Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

KTM 990 Adventure

Wed, April 13th, 2011

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2007-2011 KTM 990 Adventure
KTM has constantly refined its big V-twin every year since the first 950 Adventure came out in 2003 and produced an alphabet soup of slightly different versions each year—standard, R, S, and this year, Dakar. In current tune it puts out great power (100+ HP in any version), is very tractable over a wide range of speeds and riding conditions, and thanks to nicely calibrated fuel injection, it's intuitive and flexible. Production quality is quirky: certain examples were plagued by droning harmonic vibration, others off the same line were much smoother. A 2009 crank upgrade supposedly fixed the problem.
Graded on a curve because of its extreme versatility. Surprisingly easy and predictable in most situations up to about 7/10ths, as long as you understand the compromise it offers: off-road it's an extremely large, top-heavy dirt bike and on pavement it has squirmy tires and too much suspension travel. You won't worry about ground clearance anywhere, and brakes are stronger than any dual-sport tire's grip.
The Adventure is a superior performing bike, and I understand the functional advantages behind why it looks the way it does. But that doesn't change the fact that it's arguably the ugliest bike currently in production. The front-heavy, too-vertical fairing/windshield is the biggest eyesore. What is supposed to be Dakar-inspired coolness just ends up looking like some shade-tree mechanic fashioned it out of plywood sheets. KTM's penchant for goofy graphics doesn't help.
It's well-made by European standards, which means fit and finish is better than Japan's shabbiest examples, but there are more internal mechanical woes. Thankfully, that gastly bodywork is at least very rugged.
If you have enough inseam to deal with the Adventure's sky-high ergonomics (and that's a big if), you can do nearly anything with one. Most of the bike's many unusual quirks (such as twin fuel tanks, for example) don't make it harder to live with.
I know I'm supposed to like the 990 Adventure because it's such an outstanding performer, but I just can't get beyond its unfortunate appearance.
The KTM 990 Adventure is best described as having 'a great personality.' Though that it literally true, it is (just as with people) a euphemism for having a very homely mug.