Buyer Guide: KTM 950 & 990 Adventure

Buy a perfect example of KTM’s hugely versatile adventure bike

Click to view: KTM 950 & 990 Adventure owners reviews, specs and image galleries.

Pity poor BMW. They invent a whole new kind of bike, then develop and refine it over decades until it becomes a world beater. Then, after some half-baked Japanese imitations, some Austrian upstart pinches the idea and builds a machine better than the big BMW. To be fair, it’s a close call as to whether KTM’s Adventure really does have the measure of BMW’s GS. But there’s no denying, that for such a new bike, it’s gone from zero to hero almost instantly.

Like all the GS family of BMWs, the KTM 950 and 990 Adventures are very much multi-purpose tools. Yes they’re more than capable of round-the-world trips – taking in mountains, deserts and pretty much anything else Mother Earth can muster. But they’re good at loads more besides. They’re comfortable, practical and versatile. And most importantly, they’re fast and handle far better than their weird appearance would have you believe. This makes them stacks of fun, both on and off tarmac.

New KTM prices have just leapt up, so now clean, used machines make even more sense. Generally, the brand has a reputation for building exceptionally good quality machines, though on occasion it’s been known to drop the odd clanger – an iffy batch of main bearings on their single-cylinder Adventure a few years ago, for example. The internet is awash with rumours of problems with the 950 and 990s – as it is for so many bikes – but we’ve got the truth here thanks to the owners who filled in our online survey and told us about their bikes.

Fifty owners of the 990 version and 21 who have the earlier 950 gave us the lowdown on what these bikes are really like to live with. If you’re after the real truth about one of the most exciting bikes out there, read on and prepare to spend...

KTM Adventure Specifications

2002 KTM 950 Adventure

Engine liquid-cooled, 8-valve, 942cc V-twin Power 98bhp @ 8000rpm Torque 70ftlb @ 6000rpm
Dry weight 198kg Seat height 880mm Fuel capacity 22 litres Top speed 130mph

2006 KTM 990 Adventure

Engine liquid-cooled, 8-valve, 999cc V-twin Power 98bhp @ 8500rpm Torque 70ftlb @ 6500rpm
Dry weight 199kg Seat height 880mm Fuel capacity 22 litres Top speed 130mph

2009 KTM 990 Adventure

Engine liquid-cooled, 8-valve, 999cc V-twin Power 104bhp @ 7800rpm Torque 74ftlb @ 6500rpm
Dry weight 209kg Seat height 860mm Fuel capacity 22 litres Top speed 135mph

The nuts & bolts

Running costs
Servicing isn’t cheap and it’s needed regularly. A minor service is due every 4,500 miles and a major, including valve clearances, every 9,000 miles. In our survey, owners of the 950 paid an average of £232 and £369 for these respectively. Owners of the 990 paid slightly less; £187 and £356. Unlike most Japanese bikes, on pre-2009 bikes, the first (600 mile) service is a big one.

Fuel consumption is not the best as 950 owners report an average of 42mpg, with a low of 30 and a best of 50. You’d hope the 990 with fuel injection would be better, but the average in our survey was 39mpg, with best and worst figures of 48 and 32 respectively. Despite the 22-litre twin fuel tanks, range isn’t brilliant. Owners of the 950 manage about 160-170 miles before reserve and about 210-220 before running dry. The 990 owners get about 20 miles less. Aqualine ( do 42-litre tanks but they’re not cheap.

Average tyre life is 7,788 miles from a front and 5,516 from a rear, though some people get 10,000 or more from a pair. Off-road rubber is toasted sooner.

By far the most popular tyre is the OE Pirelli Scorpion. Eighty two percent of owners surveyed told us they use Scorpions. They’re generally well liked, though a few owners think they don’t work so well in the wet or off-road. The next most popular choice is Continental TKC80s, which are much more off-road based. There isn’t a huge range of road-going rubber to pick from. As a result, some owners change the wheels to 17” rear and 19” front wheels for a better choice.

Hard luggage is very popular on these bikes and rightly so, considering they’re so distance-capable. KTM’s own hard panniers (a matching top box is available too) are by far the most popular. They’re plastic, made by Hepco and Becker and called Gobi. They’re well liked by most people. They’re doubleskinned and the resulting void can be used to store drinking water, plus they don’t let the rain in.

On the downside the locks are fiddly, not that secure and prone to breaking. Martyn Cleaver points out they make good seats when camping. Gareth Lockyer says they’re “rubbish” and says the hinge on the top box is poor and that it won’t take a full-face lid.

Owner Case Study: "Morocco, Croatia... I’ve been everywhere"

Mark Graham rode to Morocco and Croatia on his 2003 950 Adventure. Now he owns a 990, which he’s already taken right to the top of Norway

“They’re great bikes. For what I do I can’t think of anything better. They were superb on the overseas trips. I got the first one specifically for the Morocco trip. We were away for three weeks, two of those in Morocco. We did lots of miles on dirt roads and took the bikes on sand dunes too. It coped superbly with whatever I threw at it. High-speed stability with the panniers fully loaded was fine too. You have to be a bit careful in crosswinds though – gusts do tend to affect the bike a fair bit thanks to the large areas of bodywork.

“Neither bike had any problems, although the 950 used to carb ice. I got carb heaters fitted, but it still did it occasionally. I think the 990’s better – a more finished version of the 950. Some people don’t like the throttle response, but I find it okay.

“I do all my own servicing, mainly because I think the servicing bills at a KTM dealer can be quite high. Taking the tanks and bodywork off is time consuming but, once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to work on than a Japanese four cylinder bike.

“I had Hondas before; a FireBlade, a VFR800 and a CBR600 among others and I think KTMs are as good or better in terms of build quality and reliability.”

What goes wrong
Eleven out of the 21 950 owners we surveyed said they’d not had a single problem with their bike. Of the rest, three reported clutch problems – failure of the slave cylinder. Two reported a failing oil pressure switch and two also had problems with the carb heaters (950). Each of these was reported once: fuel pump failure, sidestand switch, temperature sensor, water pump seal, speedo sensor and rear brake fade.

It’s a rosier picture with the newer 990. Thirty eight of the 50 ­owners surveyed, reported no problems. Four complained battery life was too short. Four said the rear brake doesn’t work well and needs regular bleeding, despite a recall on the seal. Each of the following was reported once: warped brake disc, clutch slave cylinder failure, jammed starter motor (happened twice to one owner), ABS fault on rear brake, clutch basket bolt came loose and a new engine was required (replaced under warranty).

Overall there’s very little to worry about with the 990 except that loose clutch bolt wrecking the engine. Adrian Bolam got it sorted under warranty, but was told a batch were like that – potentially very expensive if it happens outside the warranty period.

There’s some excellent owners forums like, where owners share information and loads more.

The main grumble here is rusty spokes. It can be prevented with anti-rust gunk, such as ACF50 and FS365, but it’s hard to apply without getting it on the brake discs. Otherwise, three owners pointed the finger at the clutch cover, three at the paint (on the mudguards and front panels especially), three at fasteners, two at the finish on the rear subframe and one each complained about the mirrors, exhaust and pannier frames.

Akrapovic are the most popular aftermarket exhausts on both the 950 and the 990. Quill are the next most popular. They’re another quality product and can yield a power increase of up to 8bhp.

HID headlights or auxiliary lights come highly recommended. The standard seat is not brilliant (an improved one was fitted from 2005) and aftermarket items (Renazco’s is well thought of) or re-builds are popular. GPS units are widespread on Adventures, as are Scottoilers to keep the chain and sprockets sweet for longer. Hot grips are popular, although lots of people say the KTM/ Daytona units are either too hot or too cold.

The standard screen causes some buffeting, so taller alternatives are common. Some owners cut down the standard item or add an Aerotrim deflector. Seventeen inch and 19” Woodys Wheels are used by a handful for better tyre choice, without the need for inner tubes. A G2 throttle cam is said to improve the aggressive throttle response of the 990. A Power Commander III should completely sort it.

Everyone praises KTM’s crash guards and if you’re going overland, consider additional protection for the bike’s ­underside from Black Dog or Touratech.

Your Reviews

We're still looking for your reviews of either your KTM 950 or 990 Adventure, click the links and post your comments on these two big capacity adventurers.

Owner Case Study: "I’ve done 38,000 miles on it from new"

Neil Martin is now on his second 990 and previously owned a 950

“I absolutely love them and I think most people would feel the same if they test rode one. I have a mate who was a real 600 sportsbike junkie – he didn’t want anything bigger, loved thrashing them. He tried one of my Adventures, bought one himself and he wouldn’t go back now – he’s smitten.

“The 950 had the best engine and felt like it had the most midrange. I could wheelie it off the throttle in second. The 990s don’t do that. The 950 was much smoother too. The 990 throttle is intermittent and can be very jerky. It varies from one day to the next. To be honest I dip the clutch going round corners to smooth out the throttle response, which isn’t ideal.

“The 990s handle much better than my 950S; it feels much more flickable, possibly because they’ve got lower suspension. I’ve had loads of sportsbikes – ZX-6Rs, ZX-9Rs, R6s, Ducatis and more – and the 990s handle really well, much better than you’d think they should.

“The 950 had a much better tank range. I could get 160 to 175 miles before the light came on. On my 990 it’s 110 or 115 at best. Although the tank is the same size, it’s got the fuel pump in there, which takes up a bit of room. It’s not so fuel efficient either. Mine’s got Akrapovic cans with the official re-map, and the exhaust smells rich. These are only minor niggles though.”