When BMW’s GS series came out it defined a new class of big-bore “adventure” bikes. Over time, though, refinement to the GS softened it enough, according to some riders, to blunt its ability to perform the job it was originally designed to do.
Many of those riders found an alternative in KTM’s 950/990 Adventure, which stripped away some of the niceties of the GS and replaced them with a hard-edged, more off-road-oriented skill set, and a more focused mission statement.
The Adventure began in 2003, powered by a liquid-cooled 942cc V-twin with dual overhead cams and the cylinders set at a 75-degree angle. The short, narrow engine pumped out a twitch of the dyno needle more than 100 horsepower, plenty sufficient to blast through the boonies or gobble up miles of Interstate travel effortlessly.
Engineers being what they are—restless when idle—in 2006 KTM upped the displacement to 999cc, revised the cams and replaced the 950’s carbs with fuel injection. Horsepower output crept up too, but only to about 105.
The Adventure’s chassis doesn’t contribute any unneeded poundage to the ride, thanks to a lightweight chrome-moly frame and an aluminum subframe, which positions the seat between 34 inches (for the 950) and 35 (for the 990) from the deck, typical for the class but off-putting for the inseam challenged.
Both models come with an 18-inch rear wheel and a 21-inch front. The 990 was gifted—or cursed, depending on your point of view—with ABS, a move that outraged riders who racked up a lot of off-road miles, but at least KTM made it easy to turn it off when the going got rough. Besides, it said, if you don’t want ABS at all, get the Adventure S, which is perfectly happy to let you commit your very own braking follies wherever you wish.
The Adventure’s chassis and running gear are game for whatever you have planned, whether it’s on pavement or off piste. Light weight (491 and 510 pounds for the 950 and 990, respectively) make the bike admirably flickable for such a tall machine, and if nothing else easier to pick up when you drop it.
The 990’s fuel injection, with some surging and soft throttle response, needs sorting for street work, but otherwise the strong engine, narrow layout and powerful Brembo brakes lend both Adventures more twisty-road talent than you might expect.
Shopping for a pre-owned Adventure means knowing the difference between used and used up. More than some other big ADV bikes, KTMs actually get taken off-road, so even the good deals might look a bit worse for wear.
It’s hard to pin down a reliability rating for Adventures, as some run forever with nothing but gas and oil and others spend an hour in the shop for every hour on the road. Flash points for failures seem to be the water pump shaft and seals, and the clutch slave cylinder. Glitchy fueling on the 990 is more of a quirk than a fault.
Street value on the 950 (2003-05) ranges from about $5,600 to $7,200; the 990 (2006-13) goes for anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000. Accessories, especially factory ones, add value or make good bargaining chips. But maintenance records are even better than hard cases and crash bars, and can be more valuable in the long run.
KTM 950/990 Adventure Specs
Fit and ready for the toughest on- or off-road assignment.
Not often seen in Starbuck’s parking lots.
Reliability can be spotty, regular maintenance is a must.
Oh, and where’s the nearest KTM dealer?
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 75-degree DOHC V-twin
Final drive: O-ring chain
Wet weight: 491 lbs. (950); 510 lbs. (990)
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gals. (950); 5.1 gals. (990)
Seat height: 34-35 inches