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.
Read our 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Road Test Review.
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.
Check out our comparison test between the Honda Africa Twin and KTM 1090 Adventure R.
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
“CONS: where is the nearest KTM dealer?” in walking distance from my house :-))
Done 35k miles on my 990 .good for road solo, not great for two up plus gear.No problem keeping up with kawa 1000sx.,multistradas ,and such like on good twisty roads.Noisy turbulence from screen.Brakes are too weak for fast road riding.care and forward planning required.Average mpg = 40. 5k miles maximum from rear tyre.Quite a fragile bike.rear wheel bearings at 10k miles.Replace water pump seal and bearings at 15k miles.Countershaft worn at 16k miles, causing front sprocket failure ,which in turn ruined clutch slave cylinder.Steering head bearings nakt at 15k miles, as were swing arm bearings and bushes.Rear shock required rebuild.Front fork seals replaced at 18k.rear brake disc shot at 16k miles.Front spokes rusted to hell by 8k miles.Paint bubbling ,flaking and cracking by 10k miles.Neutral indicator comes on in 2nd gear.Rear “mudguard” split at 8k miles.Wiring to headlight corroded causing light to go off unexpectedly ,at night, of course.Engine will cut out from time to time for no reason.Cause never been found.still does it.Rubbish under 4k revs, but good above.Had ECU sorted for smoother throttle and leaned a wee bit for better fuel consumption.Hepco – Becker cases are heavy but good.Exhaust rots below side panel area.electrics and oil pipe started to rot at 15k miles.Water gets in past the bash plate.Spares are very, very expensive.Okay bike to own if you are mechanically minded.Not ideal if you rely on dealers.Good bike if the power game and latest electric gizmos don’t impress you.17″ and 19 “wheels make it into a very manageable road bike, especially with pilot 4,s fitted.I love it for the ride experience and hate it for needing to be worked on all the time.Vibrates a fair bit, which is tiring on longer tours.Seating position is comfy.Fairly light for a bike of this physical size.Headlight is shite on dip, remarkably average on main.Aditional led spots required for night travel at anything over 50mph.I regard this bike as a tool, rather than something special to coset and spend hours cleaning and gazing at in the garage.Noisy engine.not as bad as a Ducati though.Very good on muddy tracks.forestry roads, type one roads etc.Never jumped over boulders or ridden down a river on it, but you could probably do it if you were an off road guy.Crossed two rivers on it no problem.I wouldn’t choose it if you intend to do frequent long trims.Too much anxiety wondering when its going to break down.Ok for short hops not too far from home.out of ten I would give it 5.
I have completed 50K miles on my 2009 Adventure and I am confused! I have experienced virtually non of the problems listed by McLean. 18 months ago I rode it around Australia (18k km in 42 days) with nothing more than a puncture. Admittedly it has see limited off road work and is not subject to the harsh weather in the UK.
I cannot relate to much of what is written above. My bike does not vibrate at all, nor cause me any anxiety whatsoever. I have had no failures at all, beyond changing fuel filters. A tail of two different would appear.
Agreeing with Steve… 42,000 miles on my 2012 after buying it virtually new in ’16.
No pump failures, did forks and shock build as I do energy bike that I ride over 20,000 miles a year.
Britannia lighting and custom wind screens, custom seat, wings exhaust, Emig triples and damper. CJ fuel fillers, pivot pegs with extensions, and I pull a custom Moto mule trailer at light speed all the time.
The bike rips and yes requires upkeep like my high performance race cars also did.
For what she gives me she requires something back.
Zero failures and lots of smiles.
My KTM 950S Is a dream come true for me! I replaced the water pump this summer and just love burping her! I store and purchased her near KTM of Asspen and highly suggest those folks. She is forgiving but also always willing to go harder. My only recent issue is burnt fluid in the brakes.
My 2013 KTM 990 Adv has never let me down ever its used on and off road its regularly maintained by myself and still impresses me today with is power and agile handling.
Absolutely brilliant bike.
Owned 03 950 adventure for the past 5 years.Performance on and offroad is excellent,plenty of power and great sound with aftermarket pipes fitted.The maintenance costs can be high depending on what needs replacing,however engine reliability has been fine as long as you don’t cut corners on maintenance.
My 2010 Adventure r has never let me down. I have had the water pump seals replaced before they failed and the spokes have rusted, but apart from 30k miles in the UK weather, full of fun and without issue!!
My 07 990 Adventure has never missed a beat did one big service when I got it. Now just oil changes. maybe McLean just got a lemon
Ktm dealers everywhere now days too everyone has an orange machine in the shed