Anyone who has seen Charlie Boorman spit the dummy after KTM declined to give him and Ewan McGregor free motorbikes in the now classic TV show, The Long Way Round, will remember that the 950 Adventure was almost the star attraction of the show. When KTM pulled out, BMW stepped in and the rest, as they say, is history. BMW’s R1150GS sales took off after the show leaving many (KTM included I’m sure) wondering whether the marketing machine that was, would have made the big KTM a more popular choice than it is today.
KTM has always sat in the more hardcore section of whatever category they enter. Their motocross bikes are amongst the fastest in the business and when they decided they needed to build a car, the X-Bow proved to be fast, uncompromising and unmistakably KTM. The 990 Adventure S, itself an update of the 950, is no different. This was a bike that cut its teeth in the Paris to Dakar Rally and carried over many of its race-bike features to the road. Powered by the firm’s LC8 998cc V-twin, it produced just over 100 horsepower in a bike that weighed at least 30 kilograms less than BMW’s equivalent. It was fitted with a 21 inch front wheel, three inches up on the BMW’s 19 inch item. The big KTM also had a massive 245mm of suspension travel front and rear thanks to the firm’s ubiquitous use of WP suspension products. All of these factors, along with the slim dimensions made possible by the V-twin engine, made the 950/990 far more capable off-road than the more popular GS.
Prior to the Adventure model the LC8 engine was reserved for serious performance bikes like the 990 Super Duke and Supermoto, so dropping it into a frame that was designed to tackle some serious off-road tracks was always going to make for an interesting ride. Even though they were initially designed to tackle the world’s toughest rally, many of the features that made the 950/990 a successful race-bike proved to be invaluable on-road too. The dual fuel tanks, high screen and roomy cockpit meant that covering big distances on the bike was relatively comfortable. The stratospheric seat height of over 900mm, partly due to the bikes previously mentioned 245mm of suspension travel, did mean the bike wasn’t suited to the smaller rider. Finding a used example with low kilometres is practically impossible as owners seem to take advantage of their bikes’ long legs. Cycle World ran a 950 Adventure on their release, with the testing journalist actually buying the bike when time came to return it. Since then the bike has covered over 160,000 kilometres on the original engine!
The KTM deserves to be far more popular than it is, but its hard-core nature has kept sales behind BMW’s GS, and the updated 1290 Adventure is no different. Still, I wonder if it would be a different story if the KTM had featured in The Long Way Round?