First Ride: 2006 KTM 950 Adventure review

KTM's first 950 Adventure won over a horde of fans when it first hit the market with rave reviews. So what's it like on a blast to France?

This review is part of the Monster Trailies Lap France mega-test review. Click the link for the rivals.

Relaxing on a Spanish beach after a hard day's riding with sausages sizzling and a cool San Miguel to hand. This is how I pictured this test turning out. But, like all good dreams, daybreak follows. We scratch, we stumble out of bed and then get on with reality. In this case I stumble out of a hotel room in Brive and try to work out what the hell has gone on in the last day or so.

Now I'm not an experienced camper. Most of my racing years were spent living in a 38-foot motor home, so camping is a distant memory from the Montrose Boys Brigade camp of 1972 (also the location of my first glimpse of a girl's front bottom). The idea always appeals to me, but I prefer mod cons such as soap and water. On the upside I do like making fires, barbecuing and getting drunk. Perhaps roughing it will be fun. It had better be - I already feel as if I've been living like a caveman. My brain is struggling with reality. To make the rendezvous I've spent the last 30 hours in the saddle, stopping only for fuel and caffeine every 140 miles when the fuel light started blinking, plus a quick kip in a Travel Tavern. It's a blur, but it got us all the way to Brive.

Gobbling pains aux chocolat on day three, I'm looking forward to another long day ahead. I reckon if you don't bond with a bike after riding it for two days it's probably never going to happen. I must remember this if I ever attempt the 'long way round'.

Catching up with Alex over my second pain, I compliment him on his choice of Dakar mechanics (you'll have read about his epic ride in Visordown earlier this year). Daryll Young, who spannered for Alex on the Dakar, bailed me out three days ago when I ground to a halt at four in the morning somewhere in Leicestershire. After clocking the twin filler caps of the KTM Adventure I'd been looking forward to many hours in the saddle between fuel stops. Confusion therefore set in when, after just 65 miles, I spluttered to a standstill on a pitch black M1 with one side still full of unleaded. When I stopped weeping, an unsociably early phone call to Daryll got me back on the road. It turned out there had been a schoolboy error back at HQ: one of the underslung screws that allows fuel to bleed from one side to another had been left closed. So far that's been the only unforseen stoppage.

Another coffee down and it's back into the saddle. I remember when I first saw the KTM, sitting there with its hard off-road look. How many miles were they expecting me to do on that? I felt like pre-booking an appointment with the arse doctor. Actually, though, it's not that bad. As I head out of Brive the small upright screen does a good job creating a nice little refuge, something I've found necessary after mile upon mile of high-speed buffeting over the last few days. More importantly, after days of riding I still have virtually no aches or pains. And none around the gluteal area. Must remember to cancel that appointment...


And for once it's not raining - and there are roads with corners in sight. I've almost forgotten what it feels like to ride a bike around a bend, but the roads outside Brive certainly help jog the memory. I like riding non-sports bikes. It's always a refreshing change from what I usually ride, and pushing the KTM through the twisty roads is shaping up to be the highlight of the trip. Chasing the other trailies along, I can't help but be impressed by the skinny Pirelli front tyre. It may not have quite the feedback of more road-oriented rubber, but it certainly does the job. In the wet, on questionable surfaces, the front can be a bit vague, but in the dry the tyres cope well - far better than I'd have thought. And the panniers don't ruin the games either.

Pannier grinding has been a new experience for me but I have to say that the top-loading KTM boxes are very robust. Not only that, they don't really do too much to the handling. During a quick coffee stop Jon points out to me that throughout the last stint they looked like they were going to hit the ground at any second. From where I was sitting it didn't feel like that. But as the day rolls on I develop a worrying habit of dislodging them.

First the left one pops off as I clip a concrete bollard while doing a pavement U-turn. Easily done, I'd say. It pops straight back on and the only legacy of the misadventure is a slight scuff. Then I clonk a traffic cone in a contraflow 'at speed'. The right pannier comes adrift and the cone goes flying, skittling a load of other cones and I fear for a moment that I've caused a pile-up. As we put everything back together again I have to admire the sturdiness of KTM's standard-fit gear.

Twisty road over and the ride to Tours is becoming a bit of a blur. What with the sleep debt I've accumulated and the fact that the KTM doesn't have heated grips, I feel like I have to attempt the odd stunt to keep me from nodding off. Loaded panniers make wheelies easy because the front end is relatively light (if you want to re-balance the dynamics, I found that winding up the rear preload four turns from standard and raising the front rebound to eight clicks from maximum works a treat). When I first rode the bike I thought the brakes were a bit suspect, but it was more down to the delay in rear to front weight transfer, so after fettling the suspension all was well. Although I think I've a bit to learn about loading.

We drop into a hypermarket at Tours and practically clear the shelves of wine. A few miles down the road I spot Jon waving frantically (he's had a busy day, what with clearing up after Jim's panniers popped). My tent has slipped onto one of the tailpipes. I pull over and adjust things but the damage has been done.

We reach what might laughingly be called a campsite and I unspool the sorry package. Part of it has melted.

There's only one thing to do: uncork the booze. As the meat begins to sizzle on our disposable barbeques and the wine-fuelled campfire stories start to flow I worry less about the gaping hole in my tent. The camaraderie of a road trip is truly special. Especially when Jim and Jason round off the cabaret perfectly by barfing their load well into the wee small hours.

Give me half a chance and I'll do it all again tomorrow. Maybe. If I could just have a hot bath first.