KTM Ultimate Race/Merzouga Rally 790R Review

Discussion in 'Parallel World (790/890)' started by gearheadE30, Apr 28, 2019.

  1. dave6253

    dave6253 GCBAR Explorer

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    Awesome video. Thanks for your insights on the 790. Awesome job representing over there!
    #21
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  2. gearheadE30

    gearheadE30 @LC8Adventures Supporter

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    Glad you enjoyed the video and the writeup! Still have a few more sections to post, and then I will be posting the ride report of the Ultimate Race/Merzouga experience once I have it translated from my journal to something that is actually worth posting online. It's fun to share, but it is also a way for me to look back and record a memory of what happened.

    My opinion, for what I use a big bike for, the 790R is probably the next best Adventure. It has some advantages over the 1090 and is definitely better off road than the 1290.

    I think any bike would have wallowed some in that sand, but the 950 does have more relaxed geometry that makes it more stable, especially once tuned appropriately. That said, the 790 was perfectly manageable out there and actually felt really good in the sand outside of my rider error, not really knowing how to ride in sand like that.

    The 790R has a tower instead of a mask, has that steel rear subframe, has a lot more weight in brake hardware up front, and has ABS along with all the wiring, sensors, and extra brake lines that go with it. The 950 SE was built to be a dirt bike...and once you make it adventure-ready, it's not all that much lighter than the 790. The 790 was built to be a very capable adventure bike. It is just not possible for a bike in this market to be sold with a single brake, no electronics, etc. It would get lambasted in most reviews, and would sell just as poorly as the 950 SE did when it was new. It's a different design ethos that does come with some extra weight - it would be very interesting to see how much weight you could lose if some of these systems were removed. Outside of those systems, I didn't see much low hanging fruit... in some areas I think you would hit the point of making the bike fragile in extreme situations pretty quickly if significantly more weight were removed from the basic design.
    #22
  3. gearheadE30

    gearheadE30 @LC8Adventures Supporter

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    Ergonomics:

    Controls on the bars are pretty traditional; not much to say there. Foot controls offer a good amount of adjustment, but the brake barely adjusts high enough if you are used to riding on the balls of your feet trials-style. Most people will not have an issue. The stock grips are hard rubber street items, and I assume the heated factory options will be too. The foam grips on the Ultimate Race bikes were a massive step up; I highly recommend them. Anything is better than street grips.

    The sidestand has a tab on it to make it easier to kick up and down, but I had some issues hitting it with my heel and killing the engine. There is a little rubber strap to help keep the sidestand up, but it isn’t nearly stiff enough to fight the force of your heel. Cutting the tab off the side stand might help, but ultimately disabling the side stand switch is my favorite solution.

    I am 6’4”, and the standard stepped seat is far too low for me and has a fairly abrupt transition from the low spot to the high spot. I didn’t care for it, as I needed to sit essentially on top of the bump, and my height make the transition from sitting to standing harder than it needed to be. The taller Power Parts seat is the single best thing you can do for ergonomics if you’re not concerned about seat height, and I found it to be very comfortable.

    [​IMG]

    The center of the bike is very narrow, much more so than the 950 is. This gives the bike a feeling of being nice and small, even though dimensionally it isn’t actually far off of the old LC8s. This also makes it easier to lean the bike while standing, where the 950 tends to run into your low-side leg pretty early.

    I found the bars on the stock bike to be a bit too low for me, and the combination of my height, lowish bars, low seat, and high pegs made standing fairly uncomfortable. The slight additional height from the Scotts damper mount, slightly lower KTM Rally pegs, and taller PowerParts seat made it very nearly perfect, though I might move the bars to the forward mounting position to make standing and attacking a little more neutral with my gangly arms. If you are not going to be riding in attack position and stand more vertically as is typical of adventure riders, you may want taller bars, but you can see how well the bike fits in the pics I've attached.

    [​IMG]

    I have seen some posts out there about buffeting and wind noise. We ran the windshields in the low position, and I really had no issues with a dirt helmet. Airflow over the front of the bike is much, much better controlled than on the 950/990 even with some of the alternate solutions I have tried. That said, I have never had a bike with a big windshield, so my standards may be lower than others.

    Looks are subjective so I won’t comment much on that, but I was very happy with the tower and windshield setup for comfort and would not spend any time or money trying to change it. Of course, I am tall, and everyone is a bit different. The tank, as mentioned, does a wonderful job of keeping wind and rain off of your body when sitting down. However, the low corners of the tank direct water spray more or less directly at your feet. Most adventure and dirt bikes I’ve ridden do this, though.

    [​IMG]
    #23
  4. mountaincadre

    mountaincadre Long timer

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    Good write up gearhead.
    #24
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  5. windblown101

    windblown101 Long timer Supporter

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    Your thoughts and actual experiance with the ergos help confirm my speculations. Thanks!

    I removed and kept my 20mm lower rally foot pegs and the KTM phds bar risers from my 690 before selling it and have my eye on the taller PP seat in anticipation that they will be welcome additions to the 790R. I'm 6' and all arms and legs - 34" inseam.
    #25
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  6. JT11

    JT11 Adventurer

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    Are the 20mm lower rally pegs a KTM PP? or aftermarket? Can you point me to them?
    #26
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  7. windblown101

    windblown101 Long timer Supporter

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    The footpegs I have are made by Bosleys Pegs. He has a page on Facebook and makes pegs to order.
    #27
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  8. gearheadE30

    gearheadE30 @LC8Adventures Supporter

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    For what it's worth, the pegs seen in the pictures are KTM Rally pegs available through the Power Parts catalog. I've also been running them on my 950 for a few years now and love them. The 790 uses the same pegs as the older dirt bikes, 950, 990, etc. rather than the new dirt bikes that have a different type of pivot stop.
    #28
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  9. gearheadE30

    gearheadE30 @LC8Adventures Supporter

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    Okay, here it is - last post on 790 bike review, then I can work on the ride report!

    Suspension and Handling:

    I think this bit has been the biggest question mark for most people. The 950 was somewhat revolutionary when it came out, but it was by no means great from the factory. Other bikes since then, notably the Africa Twin and newer KTM bikes, have stepped up out-of-the-box performance quite a bit, though there are some longer term durability concerns as manufacturers try to figure out what the right balance of cost/durability and performance is for the broader market. There are no bikes on the market that are set up well enough to handle competition environments that I am aware of.

    The 790R, as we all know by now, is not massively long-travel (240mm) and the internet seems to have a fairly negative opinion of WP’s Xplor-branded parts. Our competition bikes did not have the longer-travel Xplor Pro parts, contrary to what some have reported. The rear shock also visually has a pretty steep angle that seems to be scaring a lot of people because it is different than what we’ve come to expect.

    This is easily the best suspension on a stock adventure bike that I am aware of, by a wide margin. The bike is well-balanced in both spring rates and damping front to rear. Bottoming resistance is exemplary for what it is; I only had issues if I really pounded through a G-out or didn’t see an obstacle in time to adjust my body position. This would be true of any dirt bike though, let alone an adventure bike.

    [​IMG]

    It speaks volumes that, after getting back from the first ride, we all agreed that the suspension was absolutely outstanding. There were some extremely capable riders in the Ultimate Race group, and we were all a bit blown away by how good it was. Note that my previous post in the 790 thread noted some negative characteristics – the valving was updated and seems to have fixed the problems that I had with it.

    Riders not used to how performance-tuned suspension feels may find that it feels a bit stiff. I doubt most riders in this category will really find the limits of the suspension, at least not until they get used to how much higher the limits are than you might expect. The clickers offer a wide range of adjustment, and the damping is done well enough that it should have no problem accommodating stiffer springs if needed to get the sag right. This is not a bike where you dial 6 more clicks of compression and you don’t feel it; the clickers actually work. The bike is sensitive to sag settings – mine was notably more stable with preload removed from the rear, max preload in the front, and the forks dropped in the triples a bit.

    I expect aggressive riders will be quite happy with the suspension. It is very capable, and very well balanced. I have quite a bit of effort into the suspension on my 950, and really the main improvements are that the 950 is a bit plusher in smaller chop, and doesn’t blow through the travel as quickly on really big hits. Of course the extra travel on my 265mm 950 is a plus, and the 950 does a bit better in keeping the front wheel touching the ground in really nasty slower terrain where the 790’s stiffness hinders it a bit.

    For comparison, I tend to blow through all of the travel on F800s, Africa Twins, and the like if I am not paying attention all the time. The competitions’ stock suspensions feel soggy and isolated due to comfort-oriented damping and springing, and often are too stiff at the rear when the bike isn’t loaded with luggage. This results in a rear tire that skips around and struggles to put power down. The 790 doesn’t suffer any of these ill handling traits.

    [​IMG]

    The stock rims are wide, as you all know by now, but they are a lot stronger than the 950/990 wheels of old. I hit a lot of stuff in a lot of bad ways and didn’t do any meaningful damage riding at an aggressive dual sport pace. KTM offers DID Dirt Star wheels in a narrower size via their PowerParts catalog, and these were a big improvement in handling off road. At race pace with mousses and the PowerParts hoops, I did dent the front and rear slightly, and I saw a few others that also weren’t perfectly round anymore. We were all hammering through nasty rocky terrain at high speed for 5 days in a row, though – the suspension was so good that it encouraged us to ride at a rim-denting pace, and I think even a 450 would have come away with a few tweaks.

    The 790 has a factory steering damper, but it doesn’t seem to do much that I can tell. The Scotts damper was my first experience ever riding with an adjustable damper, and it was definitely nice. My 950 does not have a steering damper and doesn’t feel like it needs one. I have not had any issues with the 950 wanting to tuck the front wheel under, but did have some issues with that on the 790 even with the damper. The 790 has more aggressive geometry that helps a lot with handling on pavement and hard pack, and for it I think the Scotts is a worthwhile upgrade if you like riding in sand or very quickly off road.

    [​IMG]

    Handling on pavement is very good. This thing is very adept at attacking a twisty canyon road, blasting down the highway, dodging potholes, etc. It has a much more natural feel and turn-in than the 950 and 990 do on pavement (remember mine is very tall; I don’t remember what it felt like stock). Even if you just bought it as a sport tourer, I think you would be happy. It’s a very willing partner.

    Handling on fast dirt and gravel is equally good. It turns in naturally, breaks away smoothly, and overall feels well balanced. In faster straight stuff, the bodywork felt good for clamping your knees and keeping that lower body locked into the bike.

    Tight, technical, first-gear-slipping-the-clutch terrain is one key area where I still prefer my 950. The 790 is a bit easier to balance because it carries its weight so low, and the narrow body again lets you steer with your feet like you would on a trials bike. The (modified) 950 suspension just seems to handle slow stuff and trials suspension loading better, possibly because of the longer travel. The 950 also has much more ground clearance, and the throttle response and clutch feel more intuitive to me.

    Jumps are flat and stable, where the 950 likes to nose dive if you get the launch wrong. As with any adventure bike, you really want to make sure you land on the back wheel if you’re getting more than a foot or two of air.

    While the turning radius is improved, it still uses the trellis frame and so doesn’t quite have the lock of an F800GS or Africa Twin.

    [​IMG]

    Well, that's it - my full review of the KTM 790 R. Overall, a very impressive bike with a few small things that I think the aftermarket will quickly step up to address for the crazier riders out there. Am I rushing out to sell my 950? No, but when it comes time to consider spending a lot of money refreshing the engine, I will absolutely be taking a look at the used market for the 790 as an alternative.
    #29
  10. zeropoint

    zeropoint Been here awhile

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    I think that may be the most readable, thorough and intelligent bike review I've read. You write about them as well as you ride them. Thanks for taking the time and looking forward to your ride report.....
    #30
  11. HappyGoLucky

    HappyGoLucky Goeie Grys Giftige Gert!

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    Excellent posts, detailing all that is important to potential end users like myself. Much appreciated and congratulations on being recognised for your two wheeled prowess! (you must have gotten a lot of sweet KTM swag hey? Thumbs up)
    #31
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  12. Jeff Sichoe

    Jeff Sichoe ruddy bastard

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    Thanks man, extremely well written and a pleasure to read :)
    #32
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  13. new2adv

    new2adv Been here awhile

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    Thank you very much for this thorough and informative review! Best I’ve seen yet for the 790, and very helpful in determining how this bike might fit my needs.
    #33
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  14. Tripped1

    Tripped1 Smoove, Smoove like velvet.

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    @gearheadE30

    Thanks for the write up.

    Only US importing laws are keeping me from doing something stupid.
    #34
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  15. Nowwhat

    Nowwhat I'll Go Second... Super Supporter

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    Great stuff....

    Any idea how much lower the Rally pegs are over stock?
    #35
  16. gearheadE30

    gearheadE30 @LC8Adventures Supporter

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    Glad you've enjoyed the read!

    Unfortunately I don't have stock pegs to measure against anymore, but it's not a ton. Maybe a quarter inch or so. Fastways in the low position and such are a much more significant drop.
    #36
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  17. Fabricator

    Fabricator Hello Moto Supporter

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    Thanks for the uber-detailed 790R review and congrats on your race result! The great pics are appreciated and will be added to my screensaver!

    I can tell that the 790R will do everything I might want it to do - and more!

    I have to ask - how much does Scott Meyers weigh? Looks like 210# or so to me - congrats to him for the win!!

    Looking forward to the race report!!!!
    #37
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  18. Tomah

    Tomah In transit ... Supporter

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    Excellent reporting. Thank you!
    #38
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  19. gearheadE30

    gearheadE30 @LC8Adventures Supporter

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    Haha you would have to ask him; I'm a horrible judge of weight, age, etc. All I know is the guy can ride, and skill can most certainly make up for age and physique to some degree. Being the young guy didn't help me as much as I would have hoped :lol3
    #39
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  20. Whodatschrome

    Whodatschrome Long timer

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    I'm going to disagree with that a little bit Jordan...

    I always seem to be in perpetual shape. I've run a few marathons and at my peak i was logging in 80 miles a week. I would still get my butt kicked at local enduro races by older, over weight, out of shape racers who just plain have more skill than me. I would be dog tired at the finish and they could easily go out for another couple loops.

    ...i belive that "some degree" in real life is closer to 95%.


    I'm curious about Scott's weight as well. The reason why is about the spring rate in the 790. Did all the 790 racers use the same (stock) springs front and rear? I could see a possible weight difference of 50+ lbs between all of you guys on the 790's. That doesn't seem optimal for all the riders there.


    So do you get to come out and play (compete) again at the upcoming KTM rally this year?
    #40
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