The long race to the middle: KTM's 790 Adventure R vs. Yamaha's Ténéré 700 World Raid

Nov 09, 2017

The answer: 400 pounds, 10-plus inches of ground clearance, a 21-inch front wheel, an 18-inch at the rear, and enough power and comfort to tackle highway speeds.

But what, pray tell, is the question?

Glad you asked. The question, dear readers is, “What are the stats that adventure riders who really ride hard off-road want to see in their next purchase?” If your preferred method of “adventuring” tends to take you off-road, then these numbers sound pretty damn good. Especially if someone could package them together in a new motorcycle for under $10,000.

It’s the reason that so many people were excited when Yamaha teased the T7 concept last year and were disappointed that all we got this year was another concept bike we couldn’t buy, the Ténéré 700 World Raid. But Yamaha isn’t the only manufacturer aiming to hit these numbers. KTM just introduced a concept of its own, the 790 Adventure R.

We’ll take a closer look at those bikes in a moment, but first let’s back up and discuss how we got here.

The road to here

The motorcycle market is struggling in the United States, and aside from a few choice bike segments, sales are down. One style that is currently in the black is adventure bikes, or as the Motorcycle Industry Council puts it, dual-sports over 250 cc. That category incorporates everything from a Kawasaki KLR650 to a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. Since its inception, the adventure category has grown to include bikes of all shapes and sizes that are capable of long-distance riding and also possess at least some pretense of riding off-road.

1980 BMW R 80 G/S
The BMW R 80 G/S is widely accepted as the very first adventure bike. BMW photo.

In 1980, BMW introduced the world to the R 80 G/S, a motorcycle that is widely accepted as the first factory adventure bike. The 440-pound, shaft-driven motorcycle was powered by a 797.5 cc boxer engine which delivered 50 horsepower and 40 foot-pounds of torque. At the time, it was met with more that a few questionable glances.

A lot of folks just didn’t know what to make of this new machine. It was too big to be a proper dirtbike and with nearly eight inches of suspension travel and a 21-inch front wheel, it sacrificed a certain level of its street performance.

But over time, the idea caught on.

At their core, adventure bikes are designed to be a compromise between two worlds: Comfortable for long hauls on the highway but tough enough to handle some decently broken dirt roads. As more riders began gravitating toward these machines to capitalize on their touring functionality, they became victims of displacement wars. And thus ADV bikes grew bigger, heavier, and faster.

That is until BMW flipped the script yet again. In 2009, BMW brought the F 800 GS to America. It was a smaller bike, more closely focused on off-road performance, and it worked.

BMW F 800 GS
With the introduction of the F 800 GS, BMW changed the direction of the adventure movement. Photo by Brett Walling.

Where the big GS at the time was wearing a 19-inch front wheel, the mid-sized GS received a 21-inch setup with more than eight inches of suspension travel front and rear. It was aimed at riders looking to do a bit more off-road riding than on-road hauling. Soon, Triumph followed suit with the Tiger 800 XC in 2011, Honda with the Africa Twin in 2016, and eventually even KTM took a step back from its 1190 Adventure R with the introduction of the 1090 Adventure R.

But these are all still big bikes that tip the scales at 500 pounds or more. As riders began to take their adventure bikes further into the dirt, they began to wonder: What if someone manufactured something even smaller and lighter while still retaining usability on the street?

Yamaha TÉNÉRÉ 700 WORLD RAID
Up until earlier this week Yamaha was leading the charge to develop a new mid-sized adventure bike. Yamaha photo.

The road to there with a Yamaha

Last year, Yamaha teased the world with the introduction of its T7 prototype and the adventure community went crazy with speculation.

As reports surfaced, a few facts began to solidify: It was powered by the same 689 cc parallel twin used in the FZ-07. With a claimed 74 horsepower and 50 foot-pounds of torque, the engine makes more power than a big single and remains relatively composed on the highway, but it didn’t add too much weight over a large thumper. An FZ-07 claims a wet weight just shy of 400 pounds, so in theory, the T7 could come in around the same weight. (Reports have the T7 tipping the scales at 407 pounds.)

The 21-inch front tire and 18-inch rear meant there are a ton of options for fitting off-road tires. Reportedly, the fork used was a fully adjustable KYB unit off of a WR450F sporting more than 11 inches of travel to absorb all of the off-road abuse you wanted to throw its way. It also features a long, flat, dirt-style saddle which allows for a wide range of motion for moving around on the bike.

Yamaha TÉNÉRÉ 700 WORLD RAID
The newest iteration of Yamaha's T7 concept: the Ténéré 700 World Raid prototype. Yamaha photo.

While it became clear that Yamaha would have to dial it back a bit for a production model, many of us were hopeful they wouldn’t take it too far in the opposite direction. As the dates for EICMA drew near, we silently crossed our fingers for a production version of the T7. Instead, the world received the Ténéré 700 World Raid Prototype, an updated version of the T7 that is slated for yet another year of testing.

Yamaha suggested we could see a production version by 2019. The problem for Yamaha is that 24 hours after their presentation, KTM released a prototype of its own.

The road to there with a KTM

KTM’s concept began last year at EICMA when the company introduced a prototype of a new street bike, the 790 Duke. Its svelte design featured an all-new 799 cc parallel twin and immediately folks began to speculate about the idea of KTM utilizing that engine in a mid-sized, off-road-oriented adventure bike.

KTM 790 Adventure R
Utilizing the 799 cc parallel twin engine developed for the new 790 Duke, KTM introduced a new 790 Adventure R prototype. KTM photo.

This year, 365 days after the world was introduced to the Duke prototype, KTM announced the production version. Slated to hit the states towards the end of next year, the stats look impressive. Just over 100 horsepower, 63 foot-pounds of torque, and just under 420 pounds. It gets a TFT dash and pretty much every electronic option out of KTM’s playbook. So why is that significant in an article about adventure bikes? Because KTM also released a new prototype of a 790 Adventure R built on the same platform.

KTM 790 Adventure Prototype
Unveiled at EICMA: the new KTM 790 Adventure R. KTM photo.

Let’s assume for a second that the engine might be slightly retuned for off-road use over the one found in the street-oriented 790 Duke. This engine could easily lay down 20 horsepower more than the Yamaha with beefed up torque numbers all while coming in around the same weight.

That’s huge.

Let’s also assume that it is going to get a fully adjustable WP suspension, similar levels of a ground clearance, a 21/18 wheel configuration, and an advanced electronics suite. All of a sudden, the scales are tipping in the balance of the KTM.

KTM 790 Adventure R
With looks that clearly share DNA from KTM's adventure bikes as well as from their dirt lineup, this bike is easily recognized as something new yet uniquely KTM. KTM photo.

Crossing the finish line

The one main advantage Yamaha possessed as they headed into the ring was that they were poised to get their bike to market first. It’s always easier for the consumer to buy the bike that is actually available for sale at their local dealership as opposed to the one that is coming... soon... I promise... I read it on the internet.

YAMAHA TÉNÉRÉ 700 WORLD RAID
The alien-looking front end off of the new Yamaha Ténéré 700 World Raid prototype. Yamaha photo.

If Yamaha had the Ténéré 700 World Raid ready to go into production this year, they could have easily capitalized on at least a year of sales without KTM nipping at their heels. Now, it may be the other way around. KTM is expected to release the 790 Adventure R as a 2019 model, which means we could see a production version as soon as the end of next year.

One thing is certain, after all the news released this week, this race is too close to call. Many of us adventure guys are watching on the edge of our seats to see which manufacturer will cross the finish line first. Whoever can get a bike with those magical numbers into the hands of consumers first will be the victor and to the victor goes the spoils. And in this case the spoils are, in theory, a whole lotta sales.