It’s tough, following up a popular hit. Just ask Neil Young how 1974’s On The Beach was received, after Harvest blew the doors off country-rock in 1972. Or what about Tusk, Fleetwood Mac’s experimentally-inclined 1979 follow-up album to their 1977 smash hit Rumours? People wanted the music to get better and better and better, and they were disappointed with the result.
So what about KTM? Ever since it debuted the 790 parallel twin platform, the machines based around it have been sales floor successes, the kind of bikes journos go buy for themselves after the test. Both the 790 Duke and 790 Adventure series had excellent pricing, sensible safety electronics, useful power, and sharp handling. In fall of 2020, when we saw the KTM 890 Adventure series announced I wondered: Would KTM’s overhaul make the bike better, or would it all fall apart?
After a couple of weeks aboard the base model 890 Adventure, I think KTM’s done something difficult: It’s made a great bike even better, without messing up any of the formula.
KTM made a few big changes to this bike, and a few small ones. The name is a hint towards the biggest update—the engine sees bore and stroke increased to 90.7 mm/68.8 mm., raising displacement to 889 cc. The DOHC parallel twin gets lighter pistons, revised cam profiles, and new con rods. KTM hiked compression to 13.5:1, as well.
All these changes mean horsepower rises from 94 horsepower in the 790 engine to 105 horsepower in the 890, and peak torque rises from 65 pound-feet to 73 pound-feet.
For some readers, those numbers might raise alarm bells. Did KTM turn this into a high-output engine that’s optimized for street riding? The 890 has noticeably more zip on the street, yeah. Around town, not really noteworthy, but on the highway, it’s smooth and powerful. KTM also revised the counterbalancer, meaning you can ride this bike all day without noticing objectionable vibration. It’s got the power for all-day touring, too, and yet it doesn’t give up anything at the bottom end.
KTM didn’t forget the realities of adventure riding; the engineers also added 20 percent more rotating mass to the crankshaft, to improve offroad controllability. They also built a new anti-knock system into the engine, so riders aren’t restricted to high-octane fuel—that might be hard to find in the backwoods of Alaska.
KTM also updated the clutch and gearbox, making for slicker shifting, and once again, there’s an optional quickshifter (standard on the Adventure R and Adventure Rally models).
My bike came with the quickshifter included in the add-on Tech Pack ($659.99 for Canadians like myself—also includes Motor Slip Regulation, cruise control, and Rally Mode).
Like the 790, the 890’s quickshifter seems a bit lumpy on clutchless downshifts, but maybe I just wasn’t using it aggressively enough. On high-energy acceleration, though, that quickshifter is great fun. Snap your way through the gears while holding the throttle in the rev range sweet spot, and bam, all that slow traffic is just a bad memory in your rearview mirrors. The quickshifter makes this bike feel faster than it really is.
Despite the added power, it’s still perfectly manageable offroad. You can put the bike into the Offroad ride mode to make it better in the dirt (Street and Rain modes also come standard). If you’ve ponied up for optional Rally Mode, you have even more control.
Essentially, Rally Mode allows you to select from the throttle input of Offroad, Street or Rain modes, and also select the level of traction control interference. There are nine pre-set levels to choose from; noobs can keep the traction control system buttoned-down and safe, hoons can let loose and set the system for max rear wheel spin.
So, job well done, KTM. You’ve taken an engine and made it lots more fun on the street, with ability to even tinker with the safety systems to have more fun.
Along with the big-bored engine, the 890 Adventure gets other upgrades. The brakes are reworked “for added control.” ABS and traction control have also been updated. There’s a new WP Apex shock with adjustable rebound and preload settings. The WP Apex forks remain non-adjustable.
Most of these changes are not immediately noticeable when you get on the bike. The brakes just work. The suspension just works. It’s a motorcycle that has no bad habits. It’s a motorcycle that’s comfortable to ride, and if you don’t like the ergos, just change them. The handlebars and controls are adjustable, and the stock seat has two height settings (from 33.5 inches to 32.7 inches).
I didn’t change anything, though, because I liked the bike as-shipped. If you’re on a long highway slog, slide backward on the seat, to sit on the wide section of the seat. If you want to ride aggressively on the street, or stand up on the pegs, scoot forward and take advantage of the bike’s tight waist. The front of the seat and rear of the gas tank are narrow, making it easy to get up on the pegs and grip with your knees. Again, the ergos are great.
Speaking of the tank, it’s the same design as the 790, a wraparound unit that stores the majority of the gasoline low-down, near the crankcases. This means a lower center-of-gravity than most adventure bikes, and the result is excellent handling, like the original 790.
Other features that carry over: The headlights are the same, which some riders will hate (“Yuck! A praying mantis!”) and some riders will like (“Finally! A bike that looks different!). For me, I like the look. The TFT screen is back, controlled by buttons on the left handgrip. Those same buttons will turn on the adjustable-output heated grips (an optional add-on). There’s some storage space behind the sidepanels, if you need to store water on a ride.
Who will buy it?
KTM’s 890 Adventure line currently includes this base model, the 890 Adventure R, and the 890 Adventure Rally.
The 890 Adventure R comes with upgraded suspension and knobby tires, and Rally Mode as standard. It’s for riders who want more aggressive offroad capability. The Rally is for riders who want true hooligan action.
This base model is aimed more at straight-up adventure touring, for a mix of road and easy unpaved two-track. KTM’s own advertising calls this “the ultimate road and gravel traveler,” and that’s an accurate assessment of its capabilities.
Pricing is excellent, too. In the US, MSRP is $13,099. In Canada, it’s $14,099. The Yamaha Tenere 700 is cheaper, but the BMW F850 GS is more. There are many factors in choosing a bike to buy: Dealer relationship, discount pricing, previous brand experiences, intended use, and so on. But, I will say that if I was personally looking to spend this kind of money on a new bike for combined backroad and gravel road riding, I’d be looking at the KTM 890 Adventure very, very carefully. It’s got everything a sensible rider needs, with reasonable updates over the previous model, and a price tag that’s still fair. Nicely done, KTM.