The New King of Dakar
KTM & the 950 Adventure
by Gus Breiland
What rhymes with orange? (Ours was silver, but what rhymes with silver isn’t as funny) Why the KTM 950 Adventurer, of course. With plenty of juice, low on pulp and a motor that is ready to peel the KTM 950 is the glass of OJ you dual-sporters need. There are different degrees of moto-lust and like any of you, I have it bad. Unfortunately my current employer, Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly, does not understand the need to make me wealthy enough to buy all of the motorcycles that I want. So that leaves me with the unfortunate task of choosing a motorcycle or 2 to beg, borrow and steal. When Austria’s KTM released the 950 Adventurer I found myself desperately wanting to ride one to see if I could borrow one permanently. After pestering my boss with phone call after phone call he finally relented with a comment similar to “Yea, fine, whatever and don’t call here again! Sheeesh.”
My knowledge of dual sports is limited to well groomed gravel roads and pavement. My need for dual sports is a product of my waist being “enhanced”. At the bike show I wanted to see what some of the sportier motorcycles feel like and much to my surprise, most manufacturers do not have a convex dish shape in the gas tank for said belly. Go figure. What I need is an office chair that hauls butt. My butt. My butt at speeds faster than what I currently have. Cue the Silver beauty in the KTM 950 Adventurer. The upright seating position and tall mount of the 950 make me think this could be a bike for me. That and at the time, the 2004 promotion of buy the bike and get a set or panniers for free. What more could a guy ask for? A bike with free things to haul stuff with!
I picked up the 950 on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon and couldn’t wait to bring life to it. As I let the bike warm, up the low grumble of the V-twin came through the stainless steel exhaust and I was itching to ride. The tanks (that is what I said, tanks) were on empty so I ran over for a quick fueling. While I understand the dual fuel tanks are set up to lower the center of gravity, I opened both fuel tanks pessimistically. This design screams “aesthetics” and reminds me that while some designs are for eliminating a specific problem, other contribute to more problems. The height of this bike and the placement of the motor tell me the designers had to sling fuel on either side of the cylinders due to the engine and frame geometry. Rather than having one filler cap that filled both sides of a single tank, it was probably easier to make two separate tanks with two caps.
Now on older bikes this would have been fine with two petcocks. Run one side dry then the other. But in the case of the KTM 950 having a constant pressure carburation system, petcocks are eliminated giving you that dreaded low fuel light. Just how low is low? Unfortunately I was having way too much fun riding this to fulfill my duties testing the light. Sorry Mr. Day, I will do better next time.
With its 5.8 gallons full, I am off for my first impression ride and I notice that I feel taller. I am of average height at 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam and I am having a difficult time flat footing my stops. The seat height at 33.9″ is quite tall, even for a dual sport and I can’t imagine it gets any better if you’re shorter. So if you are less than 6 feet tall, make sure you gain about 50-100 lbs. It will help you compress the springs. The frame is a trellis member where the motor is slung below. This reduces the weight of the frame and envelops the cylinder heads up inside a protective 11kg (24+lbs) shell.
As I rode the 950 I could tell that KTM is primarily a dirt bike company. The seat is perfect for standing on the pegs, while sitting is an act of torture and close to illegal according to the Geneva Convention. I would compare it to mounting a saw horse on top of a motor and two wheels and telling you to ride to Denver, now. Needless to say, if you plan on running any miles on the 950 you might as well strip the seat off now and order something else.
Lack of seating comfort aside, I loved this bike. Aesthetically it is just plain pretty. Its look may not be for everyone but it is for me. Performance was great. Its 75 degree V-twin 942cc liquid cooled motor rolled me over the pavement with plenty of throttle left. A six speed dog engagement clutch transfers the twin’s power to the rear tire through one of the longest chains I have seen on a bike. While looking at your chain you will notice a very simple, yet gorgeous piece of aluminum that is your rear swing arm. You can maintain 80mph on the road easily as the small fairing kicks the wind straight up reducing the amount of air your body has to absorb.
Fuel economy is not impressive. In fact, it is dreadful for a motorcycle in my opinion. 32 miles per gallon was my average for the few days I had it. Understand that I have a bias on this subject. I believe that motorcycles should be better than almost all automobiles in regards to fuel economy and at 32 mpg it is getting pretty close to being just another car. If we revisit the two tanks issue that I have previously griped about, 32 mpg forces me to open the two tanks more often, reminding me what I truly dislike about this motorcycle.
I ran around town for a couple of days trying to get a better feel for the bike. It cleared curbs and tormented the neighborhood effortlessly. With its generous amount of suspension, the bike floats over pot holes and ruts with a subtle bob reminding you that you’re riding. After wandering the Hinckley countryside a bit for photos and dirt paths it was time to show off the bike in Duluth for Last Tuesday.
The KTM draws a crowd when you park it. It is a big dirt bike in a freakish kind of way, and I like freaks. It is relatively new on the market and not everyone has seen one up close and personal. Mr. Wanchena asked me for the key as he turned to one of the gentlemen who was ogling my ride for the evening. I watched as my bike was being manhandled by strangers, wondering how comfortable the MMM flagship’s rear seat was if the 950 should find its way into Superior, the lake that is. The 950 was being run around Duluth by the locals. It was fun watching the same reaction return on each riders face; “Where am I going to get the money for this bike”? The KTM 950 will win your admiration and make you want more.
The biggest downfall of the bike we tested was the rider. The KTM 950 made me wish I knew how to ride in the dirt. It is a dirt-spewing machine that screams to kick rooster tails around corners and sail across washout. Watching our esteemed Senior Editor lean on the bike on the back roads made me think I need to get a dirt bike before I could master the 950.
Born of the Paris Dakar rally to put a whooping on the BMW GS, the KTM 950 begs to be ridden across dunes and prairie fields. My imagination has me sailing across a field of grass chasing down fauna in a fuel-induced rage. With over 10 inches of ground clearance and suspension for miles a true rider would put this bike through the wringer with the bike begging for more. All in all, if you asked me “Do I buy one?” I would have to say “Yes!” All you need is a different seat and the KTM 950 will be a solid bike for years to come.
by Sev Pearman
An Austrian has entered the court in an attempt to dethrone BMW’s excellent 1200GS as the premier Adventure Tourer. If you are in the market for a bike that you can take to Bogota for coffee, the KTM 950 Adventure may be your mount. Is this upstart the world’s best globetrotter? Read on and find out.
Tiny KTM has taken the world by storm with their over-kill 942cc V-twin. Three years in development, they have already demonstrated the power, flexibility and durability of the new 950 in both the Baja 1,000 and Dakar rallies. Unlike rival BMW whose rally bikes are NASCAR-esque in their non-relation to their street counterparts, KTM claims an unbelievable 95% of the Adventure’s components are found on their rally machines. We’ll have to take their word on this. KTM started from scratch on this motor, and it is a gem. The 75º V-twin has four valve heads and employs a counter-balancer to squelch vibration. It is liquid cooled of course. Bore and stroke are GSX-R-like 100mm x 60mm. The big bore/short stroke architecture makes this engine a revver, and the 950 rips to its screaming 9500rpm ceiling.
The 950’s styling polarizes. Get over it. If you like the bike, you won’t care. If it bothers you, you won’t buy one. I know which bike I’d choose if I had to cross the Gobi and it wouldn’t be one with billet ashtray lids and extra chrome. We liked how the form of the bike meets its Rally purpose. The butch orange gauges hide behind the slabby windscreen. This is surprisingly effective and quiet at an indicated 75 mph. People liked the cool black-on-orange display, but I thought it was gimmicky. Is an analog sweep tach too much to ask? C’mon – an idiot light for low fuel level? Where’s the fuel gauge?
KTM supplies trick Renthal tapered aluminum handlebars and they are either rally bike exotica or shiny butt-jewelry, depending on your point of view. Stout hand guards reside at each end of the bar and we found them to be effective in terms of shielding your hands from freeway windblast.
The tank is curious when first seen, but 100% practical. 5.8 gallons of fuel are carried down low in saddle tanks. There are two fillers, one per side. When parked on the sidestand you can fill both tanks from the same pump. You don’t even have to remove your tank bag. Slick. Between the two fuel fillers is a glovebox/fuse area.
The side stand feels too tall Even when fully engaged, the bike feels tippy. The Adventure also comes with a centerstand. While it takes some effort to deploy, I preferred it to the too-tall sidestand.
While we didn’t bring the Adventure to White Sands, we did poke around on gravel roads, a rail bed and in one open field. In these conditions it is easy to see that the big KTM is a true adventure bike. The narrow 21 inch front wheel carves through soft footing and climbs over obstacles. Even while standing on the pegs and picking a line with staccato steering inputs, it never came unglued. The rear hoop is a dirt-friendly 18 incher. I’d be curious to try the Adventure off-road with a nice set of DOT knobbies.
The skinny hard seat makes sense here as well. Quit yer’ whining. Real dirtbikes get dirtbike seats. Both long and narrow, it enables the rider to easily climb all over the bike. This is a mandatory riding technique used in Los Angeles, Patagonia as well as Los Angeles, CA. The same design logic applies to the thinness of the seat. Put on some taxi beads for road riding, then stash them once you get to the boonies.
The suspension is top shelf WP, fully adjustable front and rear. KTM owns WP, and they didn’t order the cheap stuff. I twiddled the knobs and found settings that let the bike float over freeway expansion joints as well as maintain suppleness while bouncing over railroad ties or bounding over a field. I expected the suspension to be strong in one area and compromised in the other. The über fork and shock were able to accommodate my 250 pounds in both extremes. One cool detail is the swing-out pre-load adjuster for the shock. It flips out of a body recess and permits on-the-fly spring adjustments. Best of all, the WP hardware is rebuildable and internally tunable should you desire. The suspension on the 950 Adventure is A+ perfect.
While not impressive on the spec sheet, the brakes are a delight. Twin 300mm discs with two-piston, low-tech sliding calipers are found up front, while the rear is grabbed by a 240mm disc and two-piston sliding caliper. On the road, the KTM stopped consistently and smoothly. There is great linear feel through the front lever. The Adventure never felt underbraked in traffic or on the freeway. Amazingly, the brakes are well-suited to dirt riding as well. It is difficult to make brakes that are forgiving in the dirt yet robust enough for street use. While I could lock the front with deliberate ham-fisted grabs, I had to consciously try to do this. The KTM’s brakes have superior “feel” to those found on ABS-equipped BMW oilhead GSes and we appreciate the lack of complexity. How would you completely bleed an ABS system out in the weeds?
As a bonus, brake pad changes are easy with twin pad calipers. There are less parts to carry and replacement is easier on single-sided sliding calipers. This is not parts bin engineering. It is engineering the best system that integrates into the bike with the simplest and fewest parts. Another home run here for KTM.
The 950 Adventure is an engineering coup for KTM. They didn’t come to World Rider Beach to go wading. Rather they launched over the curb onto the beach and are roosting sand all over BMW and Triumph’s Sponge Bob beach towels. “What are you gonna do about it?” sneers the 950, and nobody is saying a word. This is the real deal folks, and one hell of a machine.
Thank you to Motoprimo South for the use of the KTM 950 Adventure. You can find them at www.motoprimo.com or in Burnsville, one mile west of 35W at 3150 West Hwy 13. Stop by or give them a call at 952-894-9666
•Ground-up dedicated design.
•Power-a-plenty for road blasting.
•Orange for presence. Silver for stealth.
•It’s a long fall from the KTM’s lofty seat.
•$12,000 and no gas gauge?
•Power output can overwhelm traction in the dirt.
Wife’s First Reaction: “What…..is that?”
Selected Competition: Aprilia Capo Nord, BMW GS family, Cagiva Gran Canyon/Navigator, Triumph Tiger, Suzuki DL V-Strom 1000.
During the KTM test we had a high-altitude malfunction that caused the bike to go down. While maneuvering the big bike for photos, I struggled and dropped it in a gravel lot. When I realized that the 475-odd pound Adventure was goin’ down, I felt that sick sinking feeling as the bike gathered momentum toward the gravel. The only thing worse than dropping your own bike is dropping a brand-new bike…that doesn’t belong to you.
After the obligatory swearing and gnashing of teeth were completed, I gave the beast a once-over. No harm done as the KTM was bruised, not broken. I rode her another one hundred miles before I returned her to face the music.
Lessee, …no cracked plastic, just scratches…blinkers are OK…left pipe scratched (that can’t be good)…How bad can this be?”How bad can this be?” turned out to be over $2,500. So, do you live with cosmetic damage and try to pass it off as battle scars? Or do you choose to eat your insurance deductible every time you dance with an SUV or parking lot? Thank goodness for insurance. Forms were filled and I survived to share these words of wisdom: comprehensive insurance is a good thing. If you think you can’t afford it, re-read that repair amount again. Any of our fine insurance advertisers will cheerfully explain the ins and outs of insuring your baby.
Keep both wheels down and your chin up.