Road Test

Living with a 2004 KTM 950 Adventure

After a messy sports bike divorce Jim hangs up his knee sliders and finds happiness with a KTM. She's a big old girl but up for it

November 2004

The more I ride the 950, the more I want to ride it. It's proving to be a worthy  car substitute - I haven't driven for three months - as well as an excellent all-rounder with it's classy super-tough panniers, although the spacious top box is somewhat disappointing in comparison, with its flimsy construction and fiddly locking mechanism.

That aside, it's ideal for charging around town, shopping, commuting and touring. I've briefly taken it off-road and was surprised at how easy it is to cross fairly challenging terrain. In terms of cross-country blasts on Tarmac, particularly on bumpy back roads, I firmly believe that the KTM will get you from A to B quicker than any other motorcycle. The soft, long travel suspension ensures unflappability while you charge from corner to bumpy corner, swallowing irregularities like a hungry hovercraft. The added bonus is that not being a flashy sports bike, and despite its towering road presence, I'm now virtually invisible to traffic cops.

The new gel seat means I can now stay on the bike until I've used a whole tank of fuel - the best part of 200 miles - without stopping to rest my tortured rear. Quite a difference to the previous 45-mile maximum.

However, the biggest revelation has been fitting the lightweight titanium Akrapovic cans in conjunction with a smaller 15-tooth front sprocket. Actually getting the KTM near a dyno to test the results has proved logistically impossible of late, but in terms of power increase, it feels like a gain of around 3-5bhp at the top end. It's tricky to say as the revised gearing plays a part in its new found vigour. It now accelerates from the lights like a giant motocrosser and overtakes purposefully in its previously redundant top gear. The cans are pricey at £724, but remember the bike needs two of them, not just the one you'd normally need for your run-of-the-mill inline-four. As is the fashion these days they come with semi-fixed in baffles and are stamped for legality. With the baffles still in they make a sexy enough sound to match their looks, and create a most agreeable popping and burbling hubbub on a closed throttle.

KTM's Adventure is frankly an awesome motorcycle - I've had five V-twins before this and none of them have been as much fun to ride, or as simple to live with. It couldn't be more different to the excellent but single-purpose CBR600RR I ran last year, though somehow the versatile KTM seems to offer so much more for its price tag.

I've already had one ban this year and should have been disqualified for the previous 20, for accumulated crimes against the Highway Code. Sports bikes can't be ridden sensibly by me, so the 950 has timed its arrival to perfection. It has clearly had a calming influence as I now happily ride everywhere at under 100mph, casting a smug, knowing smirk at over-excited GSX-R pilots as they pass me at what are now to me unimaginable speeds.

It's curious, but nearly all of you who've e-mailed in with your advice and observations on the 950 (a genuine thanks for all the tips), have traded in a seriously powerful race replica, are late 30s/early 40s, in fear of your licence, and happy to have made the change. The sweet irony is, of course, that the 950 is as content being abused like a pumped-up psycho supermoto on steroids as it is a serenely sensible cross-continental tourer.

All that's really left to do is fit my heated grips, plug-in waistcoat and liberally apply some crash bars. We'll soon show winter who's boss.

February 2005

Life is back to normal after the boar hunting expedition down to southern France. Prior to the hilarious return journey, the KTM had proved itself to be the daddy of dual-purpose. Even fully laden with panniers and camping gear, the long-travel suspension and chunky tyres made for easy progress across the dusty French trails.

With the exception of the 65mph front end blow out and consequent multiple Armco collisions while being towed by a 1200GS (having run out of gas), in the pissing rain, with a hangover and toothache, it's been plain sailing all the way. It even managed to get me home (over 600 miles) with a gaping hole in the very same front tyre. I get the feeling this bike is looking out for me.

The 950 has notched up over 12,000 miles and is happily eating up the weekly commute. I've only just fitted the third rear Pirelli MT60 - that's cheap motoring. I've easily managed five months without a car but, with the weather on the turn, I've concentrated my efforts on prepping the bike for a winter of salty abuse.

The first, most amusing acquisition was a set of Baglux handlebar muffs. An essential accessory for the discerning despatcher and at 40 quid and a couple of minutes to fit, are cheap and incredibly effective - I'll never sneer at a pair again. The second is the trusty £70 Scottoiler for a consistently automatic application of chain lube, and hopefully less frequent adjustment and replacement.

Though not weather related, the third job was to deal with my pet hate. Horns - they are inaudible on 99% of all two wheelers. I've gone through a phase of several near death experiences recently, which is becoming tiresome. A trip to Halfords, 16 quid and a load of fiddling later and I'm parping my new twin air puppies at every given opportunity. Bliss.

Last and most important is the heated jacket liner and gloves from Gerbing. This is serious kit (at just over £300) that will probably never be turned up to its maximum heat setting in one of our limp-wristed winters, but will enable me to ride in complete comfort in any sub-zero situation. I've had it up to half heat on a cold night and found myself perspiring - weird. I'm not planning on risking my neck in icy conditions if the trains are still running, but it'll be interesting to see how far I get before Jack Frost gets the better of me.

August 2005

Anniversaries are a time for reflection. Is it working out between us? Are the eyes roaming towards younger, sleeker models? Are you still spinning my crank? It took 12 months to rack up 19,000 miles on the Adventure - the biggest distance I've covered on one bike in one year. So what's the verdict?

To summarise, I can't remember once wishing I was riding another bike. Now that's pretty impressive in my book. I suppose you either get used to the little imperfections on a bike, or they drive you nuts. On the KTM, they are few and far between, and I have to concentrate hard to remember them, but here we go:

  1. The fuel reserve trip only works on a motorway as stop/starts keep re-setting it
  2. The brakes aren't that powerful and can make a racket
  3. You can't experiment with different rubber as there's only one tyre to choose from
  4. Twin fuel tanks look cool but do slow you down at pit stops

Yes, I'm nitpicking but that's what you have to do to fault the Adventure. It's never let me down, it's got
character and it's schizophrenic personality means you can have your cake and eat it - go off-roading, touring, scratching, stunting or commuting. I've done the lot - and all for less than eight grand to you.

This 950 has never seen a bike cover, let alone a garage. It's parked outside my Brighton pad and left to deal with hundreds of miserable wet nights, incontinent gulls and relentless salty sea spray. With this in mind, the finish is still respectable and better than I thought it would look. I keep it clean but don't pamper it - it's a tool not a prized piece of exotica.

Fifty-two weeks without a car and only another fifty-two to go. I've completed my pledge to become a proper biker again for a whole year - the trouble is that I'm loving it.

KTM are letting me keep the bike for another year and I aim to prove that this bike is a real alternative to a car, let alone a BMW GS. Full service details next time.

November 2005

My Adventure love affair continues uninterrupted. Each time it racks up another thousand on the clock, I give it a wink and a little pat and proceed to administer a sound thrashing. And she  loves it. I'm now well into my second year of 950 'ownership' and despite it being my only day-to-day transport, I still find myself heading off on sporadic joy rides across local hunting grounds. It's a great cross-country tool and is as much fun now as it was in the first few months. A class act, and one that will be very hard to follow. Had to replace the rear brake disc last week as it had warped significantly, but no other problems to report though.

I was going to tell you about the new Brembo equipment and how it's transformed the braking performance of the bike. Instead, I have to tell you that I've run out of patience and have binned the idea. It would be easier to split an atom with my arse than find a combination of Brembo lever/master cylinder and brake lines that actually fit without having to replace the mirror with one from a Triumph, or perhaps shorten the forks, add a foot-operated clutch and a third wheel.

The final addition to the KTM is the waterproof Garmin Quest satellite navigation system. With colour screen, voice commands and a host of features, it's a very sophisticated bit of kit. It's the first time I've used any such device so I'm busy figuring out how its mind works. I set the destination for a small town in Brittany and headed off for the ferry. The unfamiliar route was fairly simple so I arrived without any unnecessary deviations. But perhaps therein lies the rub. On several familiar, uncomplicated routes near home, the device often tried to coerce me onto a less logical or direct course, despite being set to its 'faster time' mode. Anyway, I'm the one on a learning curve so it could be down to the operator.

Check out everything you need to know about the Quest at www.gpsw.co.uk, or various ingenious mounting systems  at www.ram-mount-uk.com

May 2006

It'll be strange not seeing the Adventure lurking outside the front of my flat. After two years of fun and
frolics, and 18 months of it spent being my only transport, it's time to send the old girl back to KTM.

Of all the long-term test bikes I've tried over the last 10-odd years, the KTM has certainly had the most use, the most varied use and the most abuse. It was also the bike that I fretted over the least, and that gave me the least grief in return. The Adventure wasn't necessarily perfect but you'd have to admit that KTM got it right first time, and the minor imperfections only added to its charm. In fact, it still amazes me that the UK roads aren't awash with the things (though I'm secretly quite pleased at this). You'll get from A to B just as quickly as any sports bike - particularly if it involves B roads, heavy traffic or a fuel stop. It's easy on running costs and isn't a target for thieves.

You'll naturally experience all the ups and downs of motorcycling during a 29,000 mile stint and I shared the lot with the Adventure. Riding through floods, snow and ice, falling off with full luggage and camping gear on dusty French trails, front tyre blow-outs on the motorway in the pissing rain, despatching sports bikes over local country roads - the memories are endless. But throughout it all the KTM kept merrily chugging on. Not that it should come as any great surprise, it's just that you almost expect problems from a new model - particularly from a firm with a history biased towards off-road competition rather than road bikes.

On the more practical side, there are no major negatives to report. It could have done with more power in the braking department, and the stoppers were prone to making a racket, particularly in the wet. The storage compartment on the fuel tank needs to be water tight, which it wasn't, and the fuel reserve counter only worked accurately on motorways as it would re-set if you sloshed the fuel around under stop-start conditions.

So, if I needed a practical, fun bike and was spending my own money, of course it would have to be the Adventure. But I have recently succumbed to car ownership and what's more, the best bike I rode last year was a bike with exactly the same V-twin engine in it. Time to make that phone call. "Hello? KTM? About that 950SM..."

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