KTM 690 Enduro R: Lean, mean, do-it-all machine

Photo: Zac Kurylyk

The world of dual sport motorcycles is always a compromise between street performance and off-road capability. The name of this category implies that, but it doesn’t stop motorcyclists from wanting more, a bike with no corners cut.

That’s an impossible dream, but the KTM 690 Enduro R ($13,499 MSRP) gets a lot closer than any Japanese bike—its only real competition comes from in-house, and it’s hardly a fair fight.

I had a KTM 690 Enduro R for a month this summer, with opportunity to take it on a wide range of terrain all over Atlantic Canada. Here’s what I found out about the bike:

Look at all that wiring and plumbing around the engine. The LC4 engine is much more high-tech than other thumpers, but it pays off, with more than 70 hp on tap. Photo: Sebas Romero/KTM

Engine

I know, you’re probably tired of hearing me say this, but KTM’s liquid-cooled LC4 single-cylinder engine is truly the pinnacle of thumperdom.

With about 74 ponies on tap, it makes more power than any other production single, ever. It’s just a titch behind the legendary race-only Ducati Supermono racer, which made 75 hp. And while the Supermono was rated for 37.5 lb-ft of torque, the LC4 engine makes a massive 54 lb-ft of torque. Hoo-rah!

How does KTM get so much power out of the LC4, when the Japanese competition, makes roughly half that power out of its 650 thumpers?

The LC4 does have a displacement advantage, with 693cc displacement, but more importantly, it benefits from years of development. The first-gen LC4 engine came out in 1987, with 553cc capacity. Since then, it’s grown bigger and a lot more refined, with finger-follower intake valve actuation, a resonator chamber at the exhaust to smooth the engine out, and two counterbalancers–one in the head, the other at the crank. Of course, it’s fuel-injected, with ride-by-wire throttle and two engine modes (off-road and street).

Then, add a slip/assist clutch and a bi-directional quickshifter (allowing clutchless shifting either up or down through the gearbox), and you’ve got a machine that’s not just pleasantly enjoyable to ride on pavement or dirt—it’s an absolute rocket ship, begging to be flogged as soon as you get on board.

Chassis

The frame itself is a chromoly steel trellis arrangement, painted in a lovely orange hue. The fork and shock come from WP, which is itself a subsidiary of KTM. Unlike KTM’s pure trail bikes, which use linkgage-free shocks with progressive internal damping, the 690 Enduro uses a linkage arrangement. This theoretically limits ground clearance, but probably offers a smoother ride. There is a reason that most manufacturers use this arrangement, after all …

Really, there’s plenty of ground clearance anyway, at 270 mm; I never dragged the skid plate, even with the bike loaded down on some pretty rocky, hilly trails. Seat height is sky-high, at 910 mm, but that’s the price you pay for improved off-road capability. Speaking of that seat, it’s positioned “on top” of the motorcycle, with less coverage along the sides at the front of the bike, which is the Husqvarna 701’s configuration.

Floating Brembo brake calipers come standard, with two-piston setup in front, mated to a 300 mm disc. In back, there’s a single-piston caliper and a 240 mm disc. Both front and rear brakes are connected to ABS, which can be switched off. This bike has full ABS, no ABS, or Supermoto ABS (no rear ABS, but front ABS is on) modes.

Finally, like the 701, the 690 has its gas tank doing double duty—it’s also the rear subframe, and that means the fuel filler cap is behind the seat. This slightly complicates gas stops, if you’ve got luggage strapped on behind you, but it wasn’t too bad. The 690 has about a half-gallon more fuel on board than the 701, and generally has a more rear-heavy weight bias.

Other details

  • Henry Ford said you could buy the Model T (or was it the Model A?) in any colour you wanted, as long as that colour was black. With KTM, orange is the new black, and that’s the only paint option for this season. Some will like it (I do), others will hate it and go for the trendier paint and billet fittings of the Husqvarna 701.
  • I’ve said this before—considering the price tag of these machines, the gauges are extremely, uh, “non-expensive” looking. However, these are enduro bikes, not full adventure bikes, and they have no need of nor space for a giant TFT screen. The button interface for the electronics is fairly simple and switching the options on/off is not difficult.
  • My bike came with official factory accessory handguards, skid plate and soft saddlebags pre-installed. I was a big fan of the handguards, and didn’t really test the skid plate. The soft bags were OK, once I rigged up an exhaust guard. I added a Perun Moto rack and Adventure Spec mini-fairing, and would highly recommend both of these farkles, if you’re planning on doing long distances like I did.
  • The headlight was not really what I’d expect on a bike that costs this much money, especially when there are LED options on the aftermarket that could do a much better job. This is perhaps the first thing I’d recommend KTM change on the next-gen model. It would be a cheap upgrade to a proper setup, and riders would benefit greatly.
Here’s what the bike looks like, stripped down and without luggage. While it’s big for trail duty, it’s still far more capable than anything else in the 650 class, even the not-sold-in-Canada-now Honda XR650L. Photo: KTM

The riding experience

I loved riding the KTM 690 Enduro R. The rev-happy engine, with its gobs of torque always ready when needed, made this bike a thrilling mount for spirited backroad rides, especially when you’re zapping through the gearbox with the aid of the quickshifter. The suspension was perfectly planted on wide-open logging road runs, and when I was in tighter stuff, the bike’s low weight and balanced chassis made it much easier than a full-sized ADV—and yet, like a full-sized adventure bike, I was able to travel at a pretty decent clip on the 690. I took tighter two-laners when possible, but when forced out to the highway, the 690 is a much more competent machine than Japanese 650s with less muscle. The extra torque is most welcome.

As with the 701 Enduro last summer, I did spend a lot of time wishing I could get my hands on a version of this machine with a 19-inch front wheel, biased towards backroad riding. I do think this bike’s on-demand torque delivery combined with its electronic safety package (which can be all pretty much deactivated, if you wish) make it a perfect machine for ripping up those narrow, forgotten country roads that Canada is so full of. You’ve got great brakes, if you need ’em; ABS, traction control, and did I mention that addictive snap every time you open the throttle? It’s a bike that constantly begs to go faster, as you flog it.

SLightly more fuel capacity might be nice, but I wouldn’t make the rear tank any larger. In standard form with a full tank, I found the bike’s front end would get a little wiggly when ridden behind a tractor-trailer. The rear-bias to the weight was more evident when wind turbulence was battering the front fender about. When I added luggage, it was more unpleasant, but I can hardly blame KTM for that, as this bike was not designed with touring in mind.

When you’re riding in sloppy weather, it’s nice to have ABS and traction control to help. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

I managed to get as high as 250 kilometers from the 13.5-liter tank anyway, as long as I was carefully watching my riding. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the economical fuel consumption, and although I generally ran premium gas, I noted that nowhere on the bike told me I needed to—and once or twice, stuck in a rural gas stop with no other choice, I filled up on regular with no apparent ill effects. Your mileage may vary on that one…

I will say that, as far as offroading goes, this machine is made to be ridden fast. If you’re like me, a dawdler in the dirt, then you may find the tight suspension actually makes it hard to slowly putt-putt your way through tough terrain. If I’d had more opportunity, I might have messed with the suspension clickers a bit, but generally, most of my riding was a mixture of smooth and rough forestry roads, and I felt the 690 was really at home here, especially with someone of my talent level behind the bars. Practice makes perfect, though—if you’re not comfortable flogging this thing off-road, invest in some training and add some protection to the bike, and you’ll get there.

Even for an off-road numpty like myself, the 690 is mega fun on unpaved surfaces like these clay Heritage Roads on PEI. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Final thoughts

Years ago, I remember reading some moto-mag (probably Cycle World) reviewing one of the big-bore Honda dual sports (probably the XL600R). In that write-up, the authors (probably David Edwards and/or Jimmy Lewis) said that even though that machine wasn’t as fast as a big streetbike, and the brakes weren’t as good, the power-to-weight ratio made it an very fun ride on pavement.

Thirty-plus years later, that’s even more true of the 690 platform, which has twice the horsepower of those old thumpers, and brakes and onboard tech that were unimagineable back in the 1980s. As I said in the opening, the 690 Enduro is the ideal dual sport for someone who wants minimal compromise. There are still trade-offs, but if you want a machine that’s major fun on the street and still lightweight and competent off-pavement, the only competition is KTM’s in-house cousins, the Husqvarna 701 Enduro and the not-in-Canada-yet GasGas ES700.

Find more details at KTM.com.

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