The new KTM 950 Adventure is the first bike from KTM to use their new LC8 V-twin motor and, well ... the bike's fugly!
Sorry, that’s not a good opening line, but even though many other journalists have praised the “futuristic styling” – including our own Pascal Anctil – and even in full awareness that beauty is subjective, I can’t get over just how ugly this bike is. It’s as if it was sat there in the plastic curing room, minding its own business when, all of a sudden, someone burst in a shouted “boo”. The shocked KTM unfortunately set like that … or the wind changed, or something.
Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let me proceed to heap praise on KTM’s latest offering …
If you can get over – or indeed, appreciate – the slabby looks, the KTM rewards you with its ability to not just work well in the dirt, but on the road as well. Although it went through the ‘village bicycle’ routine with just about all the CMG staff (and a few besides), I did manage to get a couple of days with it and the long term BMW R1200GS (comparo to follow in the GS wrap-up article), accompanied by Mr. Seck and Mr. Tate.
The plan was to do a day’s ride around north-eastern Ontario – on paved and gravel roads – the dirt bit coming from CMG-racer Pascal Anctil (See Rally-Connex article). Then it’s off to Shannonville for a track try-out, with other general comments coming from the rest of the staffers that took it for a spin over the two-week lending period.
THE PIG’S GRUNT
The 75-degree, liquid-cooled, 942cc, ultra-compact v-twin is one of many proposed variants by KTM (the 999cc Super Duke is the next one) and it’s marvelous!
Somewhat surprising for a twin, it does need to be wound up a bit in order to get things going. Although it’ll pull from 2000rpm, it’s not really pulling hard till it hits the 3,500 mark. From there it’s a relatively linear and strong flow (with a slight surge at 6,000) all the way to the 10,000 cut-out – which I’d hit often, as it’s easy to get carried away with this free-revving motor.
The lack of off-idle pull means that it’s also an easy bike to stall out until you realize that it’s not you for once, and raise the revs/slip the clutch accordingly. Although we’re not sure exactly why this would be, one tester pondered that it could be the lack of any amount of flywheel mass – supported by the rate at which the motor wound itself up, almost like a small four than a twin.
Despite balancer shafts, there is a vibey patch between 5 and 6 thou, and even though it lessens post 6, it’s still there. Apparently it’s something to do with getting a smooth power delivery down-low for off-road riding, with a wilder application up high for the road. Sounds good to me anyway. Thankfully top gear cruising at 100km/h is a lowly, vibe-free 3,500rpm. Although on the twisty and fast paced roads the vibes weren't too noticeable, they could be an issue on a longer ride … oh, and then there's that seat, but more on that later.
The gearbox has a smooth mechanical action to it with no missed shifts (note - see “Reliability Woes” further down). However, although the clutch is light it does need to be pulled in to the bar in order to disengage fully and allow for a smooth gear change.
Surprisingly, the motor is fed by a pair of carbs (we’d expect fuel injection on a newer model like this), although it proved to work very well if allowed a couple of minutes of choke at start-up.
But despite it’s few shortcomings the motor is what a v-twin should be about – character! Its lumpy power delivery adds character and makes pulling out of corners hard on the gas an addictive necessity. Combine that with a throaty, gruff growl from its two raised pipes and you have a mechanical soul of a bike (that’s a good thing btw).
THE BODY OF A GOD
Okay, let me start by stating the obvious. It’s a fookin’ tall bike. The seat height is 880mm, and although I had no trouble flat-footing, anyone less than 6 foot is going to be stretching. But as long as you can get a tip-toe on the ground, the Adventure’s superb balance makes its height disappear once going.
The balance speaks volumes of KTM’s dirt heritage and it makes the Adventure not only a surprisingly usable bike on the road, but a gem when it comes to gravel, where feeling confident about the bike is 75% of the equation.
The riding position is comfortable and roomy. You can stand up for the dirt, slide forward for supermoto style cornering, or sit back for an easy-rider cruise. The small screen does a stellar job at keeping the wind off the rider too. Although we didn’t have a windy day when on the road, I do wonder if that huge slab side would make it vulnerable to side winds.
However, the seat is rock hard. And I mean ROCK HARD! It’s a bit like riding on a plank (only without the splinters). But, just when you think you’re in for a ride only the S&M enthusiast would enjoy, it doesn’t seem to get any worse. It’s just slightly uncomfortable all the time. Which is workable.
High quality and fully adjustable WP suspension graces both the front and rear and although a bit soft at the front, it’s well damped and absorbed most any irregularity and gave ample feedback to the pilot. The rear's preload can be adjusted via a handy knob that retracts away when not in use.
The Pirelli Scorpion tires showed amazing all-roundability, behaving well on gravel and the track. I couldn’t believe how far I could crank that thing over without nary a squeak. And yes, that is a 21 inch front wheel. Talking of which, combined with an 18 inch rear, tire selection will be limited, although as long as the Scorpions continue to be made, there’s nothing to worry about.
Brakes are supplied by Brembo with twin 300mm discs up front that have a goodly amount of power (easy to get lurid stoppies), although a sharp heave on the lever will cause the front end to dive alarmingly.
There are actually two tanks (with separate fillers), giving a total capacity of 22 litres. Both tanks drop down at the front all the way to the motor’s crankcase, and although this helps keep the C of G down low and offer the rider some extra wind protection, they do seem somewhat exposed to crash damage – as Mr. Seck so courageously showed by crashing it into a big hole.
During our hard usage we got a fuel consumption of 6.52L/100Km (36.4 mp(US)g), that will provide a range of 338 Km. However, Mr. Tate managed a more respectable 6.24L/100Km while using the KTM for commuting, giving a range of 353 Km ... although the seat may promote some stops before then.
Overall weight is a very respectable 198Kg (dry) although it tends to feel quite a lot lighter than that. Oh, and there are hard bags available from KTM as well, albethem (plural of albeit in CMG world) a tad ugly too.
QUALITY IN THE DETAILS
Although I have a few issues with the overall styling of KTM’s, there’s no doubting the level of quality of componentry used. It all looks expensive – Renthal bars, twin fuel tanks, WP suspension and Brembo brakes (with braided hoses no less).
The instrument cluster is cool and easy to read (although Pascal found it hard to work with a pair of gloves on) with an analogue tach and LCD speedo.
IN THE DIRT
By Pascal Anctil
One of the best elements for the dirt is the bike’s great balance – shows that KTM is an off-road company first. The harder you pushed it, the more in its element it felt. That’s quite impressive for such a big bike.
Momentum is almost always your friend off-road, but that notion never hits home as much as after riding the big Katoom. The bike feels more natural at speed, the suspension works better and you soon forget you are riding way over your head with a close to 200Kg machine.
It is a Dakar bike, it likes fast sections but it will tolerate slow trial like conditions. Just remember you are riding on a giraffe. It even crashes well – as per Mr. Seck’s attempt at a motorcycle-assisted suicide.
Motocross position is friendly, as in sitting on the gas caps and holding the bike with your knees (albeit wide) and elbows out. Easy to load up the front wheel when needed, or unload it with a pull of the bars and a little bit a gas. There’s also very good feedback between the bars and whatever is happening on the ground.
However, what’s with the cheap-ass inner tubes? We had two flats in one day! Heavy-duty tubes would be the first thing I'd do. And that tool kit is a shame, especially when compared to the R1200GS’s.
I think the owner’s manual actually tells you what kind of customer KTM aimed their bike for, consisting of a complete factory manual for you to be able to rebuild the motor in the middle of Mali or in the comfort of your own garage.
ON THE TRACK
Back over to Editor 'arris
During our time with the KTM we had the happy coincidence of being in the vicinity of Shannonville racetrack while Wolf BMW were holding their Advanced Rider Training (ART) school. Wolf BMW owner, Ian McQueen, welcomed us to attend and so we had the interesting opportunity to see just how flexible the KTM really was.
Wow! Okay, I can say a bit more than that. After a few laps of getting used to what the KTM could do, I found my speed and lean angles get more extreme than I’d have ever envisaged. I had to keep on reminding myself that this was a dual-sport type bike and not a track bike.
The motor really comes into its own on the track, thanks to its quick-revving nature and instant pull. The short-shifting box makes it easy to always keep in the power and the taught chassis makes it predictable in corners – encouraging unfeasible lean angles. Hey, and this was with the standard dual-sport tires.
Apart from adding to CMG’s overall mad reputation from the on looking Wolf BMW track participants, the 950 never felt like it was being pushed outside its comfort zone, and would rarely touch anything down (unlike the BMW 1200GS).
KTM must have realized this, with the recent announcement of their 950 Supermoto – essentially an Adventure with less plastic, radially mounted front calipers and 17-inch cast wheels! Oh dear, I just popped a tent.
Bring it on … but don’t be afraid to take your bog-standard Adventure to the track either and embarrass some of the sport bikes out there.
I’ve read a few tests on this bike in other media and have not found any questions regarding the Adventures reliability, however we had two bikes during our test time, both with problems.
Bike number one’s gearbox crapped out after 3,500Km (admittedly of journo abuse), failing to go into sixth gear and hitting a myriad of false neutrals inbetween. Pascal experienced this – trying to put it in 6th, he’d get a false neutral, only for the gear lever to come back with a vengeance and engage 5th again! At other times it would grind into 6th, but then refuse to come back out again without a heavy boot.
The front brake also got very spongy and then the right fork seal sprang a leak. To top it all, the thing would overheat when pushed hard – puking out coolant from the overflow. There was no alternative but to take it back and ask for a replacement.
Thankfully all the issues were solved on bike number two except for the overheating/coolant puking! To have this happen on both bikes has to be more than coincidence, and to have the fan run through the ignition switch (turns off with the motor, even if really hot still) is a tad of an oversight.
A fair question that Pascal raised after our experience was how well would the KTM fare after a few years of abuse? We have no way of answering that other than mention that there is a 12 month/12000 mile warranty, so you'll be covered for the first year at least. I also find it odd that I haven't read of any similar problems in other mags, so we could just have been very unlucky.
Hopefully this is just a limited-to-us problem as the Adventure has the potential to be a class leader, such is its allroundability and grin-inducing character. The motor's a real gem too, and I look forward to having a go on the other models using the same mill in the near future.
Especially that Supermotard.
NEED MORE HEIGHT? CONSIDER THE S …
880mm seat height not enough for you? Then consider the Adventure S, which comes with an additional 35mm of suspension travel. That has the bonus of 316mm of ground clearance, but you may also need a ladder to climb aboard the 915mm high seat!
Should be available in limited quantities in the spring of 2005.
Wolf BMW – for letting us take the bikes on the track at one of their ART school days.