KTM 950 Adventure
KTM is best known for
off-road machinery, winning gold as far back as 1956, in the International Six
Days Trial and taking their first 250cc Motocross World championship in 1974.
So when the Austrian bikemaker built its first big dual-purpose machine in 2003 it came as no surprise that the 950 Adventure was more off-road orientated than anything else in its class - the more so since it bears a close resemblance to the multiple Dakar Rally-winning 950 Rally.
It's tall and slim with classic off-road architecture and a long, narrow, hard, flat saddle that's 860mm off the ground at its lowest point – and this is the lowered "street" version nogal!
When I collected the bike from KTM importers in Sandton, I was expecting an overgrown motocross race bike – rough-edged and uncomfortable, with soft, long-travel suspension that only works properly on rough ground at insane speeds.
What I found was not only one of the easiest bikes in its class to ride (at any speed!) but also the most accomplished, a superbly balanced package that seems to combine the best of both worlds.
The bike is very, very tall and I had to be careful where I tried to put my feet down when stopping.
The day after I picked the 950 Adventure up, I had to deliver some Colloidal Silver in Lichtenburg, and needed no excuse to load the goods into a rugsack and bullet through there on the KTM. Within an hour, I discovered that the 950 is an absolute gem to ride – the combination of superb usable power - right from idle, centralised masses and excellent balance makes it incredibly easy to ride in traffic.
It's stable right down to walking speed, narrow enough to go through gaps that some much smaller bikes can't, and from that commanding saddle you look right over the cars – and, if you stand up on the pegs you can see over the taxis!
The bike pulls like a locomotive from under 2000rpm all the way to the 9,500 redline.
One thing I didn't like about 942cc LC8 V-twin was its pronounced snatchy power delivery at small throttle openings. Also at high-speed, if you shut the throttle from wide open and immediately whack it open again, there's a noticeable hesitation before the power comes on with a bang – which can be unsettling as you change down for more drive into a fast corner. Must be the carburettor settings, I assume that the carbs are set up for quick response when the bike is used in anger.
The power delivery is almost linear – it starts off strong and just gets stronger; above 7000rpm the motor begins to vibrate harshly despite the balance shaft in the V of the cylinders - common with narrow-angle V-twins – and the motor note becomes distinctly aggressive.
Power is 72kW and 95Nm... enough to launch the 950 down the road like a bullet. Rev it hard in the lower gears and the front end gets very light indeed – huge wheelies were no problem.
The power is fed through a typical off-road clutch - smooth, progressive and seemingly bullet proof – to a six-speed gearbox with a light, positive but rather long lever throw. KTM has many years' experience in building tough, compact transmissions and this one is also remarkably slick-shifting.
This no-nonsense power train is slung underneath a very straightforward trellis frame welded up from chrome-molybdenum steel tubing, with the swing-arm pivot running through the gearbox as well as the frame for rigidity in this crucial area. The rear sub-frame is fabricated from square-section aluminum tubing, bolted on in four places.
Suspension is unremarkable but very high quality stuff from industry leader White Power; no surprise there, KTM bought the Dutch suspension specialist company in 1995. The front wheel is guided by fully adjustable 48mm upside-down forks, while the rear end is taken care of by a piggyback monoshock with no linkages – it's bolted straight onto the swing-arm and the upper sub-frame mount.
The swing-arm is straight out of the motocross wish
book – aluminium extrusions tapered in every direction and welded together
around a solid lower shock mount. Everything is simple, durable and of the best
The 11-litre fuel tanks (one on either side with separate filler caps) extend right down to crankcase level where they are bolted to bosses on the outside of the separate oil tank which doubles as a bash plate.
There are also substantial black plastic bumpers, held in place by the same bolts, to protect the metallic orange paintwork from minor off-road spills and to take the worst of the impact if the bike falls off its stand.
That keeps two of the bike's three heaviest components (the other one is the rider) below seat level and well forward, which plays a major part in the bike's superb stability and sensitive handling.
This is the only dual-purpose bike I've ever been comfortable on in sand, which says a lot for the chassis geometry. It's the best big off-roader I've ridden – not surprising really, considering its ancestry.
The flat-nosed, almost upright screen does a superb job of pushing the air out of the way without buffeting or turbulence, which also makes the bike less sensitive to cross winds than some of its heavier competitors. Although my bum started complaining after a couple of hours on that flat, narrow seat. But its great road holding makes up for any discomfort.
Most off-roaders get twitchy at high speeds on tar, due to rider input from their wide bars, poor aerodynamics and the limitations of narrow, knobbly tyres on hard surfaces.
As I raced the ever lengthening shadows home, pushing the bike to it's limit, it began to weave a bit, glancing down and saw the speedo reading 195kph!
On the tighter stuff I was able to throw the KTM around like a delivery bike and soon learned that you can brake really hard without upsetting the bike's stability.
There's more ground clearance than the tyres can use and the only limit to how hard it can corner is the rider's nerve – when you start off 860mm above the tar diving into a tight corner is like falling off a wall!
At one point on my test route there's a dirt road that heads off into the veld – for the first time this bike tempted me into a detour so I rode about 10km down a well-maintained gravel road until it ended at farm gate.
I soon settled down to my usual 70 kph dirt-road cruise, with the 950 droning along at 2500rpm in fifth, even though it's built for much higher speeds the KTM and I were comfy.
Back on the tar and it was time to see just how much the 950 was capable of. My first full-tilt run yielded 211 kph, backed up by 209 going the other way, almost exactly on the peak power at 8000 rpm. On the next dash I held fifth until it topped out at 215km/h, just shy of the redline at 9500 rpm; when I toed it into sixth the bike slowly gained two digits to 217 at 8200rpm, although the first hint of a hill had the big twin slowing down until I hooked fifth again.
the intrepid Errol Dalton doing the single-wheel riding
Keeping it simple, easy to see gauges... at a glance.
The Dakar influence shows everywhere; the bike is
designed for easy maintenance and repair – even the instruments have replaceable
Everything has been kept simple and straightforward, although top-drawer components are specified in all departments; it's a superb example of production engineering with no gadgets and no gimmicks – it's your basic kick-ass big dirt bike.
The styling is clearly intended to showcase the bike's design philosophy; you like it or you don't.
I found it a great bike... and with the bright orange metallic paint Mr Motorist won't be able to say he didn't see you.
Motor: Liquid-cooled 75º four-stroke V-twin.
Bore x stroke: 100 x 60mm.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Compression ratio: 11.5:1.
Power: 62kW @ 8000rpm.
Torque: 95Nm @ 6000rpm.
Induction: Two 43mm Keihin constant vacuum downdraught carburettors.
Ignition: Nippon Denso electronic.
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated multi-plate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with chain final drive.
Suspension: Fully adjustable 48mm WP upside-down cartridge forks at front, fully-adjustable WP PDS monoshock with hydraulic preload adjustment at rear.
Brakes: Twin 300mm discs with twin-piston floating callipers at front, 240mm disc with twin-piston floating calliper at rear.
Tyres: Front: 90/90 - 21 tube type. Rear: 150/70 – 18 tube type.
Seat height: 860mm.
Dry weight: 198kg.
Fuel capacity: 22 litres.
The 950 (2004) parked alongside the statue of General J.H. De La Rey (1847-1914) in Lichtenburg.
Die leeu van die woestyn langs die leeu van die Noordwes
Bike supplied courtesy of Pro-Action, KTM Adventure Cycles - Tel: 011 807 8717