Morocco’s Merzouga dunes sit on the edge of the Sahara Desert; it’s been a film location for several blockbuster movies, is a source of hundred-million-year-old fossils in marble, and KTM uses the area for rally testing and training. With 18 consecutive Dakar Rally wins, the location works. KTM has also chosen this rocky and sand-strewn location for the introduction on the 2019 KTM 790 Adventure R. A bold move that infers a high off-road capability of the top-shelf R model.
Much wringing of hands and checking of finances by KTM fans and serious off-road adventurers had resulted from the 2017 EICMA prototype unveiling. Would it be the one? Could it be the one? The specs suggested yes; the marketing practically guaranteed it; the forums were ablaze with arguments for and against. November 2018 saw the production model unleashed on the public. Hopes were high; the package didn’t differ much from the year before. Maybe that prototype was not really a prototype? It didn’t matter; it was coming and it would be a hit or a massive miss.
Blasting across the desert hot on the heels of KTM adventure wizard and superstar Chris Birch, all I could mutter to myself for the first few miles was, “Unbelievable.” Cutting to the point, it’s as close to rally promise as any KTM Adventure has ever achieved. Bull’s-eye. Hero status is imminent—a qualified successor to the legendary 990 Adventure. Its larger siblings are irrelevant when viewed from behind the handlebars of the 790 Adventure R.
While the 799cc LC8c parallel twin is impressive in its torquey power delivery (and V-twin-like sound) and its lean-sensitive traction control, uncanny ABS functions, and multiple ride modes are better than the rider can ever be, it is the 240mm of WP Xplor suspension that steals the show. Sprung stiffer than a 1290 Super Adventure R, with larger valving combined with a lighter 460-pound wet weight make for nearly enduro or dual-sport levels of capability. The line between a KTM EXC-F and the 790 is closer than any before it.
Attacking the Merzouga sand dunes highlighted the dirt bike-like handling and ergonomics of the 790 Adventure R. It’s a weapon. Yamaha’s 700 Ténéré had better be good—real good to compete with the new king of extreme adventure.
Styling of the 790 Adventure R is the only real miss. But that is okay, from the seat you can’t see the funky beak and bulbous fuel tank. But you can feel the slim tank and seat area and the low center of gravity thanks to the low-slung mass of the tank. As is often the case for KTM, form follows function.
Watch the video below for all the details, but know this: The 2019 KTM Adventure R is the new high-water mark for serious off-road adventure motorcycles. All other midsize ADVs may have just become off-roading fossils.