Julian Challis travels to Greece to test out KTM’s new 890 Adventure
As we head out of the trees, the stony track opens up as a spray of rocks fires out behind me. We quickly blast down to the sharp left hairpin, and although there’s a temptation to drop in and drift the back round the turn, the view is just too good not to stop. We’re at the head of an enormous valley stretching from the deep green coniferous forests that cover the mountains on either side, right down to the azure waters of the Gulf of Corinth below. Our route follows a wonderfully sinuous path that clings to the steep valley walls like some vast snake twisting its way to the sea. It’s hard to imagine better terrain for adventure riding, and sat astride the new KTM 890, it’s pretty hard to imagine a better bike to be adventure riding on.
We’re in central Greece for the European launch of the 890 Adventure, an event that is in itself something of a milestone in the train wreck that has been 2020. Few could have predicted that the launch of KTM’s 390 Adventure back in early March would have been the last one before the entire motorcycle industry and indeed the world was put on ice. In a year that promised the usual steady flow of new machines from the bike shows to the production lines, there has been a painful and hollow silence.
So, it’s perhaps fitting and maybe even predictable that the manufacturer that hosted the last launch in Tenerife should be the first to offer the industry a new model and maybe new hope. KTM is always ahead of the game in terms of product development and innovative technology, moving with the apparent agility and pace of a speed boat compared to the super tanker sloth of the big four Japanese manufacturers. In the time it took Yamaha to finally bring out the Ténéré 700, the Austrian brand could easily have developed, launched and be on to the second generation of one of their orange machines.
Our first chance to see the new bike in the flesh comes during an evening presentation at the medieval castle above the launch resort of Nafpaktos. And to be honest it’s a surprise on a number of fronts. Firstly, despite the 890 Adventure R and 890 Adventure Rally images and details being released well before the standard bike, the only motorcycle on the podium is the travel-focussed 890 Adventure, it’s sportier sexier siblings not even in the country, let alone on the stage.
And secondly, the new bike does not look vastly different from the 790 Adventure launched back in March 2019. OK so the logo on the front panels proclaim, albeit somewhat illegibly, the new capacity, and the white plastics have been replaced by a complete orange ensemble. But as to the overall look of the bike, nothing has changed, so if you thought the 790 was not exactly a looker, then you are unlikely to be persuaded by the 890. The same praying mantis-like headlight and instrument panel juts out from the headstock, the same saddlebag shaped tank embraces the bike from the fuel cap to the floor, and the same two-piece plastic bodywork stretches from the radiator to the rear just like the bike’s off-road siblings. What also remains is the user-friendly seat height, the beautifully balanced frame, and sensible ergonomics of the bike’s clear and uncluttered layout. If it’s not broke…
Joining the orange bike, although somewhat in the shadows during the evening presentation is a second and arguably more sophisticated and on-trend colour option, a deep brooding grey with just a smattering of orange highlights. It might not be the choice for the KTM aficionados who doubtless sleep in company branded orange PJs, but for attracting new buyers to the Mattighofen way of life, it’s perhaps a more palatable option.
But if the looks have not exactly changed, what precisely has KTM done other than add another 100cc or so to make the 890 any better than the 790? Well as it turns out, far more than we could ever have imagined or indeed hoped in a relatively short and challenging period of time.
The following morning, as the sun is gently rising above the mountains towards Athens, we’re outside the hotel bright and early, a group of journalists more excited than a class of kids about to go on a school trip. I grab my chance to bag the grey bike before the others, and with the riders briefed, it’s time to get riding as we head out of Nafpaktos to the east of the town and away from the coast, towards Kastraki.
As soon as the roads open up and we can pick up the pace, then the evidence of the development team’s work becomes immediately apparent. The motor has a whole wad more torque and a considerable power hike, which shoves the bike forward with a positively wonderful surge from the get-go. And that’s no surprise when you learn just how much has been done inside the engine cases, which in engineering terms has been given the full ‘Trigger’s Broom’ makeover. Virtually no part of the engine has been left unimproved, KTM responding with their usual speed to feedback from both the adventure bike market and owners of the 790 and incorporating a whole host of changes into the 890.
The new bike is up a full 105bhp compared to the 790 and enjoys 12 more Nm of torque, taking the bike to the magical figure of 100Nm. The effect on the road is just as good as on paper as we turn north and head further inland, following the River Mornos upstream, the motor’s soft bark through the aftermarket option Akrapovič end can bouncing of the landscape as we begin to climb. As with the 790, the bike runs the same compact fuel injected, water-cooled, DOHC parallel-twin cylinder motor that was developed alongside the roadgoing 790 Duke, a bike that too has had an upgrade to the 890 platform. But to achieve that additional 90 (not 100 cc), the newly designed pistons are 2mm larger and their stroke is increased by 3mm. KTM has also added a third piston ring and an additional oil jet to keep things cool.
At the top end, and to feed the bigger capacity cylinders, the valves are 1mm bigger and the bike runs a higher compression ratio to increase fuel efficiency, a feat no doubt further assisted by the all new twin 46mm Dell‘Orto throttle bodies that now operate independently to respond to each cylinder. This independent and efficient control allows the bike to not only meet stringent Euro 5 regulations but also enables the motor to tolerate some truly awful low-octane fuel that is a hallmark of petrol in remote locations, while still delivering up to 280 miles on the one 20l tankful. Now that’s a proper adventure bike.
With no such fuel concerns anticipated in mainland Greece, we continue to buzz up the mountain roads, the bike’s wonderful torque meaning you can be far lazier about gear changes to the six-speed box. OK, so KTM has given us the optional quick shifter so changes are not exactly taxing, but the 890 just plugs away with almost diesel like grunt if you want it too. Much of the bike’s new low-end torque can be traced to the new cranks that have an impressive 20% more rotating mass which, when teamed to the newly fettled balance shafts, keep the motor spinning with the determined efficiency of a T2 Terminator.
As the roads climb higher towards the vast Evinou Reservoir, the hairpins get tighter and the corners more involving, and this is when a further effect of those bigger cranks can be felt. Motorcycle designers have got wise to the not inconsiderable gyroscopic action that a bike’s motor can have on overall stability and the 890 uses that to great effect, the bike feeling appreciably more planted and secure than its smaller capacity brother. Yes, the bigger capacity machine is 7kg heavier than the 790, but the new stability makes this all but unnoticeable, the dual-sport oriented Avon Trailrider tyres sticking to the hot Greek tarmac like an unwrapped toffee in your grandad’s pocket. The wheels might be in the off-road combination of 18” rear and 21” front but the 890 drops in and flicks right to left with astonishing ease and confidence.
The fact that the tyres are gripping so well is also assisted by the new shock on the 890. While the front Apex forks remain untouched, the back is an all-new Apex unit that now has rebound damping adjustment on the bottom of the shock and a preload adjuster turn wheel – almost the same as the Ténéré then. And with roads like this it’s a welcome upgrade as the constantly variable tarmac is interspersed with rocks, gravel, sand and cow muck in worryingly frequent intervals.
The source of the increasing volumes of muck is soon evident as we descend a series of steep hairpins to be confronted by a whole herd of cows chilling out in the road, their bells gently dinging as they wander aimlessly across the tarmac. It’s a good job the 890 has the same uber-powerful, radially mounted, four-piston calliper brakes as the 790 to bring it all to a halt, a process made all the more effective by the uprated pads and master cylinder. The rear pads now have heat shields fitted to aid cooling too, a fact that will be appreciated if, like me, you like to drag the rear brake a bit.
Following a brief stop for some drone photographs and filming, it’s a short blast to our lunch location at the appropriately named Panorama Café high up in the mountains, where the views are simply spectacular. After enjoying a suitable Hellenic feast of pork souvlaki, lamb kebabs, tzatziki and wonderfully fresh Greek feta salads washed down with strong coffee, I take a few moments to scroll through the options displayed on the 890’s relatively small but refreshingly clear and concise TFT screen prior to setting out for the afternoon’s ride. Control is through a simple four button arrangements on the left bar, and from here you can change everything from the display theme to the traction control. There are three rider modes as standard, ‘road’, ‘rain’ and ‘off road’, with the more hardcore ‘rally’ option available as an optional upgrade.
You can also change the ABS between road and off-road and vary traction control as you ride. The new 890 has been fitted with the latest upgrade to the impressive Bosch electronic control systems and now monitors six dimensions of movement of the bike in order to optimise the cornering ABS, the traction control, and the throttle response. If it all sounds too complicated don’t worry, all this goes on without you having to lift a finger, but if you do lose traction while braking into a fast corner, the software will have everything under control faster than your brain, and on roads like these that’s comforting to know.
Suitably refreshed, we head away from the café and after half a mile we finally leave the tarmac and cut right onto the first of a series of truly wonderful forest trails that will fill the afternoon. I stop to add a tad more preload in the shock, set the ABS to off-road which disables the rear and all but negates the front, and click into off-road mode. I’m away to my happy place within seconds. Despite the standard 890 Adventure being the more road-based option compared to the Adventure R or Rally, the way it handles on the rough stuff is just wonderful and every bit as good as the 790, and indeed better again. The low centre of gravity and the new stability of that heavier crank keeps things totally planted at all times, and that punchy engine powers you along the trails in a truly wonderful blur.
Our route takes us along classic forest trails just like you’d find in France, Italy, Spain, or indeed Wales and the 890 is bashing through the terrain like a boss. At the front, the Apex forks will cope with everything from rock steps to big holes without a murmur and the new rear shock is just as competent at keeping the rear wheel in check. I love it.
And those brakes that were so impressive on the blacktop are just as good on the trails, combining both delicate control and anchor-like stopping power if required. The uprated and redesigned clutch is predictably light, and the work done to ensure the gear changes are both smoother and more positive makes spirited progress through the scenery a positive joy, with or without the optional quick shifter. OK, if you ride on the pegs a lot as I do, you may find the aluminium tapered bars a little on the low side, but in fairness there are six different positions for them with over 30mm of movement before you have to reach for the Renthal’s catalogue. I just lean forward a bit and get on with enjoying the ride.
As we stop for a breather after half an hour or so, I swap to ‘rally’ mode, and then I’ve got options to vary the throttle response from simple ‘off-road’ to fully on Toby Price ‘rally’ mode. Accepting that choosing this option on the side of a mountain with a startlingly large drop off on every corner is perhaps suicidal, I elect to leave that for another day. But in either mode you can adjust the traction control allowing you to select just how much the back wheel will break out, the settings from 1 – 9 selectable as you ride with the toggle switches. This proves to make the next hour or so a ridiculously enjoyable as I test just how far I can push my limits before backing off.
Considering the dual sport nature of the Avon tyres, they cope amazingly well with such tomfoolery on the rocky trails, finding more grip than seems possible with such an unaggressive looking read pattern. Whether I’d be quite so effusive or enthusiastic on a wet day is doubtful. But that’s of no matter as the rest of the afternoon passes in a delicious wave of full on adventure trail riding, pushing the 890 as far as I dare and being rewarded with nothing but confidence inspiring handling and grin inspiring performance. When we eventually drop down and return to the tarmac and back to the hotel, I would gladly have turned around and headed back into the mountains for hours more of the same.
So has the new 890 earned its place in the truly impressive stable of KTM adventure bikes. Is it a worthy successor to the original 620 or the Dakar winning 950? Can it stand head and shoulders with the class-busting 1190 or the world beating 1290? Is it a genuine improvement on the 790?
The answer is a resounding yes on all counts. The 890 might not look that much different from the 790 that ABR loved just 18 months ago, but the combined effect of the raft of subtle yet considered improvements, refinements, and upgrades takes KTM’s middleweight adventure bike to the next level and beyond anything else in its class. Whether your adventures take you around the block, around your country, or around the world then the 890 is up to the challenge.
As a commuter
Choosing a full-on adventure bike for a daily dash to the office is a curious decision, and with so many of us now working from home, maybe an unnecessary consideration. But if you do want the KTM to perform the more mundane roles, then it will do so with ease. It’s low, long, and agile enough to cut through the traffic, and has plenty of punch to blast along dual carriageways when given the chance, all while you dream of adventures in faraway places.
As a weekend tourer
Few bikes will fit the bill better than the 890 Adventure for weekend touring. Load up the luggage, set the SatNav to somewhere exciting, and head off straight after work on Friday. Just try to resist the urge to keep going way past Monday morning. For the soundtrack, we’re choosing some chilled tunes for such a chilled bike, so it’s the appropriately named Kingdoms in Colour album from Maribou State on the headphones. Perfect.
As an off roader
From the manufacturer that has ‘Ready to Race’ as a core value, mission statement, and strap line, the 890 Adventure has off-roading written throughout its DNA. This bike is sublimely effective and addictively enjoyable as an off roader. You will attempt far more on this bike than you think possible, and the bike will emerge unruffled and ready for more every time. Get it dirty.
As a continental road tourer
As you can probably guess, the 890 is in its element with big journeys, thanks to the massive tank range, great luggage carrying capacity and near perfect ergonomics. Even the seat is all day comfortable, which if you’ve experienced the upholstered planks fitted to KTM enduro bikes, is a revelation. The only thing you need to decide is how far to go and for how long. The 890 is up for the challenge.
As an RTW overlander
Riders are already using the 790 as a globe-trotting machine, and there’s no reason to think that the 890 won’t have as many fans. Like a trusty camel, it can go massive distances without a drink, it can tolerate poor quality fuel, and has a strong off-road oriented frame to cope with the punishment of around-the-world travel. KTM has called it ‘the most off-road capable travel bike’ and they are not wrong. So, what are you waiting for?
As a pillion carrier
The 890 will look after your passenger almost as well as you, with a raised and separate pillion seat, sensibly mounted pegs, and accessible grab rails. OK, so off the road they are not going to be quite so happy back there, so keep to the tarmac, whack on the tunes and head for the hills.