Fans of the KTM 790 Adventure have reason to be upset. Introduced just two years after the 790, KTM has practically rendered it obsolete with the 890 Adventure R.
Now, it’s no surprise KTM has released an R model for its middleweight adventure machine – they always release an R model. The surprise is the introduction of a new, bigger engine. Nobody saw that one coming.
Let’s take a look at the KTM 890 Adventure R to get a complete look at the upgraded model and see if it really is a step above in the hotly-contested middleweight adventure bike category. Maybe, perhaps, it could even take on some bigger competition. We’re looking at you, Africa Twin…
Where else would we begin other than the engine? The 889cc parallel-twin engine is shared across the 890 Adventure range and bumps displacement up from the previous 790 by 90cc.
Bore and stroke are changed and the entire engine has been reimagined for better performance and less vibration, all while meeting tighter emissions requirements. KTM says it has increased crankshaft mass by 20% (another way of saying it’s heavier) for a smoother ride. But that extra rotating mass also helps you keep your momentum when navigating slow-speed, tricky terrain.
On the chassis side, the 890 Adventure’s frame, subframe, and swingarm aren’t much different from the 790’s. The difference comes in the details, as it usually does with R model KTMs.
With the 890 Adventure R we’re talking about the suspension. Up front is the WP Xplor 48mm fork, which gives you a lot more adjustability options compared to the lower-spec WP Apex components on the downstream models.
The Xplor fork separates the damping functions, so you adjust the compression damping on the left fork and rebound damping on the right. Wingnuts atop the fork tubes make it easy to turn the dial to adjust on the fly for the conditions.
In the back is a WP Xplor shock with 240mm of travel. Adjustment options include settings for high- and low-speed compression damping, rebound damping, and spring preload. Unlike other motorcycles, the 890 Adventure R doesn’t use a linkage for the shock, reducing complexity. Instead, KTM uses a progressive damping system to provide a similar effect.
Stopping power is obviously important no matter what you ride, and the 890 Adventure R gets an upgrade compared to the 790 with 320mm discs and 4-piston, radial-mount calipers up front. The rear brake is a 260mm disc and a twin-piston floating caliper.
All three calipers get steel-braided lines for a consistent feel and power. Since rear brakes are used a lot off-road, the rear caliper design has been changed. Now the pistons are isolated in the caliper with isolation plates between the pads and pistons in order to gain more heat stability.
One of the defining features of up-spec KTM models that bear the R suffix is the sophisticated electronics package they come with. KTM has come a long way in developing and integrating rider aids into all its models and the 890 Adventure R is further proof of this effort.
First up is the MTC – or Motorcycle Traction Control. Improved for 2021, the system now measures rear wheel slip and lean angle pitch to calculate, and sometimes predict, when the rear tire will slip too much. This is especially important off-road, as dirt riders rely on a healthy dose of throttle to steer the bike with the rear.
As a testament to how far electronics have come, the intervention from these systems is getting harder and harder to notice. But for the purists out there, there’s good news – traction control can be turned off, giving you complete control.
We may be focusing a lot on the off-road side of adventure riding, but we can’t ignore the fact that adventure bikes spend some time on the pavement, too.
And there might be no scarier thing for a street rider than an object in the middle of the road in a corner. This is where Cornering-ABS comes in, and the 890 Adventure R has it. C-ABS allows the rider to use the full power of the brakes (imagine a panic stop), even if you’re leaned over.
In the past, huge amounts of brakes combined with lean angle would lock up the front tire and lead to a crash. The magic of C-ABS is that it matches the brake pressure electronically and hydraulically to the lean angle of the bike.
This means you can slow down and steer the bike away from the hazard in the road a lot safer and predictably than you could before. Then, once you hit the dirt, you can turn Cornering ABS off.
After you turn off C-ABS in the dirt, you can switch to Off-road ABS instead. Whether on dirt or pavement, locking the front tire is potentially a recipe for disaster. In the dirt though, locking up the rear is normal. So how do you let one lock up freely and the other stay in control? That’s where Off-road ABS comes in.
On the 890 Adventure R, Off-road ABS turns off ABS in the rear, allowing you to control the rear brake on your own. In the front, ABS intervention is greatly reduced and the lean-angle sensors are ignored, giving you a lot more control off road with a small safety net in place should you need it.
Another cool feature of the 890 Adventure R is the Off-road Ride Mode. Basically, this mode is meant for tricky, low-grip situations. Power is reduced, throttle response is softened, and the system allows for more wheel slip to allow you to keep moving forward or to steer with the rear.
Anti-wheelie functions are turned off, so you can clear obstacles in your way, and the lean-angle sensitivity is also turned off so you can use a berm, dune, or rut to get through a tight turn.
Taking the Off-road Ride Mode up a notch is the optional Rally Mode. Here, the 890 Adventure R gives you full power.
But you also have the ability to choose between 9 levels of wheel slip control, whereas Off-road Ride Mode only has one pre-set level of slip.
With level 9 basically allowing no slip at all, you can tailor just how much, or how little, you want the rear to spin for the given conditions. The programming has also been updated for the new model for a wider range of uses.
There’s a lot to like about the KTM 890 Adventure R, and it all starts with the engine. It’s not like the 790 really needed more power, but the jump in engine size is just enough to pump up the excitement levels considerably. It’s a fun, torque-rich engine that makes a great sound when you get on it, but can also pull you out of trouble in the slow stuff with ease.
Like we said in the beginning, it’s possible the 890 Adventure R could give other bikes like the Honda Africa Twin or Triumph Tiger some fits – and that’s what makes the adventure bike category so exciting right now.
Other than the engine, the 890 impresses with its upgraded suspension, and trick electronics, too. However, those electronics might be the very thing that turns people off about the bike.
There’s a divide within the class between people who prefer extreme simplicity and those who want all the tech. Both sides have valid arguments, but this is not the place where we’re going to debate them.
What we do know is the KTM 890 Adventure R is worth a look if you’re in the market for a middleweight. It just might be the better ADV.