In a line:
It took a second, 1200-km week’s ride to like the 890R a bit more, despite the harsh ride at times. (BIke used to guide my Morocco Fly & Ride tours).
• Tubeless tyres
• On the move feels light for claimed 210kg tanked up
• Recorded up 72mpg (60US; 25.5 kpl) = 500-km range
• Great stability thanks to 20-litre pannier tank
• Fully adjustable stock suspension
• Easily understandable menu
• Cable clutch modulated well
• Big footrests
• Brilliant brakes
• Solid build quality
• Modes aplenty and cruise control too, + USB, GPS 12v sockets
• Riding under 5000rpm, vibration was OK
• Mitas E-07/Karoo 3 tyres worked fine, road and trail
• Good aftermarket protection on the tank
• Engine sometimes felt/sounded rough as an air-cooled single, especially on start up
• Hard seat
• Not much engine braking
• Screen too low to work on the road
• No stock attachment points on rear subframe
• No preload adjustment knob on the shock
• Fuel gauge and range reading erratic or vague
• Suspension harsh over small bumps
• Quickshifter present but not enabled
• Display supplementary data too small to read
Looks-wise I don’t really get the KTM ‘alien insect’ thing; for me it all went wrong after the 640 Adventure and I marginally prefer today’s near identical Norden 901. But second time round in Morocco I got on with a 2021 890R a lot more.
Having ridden the 890 once already for a week, I set off for one last 1200-km tour lap on a huge BMW F800GS Trophy. Even with over 100,000 on the clock there was nothing much wrong with 800 and the engine delivery was creamy smooth (so much for 270° cranks…). But it didn’t feel right: ungainly, high seated and just a plain handful, even before I filled the underseat tank. Maybe it was just over-pressure tyres, but I was relieved when the cooling system burst a seal an hour or two into the ride (blocked thermostat?) and they brought up the same 890R I’d used a fortnight earlier that night.
Fyi this was only the second time I’ve ridden an 800GS, a hugely popular bike in its day. But I recall I wasn’t so impressed in northern Arizona over a decade ago. I’ll take the old tubeless ‘650’, ‘700’ or current ‘750GS’ every time. The rental shop got rid of the 850GSs after loads of problems.
Normally I’m a bit blasé with what they rent me in Marrakech and both times was given the 890 out of the blue, knowing nothing about the bike. But second time I made sure the KTM’s tyres were down to 30 psi, I ditched my tail pack for a tank bag so I could set my own bag further back. Result: a better ride with proper room on the seat. I wasn’t able to access the KTM’s tools (if present) to soften the WP shock preload, but see now all it needed was a big Allen key, not some obscure 2-pin tool. Now I know.
An 890R owner on the last tour explained that from new, the bike’s ‘Tech Pack’ is activated for the first month and includes Quickshifter+, cruise control, ‘MSR’ (engine braking control, like the AT) and the ‘Rally’ mode. I’ve never encountered this sales upgrade ploy but it’s a good trick; if you decide you want to keep the Tech Pack after it expires that’ll be £769 please. Or, to quote a press release for the 2023 890″ ‘An innovative DEMO setting gifts the rider the chance to try the full gamut of optional Rider Aids for the first 1,500 km before deciding whether to purchase and keep them permanently.’
The 890R now makes 105hp, but I doubt I ever used more than half of that or exceeded 6000 rpm riding normally. It’s hard to see how 105hp could be useful on the dirt when combined with over 200 kilos. I got up to 70 mpg, 10% better than I managed to squeeze out of my AT but which was far less confidence inspiring off road.
After some 2400km over a couple of weeks, for me the best thing about the 890R was the stability road and trail, contributed by the low-slung 20-litre tank. But I think there’s more to it than just low tanks; there’s the light weight too and the seating position with feet and hands just right. I noticed an unadjustable steering damper too (loads of places offer aftermarket adjustable ones). Initially riding the loose switchbacks streaming across Sargho west was easier on the 890R than my AfTwin, but it was easier still a week later on a dinky 310GS. Then coming back on my better set-up 890R, it was a piece of cake, bar the odd slip from the worn front Karoo 3.
The 310’s seat is better than the plank hard 890 too, though standing up is more natural on the KTM as your knees squeeze the soft seat. The ill-formed 310 is hopeless in that respect. Another inch of bar height and I’d have been comfortable on the 890R, but they say there’s not enough slack in the cables for that.
The R’s small screen was too short to avoid helmet buffeting but worked rather too well in the unseasonal 30-°C heat we had for most of November. Standing up was the only way to get some airflow through my Mosko Moto jacket’s vents while also airing off the sore backside.
This bike has a quickshifter but I later realised it wasn’t faulty, just not enabled (like the cruise control and other ‘Tech Pack’ features). I recall the quickshifter worked amazingly well on a customer’s 790 a couple of years back, but on this 890, clutchless shifting worked surprisingly well most of the time; up was a little notchier and needed a dip of the throttle.
I fiddled a bit more with the engine settings second time – the menu is easy to use without RTFM, though I found the supplementary data too small to read easily on the move. I also found the fuel range was a vague ‘>190km’ instead of an actual figure, and as it emptied it had a habit of dropping by 30% when restarting the engine, then jumping up again. I was told many overly electronic modern bikes have this issue now; it’s not just a float in the tank anymore but calculated off your recent riding pace. On my last day’s ride I was certain that at up to 23kpl the tank’s 20 litres would easily do 400km to Marrakech, so trusted in my trip odometer and recent mpg readings rather than the flakey range reading.
Full ‘Road’ power was nice but excessive for my needs; in southern Morocco there was little opportunity (or point) in exceeding 115kph for a few seconds. In the end I left it in ‘Off-Road’ mode (smoother power lower down?) with Road ABS on. The latter was especially effective and never an issue off-road; these days this whole ‘OMG ABS off-road!!’ is a red herring. ‘Off Road’ ABS disengages the back wheel so it can lock up (same as on the 310s); full ‘Road’ ABS worked on both wheels and was fine on the dirt. Now I’m not 16 anymore why would I want to lock up the back wheel? It certainly won’t be to kick off a power slide on some remote canyonside in the Anti Atlas
The bike came with a Mitas E07 on the back and a worn Karoo 3 on the front – both tubeless though the rims look normal. They felt secure enough on gravelly trails given the mass of the bike, and were fine on the hundreds of dry bends we swung through each day where the frequent spits of gravel moderated speeds and lean angles.
On faster rolling dirt tracks or deep road fords the suspension didn’t bottom out, but that just takes good preload and damping. On slow-speed irregularities the back chattered or kicked back violently. I dialled off the fork settings but it was the rear shock which needed less compression damping and maybe less preload too (there’s no preload knob, unlike the non-R 890). Dropping the tyres to 30psi certainly softened my second ride; another 5 psi off would have made it better still off road but things may have got a bit hot on the highway.
One thing I did miss hopping back on a 310GS after the first run were the KTM’s brilliant brakes, but other than that for what we do I’d settle on the lighter 310 every time. While less stable and with ordinary suspension, on loose switchbacks the little GS has less mass pushing your around.
With my bag shoved back, the KTM’s seat was more roomy but it’s still a plank. And my short day on the 800GS just underlined the KTM’s relatively rough engine (it sounded so bad we even checked the oil at one point).
All in all, the 890 was what I expected: an adventure bike which performs better off road than most of its 200-kilo+ class rivals. But with KTM’s shaky reputation for reliability (a previous rental had a clutch go in the middle of nowhere), for travelling I’d settle for less hardcore performance, smoother engines and plainer looks from Honda’s new 750 Transalp or Yamaha’s very popular XT700.