2021 KTM 890 Adventure R

Editor Score: 92.5%
Engine 19.0/20
Suspension/Handling 15.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Instruments/Controls4.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.75/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 10/10
Value 8.75/10
Overall Score92.5/100

Back in December, I included the KTM 890 Adventure R in our selection of most anticipated motorcycles of 2021. This was a list of the staff’s most anticipated bikes, mind you. As I mentioned there, the bike was hot on my mind because I knew I would have the chance to swing a leg over it soon. I mean, how could I not be excited about a motorcycle that is capable of long days of travel while simultaneously being able to tackle the toughest terrain you’re willing to take it over. Folks the likes of Chris Birch and Quinn Cody have shown that the KTM isn’t likely to be the limiting factor. If you have the talent, the Adventure R will get it done. 

The KTM 790 Adventure R impressed me in Morocco where the machine’s stellar performance helped me make it through one of the most rigorous (see: fun) press launch tests I’ve had the opportunity to attend. 

Thankfully, the time has finally come for Motorcycle.com to have a whack at the new and improved 2021 KTM 890 Adventure R. I’ve already put hundreds of miles (more paved than I would like) on the bike and, like before, the motorcycle continues to impress. Although we’ve already published our 2021 KTM 890 Adventure R First Look, let us take a moment for a quick recap of the updates that turned the 790 into the 890 Adventure R.

What’s changed with the 2021 KTM 890 Adventure R?

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

We should probably start with the obvious, and that’s displacement! The 790’s 799cc LC8c Parallel Twin has been enlarged to 889cc with a larger 90.7 mm bore and 68.8 mm stroke. With that came a higher compression ratio (13.5:1 versus 12.7:1), larger valves, lighter pistons, new connecting rods, and revised cam profiles. Each throttle body receives new sensors to measure the manifold pressure and adjust the mixture on a per-cylinder basis for improved throttle response and more precise throttle inputs. Add it all together, and you get a parallel-Twin that KTM claims puts out 105 hp and 73.8 lb-ft of torque. Essentially, these are the same updates given to the KTM 890 Duke R which we covered in our First Look and First Ride of the 2020 KTM 890 Duke R. 

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

Moar is moar.

But we’re here to deliver you impartial numbers, not just what the manufacturer claims. When we hoisted the big, er, middleweight girl onto the dyno, she cranked out 91.5 hp at 8200 rpm and 63.8 lb-ft of torque at 6800 rpm. If we compare that to our most recent dyno run of the 790 Adventure R, we’re looking at an increase of 7.5 horses and 6.5 pound-feet of torque. Not far off of KTM’s claimed increase of 10 hp and 8.9 lb-ft of umph from the 790 moto. Our dyno guru also suggested the TKC80’s fitted to the bike could cost a 3% loss in power numbers due to the lack of rubber on the dyno’s roller, which then brings the number even closer to KTM’s claimed increase in powuh

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

A 90cc boost in displacement, updated internals and transmission as well as electronics all help to deliver tractable power – and more of it.

In addition, the 890 has also undergone changes in the transmission. An updated Power Assist Clutch (PASC) gets new friction plates. Shifting is made quicker and easier by a lighter shift-detent spring and shorter throws between gears. Fourth, fifth, and six gears receive a glass bead blasting treatment for improved reliability. 

A lighter subframe and aluminum steering head tube are the main changes to the chassis while the fully-adjustable WP XPLOR suspension remains relatively unchanged aside from some valving updates in the shock. The low-slung 5.3-gallon tank remains as well. 

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

Just look at how light that subframe is! I could barely keep it on the ground! Or maybe that was because I forgot to back out the preload when we ventured off-road initially? At any rate, here’s a fun fact: I was heading uphill in this picture.

Updates are said to have been made to the rear brake by way of new “isolated” pistons – which means isolation plates between the pads and pistons for better heat management.

While all of that sounds great, there are some changes we’re not as happy to see. The MSRP has gone up $500 to $14,199 which, by itself isn’t terrible, but what rubs salt into this flesh wound is that Rally mode – one of my favorite features from the 790 ADV R (and one that was standard on the R trim) – is now a $200 optional upgrade. The $200 Rally pack includes adjustable traction control and throttle response as well as the Rally ride mode. If you’d like the full Tech Pack that adds the up and down Quickshifter+ and cruise control in addition to the Rally Pack, you’ll be forking over an extra $550 on top of the MSRP. It also appears ABS can no longer be disengaged entirely, rather you have the option between Road and Off-road ABS settings. 

So, how does it stack up?

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

To the competition? It’s still the off-road dominating middleweight adventure bike that we’ve come to know over the past two years. In our last shootout with the 790 ADV R, it was quickly apparent that the 790’s off-road manners were unparalleled by the other two bikes involved. That shootout was missing one crucial component though – the Yamaha Tenere 700. The 790 Adventure R also took the top spot for power-to-weight ratio in that comparison – a place the 890 is likely to remain having gained only two pounds in its genesis over the 467-pound 790 Adventure R. 

But something’s missing…

How the 2021 KTM 890 Adventure R stacks up to its smaller older brother is an entirely different story. The 790 Adventure R left a big blown out rut in the dirt for all other adventure bikes to follow, including its successor. 

When the 890 Duke R replaced the 790 Duke it was a game changer. Better suspension, revamped ergos, better brakes, and that stonkin’ 889cc powerplant – and all for only $1200 more than the 790 Duke! The Brembo Stylemas alone will cost you nearly that much. That decision, to me, was a no brainer. The 890 Duke R gets my money every day of the week and twice on Sunday. It also won my vote (and Troy’s) in the last comparison we did against the Triumph Speed Triple RS. But does the 890 Adventure R deliver the same TKO as the 890 Duke R?

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

I believe I can… get this machine landed and stopped before that pile of shale!

The 890 Adventure R is everything the 790 was and more. That is undeniable (aside from Rally mode not being included as standard, I’m not bitter, you’re bitter). It has the new powerful, punchy motor. The transmission updates are appreciated, but not without some flaws – every time you put the bike in neutral you must roll it around to get it to slip into first, and the Quickshifter+ function on our test bike wasn’t working well anywhere but the top third of the rev range. And many of the updates to the engine internals can’t be felt while riding. The lighter subframe is great for keeping weight down, but it didn’t make a difference to me while on the bike. The 890 ADV R is nearly the same weight as before having gained only two pounds at 469 lbs – a commendable weight in this segment. 

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

Thankfully, the same WP XPLOR suspension we praised on the 790 Adventure R is found on the 890 with slight revisions to the shock’s damping.

The WP suspension still kicks the ass of every other bike’s getaway sticks in this category and is a big reason why the middleweight KTM Adventure leads the segment off-road. The brakes are strong enough for blasting around a twisty road while being more than powerful enough for off-road riding. I’m pleased to see updates made to the rear brake, but it wasn’t discernable in my somewhat limited testing at this point. 

My biggest reasons to look forward to the 890 Adventure R were more torque lower in the rpm-range, and the 20% increase in crankshaft mass that would hopefully help the bike resist stalling. During my testing off-road it did feel less prone to stalling through corners or tip-toeing around at low speed, but not night-and-day different. At least without riding them back-to-back. Where I felt the biggest change was how well the bike managed traction. Hauling the mail on the 890 Adventure R can become an exhilarating experience quickly because rather than lighting up the rear, even in the lowest TC setting, the bike manages to put traction to the ground that propels you forward like you’re on a 91-horsepower dirtbike, because well, you are. 

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

The extra hp sauce and torque are there, but the engine retains a somewhat manic character. Tom Roderick called the 790’s Parallel Twin  “one of the best parallel-twin engines I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding.” Our guest tester, AMA Supersport and dirt track champ, Eric Bostrom mentioned the 790’s mill was too aggressive off-road until we tamed it by putting the bike into Off-road mode. The 890 is basically the same story with more power and torque throughout the rev-range. Off-road, unless you throttle back the motor with the electronics, it does tend to start off a little slow down really low before jumping into the meat of its power quickly and aggressively. This can all be tuned with its electronics however, which makes switching from aggressive canyon carving straight to tractable off-road riding all the more satisfying. On-road, the additional power corrupts, as twisting your wrist in any gear, freeway speeds or not, delivers a powerful forward thrust that is nothing short of addictive. 

The dyno chart comparison shows that the 890 makes power in nearly the same manner, just more of it throughout. More is more, right? We praised the 890 Duke R for it’s new motor, and while the changes aren’t as significant with the Adventure’s state of tune, it’s still a hoot to twist the throttle. 

Roadies

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

A lot of folks have complained across the net that reviews of this bike, or any other “Adventure” or “R” model ADV machine for that matter, focus too much on the off-road performance with little consideration for the riders who plan to do 80% or so on-road and only 20% of filth. So, I want to take a second to mention the points that stand out about this bike on the street.

Ergonomics are pleasantly neutral with a nice upright seating position and the handlebar can be adjusted in six different positions to fine tune the cockpit for different size riders. The seat height does feel every bit of its 34.6 inches – it’s tall. 

The suggested standard suspension settings (“standard” for Street and Off-road are the same aside from the shock’s spring preload) struck a good balance off-road for our mix of rocks and sand, but for spending most of your time on pavement, you’ll want to soften both end’s damping. Large bumps on the freeway are sharply transmitted to the rider but can easily be smoothed out thanks to the easily adjusted suspension on both ends. 

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

If your plan is to hustle through the twisties, you might consider swapping the TKC80s. They can get a little squirmish.

The motor is pretty great around town and at freeway speeds. It has the torque to shoot around town or on your favorite twisty road as well as the ability for quick propulsions on the interstate. The brakes are plenty strong enough on both ends, if slightly touchy, and the fork (as if I hadn’t praised WP enough) does an excellent job of resisting dive on the street – something adventure bikes tend to have issues with. 

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

Folks familiar with the previous setup will be at home with the 890’s as not much has changed.

Again, it comes down to the adjustability of the electronics and suspension that will allow you to set this bike up the way you want. If you like the Adventure styling, comfort, or whatever, there are also options on the streetier end of the spectrum by way of the standard 890 Adventure ($13,099) as well as the option to snag one of the limited-to-700 890 Adventure R Rally models ($19,999) should you swing the other way. 

Wrap it up already

The 2021 890 Adventure R feels like an excellent successor to the 790’s dominance of real off-road adventure riding. There’s nothing aside from the lower price (and standard Rally mode) that I’ll miss from the 790. I do have to wonder though, if a dealer had a few 790 Adventure Rs sitting on the floor that they were looking to blow out next to a full-priced 890 Adventure R, which would I pick?

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review

The 890 Adventure R is my cup of ADV tea, I prefer to give up some touring niceties that other bikes in the class have – like the Triumph Tiger which is loaded with modern touring comforts – for extra ability off-road. Is it best in class? At this point, it’s hard to say. There’s only one way to find out…