Tag Archives: KTM 690

One week on a Husqvarna 701 • review

husk-2The first generation Husky 701 is a slightly toned down KTM 690: a bit less power, less fierce delivery and less suspension travel with different settings – but still plenty to be getting on with. Until the old Husky TE 610-engined  SWMs, AJP PR7 and CCM GP450-replacement catch on, currently there’s nothing much like these husk-6two bikes since BMW’s Xchallenge was dropped in 2009. The short-lived Husky Terra and ancient XR650Ls and DR650s don’t compare. The 690/701s are hardcore, dirt thumpers where light weight (146kg dry) and performance trounce the comfort and equipment of your typical Tenere or KLR sofas, while still delivering excellent economy and RTW-usable service intervals.


Quick stats

  • 67hp with 3 maps + bad fuel map
  • 146kg dry
  • 10,000km oil changes
  • 36.6” / 927mm claimed seat height
  • 13 litre tank (~390km possible range)
  • ABS disengageable at the rear (or altogether with a widget)
  • 18/21-inch wheels
  • 2016 model £8000 / US$11,300 (or about two XR650Ls)
  • The 2017s are more powerful and much smoother.

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  • husk-4Quiet pipe and motor
  • Impression of quality and solid build
  • Minimal transmission lash
  • Light for what it is
  • Usable low-down power
  • Smooth hydraulic clutch
  • Powerful but usable brakes
  • Great WP suspension on all but roughest trails
  • Great economy with a potential range of over 350km
  • 10,000-km oil changes

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  • Vibration at >80kph
  • Seat height
  • Bit of a Picasso to look at, IMO
  • Fuel filler will be under a tail pack
  • Low-speed ABS gave me a fright, but it’s switchable

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Husky’s 701 proves you can have nearly all your cake and eat it. It must be the lightest road-ready big thumper around, while not compromising on great suspension, brakes and response that can be mellow or a blast, depending on your mood or needs.

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I’ve been curious to try out the 701 or its KTM cousin, and had a chance to rent one while on one of my Morocco tours. Although the trails we ride are easy enough, I was expecting it to be a handful, based on a short 690 ride a few weeks earlier.
In fact, once I got accustomed to the knobblies on the road (worn MT21 rear, Mitas Rockrider front) the 701 surprised me by being very manageable both there and on the trail. The thing would happily plod along at XR250 speeds (the bikes I rode with) without any impression it was straining at the leash. The suspension took it all in its stride and the brakes required no more finesse than you’d apply to any big thumper on the dirt.
husk-1The engine was torquey and felt much less harsh than what I recall of my BMW XCountry (some 10kg heavier with 20% less power). Like most modern, lean-burning engines it runs hot – the fan kicked in while pootling along on a warm 20°C afternoon at 1800m with a strong backwind, but the fuelling remained steady. (I don’t know which of the three engine maps I was on; the softest I suspect. There’s a switch under the seat – righthusk-switch). Only trickling along on a virtually closed throttle did it hesitate a bit, but that never affected the riding. The hydraulic clutch never varied in feel either, the gear changes were slick and even with a cush drive in the rear hub there was a welcome absence of the transmission lash commonly found on Jap equivalents. (This bike had around 5500 rental kms on the clock.)
husk-10When the time came, it was great to be able to blast from 100 to 130kph with confidence – a typical overtaking manoeuvre. And all this achieved while returning the high 70s mpg (27.3 kpl  – 77.3 mpgUK – 64.3 mpgUS). With the claimed 13-litre tank, that’s an very useful potential range of over 350km  when herding a bunch of feline XRs. A year later a customer rode the same bike as hard as he could to the point of crashing, and was getting about 50mpg.
This all makes it sound like a great travel bike now that the remaining Japanese thumpers: XR650L; DR650; the late XT660Z, Kawasaki KLR650 (some in production for over a quarter century) clock in at up to 200 kilos and with little more than half the Husky’s power, even if they are up to half the price.

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For me the fly in the ointment was vibration on the road. It may have been exaggerated by the knobblies, but you just can’t get away with it on any 690cc single banging out nearly 100hp/litre. Have I got so used to smooth bikes like 250s and Honda’s CB500X? It shocked me when I tried the 690 after riding my WR250 the other week – and it felt even worse on the 701 at over 80kph. My throttle hand was going numb, and you’d have to be in a real hurry or somehow immunised to want to sustain over 100kph for long. Softer grips might help. The seat while hard, but over a full day actually no less butt-numbing than the XRs I rode later. It’s the same on my WR – a narrow seat need not be a write off; it must be down to the foam. But when I took a well-used XR250 for a quick spin I was staggered by how smooth and cushy it was. A week earlier I rode everything the Husky managed with near equal ease and as much fun.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt rest I got my toes down OK but getting your leg over the 36-inch + seat height will become a pain when you’re on the road with all your clobber and getting tired. A weekend’s trail biking might not be a bother, but travelling for weeks or months it might just get on your wick.

As a travel bike I’d say it only suits those committed to uncompromising off-road touring (like this guy), but even then, do you really need 67hp OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto manage the BAM track; the gnarliest Sahara crossing or highest Himalayan traverse? Even on some sort of semi-competitive event or rec’ riding with your mates, using it to it’s full potential, the weight – modest though it is – would soon 401-svartpilen-productionbecome hard to handful. So you do wonder if the Husky Vitipen 401 might get the adv treatment, now that they have a Swartpilen scrambler.

I’d be happy to lose 10-20% offOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that peak power if it corresponded to much less vibration and so a more usable travel machine which would still have amazing (or perhaps even better?) economy and oil change intervals with the light weight. That bike probably isn’t the SWM’s SuperDual 650X  but might be AJP’s PR7 or the forthcoming CCM GP600 – all use the old Husky red-top TE630 motor. But anyway, cushy travel bikes are not what KTM (Husky owners) do. husky17These days it has to be all or nothing or an overweight Japanese dinosaur. Still, KTM/Husky at least prove that an economical, sub-150-kilo big thumper with a useful range and rideable engine can be produced.

A review from Dirt Rider (US).
Some pics by J-M and Y VdL

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A weekend of WRing in Wales

WR250R 4000-km review
WR Introduction
WR250R Stage 1
WRing about in Wales
WR250R ready for the desert
Morocco 4000-km trip report, 1–9
Fuel log

wale-15I haven’t been trail biking in Wales since my 20s. Makes me wonder what I’ve been doing all these years. Part of the reason is I’ve not had a bike worth riding up there, and then there’s the issue of untangling where you can ride legally. Desert biking can spoil you, but Wales gets a lot more inviting with a light and pokey WR250 and knowing the right people.
Dan and Dave were on my 2007 Algeria tour along with their own trips to all corners of the globe. John, an old mate of theirs, works at the Yamaha Off Road Experience near Llanidloes, and generously offered to take us for a ride out.

gjonesWe vanned up to Llani, lubed up the bikes and rode over to Geraint Jones‘ hill farm where the Yam school is based. Back in the late ’70s when I was dirt-bike mad, I remember Geraint Jones (left, old pic) was ‘Mr Maico’. He was to enduros what Graham Noyce was to motocross, Barry Sheene to GPs and Martin Lampkin to trials.
In amateur maico490hands the big Maicos he rode had a reputation for being hard to handle. I remember the red devil machines flying overhead as I floundered about during the nearby Plynlimon Enduro in 1981 aboard a KLX250 (right) – the original sheep in wolf’s clothing.

klxxAs I recall in SRY, I was so slow they were literally packing up as I rolled into the finish line. And if you ever wondered what happened to those red devil machines, this is an interesting read from our man, Rick Sieman.

wale-11The benefit of riding with John from the school was that he knew the lanes, which ones would suit the day’s weather and the groups’ abilities, plus he had special access to Forestry trails in the adjacent Hafren Forest. Hafren becomes ‘Severn’ in English, and a few minutes into the ride we passed within a mile of the River Severn’s boggy source on the side of Plynlimon mountain. Dave was on his third and near-new 690, Dan was on a 100-kilo 350 EXC and John was riding a Yam WR250F, as used by the school. This is a full-on, super-light enduro machine and despite similarities is an entirely different bike from my heavier and less powerful 250R, below left.

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wale-13For me it was a real eye-opener how gorgeous the Cambrian mountain of northern mid-Wales could be. I’d always considered it a No-Mans’s Land between the better know Brecons and Snowdonia to the north which explained why green laning (using off-road vehicles on unsealed but public roads) was permitted to survive here. I can now see it as a great destination its own right – a compact Scottish Highlands but without thewalemapir near-total ban on green laning, and without the rambling crowds of Snowdonia. And never mind the trails, much of the fun to me was cruising the deserted single-track backroads that snaked across the moors – the yellow C roads on the map you could do on any bike.
wale-18After Machynlleth, heading up the gnarly ‘Happy Valley’ green lane reminded me my WR was still without a proper bashplate (the OE one is seized on). In the meantime I was amazed how well the unfashionable Bridgestone TW301/302s tyres were managing. These came with the bike in 2008, were refitted by Hyperpro on selling it, and I can say did not miss a beat.
My snazzy Hyperpro suspension soaked up the easy pace too, just as you’d expect, though I dare say I could have refined it by playing with the knobs. Like the TTR250 I used in Spain in the summer, I never wished for more power on the trails or backroads – but then we did cheat by vanning the 200 miles up from London. The good thing with modest power is the tyre won’t spin out readily, but if caught in the wrong gear that WR still had enough to chug its way out – I never stalled it.
wale-9After reading so much about them, Dave let me have a quick spin on his 690 (recently fitted with Evo 2 aux. tanks) but can’t say I’m a convert yet. The KTM’s thumping vibration really struck me, soon followed by realising how quickly the sharp brakes and more than double the WR’s power could turn on me if tired or not concentrating. But the bike had a solid feel that even a new WR might not match, and out in the open desert I bet it would be in its element. wale-5A quick spin on Dan’s 350 EXC (right) on soft power setting was much more like it, but that bike needs new oil every 1000 miles so isn’t a contender as a travel bike. What I’d like is a 450 version of the 690, but pitched as a less tyre-shredding travel bike. Press the red button if I’ve said this before.
wale-19There sure are a lot of gates on the green lanes of the Cambrian mountains. It was rare to ride more than five minutes without doing the gate dance – and sometimes less than a minute. It breaks the rhythm of the ride but they contain the sheep which can easily jump a cattle grid if spooked. The trail north into Dolgellau between Cader Idris and the Barmouth estuary was a notable exception – a good ten minutes riding or more between gates.
We came across a few ramblers and dog walkers who didn’t look too put out – they’re walking along a ‘road’ after all, even if they don’t realise it. And we nearly ran into a big group of lads bursting out of the forest on unlicensed dirt bikes. Damage wise, their impact was minimal and who knows, the new Geraint Jones could be among them, but I bet they’d all rather be legit. Wouldn’t be it be great to have a huge trail park out here where people could roll up and ride round at their own pace, instead of the scurrying around on wasteland or dodging the rangers.
wale-27It poured overnight but day two actually dawned even brighter, apart from a well-timed downpour as we ate lunch in Talybont. Either the riding was easier or I was getting to grips with the WR. On rougher trails I did find it hard to ride smoothly; balancing the jerkiness of the engine with the right gear and the rebounding suspension while looking at what’s coming up and steering away from rocks, but this is just the nature riding a light, small-capacity bike at slow speeds. Turn up the wick if there’s room and things would smooth out. After the rain there were some bigger puddles today too. Initially they were a worry as I’d read the WR was prone to cutting out in a splash, but even with the engine note muted in two feet of water, it never even coughed.
I don’t know if it’s been a dry spell – in Wales, what are the chances? – but the ride John led us on was pleasingly free of mud and to me was all the better for it. My recollection of bombing around Rhayader on XTs 30 years ago was plunging into one peaty morass after another which just makes a mess of you and the landscape.

novehiclesIt would be great to do more riding around here on my own, as it’s as wild and extensive as you’ll get in the UK (there’s virtually no green laning in Scotland). But unless you live nearby or do the research, it would be hard to get a handle on which trails are legal and then put together a satisfying two-day route like the one we followed with John. Every year more and more green lanes in England and Wales get downgraded to paths. I haven’t a clue which of the trails we did were open to all, but promisingly I only saw one ‘no vehicles’ sign. Lacking a local pro like John, the answer is to hook up with the TRF or join an escorted tour from £50 a day with four of you. That’s just the way it is living in a small, crowded country and why I set off for the wide open Sahara in the first place – and why I’m off to Utah next week!

The bikes at HUBB UK 2013

hubeJust back from HUBB UK (read feedback here) and having just returned from the  Overland Expo in Arizona – also pitched at all wheeled overlanders, not just motos – it was interesting to note the differences in the bikes in attendance.

hub1hub2In the US the range of bikes seemed more narrowly focussed towards big BMWs (left), including  GS12s of course, as well as F800s such as the fully laden example on the right. Meanwhile at HUBB UK the bikes were about as diverse as you could imagine considering the similar theme; everything from C90s up to the 1200s and beyond.

Some might scoff at the Americans and their XXXL tastes, at least when judged by European standards, but it is a big country and unless you live in an area like the West where domestic ‘adventure motorcycling’ (aka: off-highway touring) offers near-infinite possibilities, getting to the good spots in a short amount of time is better done on a big, comfy machine, and one that might have some off-roading pretentions once you get to the sharp end. Even then, you hear of people on the other side of the country getting their big  GSs trailered over to Utah by the poor sod who drew the short straw, while the rest fly in after them for just a few days. So perhaps they do really have a thing for big machines to go with big everything else. Anything else might be classified as regular ‘dirt biking’.

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Brits might be classified as more experimental and eccentric. The picture on the left in the camping area shows a Tenere 660, a Guzzi Griso (a great looking machine!) and the venerable Africa Twin. Just out of shot is a Varadero (‘XXL Africa Twin’) and lined up at the back is a GS12, possibly a Suzuki DR-Z, maybe a Katana, a Serow-like small trail bike and a BMW F800GS. We have to remember of course that many of the bikes just mentioned are not even sold in the US, and many of these are not necessarily travel bikesElsewhere at HU I saw Huskys, twin-lamp Teneres, X-Countrys, Bonnies, but definitely a dearth of the big bikes that we are told define adventure bikes (I didn’t see one NC700X or Crosstourer hub99*but perhaps I should have gone to SpecSavers). There was even an old airhead BM (right) done up like my old late-70s black and gold 900SS, right down to the full clip-on and rear-sets treatment. Can’t be many of those to the pound.

Other bikes that caught my eye at the show were several KTM690s. I wonder if I missed a trick not listing the 690 more prominently in the book among the ‘Ten Overlanders’ from p44 (not the 10 best overlanders). I still think people are buying them not because they’re a super duper Tenere, ideally suited to overlanding, but because they fill the gap left by the 640 Adventure, while the current 660 Tenere is too heavy. With cars I’d compare the gap between your average Land Rover/Land Cruiser and hub4Unimog type vehicles – there is precious little in between. Out of the crate a 690 is indubitably a well-built machine that’s brilliant in the dirt, but  requires a fair expenditure to set up like a 640 or an XTZ (as the Rally Raid stand at HU showed). I’ve never ridden one but I view the 690 as a rather highly strung machine that like many KTMs is too good to waste on long-range travel.

hub5The 690 is of course light and that’s the direction you’d hope travel bikes are taking, now that power and economy are well covered. So not surprisingly there was a lot of interest in the imminent CCM GP450 previously mentioned here.

I must say in the flesh just as in the promo pics it looks more of a KTMish rally racer than a travel bike to me, though as a flashier rally bike will probably attract more attention and presumably greater sales. It’s said that Rally Raid (also at the show) had a hand in designing the bike and there’s even talk of Dakar entries in a year or two. Many commented on the fuel filler (17-litre tank) beyond the back of the seat which would get obscured by luggage. That, along with the £8k asking price and the one-litre engine oil capacity were what other onlookers questioned from an overlanding PoV, though I believe fully synthetic oil would last the recommended 5000-mile oil changes and if you can’t do that then change sooner. hub6Plus, as someone observed, one litre of good oil is not so much to carry. If that’s the worst criticisms garnered from looking at the GP450 then it’s a pretty short list. The CCM guy told me the gearing had three close and low ratios, with 4th and 5th more stretched out. Seems like agood plan on paper as once you’re in 4th or more you’re rolling along.
ccmframe4The square beam alloy rear subframe (above right) certainly looks more substantial than my last bike and the frame itself uses literally ‘cutting edge’ technology for a production machine as demonstrated on this video. Short sections with complex joints are finely cut from billet and are then bonded and  bolted together (left). No welding required. I noted the other day some Jap frame used a similar arrangement.

In fact the overall build quality and attention to detail appears far better than your average Jap bike. All that remains is to find out how the GP450 performs and more significantly, what it is like to actually live with.

hub7There was another CCM at the show, the SR40 which I admit slipped under my adv radar. Apparently CCM only built some 80 of these twin-shocked DRZ-engined ‘street scramblers’ a few years ago and Zen Overland had a couple prepared for an imminent big trip (left). Don’t quite know what they have been doing in the meantime but for CCM the jump from an SR40 to the snazzy GP450 in just a few years is nothing short of a Neolithic Revolution out of the Stone Age. Has some secretive but patriotic oligarch invested in the Bolton-based company?

hub8The SR40 was nice and low but looked a bit short for me and had a few design compromises for overlanding – all easily got around as far as I could see. Nevertheless I suggested to the bloke on the CCM 450 stand that a bike like this was more of a real world adventure bike than the flashy 450 and it would be great to see something like this again – a simple, low-saddled overlander harking back to the XT500 era, but with a modern efi engine and all the rest. Have to say I’m not convinced CCM get ‘adventure overlanding’ as I understand and define it, but then neither do most other manufacturers. Quite rightly they all have their eyes and aspirations on what might actually sell to the majority of bikers who have no intention of crossing a continent, but like biking and ‘the adv look’ all the same.

All that remains is to say thanks to Iain H. and Sam M. for organising a great HUBB event at the new venue.

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