Review: 2021 KTM 890 Adventure

Photo: Laura Deschenes

Heading into the KTM 790 Adventure launch back in 2019, I’d witnessed months, nay years, of hype, but still wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would the bike live up to advance billing, or would it ultimately prove an unsophisticated disappointment?

After a couple of days of tackling the twisties and riding the desert, I was convinced KTM nailed it. So, when KTM unveiled the 890 Adventure last fall, I wondered: Just what could they do to make this bike better? In early June, I picked up a test bike. Here’s what I found out:

The 790 was a great backroad bike, but the 890 is a fantastic highway bike too, thanks to added horsepower. Photo: Laura Deschenes

The engine is the biggest improvement

The LC8c DOHC parallel twin engine sees an increase in bore, stroke, and compression ratio. There are new, lighter pistons, new cam profiles, new balancer shafts, and new con rods. The crankshaft has 20 percent more mass, the fuel injectors are reconfigured, and KTM beefed up the slipper clutch. There’s a new oil cooler, too.

Although the engine now has 13.5:1 compression, KTM also built in an anti-knock system, allowing riders to use low-octane gas when they’re out in the boonies and starved for fuel options. 

The end result: The updated 889 cc engine now makes 105 hp, and 73 lb-ft of torque (the previous 790 engine made 94 hp, and 65 lb-ft of torque). And, it’s a whole lot of fun.

You control the bike’s electronics through the left handlebar buttons and the TFT screen. You can use the myKTM app for things like GPS, integrating your smartphone with the TFT as well. Photo: KTM

The 790 had great backroad usability, and was good off-road, too, with a broad powerband. The new engine has more jam everywhere—especially welcome when you’re on the highway. If you’ve added the quickshifter (an optional upgrade), you can bang-bang-bang your way through the gears clutch-free, and hit max speed with minimal effort. Fun, fun, fun, ’til the Mounties take your license awayyyyyy, as the Beach Boys sang. Or something like that.

Although the bike has plenty of low-end torque, there’s all sorts of gratification when you’re flogging this engine at high rpm, and that’s where the quickshifter works best (quickshifter downshifts are a bit clunky, especially at low rpm, so I barely ever ran it in that direction).

KTM also sells this bike in its standard orange paint job. Note that the gas tank wraps around the engine, just like the 790 model. Photo: KTM

The 890 has three riding modes as standard (Road, Rain, and Off-road, with an optional Rally mode). Switching to Off-road mode is easy–just use the buttons on the left handlebar to navigate the simple, intuitive TFT screen menu, on the fly. Off-road mode will make power delivery more dirt-friendly, and also reduces the traction control system’s interference.

Rally mode allows even greater control over the bike’s throttle input (you can select between Rain, Off-road, or Road engine maps) and stability control (you can also select from nine pre-set levels of traction control). This add-on is included with the Tech Pack, along with cruise control, quickshifter and Motor Slip Regulation. You can use Rally mode to tame the 890 down, or drastically dial back the safety electronics. It’s a welcome feature for both experienced and inexperienced riders, and KTM’s smart to allow this level of adjustability for its electro-trickery.

The 890 Adventure is pretty good on easy gravel, although you’ll start sliding around with the stock tires once you hit mud. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Taking a step back and looking at the big picture, KTM’s done well here. The revised counter balancers keep the engine basically vibe-free, making it a great all-day ride. It happily runs at low-rpm around-town speeds, or a peaceful gravel-road pace. Yet, when you pull out to pass, the parallel twin wakes up, and you can thrash it through the gears in no time at all. It’s the perfect engine for real-world riding, and the many little details (improvements to throttle-by-wire, the shifter, and shorter shift lever stroke) are almost unnoticeable—until you’ve been riding a while and realize there’s nothing to complain about.

The chassis changes are less noticeable

KTM also updated the brakes and suspension, but those changes are less noticeable, at least to me. I don’t recall the brakes particularly standing out on the previous model, and it’s the same here. At speed, they will haul the bike down nicely, and you’ve got leaning ABS to assist you (switchable to off-road ABS for dirt riding, much less intrusive). That adds some confidence, and braking performance is certainly improved over the sketchy, spongy undersized single discs on the 650 thumper dual-sports of old.

KTM is billing the base model 890 Adventure as a travel bike, and I think that’s where it works best. It’s the middleweight tourer the moto industry has ignored for decades. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

What about the changes to the WP Apex forks and shock? KTM doesn’t go into much detail here, and they seem pretty similar to the previous setup, with the non-adjustable forks maybe offering slightly less feel on-pavement, if you’re flying around bumpy corners (it’s not safe, kids, don’t do that). The linkage-free shock (KTM loves its progressive damping designs) keeps everything in line, though, and I had no real issues with either front or back suspenders at sensible speeds on pavement or dirt. This is surprisingly easy-to-ride, for an adventure bike that’s almost 1,000 cc.

The reality is, KTM builds this bike for a set-it-and-forget-it customer, and the stock suspension will work well for that crowd. If you’re the fussy, fidgety kind, the type of person who can’t keep your hand off your clickers, then you can go buy the 890 Adventure R, or the 890 Adventure Rally.

Those Touratech bags are options. I’d expect many riders to choose soft bags, if they want to save money or off-road more. There will no doubt be many other hard luggage options as well. Photo: Laura Deschenes

The 890 comes with Avon’s AV54 Trailrider tires, which are definitely street-oriented, only aimed at sensible off-road speeds. A 21-inch front wheel, with 18-inch rear, is standard. These wheel hubs are anodized for 2021, not painted, but this is hardly a feature most riders will notice while in the saddle.

Other features

My tester came with Touratech hard luggage. Alas, thanks to COVID-19, I wasn’t able to just load the panniers and ride up to Cape Breton, but I will say these hard bags are a step above the cheap plastic bags that so many Euro manufacturers foist upon their unwary customers. If I wanted to ride open gravel roads or pavement, these would be a welcome (albeit expensive) upgrade.

Dual disc brakes updated for 2021, although I think the old ones were just fine. The 890 comes with leaning ABS as standard. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

That is where KTM sees this bike, by the way. Early marketeering called it “The ultimate asphalt and gravel traveler,” and I agree. For the kind of back road and gravel road riding that most adventure bikers are doing, the 890 would work nicely. Heated grips, the optional cruise control upgrade, and an adjustable windshield are all very touring-friendly. Add in a two-way adjustable seat (with plenty of room for sliding forward for control or backward for comfort) and easily-adjustable hand controls, and you’ve got a recipe for day-long comfort. The stock fuel tank is good for roughly 350-km range, and as it’s mounted low and wrapped around the engine, just like the 790, your handling doesn’t instantly go to crap once you’ve refueled the bike.

Bottom line

The KTM 890 Adventure is one of the most versatile motorcycles on the market. It handles urban, rural, highway, and off-road riding equally well. At $14,099 MSRP, I think it’s extremely competitively priced, and I would be surprised if the 890 series wasn’t the top ADV seller in KTM’s lineup this year, maybe the next few years.

2 COMMENTS

  1. God that’s an ugly motorcycle, though.
    At least in orange or white it has a bit of pizazz, but in black/grey it is seriously underwhelming.
    Great bike to ride by all accounts, though.

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