Adventure is a relative concept and we are all unique.
This is why if you are an Orange bleeder like me, you wouldn’t look any further to pick your travel companion for a world tour.
But which one should you go for: 390? 790/890? Or 1290 Adventure?
There are many aspects (maybe too many) to consider when choosing the most ideal motorcycle for a trip. It’s hard to consider all the variables in the equation.
Breaking it down logically, the first aspect I would consider is how many miles you are going to ride. How far one is going depends mostly on the length of time one has to invest. If you’re really not sure how many miles you want to ride, you probably know how much time you’ve got to spend.
Hard to establish this one, but if you think you’ll end up riding over 100,000 km, 2 cylinders will definitely provide better comfort than a single cylinder engine in the long run.
Although it seems that smaller engines are cheaper to maintain, they do require more maintenance. LC8 and parallel twin engines will easily pass the 100,000 km mark and their service interval is 15,000 km. Engine oil capacity on these is 3–4 liters, which is quite a lot for the size. The smaller singles are good for probably half that.
Whatever the engine displacement, a methodical bike maintenance regime will improve trip continuity.
The second important factor in choosing the right bike is comfort. Many people argue that lighter bikes are better when going offroad, and yes, that is a generally correct statement. But I believe that this mostly depends on your riding skills.
One could potentially ride everywhere, on any surface, with any kind of bike. The ability to do so depends mostly on sheer will and skills—and effort, of course. There’s definitely a difference between a 5’2″ person and a 6’2″ rider in terms of handling effort on a 250 kg bike. But the rider’s skill level is actually a more relevant factor than size. One thing is certain: most of us aren’t Chris Birch taking those big bore beasts up some steep mountain!
So, at the end of it, the question one has to ask before buying a motorcycle is how confident will I be riding it?
Another important aspect to think of when choosing the bike for your trip is that you will most of the time ride with it fully loaded. When I see people go for a light enduro, because “it’s lighter than the 1200.” and then stack on 50 kg of luggage it makes me smile.
You may also hear people saying they chose an enduro because they “only travel offroad” or “need knobbies because I go to places nobody else goes.” Horse manure.
I’ve travelled for almost 6 years and met hundreds of other travellers riding different kinds of bikes.
Let me say that, unless they have 20–30 years to spend riding around the world entirely offroad, or they are in for a racing mission like Lyndon Polskit, most travellers ride on tarmac for at least 50–70% of their journey.
Also, nowadays, most roads are, as a matter of fact, tarmac! The few left that are still dirt or gravel, are actually graded and feasible for most vehicles. Furthermore, one doesn’t need to have a full-on enduro bike! Travellers don’t ride 140 km/h on dirt roads.
On a 390/690/790, with 40–50 kg of luggage (almost at capacity), some spare fuel and a spare tyre, the motorcycle is completely overwhelmed by its weight.
On an 890/1290, with the same amount of luggage, the bike is definitely sitting in a more comfortable spot, but still one would end up riding conservatively to save fuel, reduce general wear, and avoid inflicting unnecessary damage on the bike.
The truth is that most travellers will ride slowly, so there’s no need of a special bike for the adventure. Bottom line, you don’t “need an enduro bike to go offroad” while travelling. It just looks so cool in the pictures, I admit it!
In this sense, the choice of which bike or engine displacement to take for a world adventure should ultimately be determined by your riding skills. The weight difference between a 390 and a 1290 is substantial, but remember that if you are travelling from one place to the other, you are also carrying most of your belongings, which means that even a 160 kg machine will easily reach 200 kg.
The difference from one bike to the other will shrink, considering that a 390 riding for 70,000 km with an average total weight of 300 kg will be struggling, while a 1290 is designed to carry that weight. On small-bore bikes, most of the wear will be in the engine, while tyres and brakes will be less likely to wear. On big bikes, the engine will be good for thousands of km but the tyres and brakes will wear quicker, because of the weight.
Regardless of this, all KTM models mentioned above are perfectly capable of carrying you around the world and back the other way. Many people have gone for the big leap with 100 cc mopeds and other very small bikes. Small engine displacements never stopped anybody. As matter of fact, there are people cycling our planet, too! The difference is definitely the amount effort spent.
On an overland trip, a motorcyclist could find himself/herself riding on top of a 5,000-meter mountain or being exposed to interminably long windy roads.
Riding 700 km on a 390 at 100km/h requires a different amount of effort than riding the same distance on a 1290. Still, I believe that this is not a deal breaker, because somehow, if one is not in a rush, there’s no need to cover massive distances or to climb a mountain pass in one go.
To conclude, the 3 factors you should consider when making your choice for a round-the-world bike are:
— How much time you have for it (how many km)?
— How confident are you riding one bike or another?
— How much money can you spend on the bike?
If money is your main concern, the solution is easy: go for the cheapest one.
If your concern is the weight, please remember that, to the original dry weight, you will add a bash plate, pannier rack, panniers and luggage—so how much you are carrying becomes critically important. In all fairness, small bore motorcycles are not designed to go around the world. Big 1200 cc adventure bikes are more capable and more comfortable with this kind of very lengthy trip.
But with the midsize category, the machine seems to have reached a more comprehensive capability to do it all. Take the 790/890—but don’t take mine, please! The bike is not light, reaching easily 200 kg, but with a more appropriate weight distribution, it actually feels lighter than its bigger sisters. Suspensions are strong but not top performance. But there’s no need for a $4,000 suspension on a travel bike. Touring doesn’t necessarily require the best of the best. The already mentioned conservative way of riding allows any rider to tackle any surface, with no problem.
The 890 Adventure specifically delivers an overall pleasant feeling in both on- and offroad riding. Same as the 390 Adventure, but with better suspension, better gear box, and better on-road capabilities.
The 1290 instead is a whole different category. The engine is a monstrosity that demands to be unleashed once in a while. There is no need to have that for a world tour, but I can’t deny that it’s relaxing sitting at 110 km/h on a 1290, knowing that the bike is basically idling in 6th gear and running almost 23 km per liter of fuel.
After trying all these KTM machines, I came to the conclusion that the best choice rests in the middle ground. The new 890 Adventure is the way to go because it’s able to deliver excellent results in all aspects that travelling entails. It also appeals to a broader range of riders. It’s not too big, not too small, not too tall, not too powerful, not too uncomfortable, not too road oriented, not too offroad.
The middle ground, for me, is just right.