 Adventure R by KTM

I could opt for the non-R model 790 Adventure (photo below) which has a lower seat height of 32.4 inches instead, but it “only” has 7.5 inches of travel on the suspension and the rear monoshock isn’t equipped with WP’s Progressive Dampening System.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure.

Photo of the 790 Adventure by KTM

Swap The Seat?

I couldn’t confirm it but there’s a strong rumor saying the shorter two-piece seat from the non-R bike can be installed on the Adventure R. It’s about 1 inch thinner and so I’ll likely confirm this with KTM and then further lower the padding to fit me. I know a really skilled seat customizer craftswoman who can help me do this justice luckily, but there may short person options that pop up from KTM PowerParts or maybe companies like Corbin or Sargent to consider too.

I’ll figure it out. Perhaps I’ll give in and go for the non-R model too once I see one of them. It actually doesn’t give up a whole lot to the 790R in reality other than the suspension travel, more street oriented tires and ground clearance. The tire-hugging front fender is really ugly to me though, while the dirt bike styled one on the R model just looks righteous to me.

To Sum It Up

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R.

The 2019 BMW F850GS has already received critical acclaim in every review both on and off road and I don’t doubt it’s deserved. Everything I’ve seen points to it as being terrific. My very knowledgeable friend Greg bought one and sings its praises so I trust it’s a winner.

Having looked closely at both of them in person I still give the edge to the KTM 790 Adventure R. The low slung, larger capacity gas tank, higher horsepower and torque, lighter weight (about 50 to 60 lbs lighter than the F850GS) and much better suspension tell me to give KTM my money instead of BMW. Which of the two new engines will come out on top? We’ll see.

No, I haven’t ridden either bike yet, but I’ll remedy that ASAP. I’m confident my prediction based on careful observation and research will stand up in the testing arena but how wide will the gap be? That remains to be seen.

2019 KTM 790 Adventure R

Supply Problems

There’s still one big problem to talk about, unfortunately: Supply vs Demand.

I was told by my dealer they expected these KTMs to arrive here in June or July, but the brand reps at the bike show told me there’s a huge gap in supply now that demand has exploded all over North America. Sadly, I’m not confident I’ll get my bike before November at this writing, but I’m going to attempt making contact with the KTM media relations department and beg, even cry a little, if I have to in order to make it happen this year. I know everyone wants to see this matchup.

Is it worth the wait? Yes, I think so, but it ruins my plans to do a head to head, long ride comparison with Greg’s F850GS this summer to share with you. Greg is planning to ride north to conquer the Dalton and Dempster highways, and I wanted to take the KTM down the same brutal roads to duke it out mano a mano to torture test these thoroughbred stallions from Germany and Austria.

All I can promise is to do my best to make it happen, my friends.

2019 KTM 790 Image Gallery

  1. Thanks for the great review! I have also ordered an R, but without every seeing it “in person”, just based on pics and specs. Now I am desperately waiting for 26.January when I will see it first time life at the Stockholm motorcycle show.

    I am not the longest guy either, but with a 29.5″ inseam it seams I have a slight advantage over you. Measuring the seat (distance seat top to swingarm pivot point) on your pics I don’t see any difference in seat height, maybe the non-R seat is a bit lower further back than the R seat. For sure several manufacturers will offer options.

    And actually I like the lower mudguard of the non-R better than the high one. I also see the advantage that the lower one will produce less dirt spray, a nice thing if you use the bike for long trips and vacations. I hardly ever end up in thick mud, so no danger that the mud blocks the front wheel. My dealer already promised me a nice discount on accessories, so I will get the lower mudguard, the quick shifter, small luggage platform and heated grips. Let’s hope for delivery in March! 😉 Greetings from Sweden!

    1. Kia-Uwe thank you and congratulations on what I think will be a great decision.

      The non R seat is 1 inch lower than the R seat is according to KTM.
      If you don’t ride off road in really challenging terrain or single track you may be happier with the non R model. I’m also mulling it over, but I want to take it some challenging places and I just like the look of the R better anyway. Haha.
      Maybe take a look if you can and compare. I still haven’t seen the non R in person. The people who have ridden both say there isn’t a huge difference. With that non R bike you should be tall enough to reach the ground comfortably without modifying the seat or bike as well. Something to consider.

      I’m glad to hear we have readers in Sweden! One of my dreams is to take this bike on the Trans Euro Trail and I believe it runs through Sweden, right?

      I believe these bikes will be available in Europe before North America so you may get yours before me as well. I envy you!

      1. It all ready beats the over priced BMW 850 without even riding it 50,+lbs lighter, 3500$ less, better suspension, longer range. Enough said. Enjoy your new bike. My 1200 gsa will be replaced by the ktm 790 soon.

  2. Jim,

    the fuel tank on your 1190 is plastic/composite. The fuel tanks on the legendary 950/990 are plastic/composite, and they extend way down low too and are only protected by little plastic covers.

    They are as tough as nails. Scratch that worry from your mind.

    1. Hi Travis!

      You’re right. The gas tank plastic on the other KTM adv bikes have all been very similar plastic and have held up well from what I’ve heard. I only dropped my 1190 once and it was off road with full panniers but I had crash bars which took the hit.

      I am with you on the 790 tank being tough too. I guess the fact it’s down right to the bottom of the engine makes me nervous because none of the other bikes have been that close to where the action is. I’m also having difficulty imagining how crash bars would be made to go around them effectively.
      The gas tank isn’t my main concern though, it’s the new and unproven engine/possibly leaky air box combination. Fingers crossed Katoom built both to last.

      Thanks for the comment!

      1. Jim, consider the large and Successful experience of the gas tanks with the 950 & 990 KTM. Even though they are Safari tanks with a capacity of 45 Lt.
        crash bars, I am concerned to. The only ones I saw in YouTube are Toratech.
        I am switching from a GS800 to a 790 R.
        They arrived to the delegar last Friday. They are awesome!!

    1. Hi Franck! From what I know these are tubed tires on the 790 adventure. I kind of hoped for tubeless myself. Ah well.

  3. I’m posting this wherever I find content about the new 790s.. I’d hate for people to not realize what they may be getting into.

    I was dead set on buying this. Then, I had to consider the following combination:
    1) Every KTM made with the 799cc LC8c will be made in China
    2) KTM has maybe the worst warranty in motorcycling. It covers engine parts inside the crankcase, plus the frame and swingarm — NOTHING ELSE

    If you want a firebreathing middleweight with advanced safety tech.. my advice is to scratch this off your list, and keep looking.

    1. Hi Bryan!

      I share your concern about the chinese made engines, but from what I understand the 2019 engines will be made in Austria, but any after that will as you say be Chinese made.

      To put it in perspective though, BMW’s new F850 engine is already made in China so this isn’t a new or necessarily bad thing. I’m choosing to remain optimistic about it until proven otherwise.

      The 1190 Adventure I owned was dusted and needed engine overhaul which KTM did free of charge. I’m not sure why you say they’re hard to deal with when it comes to engine warranty keeping that in mind, but I’m sure you have some personal experience to back up what you’re saying.

    2. In Canada, ……”lll. PARTS COVERED BY THE WARRANTY
      KTM North America, Inc. warrants to the customer that the motorcycle is defect-free both in terms of material and workmanship from the factory. Any part found to be defective during the motorcycles stated warranty period subject to the limitations of this warranty policy will be repaired or replaced free of charge.”
      Most of the goods you own are made in China, i wouldn’t be running for the hills yet. LOL

  4. Hi Jim – Great preview of the bike. Lots of great info.
    Do you think the sag is set correctly on the KTM?
    I believe, the total sag should be about 72 mm (30% of 240mm). I recently sat on a 690 Enduro at a dealer and the bike didn’t move at all and I weigh 195 with clothes on.
    Perhaps show bikes are set up stiff to handle the multitudes that are getting on and off and won’t be quite as bad once set up. Or maybe I’m delusional because I’m short too and want it to fit me without costly changes. Ha Cheers

    1. Hi Dale!

      Thanks for the feedback, I’m very excited about the potential of this bike. I agree with you about the tallness of the bike being a bit unnerving too.
      I bounced on the suspension to see how it would respond and I did find it slightly stiff for my 175 lbs, but I tend to prefer a bit stiff for the on road portion.
      I’m not a suspension expert to any degree I freely admit, but I’ve heard other people complain about how tricky these WP suspensions are to set up “correctly”. I’m willing to try mine out when I get it with the factory settings before I try messing around with it.

  5. While I like the easy air filter access, it seems having the air intake in the tail means it will always get the dustiest air.
    As far as protecting the tank, maybe delrin sliders would be a good way to go. Cheers

    1. The proximity to the rear wheel is a bit of a concern, but i think the dust will tend to fly behind where the air gets sucked in (I hope!).

      My friend’s Triumph Tiger drew air from near the rear wheel as well and his filter was always plugged as a result. Ultimately I plan on going with the Rottweiler intake anyway which I believe will radically change how and where the bike breathes from. We shall see.

  6. Great article and nice to see Canadian content. I myself live in Vancouver and am seriously considering the same bike. My dilemma is over which bike to get? I feel they way a “R” could be ridden only by a handful of people out there that could push it too its full potential and if your like me having feet down in rough conditions is a all to common event, the “S” makes more sense. But, I’m 6′ 1″ and 220 lbs should i have the extra suspension? and the extra goodies the R has for $1100 more. Hmmmmm

    1. I’d get the R version simply for the adjustable suspension. You might not be able to get your ideal suspension for much less than $1100. Cheers

      1. Dale I like the way you think. Better to have it and not want it than to want it and not have it?


    2. Hi Paul!

      I think you’re tall enough to reach comfortably on the R model provided you don’t have an usually short inseam. To me the R is the way to go even if you never push the bike off road because you get more ride modes and the PDS suspension. Less linkage hanging down from the swingarm as a result and the option to take the bike nearly anywhere.
      I just prefer the look of the R model as well, but if you plan to keep things on road or just gravel, maybe the non R is for you. The best part is you really can’t go wrong with either choice from what I can tell.

      Ride reviews are starting to roll in from Europe and they’re only positive from what I’ve seen so far. Interestingly it’s not media types that are getting first rides on the 790 Adventure bikes, it’s just regular people and aftermarket builders. Weird, eh?!

      On another note, I’m toying with the idea of being in Vancouver for a few days testing helmets between March 22 and 29th. I wasn’t expecting them to arrive until Spring, but they’re in my hands now and the weather here isn’t cooperating at all. Do you think the weather there will allow for some riding around then?

  7. Hi Jim
    Weeellll, you want to know about the weather do ya. Its currently snowing, and was snowing last week (sea level up) with accumulations of up to 12 inches in some areas (most) It’s been nothing short of bizarre conditions. January was really mild, typically 3 to 8 degrees and no snow or rain to speak of. December wasn’t all that bad either. So, whats happening for late March is anybodies guess? Normally and uncharacteristically we’ve been getting a sharper warming trend after there has been cold spell for short periods of time. Most likely the end of March it will be raining. Ugh. You could save yourself a trip and stand in the shower with your new helmets on???? Seriously, most of the off road areas will be clear at lower elevations by that time. Where you thinking of going? Your best bet is to pick a ride at lower elevation and closer to the coastal areas.
    Back too the bike. I’ve been calling around to try and get my hands on one but they seem to be sold out on the first run everywhere. And there not even saying when that first run is coming exactly. Hijack the truck before arrival any one? I’ll help!

    1. I see that people are already getting theirs over in Europe.
      I guess we could go buy one there and bring it back here?


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