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Common Tread

2020 KTM 790 Adventure R Rally review: The best ADV bike yet

May 15, 2020

Every now and then an assignment comes in on the Common Tread hotline (it operates much like the Bat Phone; Lance is our Alfred) that I fight off all other staffers to tackle myself. When an opportunity presented itself to convert a stock KTM 790 Adventure R to a 790 Adventure R Rally, no one else at Common Tread stood a chance of stealing the story away from me.

Over the past few years as a KTM owner, I’ve befriended Mike Lafferty, the guy in charge of KTM’s East Coast demo fleet (he also has a few AMA National Enduro championships to his name) along with the folks at Solid Performance, my local KTM and WP service shop. KTM had plans to let Solid Performance build out a 790 Adventure R to Rally spec and the guys wanted to know if I wanted to be part of it.

Yes, please.

So while this is not a review of one of the limited-edition, one of 500, blue-tanked Rally bikes, it is a review of a bike that is damn near identical. And we’re going to do this for three main reasons: First, to tell all of the individuals out there lucky enough to score one of the very limited Rally Editions if it’s as good as KTM is claiming. Two, to let all of those folks riding stock KTM 790 Adventure R’s know that these mods are available and help them decide whether they’re worth the money. And third, because I very much wanted an excuse to spend three weeks with this bike in my garage.

Without any further ado, let’s build a bike.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
The KTM 790 Adventure R Rally build. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The KTM 790 Adventure R Rally build

The KTM 790 Adventure R Rally distinguishes itself from the standard 790 Adventure R (if you want to know more about the stock bike, check out this article) in a few key areas.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
The official, limited edition, KTM 790 Adventure R Rally. KTM photo.

Right off the bat, the cosmetic differences of the Rally are most noticeable. Its plastic tank features a dark metallic, blue/green hue, as opposed to the stock black option on the standard model. That, combined with the “shattered” orange-and-white graphics kit, upgraded carbon fiber tank shrouds, and an orange “skunk stripe” running the length of the seat, give this bike a more aggressive look that is distinctly different from the stock bike. As our goal was to test the performance of the Rally, we didn’t bother trying to incorporate any of these styling cues into our bike.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
Between KTM's PowerParts catalog and an official WP Service Center, all of the parts are readily available to convert a 790 Adventure R to Rally spec. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Instead we focused on the functional upgrades. We did add the taller seat, but opted for the blacked-out version. This seat is about 0.75 inches taller than the stock offering and the side effect of all of that padding is that it is much more comfortable.

We did upgrade the silencer to the Akropovic unit. This cut about two to three pounds off  the bike and added a bit of bark to the exhaust note. All things considered, you could argue that it’s less of a performance upgrade and more of a cosmetic one, but it is found on the Rally and technically it’s a performance upgrade. So on it went!

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Footpegs
Size does matter. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The Rally footpegs were next. They are longer and wider than the stock offering and they provide a tremendous amount of bite to keep your foot from slipping off in extreme conditions. I have had a set of these installed on my personal KTM 1090 Adventure R since new and I love them. Not only do they offer improved off-road handling and grip, but they’re also comfortable for long days in the saddle rolling down the highway.

The Rally edition also gets upgraded with KTM’s Quickshifter+ and cruise control. Both of these can be added to a stock 790 Adventure R. In order to add cruise control you do need to replace the control cluster on the left side of the handlebar. This part wasn’t available at the time of this build so we just left it off. That being said, I’ve used KTM’s cruise control on other models and it works flawlessly. If you’re planning on tackling a lot of long-distance touring miles, I’d recommend it.

I’m not as much of a fan of the Quickshifter+. My problem with this is two-fold. First, you’re essentially just paying for a reflash of the bike’s ECU to “unlock” the software. The hardware is already included on the bike. I could understand the cost ($359 MSRP) if it required additional parts, but this seems pretty steep, considering what it entails. The second piece to this is that I’m just not a fan of the feel of a quickshifter on bikes that require a lot of clutch finesse in low-speed, off-road conditions. Our build actually had the Quickshifter+ software installed, but KTM allows the rider to disable it through the dash, a feature I took advantage of. (I had my quickshifter on the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally disabled, as well.)

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Enduro Engineering handguards
I don't trust myself to ride an adventure bike off-road without aluminum backed handguards. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

In addition to the regular Rally add-ons, we also added an Enduro Engineering Skid Plate and aluminum-backed handguards. I have a tendency to break things off-road, so this was just cheap insurance to make sure Mike’s bike was returned to him in one piece once I was done with it.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Evan Yarnall
The Pirelli Scorpion Rally is currently my favorite ADV tire for off-road use. Unfortunately it's only currently available in a size for the front of our 790 Adventure R Rally build. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

We also swapped out the tires. The front got a Pirelli Scorpion Rally tire and on the rear we spooned a Bridgestone AX41. For off-road ADV work, that Pirelli is my favorite tire. Unfortunately, they don’t make an 18-inch rear that fits the KTM. Pirelli, if you’re listening, I again implore you to remedy this.

The most important, and most expensive, part of this build was the WP Pro Components suspension. To be fair to the stock 790 Adventure R, its base XPLOR suspension is extremely competent. I would argue it’s one of the better setups currently on the market. That being said,  the WP XPLOR PRO Cone Valve fork and XPLOR PRO shock are hands down a game-changer in the world of ADV suspension technology.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Evan Yarnall
The suspension is the major differentiator between the standard 790 Adventure R and the 790 Adventure R Rally. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The suspension is the key to the Rally

As I promised in the video of this review, I wanted to take some time to dive into the inner workings of the WP Pro Components suspension because it is by far the most significant difference between the standard 790 Adventure R and the Rally. Let’s start with the fork.

The WP Cone Valve forks have a 48mm lower tube diameter and also share many common dimensions with their OEM counterparts, which allows them to slide right into the stock triple tree clamps, but when you buy them as an aftermarket item they are shipped from the factory with the stock 790 Adventure R travel length of 240 mm (9.45 inches). Thus, our suspension needed to be lengthened to Rally spec.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Cody Lore
Evan's righthand man when it comes to suspension work, Cody Lore, ripping apart a Cone Valve setup to show us how it works. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

One of the big advantages of the WP Pro Components is that the suspension’s travel can be adjusted internally by a WP Service Center. This allows the owner a range of stroke lengths, and seat heights, to further tailor the chassis to their exact liking, without affecting the performance of the suspension. The Rally is shipped with its suspension extended to full length, a whopping 270 mm (10.63 inches) of travel in both the fork and the shock.

Lengthening the front fork to full length had us adding new, longer brake lines, as well. Technically, the Rally also gets a longer kickstand to balance things out, but for our build we just let the bike lean a bit further and were careful about parking it on any uneven surfaces.

Unlike the stock open-cartridge fork, where the oil used to damp the suspension is the same oil used to bathe the springs, the Cone Valve fork is closed-cartridge in its design. This means that there are separate oil chambers to handle the damping and spring oil bath. This helps to reduce wear on internal components, as there is less wear on the oil and reduced chance of dirt blocking up the valving.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
The lower fork assembly is a work of art, CNCed from a solid piece of billet aluminum. Note: the rebound adjustment screw is under that black rubber stopper. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

While the stock suspension features split-fork technology, with compression damping on the left leg and rebound on the right, each leg of the Pro Components fork houses compression and rebound damping circuits for more consistent damping.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
Why I let Evan tune and service my suspension... The complete disassembly of both the rebound and compression circuits from a Cone Valve fork. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

This Cone Valve design also allows for the fork to be tuned so that it’s plush and planted over quick-hit, high-speed compression situations like roots and rocks, while still feeling firm over low-speed compression hits like larger jumps. Evan Yarnall, who is the suspension wizard at Solid Performance, explains this in more detail.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
A cone valve assembly out of the fork to better understand how it all works. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

“One of the things about a traditional fork is that you have this relationship in the mid-valve which is essentially compression on the rebound piston where it’s actively pushing through the fluid,” he said. “So you’re constantly trying to balance a relationship between how many shims you’re running — i.e., the “stack” — but also what lift you’re running. Folks want to run the lift so the bike stays hydraulically high in the stroke, however when you do that it makes it really firm because you only have so much mechanical movement to a given stack of shims.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
The cones and cone valve springs are available in different sizes and rates to allow for more flexible and precise tuning. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

“With Cone Valve technology, you have an orifice where it pushes the oil past a cone with a given angle, which is a tuning variable. That is held in place via a cone spring that we can tune for both rate and lift. This allows you to run the front fork nice and tight, where it sits high in the stroke hydraulically. However when you hit a sharp bump, the spring compresses, allowing the fluid past the cone, soaking up the impact.”

In layman’s terms, while you have adjustment for preload, compression, and rebound on the stock 790 Adventure R fork, it’s not nearly as sophisticated and precise as what the Pro Components offer. The ability to run 270 mm of travel is also exclusive to this upgraded setup.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
A disassembled Pro Components shock (left) and fork (right). Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The rear shock on the stock 790 Adventure R features adjustment for preload, high- and low-speed compression damping, and rebound damping. Travel is an identical 240 mm. The Pro Components shock provides similar improvements as the fork. The XPLOR PRO 6746 shock was lengthened to full 270 mm length to match Rally specs.

The rear shock doesn’t utilize “Cone Valve” technology, but it does offer completely separate damping circuits that operate in the same fashion as the cones found in the fork. Evan explains:

"In a normal shock, any time you open the rebound adjuster, that is your bypass from one side of the piston to the other. The issue becomes when you make adjustments to the rebound circuit, it also has an effect on the compression side of the circuit. You hear people talking off-road, ‘Oh my backend is kicking, I slowed the rebound down.’ That might not be the first adjustment you want to do because it also makes the compression stiffer at the same time.

"This shock implements a spring and ball check valve system to help isolate the circuits a bit better. A spring and ball check valve within the main shaft just above the rebound needle seat seals under compression to completely close the bleed, that bypass. So when you adjust for rebound it has almost no effect on the compression side of things. So all of your adjustments are isolated and you get much more precise results. If you make a clicker change, you will feel it.”

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
The high- and low-speed compression circuits both operate almost completely independent of one another. WP calls this DCC, for Dual Compression Control. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

"The high- and low-speed compression circuits both operate pretty much completely independent of one another, as well. WP calls this DCC, for Dual Compression Control. This is similar to other high-end shocks. Öhlins calls theirs TTX, but this is something they all have. Now, the OEM shock still has this, but the Pro Components vastly improves the range of adjustment.”

It’s one thing to try and decipher all of Evan’s engineering speak and follow along as he walks me through disassembled suspensions, but the easiest way to figure out what he’s talking about is to take the bike out and ride it. And it’s more fun as well.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Spurgeon Dunbar
This bike is a spaceship. Photo by Jeff Kiniery.

Riding the 790 Adventure R Rally build

Riding through the New Jersey Pine Barrens took me through a mix of sandy Jeep roads, wider “trails” with deep sand whoops, and plenty of roots and rocks to test the compliance of the new suspension. In an effort to test the setups as close to “back-to-back” as possible, I spent one full weekend riding the 790 Adventure R in stock form before coming back the following weekend and riding the exact same route with the Rally build.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Spurgeon Dunbar
The 790 Adventure R Rally, built out to its full 270 mm potential, is not designed for riders who like to have both feet firmly on the ground. Photo by Chase Kubasiak.

The first thing I noticed as I wheeled the bike out of the back of my truck is how tall the Rally sits. Between the taller Rally seat and the longer WP Pro suspension, the stock seat height measures 37.125 inches. I can try to tell you that it doesn’t feel that tall because of how narrow the chassis is, but that’s coming from a dude standing at six feet, three inches. The truth is, this bike is not for folks who like to ride with both feet firmly on the ground.

Keep in mind, however, that the Rally’s suspension can be lowered back down to Standard Adventure R spec (or if you’re adding this to your 790, just never have it extended) or lower still, thus accommodating shorter riders.

Blasting off down the first trail, I was struck by how vastly different the bike felt. Honestly, off the bat, this setup is much more comfortable for taller riders. The seat is more plush and it was easier to transition between standing and sitting once the road got gnarly.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Spurgeon Dunbar
The wider footpegs allow the rider to more easily leverage his or her body weight against the bike. Photo by Jeff Kiniery.

The wider footpegs really gave me room to move around and leverage my weight easily against the bike. It sounds like such a simple thing, but they really make a difference.

When I first wrote about the 790 Adventure R, I compared it to my 1090 Adventure R. With the Rally, however, I immediately found myself making comparisons to my 350. The change was drastic. The bike isn’t as light as a dirt bike, by a long shot — we weighed it at 468 pounds with a full tank of gas — but it feels impossibly nimble for what it is.

I made a few tweaks to the suspension, backing off two clicks of compression and one click of rebound front and rear, and the bike really came into its own. The faster I rode it, the better it felt. I was able to ride the Rally at speeds off-road normally reserved for a much smaller displacement dirt bike.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Spurgeon Dunbar
Compared to the stock suspension, the Rally just sort of floats across bigger jumps and whoops. Photo by Jeff Kiniery.

The WP Pro Components are plush and firm at the same time. The Rally floats over roots and rocks, yet when I lofted the bike over a whoop or jump it landed effortlessly in a way that I have never experienced before on an adventure bike. It just settles itself right back down and doesn’t miss a beat.

I think KTM does themselves a disservice by calling their suspension “Pro” components. I mention this because I’ve heard numerous people say, “I’m not a pro rider, I don’t need that stuff.” But the truth of the matter is that these components will enable you to ride faster no matter what your skill level.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
Getting a WP Pro Components suspension with my name on the sticker is a pretty cool feeling. Move over, Mike Lafferty! Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

This suspension upgrade has a much more profound effect on an intermediate rider like myself. It allowed me to ride harder, faster, and more confidently. It made the 790 Adventure R an easier and more forgiving bike to ride fast.

To test my theory, I brought Jeff Kiniery out with me on my second day of testing. Jeff is an avid off-road rider and fellow KTM 350 EXC-F owner, but he’s not an off-road ADV guy.

“I just don’t like ADV bikes off-road,” Jeff told me, giving the 790 a once over. “I think they’re great sport-touring options, but if I’m going off-road, I’d rather just be on my small bike.”

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
Jeff and his wife, Liz, recently rented base 790 Adventures for a sport-touring trip. Photo by Liz Kiniery.

While Jeff hadn’t had any previous experience with the 790 Adventure R, he and his wife recently returned from a trip where they spent quite a few days sport-touring the hell out of a pair of KTM 790 Adventure non-Rs.

Switching bikes, I hopped on the Honda CRF450L he was riding and let him take the reins of the 790 Rally build. I took off down the trail and left Jeff to follow. And follow he did.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Jeff Kiniery
Jeff, having never ridden an ADV bike off-road before, had no problem keeping pace. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

There was never a point where Jeff was more than a few seconds behind me. And once he got used to the power, size, and balance of the 790 Rally, he closed that gap even further. I could never seem to get far enough ahead of him where I had time to pull over and remove my helmet and gloves before he caught up to me. And I was on a bike that weighed nearly 200 pounds less than the Rally and was running non-DOT Shinko Cheater dirt tires.

The Rally is impressive.

“I have had no use for an adventure bike off-road before,” Jeff said. “But this thing is a game-changer.”

And thus began the process of trying to pry the 790 Rally away from Jeff for the rest of the day.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Jeff Kiniery
Jeff with the 790 Rally build tackling one of the many water crossings flooding the main road after a day of rain. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

After one particularly deep water crossing, where Jeff managed to get the 790 Rally stuck in a puddle that was a half an inch shy of allowing water to flow freely into the exhaust, I had two thoughts. First, I’m going to get drenched wading in there to get him out. And second, I wish we had a third person here to get a photograph of this fiasco.

I mention this because if we would have had the shorter stock suspension in that particular instance, the bike’s exhaust would have been under water. Also, it led to an observation about the Rally’s street performance.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
From highways to swamps, this 790 Adventure R Rally is going to be one hard bike to beat. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

After getting the Rally out of the bog, I was pretty much drenched from the waist down. Hopping back on the Rally for a stretch down the highway, I was impressed with how much wind protection it offered. The temps that day were in the mid-50s, yet I was nice and protected by the shape of the tank and fairing.

The Rally also felt tighter and sportier on the asphalt. More balanced. You could really start to push it through the corners and have some fun, although the tires I selected for this project did have their limits on the street.

All in all, I would have no qualms about loading this bike up with gear or a passenger and hitting the highway. The maximum adjustability from the suspension has plenty of tunability for the load. Although at that point I would definitely add that electronic cruise control that comes standard on the “real” Rally.

And that’s the point of adventure bikes, to be able to tackle street and dirt riding, confidently with one machine. The 790 Adventure R is a confidence-inspiring machine in its own right, the Rally edition takes it to a whole new level.

Price and competition

In stock trim, the 790 Adventure R has an MSRP of $13,799. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one of the 500 790 Adventure R Rallys in existence worldwide, it’ll set you back $19,500. That price is really a bargain considering our build came in at $21,645.95 and that price doesn’t include the cost of labor for installing the parts or having the Pro Components lengthened to full Rally height.

As far as competition is concerned, there is none. Buying a KTM 790 Adventure R Rally is the equivalent of buying a race replica sport bike. Bikes like the BMW S 1000 RR, a Ducati Panigale V4 R, or a Yamaha YZF-R1M are all north of $20K and are leaders in their respective fields. You can take any of those bikes off of the showroom floor, trailer them straight to a race track, and be competitive. That hasn’t existed in the adventure world, until now.

Lance did point out to me that folks can actually race those sport bikes if they want to and those types of races really don’t exist for the 790 Rally as it doesn’t comply with most Rally Race specifications. But there are plenty of grassroots events like the Sandblast Rally in the Carolinas or the Dakar Challenge up in Canada where folks have been challenging themselves on big ADV bikes for years. The 790 Adventure R Rally gives the ADV segment an “off-the-showroom-floor” option that can be ridden even harder off-road.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Mike Lafferty
Passing the 790 Adventure R Rally off to a pro rider, Mike Lafferty, and watching him make full use of the suspension upgrade. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Conclusion

The whole point of doing this was to have some fun and see how good the KTM Rally really is. I had a blast and I found out that the Rally is one hell of an impressive piece of machinery.

But the stock 790 Adventure R is damn good in its own right. I still don’t like the clutch, and it doesn’t lug down low, and I don’t like that the electronics aren’t sticky, but overall, it’s a great bike. And the beauty of this project is that I learned that everything needed to convert a stock bike to a Rally of your own is available from KTM’s Power Parts catalog or from a licensed WP Service center, if you ever feel the desire to do so.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review Mike Lafferty
For those folks out there who want to push the boundaries of adventure riding, it's cool to know that these upgrades exist. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

There are plenty of KTM 790 owners out there who have no desire to rush out and drop $5,798 on a Pro Components suspension ($3,599 for the fork, $2,199 for the shock), and I understand that. But for those of you out there chasing a bit more performance, it’s really cool that the option exists.

KTM 790 Adventure R Rally Review
Giving this one back was hard... Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

For me, the three must-have pieces of this build are the seat ($179.99), the footpegs ($178.99), and the Pro Components suspension. That would put my build at $19,955.98, a smidge higher than the cost of a Rally. But first I would need to find someone willing to buy my 1090 Adventure R… Any takers?

To the 500 individuals around the world who are now 790 Adventure R Rally owners, congratulations. You’ve scored, in my humble opinion, the best adventure bike on the market for riding off-road.

2020 KTM 790 Adventure R Rally
Price (MSRP) $19,500
Engine 799 cc, liquid-cooled, eight-valve, parallel twin
Transmission,
final drive
Six-speed, chain
Claimed horsepower 95 @ 8,000 rpm
Claimed torque 66 foot-pounds @ 6,600 rpm
Frame Trellis
Front suspension 48 mm WP XPLOR PRO Cone Valve fork, Preload, compression and rebound damping; 10.63 inches of travel
Rear suspension WP XPLOR PRO shock, adjustable for preload, high- and low-speed compression damping, and rebound damping; 10.63 inches of travel
Front brake Dual KTM four-piston calipers, 320 mm discs, lean angle sensitive, switchable ABS
Rear brake Single KTM two-piston caliper, 260 mm disc, lean angle sensitive, switchable ABS
Rake, trail 26.3 degrees, 4.35 inches
Wheelbase 60.2 inches
Seat height 37.125 inches (measured)
Fuel capacity 5.3 gallons
Tires 90/90-21 front, 150/70-18 rear
Wet weight 468 pounds
Available Now
Warranty 12 months
More info https://www.ktm.com/us/travel/790-adventure-r-rally/