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Deus ex machina

A formidable KTM adventure


Adventure riders have been waiting for a highly capable, light adventure bike since the KTM 640 Adventure was discontinued over a decade ago. Justus Visagie sampled the new KTM 790 Adventure R in Lesotho to find out if it is a worthy successor to the revered 640 …

It was unusually warm for a May morning when we set off from the KTM head office next to the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit with almost three hours of highway riding ahead of us before reaching the oasis that is Lesotho.

I snared the 1290 Super Adventure S, the big adventure tourer from KTM for the long, dull highway ride. Its high screen effectively shielded my tall frame from the rushing air as we rode towards the Mountain Kingdom. Two hours later we stop at Chocolat in Reitz, possibly the best café within a 200 km radius in the Free State. We enjoy perfect coffee in a tranquil garden, demonstrating that KTM riders can also enjoy the finer things in life.

Border, but no road ..?

On other visits to Lesotho, I have entered the Kingdom at Sani, Maseru, Caledonspoort, and Qacha’s Neck, and I have heard of the Telle border post. But Monantsa Pass? I suspect it is one of the lesser-known entry points into Lesotho. To reach this post, we sidestep the Free State town of Phuthaditjhaba, heading further West.

It felt as if we were sneaking into the Mountain Kingdom, like a band of smugglers. A bricks-and-mortar customs office is perched on the South African side and of late there is an office on the Lesotho side too – a little prefab building situated in a small canyon – with a friendly and welcoming official stamping our passports.

At the post, I scanned our surroundings with increasing nervousness. I have not seen any road yet; just a mule track that could also be a scar of soil erosion. As it turned out, this was the road we took to the main road, the A1, and then on to the AfriSki resort. Well, at least it was a very scenic “road”.

Keeping the faith

Somewhere in the Free State I had swopped the 1290 Super S for the 1090 Adventure R. Its higher saddle suited me well and it was more off-road biased than the Big S. Now, facing sizeable rocks and holes that revealed themselves at the last second, as well as ruts like shallow trenches, I had to put my faith in its front suspension.

As we rode on, I performed quick but elaborate evasive manoeuvres, sometimes painting myself into corners. Joey Evans, who finished the Dakar Rally in 2017 (after suffering a broken spine and paralysis in 2007) was riding with us. He advised me to trust the front suspension of the 1090.

“Imagine it is a tank and just ride over everything,” he said. It worked, and after two challenging hours, we completed the arc leading to AfriSki. (To see the route, enter Monantsa border control as departure point and AfriSki as destination on google maps.)

It was cold and dark as we finally stumble into the warmth of the Sky Restaurant at the resort. We ordered a hot chocolate with rum, Maluti beer, pasta, pizza, whole trout, and hamburgers …

The next morning, I scraped a coating of frost off the saddle of the 790 Adventure R before riding off. At first, the (cold) saddle felt unforgiving – as if it lacked padding, but I would be surprised later at the glute stamina it gave the rider.

We rode South on the A1 towards a right-turn onto a gravel road that goes East to Motebong Lodge, not far from the Katse Dam. The owners of a diamond mine maintain the first section of the road, so it was fairly smooth and civilized but where the maintenance stops, the road plunged into chaos, matching the axle-breaker of the previous day.

A hero comes along

As I attacked rocks, ruts, pebbles, gravel, mud, and water, I notice something odd about the front suspension. It feels kind of soft and squishy, but it never bottomed out, even as I rode over rocks I would normally avoid – even on the 1090 Adventure R I rode the previous day (after coaching from Joey Evans).

There was almost no shock transfer to my wrists, arms, or upper body as the front dampers dismissed the torturous surface conditions. As the minutes rush by, I found myself riding progressively faster. The bike felt ultra-light and nimble and the front wheel, wearing Metzeler Karoo 3 (on the rear wheel too) rubber, stayed true, refusing to ever loses traction.

After lunch at Motebong and a quick visit to the Katse dam for pictures we headed back West on a road that eventually leads us back to the A1 main road and AfriSki via the town of Mapholaneng. The shadows were getting long, obscuring an alarming variety of challenging surface conditions.

Making hard enduro soft

The 790 and I settled into a hypnotic rhythm. I was going faster than I have ever ridden, feeling invincible. This is what the bike does – it elevates the ability of the rider. It lets you ride in ways you did not think possible. The rear suspension is hard, but not unforgiving, and because of its comfort and incredibly capable suspension I was on the saddle for 80-90% of riding and not standing up. This is to be welcomed, because even when riding hard you should get more than 400 km from a tank of fuel. I do not want to meerkat for that long!

So, is there anything about the 790 Adventure R not to like? Is this **machina ex dei** – a machine from the gods? Just about. The LED headlight is disappointingly weak and some of the switches (like the kill switch and indicator switch) do not have the premium feel of the KTM 1090, 1290, or BMW F850GS. But I am happy for the money to have gone into the suspension, chassis, and engine, rather than anywhere else. This is truly the new benchmark for real adventure bikes.

Our ride: KTM 790 Adventure R

Engine: 799 cc, liquid cooled, two-cylinder, four-stroke, parallel twin

Power: 70 kW @ 8,000 r/min

Torque: 88 Nm @ 6,600 r/min

Transmission: six-speed, chain drive, anti-hopping clutch

Dry weigh: 189 kg

Seat height: 880 mm

Consumption: 4.2 ℓ/100 km (claimed), 20-ℓ tank

CO2 emissions: 98 g/km

Price: R186,000

RoadTrip Rating: 95%

Text: Justus Visagie / Images: KTM SA