KTM 790 R and Yamaha T7 / 700XTZ Ténéré: Are Hardcore, Adventure-Rally Motorcycles Finally Coming to Market?

Are you ready to acquire, right off the showroom floor, a light weight, twin-cylinder, hardcore adventure motorcycle? Something that you can take on a long adventure ride but which you can also engage on a rally-style ride if you so desire?

Yamaha T7: will it be the first to deliver a true adventure-rally machine?

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we are closer than ever to finally have this option available.  I’m not telling anything new here, we all know Yamaha and KTM have officially informed they are working on adventure motorcycles that are light and built for the off-road.  We also know these two companies are serious when it comes to designing and producing adventure or dual purpose motorcycles.  Therefore, there’s hope at least one of these two bikes, hopefully both of them, will be what we’ve been waiting for a long time.

One of these bikes is the Yamaha 700XTZ Ténéré, based on the T7 concept Yamaha presented at EICMA 2016.

2018 or 2019 Yamaha Ténéré XTZ700

The other is the KTM 790 R, or adventure, which will be built around the new 800cc parallel twin motor developed for the KTM 790 Duke, presented at EICMA 2016 as a concept.

2018 or 2019 KTM 790 Adventure or R

The names I’m using for the Yamaha (700XTZ Ténéré) and the KTM (790 R) are educated guesses based on how these companies have named their bikes in the past. T7, the official name of the Yamaha concept, an obvious short version for Ténéré 700, could as well become the official name of the production motorcycle.  I assume the KTM will have an R or SE R (super enduro) version of this adventure model.  The “R” would be similar to what KTM offers on the 1090 and 1290 adventure lines.  The SE is a reference to the super enduro version available in the KTM 950 line in 2006-2008. That would be something, right?

We don’t know much about these bikes at this point, we will likely come across more information about them along the way and we will report it here.  Otherwise we are left to our own devices to speculate at will.  Here goes a brief description of the long journey it took the industry to finally hint at building these bikes, my thoughts about why we are getting these kind of bikes now, and what I expect these bikes will realistically deliver.

The long journey… Unicorn or new Goldilocks?

Will these two bikes be what we (well, realistically speaking, some of us, maybe a few of us) have been expecting for a long, long time?  On the adventure riding world the term unicorn has been used to describe that elusive light-weight, multi-cylinder, rally-ready motorcycle which is also ready for adventure.

We are talking here something that weighs 400-440lbs (under 200kg) ready to ride, with great off-road performance, built around a twin-cylinder motor, with reasonable power (my numbers would be 70-90 hp), and capable of reliable long distance adventure riding.  That’s my set of numbers, my goldilocks set of numbers, what would make this bike just right for me.  I’m not looking at a single cylinder motorcycle, nor looking at something that is heavier than 200kg. Hopefully less than 200 kg, something that is not currently available as a production motorcycle.

Dream on, it is impossible to build such a motorcycle, what you want lies only on your imagination, a Unicorn, go get a single-cylinder motorcycle many in the riding community have said. 

Some riders have defied the general opinion that these bikes cannot be built and managed to create their own motorcycles.  Perhaps they have paved the way to changes in the industry we may be witnessing today.  By actually building something themselves, they prove it can be done.  That’s the case of a few mechanically skilled, independent creators here and there who have built one-off rally machines based on existing motorcycles and motors.

One favorite motor for these builds is Honda’s 470 cc, 48 hp, parallel twin, 180 degree crank motor of the Honda CB500 (a bit low on power but actually plenty good on a light weight frame and even on the CB500X itself).  There are at least three builders as far as I know who have put the Honda CB500 parallel twin motor on a Honda 250cc dual-purpose frame (CRF250L) and they claim great results from those applications.

The bike depicted below, built by Michael Kozera, weights around 360 pounds.  48hp matched with that lower weight seems like an extremely reasonable match, great power-to-weight, and then you add the reliability of a Honda motor, and the smooth operation of this motor and voilá, you have a great hardcore adventure machine which should be capable of long distance travel as well.

Michael Kozera’s CRF500L (CRF 250L with CB500X motor)

There are others with less radical approaches to resolving this issue, like Rally Raid in the UK, produces kits and accessories to modify existing motorcycles.  One set of kits was designed for the Honda CB500X, turning it into another option for this missing link on the adventure motorcycle spectrum.  This kit uses a Honda CB500X as a base and from there it provides a 19-inch front wheel, better suspension, and spoke wheels among other strategically designed accessories. Modifying an existing motorcycle will likely not produce a seamless result, but it shows people are working on solutions, proving that if something is not available, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

2015 Rally Raid Honda CB500X

The CB500X with the Rally Raid kit, level 3, the most “adventure” kit they make, does very well, extremely well actually, power slides on gravel roads are easy and fun when you can twist the throttle with abandon.  The bike does two-track roads very well, manages sand superbly, and travels on deep gravel well enough.  I know, I’ve taken it twice to the Death Valley, it has done the infamous Mengel Pass and a few other rough canyons in that area!

However it has the limitations inherent from being based on a street bike: its clutch’s narrow friction zone especially when tied to the street motor’s narrow torque band and the weight of the motorcycle, besides the absence of a 21-inch front wheel, and the although improved, still narrow suspension travel makes it hard to ride it on technical terrain. So yes, there are limiting factors, it is not a rally machine, but these factors could had been resolved by Honda if they had built this bike from the ground up with an enduro/rally application as the end goal.  Rally Raid proves it can be done.

I don’t have Michael Kozera’s skills for building a machine like what he built, therefore, and despite its limitations, the Rally Raid Honda CB500X is my compromise for now, as there is nothing out there yet, around 200kg (440lbs) or less, with two cylinders, that would take its place in my shed if the focus is rally, adventure, or back-country riding. At about 440lbs the CB500X is light enough to allow for plenty of adventure riding and it is still very comfortable on long road rides. It is a solid motorcycle that delivers good fun.

CB500X Rally Raid Level III kit: Ready for adventure – at Titus Canyon, Death Valley 2017.

Let’s not forget Aprilia. They have built multi-cylinder enduro bikes in the past, the RXV 450 and 550.  They are perhaps the best example of what can be done with two-cylinder motors while still keeping it light enough for off-pavement adventures.  These bikes have a 77 degree V twin motor matched to a dirt bike frame and vocation.  These bikes were short-lived, and the few people who owned them say these bikes were/are great, as long as they worked/work (they were famous for not being reliable, but that is another issue).

2009 Aprilia RXV 450 V-twin

Finally, at the extreme end, you would have KTM’s 950 SE.  Those bikes were the closest thing ever made by a manufacturer as a hardcore adventure machine.  At 450lbs, it was on the heavy side.  But still, rated at 98 hp and with an off-pavement purpose this bike was plenty good.  It was also short-lived, being available for only three years (model years 2006 to 2008).

KTM 950 Super Enduro R

The KTM 950 SE R, the Aprilia RXV series, the Rally Raid effort based on the Honda CB500X, as well as the individuals who have put twin cylinder motors on dual-purpose bike frames show that, technically speaking, it is possible to build light-weight multi-cylinder rally machines.

If it can be done, then why manufacturers don’t build them?

If it is not a technical issue, then what is preventing us from having a production-based, light-weight rally-adventure (or adventure-rally) beast? The answer can only be a market issue, likely in association with an industry bottom line issue.

First, perhaps most important of all, we haven’t had enough customer interest to justify building such a bike.  Such a bike would certainly be too expensive for its size and displacement.  Go to the motorcycle forums and you will see people already comparing these speculated bikes from Yamaha and KTM to Suzuki’s V-Strom 650, or talking about wanting a low price adventure motorcycle. Nothing wrong with a V-Strom, or low price motorcycles, but it is not what some of us want. I fear we have been a small number of riders in the world who want such a light weight hardcore adventure machine.  That is why production motorcycles such as Aprilia’s RXV series and KTM’s 950 SE-R series did not last. There is a strong following for these motorcycles, but it is coming from a small group of riders, not large enough to justify their continued production, to take these motorcycles from being a niche product to a mainstream product.

KTM 950 Rally, the last twin cylinder to win Dakar, 2002

Second would be the Dakar race, which is the inspiration for what has become the adventure motorcycle sector, limiting motorcycles to single-cylinder 450 cc motors. This could be playing a major role here, eliminating the industry’s incentive to produce twin-cylinder middle-size rally-style motorcycles.  It would help with the important cool, hardcore factor for such motorcycles, something that could move them from niche to mainstream.

Third, there is no question, the Charlie and Ewan Round the World and Long Way Down series has pushed the adventure riding community toward the larger displacement motorcycles.  Maybe they have created the large adventure motorcycle community, they certainly inspired many to think about the BMW 1150 and then 1200 GS models to be the end all be all motorcycle for round the world travel!  We are still on the shadow of the impact from those nice videos, although they are becoming a thing from the past.  Nothing wrong with Charlie and Ewan, I enjoy watching and re-watching both series.  Just that some of us (and maybe more are joining our team now) have always wanted  something different, more nimble, more hardcore.

Fourth, and probably related to all the above statements, we know the industry relies on profit, nothing wrong with that either.  Manufacturers maximize profit by selling upscale machines or on volume of sales of popular machines (or a combination of both along a gradient towards more upscale motorcycles). Niche products that are not on the top of the scale do not get a space under the sun in this very realistic, financial bottom-line scenario.  We all know this, and we understand how this works.

Therefore, unless something changes on this scenario, nothing is going to happen. I’m betting on a change. Reasons 1 and 3 on the above scenario are probably the ones making this happen.  That is, midsize adventure machines may have a new popular machine in the Yamaha and a more fashionable, cool machine in the KTM.  These bikes will be less of a niche, and hence there is a build up for the economies of scale needed for the industry to justify the investment on such motorcycles.

A new vision of what is goldilocks for an adventure motorcycle would start making sense to more riders out there.  Having said that, I hope these bikes won’t be watered down for the larger population and disappoint the few of us who want something special and are willing to pay the price for that.  But how are we getting there?

A Detour on a Tipping Point Example

Just recently I started hearing the term goldilocks in reference to motorcycles, starting with the Ducati SuperSport and the KTM 790 Duke concept.  In the Ducati case, goldilocks was used to describe it as a sports motorcycle with non-radical sport riding ergonomics, with reasonable power (not too much, not too little, just right, at its 113 hp), easy handling, and sufficient level of electronic riding aids (three levels of ABS, Ducati’s typical 8-level traction control, and up and down quickshifter with throttle blip on the downward action) and on top of that, it looks like a real sports bike (it carries clear hints of a Panigale in its design). It is just right for many riders out there! Heck, I want one based only on the reviews I’ve read and seen so far.

2017 Ducati Supersport S – Just Right?

The KTM 790 Duke concept is another example.  With the new 800cc parallel twin motor expected to deliver close to 100hp, it has been described by KTM themselves as a new direction, away from the top displacement and power machines, this machine is about more focus on light weight and handling. Here is text from Motorcycle Magazine, describing and agreeing with KTM’s direction:

As KTM rightly points out, with the 1301cc 1290 Duke already in its line-up, there’s not much point in trying to go bigger or more powerful. So instead the 790 Duke focuses on light weight and handling. And when the production version shows up in around a year’s time it looks like it might be able to hit a Goldilocks zone in terms of power, weight and price. Not too much. Not too little. Just right.

Maybe the KTM 790 and the Ducati Supersport are a great sign that leading motorcycle manufacturers, and riders alike (because as I mentioned earlier, we are the ones who buy the products and ultimately decide whether they are a success or not), are reaching some level of agreement, of the tacit kind perhaps, that there is room for common sense, after all.  We may be tilting to more interest on mid of the road numbers for horse power, weight and performance.  But these bikes need to be cool, they need to deliver performance.  This is where technological advancements play a role, as these machines  deliver usable performance and riding enjoyment for a greater number of riders.

KTM 790 Duke Concept: 800cc Parallel Twin

This is what I’m reading between the lines of the reviews of the Ducati Supersport. The great majority of journalists have written very positive reviews about  this Ducati, no one criticized it for being too easy to ride, or for not having enough power. Quite the opposite as a matter of fact, it seems all of them welcomed those very concepts as positive remarks about this motorcycle.  I project the Supersport will sell very well for Ducati. The 790 Duke should follow the same path both on journalists’ reviews and on sales.  And this is paving the road for a new cool and still hardcore group of machines.  It is where common sense meets performance.

You may see this as a compromise. In my case, the fun of riding (not the fun of owning a motorcycle, necessarily) does not reside on the portion of the performance and power band I never use (the one I don’t have the skills to use), instead it is based on how well the motorcycle delivers performance where I can afford to use, which is at the middle and top end of my comfort zone. I like motorcycles which I can use most of the power and performance it offers, which happens to be the motorcycle’s sweet spot. This motorcycle still needs to offer a margin of performance for me to explore my riding boundaries, go faster or learn new tricks.  It needs to challenge me but not overwhelm me.  I feel like I’m cheating when riding something that has a performance limit I will never reach. Worse yet are the high performance motorcycles which actually limit how much riding I can do with them.  I don’t want a motorcycle for others to think how good a rider I am, I want a motorcycle to maximize my joy of riding.

If these two mid of the pack motorcycles, the Supersport and the Duke 790, are indicators of a change taking place in the sports and naked bike world, where motorcycles which fall within a revised, new perspective of what is a goldilocks zone in terms of power, weight, performance, and price, and they become the new wave of popularity in their fields, could that also happen in the adventure world?  If so, what would the equivalent “just right” motorcycle be in the adventure world?

The goldilocks approach for adventure motorcycles for me, mind you, will be a mid-size adventure motorcycle that:

  1. It is not necessarily an entry level motorcycle as price goes.  That is, being lighter and more compact should not equate with it being a lesser bike, quite the opposite, actually.  I’m not looking for an adventure-styled motorcycle built with inexpensive components that best suit street riding.
  2. It has compromises, because the machine is geared for riders who want it to perform well on off pavement roads, even ride rally style if they so desire and have the appropriate skills.  Meaning it will have spoke wheels, suspension travel, good quality components, engine/clutch performance for technical riding, but will be light.  At a minimum it needs to have the bones (low weight, twin cylinder motor, suspension travel and wheel size) to be made into an adventure/rally machine using bolt-on parts.

To summarize, I’m not looking for a less expensive adventure-styled motorcycle that is more appropriate for city riding (we already have the Honda CB500X, BMW F700GS or Suzuki’s V-Strom 650) or a heavy or middle weight motorcycle (such as the BMW F800GS or Triumph Tiger 800XC and all the larger adventure motrcycles).  I’m looking at a motorcycle which was designed from the ground up to deliver solid adventure and rally performance.

Perhaps the Panigale and the Super Duke needed to exist before the new Ducati Supersport and the KTM 790 Duke would make sense the same way a BMW R1200GS, a Yamaha 1200 Super Ténéré or a KTM 1290 R needed to exist before something else at a smaller scale would make sense in the adventure world.

What is the tipping point that will make this happen in the adventure motorcycle world? These bikes certainly need to be cool, as mentioned before.  They also need to be hardcore enough for people to spend the money considering they are not going to be the largest or the most powerful motorcycle out there, but will not be inexpensive either. People need to see value on what this bike can deliver, when they compare it to a BMW R1200GS or a KTM 1290 Adventure.  Something like what Honda Africa Twin has shown the world, but smaller, leaner, meaner.  Definitely more hardcore.

The BMW GS and the Africa Twin Effects

The industry has its financial bottom line and they have to pursue it, we know this  already, that’s how they survive.  I understand that and the sales numbers clearly indicate larger adventure motorcycles were or still are the sweet spot in their perspective. Nothing wrong with that. But very few of us ride large machines like Chris Burch does and we still want some of the power and the comfort these larger bikes deliver.  They will likely always have their space under the sun.

The Honda Africa Twin came very close to be that lighter machine we have been talking about, and for many it is what they were expecting.  Honda advertised it as the “True Adventure” motorcycle, and they certainly made their point about it. Although it is heavier than many anticipated, I believe it has ignited a change in the industry for being a motorcycle with better dirt vocation than all other large adventure motorcycles out there. True adventure. A believe the Honda Africa Twin is a key element for the tipping point in the Adventure World.  If it did not create the change, it rides that wave rather well.

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin

The industry’s expansion toward the 1,200cc (and beyond) side of this market was a result of the success of the BMW 1200 GS, I don’t think anyone can dispute that. This is what I call the BMW effect, with new models being launched every year by many manufacturers to compete with the BMW, the yard stick of large adventure motorcycles. As a result, basically every manufacturer has a 1200cc or larger “adventure” model in their line up.  That’s where “cool” has resided for the last 10-15 years.

There are plenty of options at this high end of the market with some branded words associated to their names such as Enduro, Rally, Rallye (that “e” makes it special right?), SE, NTX, R.  This is marketing at work for which is the coolest and most hardcore adventure motorcycle.

It defies technical logic when the heavier motorcycles are the ones with all the off road components while the lighter motorcycles, which seem just right for rally riding in terms of weight and size, would be the ones brought to market with less off-road equipment.  Maybe others are starting to see it the same way I do? If you want real rally performance, the average rider, and even the great rider, needs something different, not 160hp attached to almost 600lbs of weight. Maybe 80hp attached to a 400lbs machine is a good number?

When the Africa Twin was introduced, although it was larger and heavier then most expected, it actually showed to be more seriously destined to off-pavement riding than all these other larger motorcycles.  It may have been what shook things up on this top motorcycle market, since the Africa Twin has been selling very well in Europe.

Honda Africa Twin – may have a true adventure competitor soon!

Maybe now we are experiencing the Africa Twin effect. Since the Africa Twin was in the works and then introduced, coincidentally or not, KTM has bifurcated its 1190 adventure line into the 1090 R and the 1290 R models.  The 1090 R being the more appropriate off pavement machine and closer to the Africa Twin in size and performance. BMW has slightly modified its 1200GS line to make room for the R1200GS Rallye (yes, that’s the one with the “e” mentioned earlier).

There is something good here, this is a sign of a reaction, which makes me think we are on the verge of changes for the better.  Both the KTM 1090 R model and the BMW Rallye could be interpreted as manufacturers reacting to the Africa Twin presence and making their machines more off-pavement ready.  But that is not enough.  Or will not be enough.  More action is needed than putting lip stick on a pig, pun very much intended.

Overall, although we have more “Rallye” and “Enduro” names attached to motorcycles and we have the Africa Twin as a middle of the road machine, we are still talking about 500lbs or heavier machines! Far from being the Unicorn, these machines, however, may be changing the locus of what is the Goldilocks for an adventure bike.

Maybe this new focus is what is making room in the market for true rally-ready machines?  We go from adventure to true adventure to rally and true-rally, perhaps? Hopefully it will open the space for the smaller machines that will be a lot more capable for off-pavement riding.  That’s where the T7 concept and KTM’s 790 Adventure (or whatever it will be named) come to the conversation.

Yamaha T7 Concept: Unicorn or Goldilocks?

The Yamaha T7 Ténéré 700 XTZ, or KTM 790 R or…

Are we ready, as consumers, to act on such level of common sense and buy motorcycles that are smaller, that may be expensive for their size, but which could potentially be commensurate with the title “rally” for the first time? If so, a new Goldilocks for adventures motorcycles seems to be just around the corner.

Let’s talk about the Yamaha T7 first, which seems to be further ahead in development than the KTM offering.  Yamaha calls the T7 a concept and defines it as follows:

Created using the race-bred DNA that has made Yamaha one of the most successful names in the Rally world, the Yamaha T7 Concept is a fully functioning prototype developed to achieve a perfect balance between road and off road capability.

This lightweight machine is based on an all new chassis that has been designed to complement a specially developed version of Yamaha’s highly acclaimed 700cc CP2 engine, delivering strong torque and an easy power delivery for perfect traction in all conditions.

Equipped with an aluminium fuel tank, 4-projector LED headlight, a carbon fairing and skidplate, and a custom made Akrapovič exhaust – as well as high specification KYB front suspension – the T7 is a vision of the ideal adventure machine, and is playing a major role in the development of Yamaha’s next generation adventure models.

A new chapter from the book of legends will be on the street – and on the dirt – from 2018.

The Yamaha T7 was presented at EICMA as a concept based on the 700 cc parallel twin, 270 crank, 74hp motor found in the MT/FZ07 and its derivatives. The motor is a well know machine. This bike could be just the right machine, 74 hp is the right amount of power, its torque curve is great and this combo could deliver sane but plenty of fun, at the right weight, and perhaps even the right price.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

Of course, Yamaha made it clear that the T7 , as a concept, is only a “vision of the ideal adventure machine” and then it says it is “playing a major role in the development of Yamaha’s next generation adventure models”.

Yamaha T7 Concept, EICMA 2016

The spy photos already show many differences from what we’ve seen on the T7 concept to what may be coming to market.

Yamaha’s 700 Ténéré – 2018?

However, what we know is that it has the right bones: a light weight motor, plenty of power at 74 hp, a compact frame, the right wheel sizes (21 front / 18 rear), and plenty of suspension travel.  That means, at a minimum, we can make it look like the T7 in appearance and in function.  Right, Yamaha?

Yamaha T7 Concept at EICMA 2017

The FZ-07, where this motor resides, is rated at 182 kg, or 400lbs.  The XSR 700, which also has this motor, is rated at 186 kg, or 410 lbs.  I’m not sure these numbers are correct, but if they are close to reality, it seems Yamaha can produce an adventure motorcycle based on this compact motor,  which could weight about 440lbs, which is what we have on the CB500X with the Rally Raid kit.  Now add 26 hp to this equation, a 270 degree crank on the parallel twin (as opposed to the CB500X 180 degree crank), the right wheel sizes, and this is an awesome machine already.

The KTM 790 R is probably going to start from a different perspective. It is likely being developed already and will be based on the new KTM 800cc parallel twin which is expect to deliver power, in KTM-style, at the upper 90’s, if judging by what has been speculated about the machine that already has this motor, the KTM 790 Duke.

KTM 790 Duke – Concept or Prototype?

Knowing KTM, we can assume this motorcycle will be “ready to race” in adventure style, meaning it will be as “rally ready” or better than the defunct 950/990 line. It will likely be light from the start, and it will come with great suspension from the start as well. It will likely be expensive but it won’t require much to be added to it to make it ready for adventure-rally riding.

KTM 790 R (or Adventure)

If the spy photos are anything to go by, the bike will be compact.  Similar to the Yamaha 700, it has the right wheel combo (21 front, 18 rear).  The spy photos also show WP suspension, which I bet will be better than what Yamaha will offer.  Check that swingarm, it talks about serious, and light. And the machine doesn’t look to be tall and still has good ground clearance.

KTM 790 Spy Photo

Finally, as a wild card, we have the revised F800GS.  I’m not sure which direction BMW will take on their 10-year revision of the tired F800GS, if they will go towards the Africa Twin and make it heavier but more off-pavement oriented than the motorcycle being replaced, or whether they will make it a lighter-weight, more rally focused machine.  I would prefer the latter, of course.

The F800GS has only had minor updates in its almost 10 years (it will be 10 years if the new F-type GS will be ready for MY 2018).  We hear this new F bike will have an 850 or 900cc motor, final drive (chain) on the left side (hence not the rotax motor consequently not the Nuda motor as many had anticipated), tank on a regular position (not under the seat), new aluminum frame (hopefully fixing the infamous shock bolt problem), and tubeless wheels.

The motor looks to be a twin but more compact than the current F800GS motor and as it has become popular these days, we hear it will have a 270 degree crank (the current Rotax motor is a 360 degree crank with a balance shaft).  The motor looks to be compact, but since most people have been referring to it as an F850 or 900 GS, it could be heavier than the current F800GS.  If the frame is being discussed as aluminum, then maybe it will compensate for the weight of a larger motor? My bet is that it should be closer to the Africa Twin in function and purpose, hence size and weight.  Let’s keep it as the wild card for now.

2018 or 2019 BMW F800GS replacement

Based on the tradition of what Yamaha, KTM and BMW deliver, based on what we know about these bikes so far (not much), we could speculate the following from these new bikes (and using the Africa Twin as a comparison):

If these bikes are launched as described above, which could be considered more wishful thinking than anything else, I would be in serious doubt whether I would get the Yamaha or the KTM.  Yamaha offers great reliability, on the other hand it could cut some corners on critical components, delivering less off-pavement performance and more weight to be on a lower price point and target more volume sales.  However, it has a known motor which is compact, so we know Yamaha can organize this bike around a steel frame and sub-frame and still be light enough.  Yamaha will likely cost less than the KTM, BMW, and also the Honda Africa Twin.

Yamaha’s potential Ténéré 700 XTZ

KTM is likely to produce something that is ready for the action, hardcore adventure off the showroom floor. However, we know there will likely be reliability issues – it is a new motor, and a new motorcycle.  Certainly it will be the coolest of the machines, especially if you’ve been addicted to the orange cool-aid or having been tempted to try it. It will be the first KTM for many (I could be on that list). And it will have great power to weight, as it is expected from KTMs.

KTM 790 R (or Adventure)

It would be a great but difficult choice to decide among the Yamaha or the KTM should they come to the market (and very likely will come to the market).  The BMW is very much an unknown factor at this point.  It would be great if they turned the F800GS into a true off-pavement contender.  BMW has had such off-pavement history with models such as the HP2. The F800GS has been a forgotten model in their adventure line up (and as consumers’ choice), with no serious upgrades since its launch in 2008 (MY 2008 in Europe, MY 2009 in US), except for the larger tank on the F800GS Adventure and details here and there.  Therefore, who knows where their priorities reside.  The R1200GS Rallye is pointing towards a more dirt worthy machine in their line up.  Is that going to be the case for the new F800GS?

Finally, the Africa Twin deserves an honorable mention.  It is not completely what I was expecting, but I have to say Honda did deliver a “true adventure” motorcycle.

Although it won’t be available outside of Italy, Honda is going to deliver a limited number of Africa Twins in a “Rally” dressing.  It is said this bike in rally version will weight 7 kg (15 lbs) less than the current models.  That will bring the Africa Twin to 488 lbs in non DCT version.  It still is a heavy machine, but once again it shows the interest of the industry in moving towards a rally focus.

Honda Africa Twin Rally

Four parallel twins with 270 degree cranks… and off-pavement vocation, which one would I get?

Based on what I know, which is not much, of these four motorcycles, my number 1 choice is the Yamaha Ténéré if it will look anything close to the T7 concept. I don’t have my expectations high about that, though.  It will still work if I can upgrade the components (suspension primarily) to fit my riding expectations.  It will have to have the bones, such as light weight, a strong frame with sub-frame, and the appropriate wheel sizes for that to happen. I think it will check all these boxes. The motor is well known, it is light, which is a very positive element, and 74 hp is plenty good.

MT-07 (FZ-07) 700cc parallel twin motor, compact and light!

The KTM 790 is my second choice. I do have hopes KTM will deliver something good, usable for the average rider and still hardcore enough to be taken on rally rides off the showroom floor, by experienced riders. The true goldilocks.  I think this will be the game changer motorcycle, this will be the new effect motorcycle.  What if KTM manages to make it weigh the same as the T7 (Ténéré 700) and then delivers 20 extra horses?  That will be tempting. We will know more about this motor when the KTM 790 Duke becomes available.

KTM 790 Duke concept, EICMA 2016

The Africa Twin is my 3rd choice.  This bike is already a known factor.  The reviews about this bike from journalists and owners have always been positive.  Too bad we won’t have access to its rally version outside of Italy, although it barely makes a difference on its weight.

The BMW is a wild card, mostly because the spy photos showed up with no information from BMW themselves on their intent with the change, therefore we don’t know the direction BMW will take.  It could go either way, as a variant to the Africa Twin or a lighter weight, hardcore machine.  This bike seems to be completely different than the current F800GS. Let’s hope BMW will have the courage to make something lighter and more hardcore out of this line.

Spy photo of the replacement for the F800GS

There could be others in the run, such as Triumph, for example.  Their problem in positioning themselves for a potential lighter weight fight is their own success factor, the triple motor.  It is heavy and offer low torque at low RPM when others are bringing compact and torquey parallel twin motors and making them behave and sound as if they were V-twins (270 degree crank).

Finally, it could be that these bikes may be introduced to the market in their standard or “popular” versions, and we may need to wait for their rally, enduro, R, or whatever they will call their more off-pavement versions, to show up a few years down the road.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the 2017’s EICMA will be interesting for the adventure world with some critical new models being launched or presented for the first time.  2018 might be the year when, for the first time, we will be able to buy a true adventure-rally machine in a long, long time, if ever.  Times may be changing.

Thank you for reading.

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26 Responses to KTM 790 R and Yamaha T7 / 700XTZ Ténéré: Are Hardcore, Adventure-Rally Motorcycles Finally Coming to Market?

  1. Remind me again why a single-cylinder is out? Given the quantifiable requirements you list, it seems the Husqvarna 701 should be in the running. Right weight, right power. Much less vibes on the 2017 model thanks to the second balancer shaft, so the bike feels great on the highway at speed. Tank size isn’t great for some BDRs, but with Rotopax containers or a Rade tank, you can easily extend the range from 150 to 200 miles for not much extra cost.

    • cesardagord says:

      Thank you for asking. My answer… it is a question of preference. I’ve had three single-cylinder motorcycles, still have one of them. I’ve ridden twins of all kinds, triples, fours… and it turns out I like all motorcycles and their motors, but I like twins the best. There is a book out there, where the author explores, among other issues related to why we enjoy riding, how different motor configurations vibrate (see, it is not about NOT vibrating, it is about HOW they vibrate) and how people tend to favor one or the other. He went as far as measuring vibrations at the seat, pegs and handlebars for different motor configurations. The book is a bit old but the concept is valid, in the sense that what we experience when riding and what we like as a result of the experience differs from person to person. The bottom line, preference. If you want to explore more about this, the book is called “bodies in motion” by Steven L Thompson. Very interesting book. Aside from that, I like how twins, especially V-twins, sound and deliver power. And a key thing across these four motorcycles is that they are all parallel twins designed to fire unevenly, similar to V-twins. I will write a review about this book at some point.

  2. Mike Taber says:

    One of the absolute best written articles of its kind in while! I’m actually holding back on buying a new bike based on exactly the points you make. Sorry Honda, a 500 pound anything cannot be called Adventure. Hopefully, Yami and KTM lower the weight by 100 pounds and don’t follow Honda. In the mean time, I’m ‘converting’ my KTM500exc to an ADv bike.Hopefully, it will be capable of long slab, to match it’s obvious perfection in the dirt.

    • cesardagord says:

      Hi Mike, thank you for your comment. Several of us are on a “wait and see” moment here. It just could be that we will have something very interesting later this year from KTM or Yamaha. We could be disappointed as well. Time will tell.

  3. chris forbes says:

    Great article, well thought out and considered, much of mown thinking is on similar lines. I own tiger 800 and an adventureised dr650, both great in their respective capabilities, but maybe one day soon, one motorcycle will do for both.

    • cesardagord says:

      Thanks Chris! And yes, that would be that middle of the road thing. I still think, though, a twin-cylinder rally machine should be a second bike. It will have too many compromises to do everything well. But it is something that is missing.

  4. Joel Thompson says:

    I’m very much interested in these models and have been waiting for one bike to replace my Triumph Tiger 800xc and my Husaberg 570FE. Both great bikes with the Triumph more road oriented and the Berg more dirt. Maybe these new ” Rally style ” bikes will be a good compromise. To me comfort on the highway is important as well as being able to bring along my camping gear, tools, and gear for 2-3 wks of off road touring. Joel Thompson British Columbia, Canada.

    • cesardagord says:

      Yep Joel, you and I, and hope many others are on this boat, enough for Yamaha, KTM and others to pay attention to this, up to now, nonexistent area of the market.

  5. PikiPiki says:

    Goldie locks weight is 140kg – 180kg max fully fueled ready to ride. 200kg is the weight of the old 1200gs. 200kg with luggage and fuel will tip the scale at 280kg which is tar road cruiser heavies 🙂

    • cesardagord says:

      Those are interesting numbers. Never knew a 1200GS weighted 440lbs (200Kgs). It was even 30lbs lighter than the 800GS? My CB500X weights 440 lbs (200kgs).

      • PikiPiki says:

        Yeah the old 1200GS was actually not that bad in weight. But in my humble opinion a proper dual sport bike is no more than 160-180kg fueled. Everything over 200kg is an adventure bike and more for lifestyle. I enjoy your comments thanks for contributing 🙂

    • Edward Bach says:

      This well written article shares my sentiments completely. But I agree, 200 kg is far too heavy to be a too adventure bike. If these same companies can build a Supersport bike weighing less than 400 pounds and put out 200 horsepower, then they can make a 70 hp adventure bike tip the scales at less than 160 kg.
      My money is waiting for that bike. I think KTM will be first and sadly Honda will follow up 10 years later and once one million units are sold by its competitors

  6. Love the Rally Raid kid for the Honda CB 500X. Definately 2018-2019 will be the year for the adventure and the rally adventure motorcycles as that segment of the motorcycle industry is making relatively better than the rest.
    Motorcycle brands are investing more on adventure motorcycles with more off road capabilities. So for the next years we expect to see rise of this market segment.

    • cesardagord says:

      As of now, I’m keeping mt little Honda with its rally raid kit. Really nice and capable machine for its price. But if something better (same weight, same on-road manners, but better off road manners) comes along, it will be gone…

  7. Zooba says:

    I wonder why no one has considered that the Zero DSR is lighter, faster and perhaps the best Dual Sport / Adventure bike currently available. – Is it “range anxiety” that keep it from being considered?
    I have personally ridden a combination of fast roads, two track and even some challenging single track on the new 2017 DSR and nothing else compares to the all-around capability. – Have owned both a 800 Tiger and a 1200 GS and the DSR will blow them both away in sheer acceleration and comes in 100 pounds lighter. – All it needs is a TKC 80 level tire swap.

    • cesardagord says:

      It is not range anxiety, it is range impossibility. Currently they can go some 80 miles maximum, you can’t go anywhere here in Oregon, if you travel east, with that range… For commuters and for single track and some motocross variations electric bikes are good already, check the Alta Motors bikes for motocross and single track models! But for adventure? Not yet. It will be a while, but their time will eventually come, when range will be about 200 miles, batteries will be charged in less than 15 minutes in regular outlets, outlets on a campsite, for example, or from your motel room. By the way battery technology has been evolving, that will take some 10 years perhaps.

  8. John Haggis says:

    Great article. I’m looking forward to the KTM 790 adventure whenever it appears.

    One bike that caught my eye recently is the Ducati desert sled scrambler.
    Twin cylinder
    456lb wet
    73 hp
    Some real off road ability according to reviews despite the 19/17 wheels and I think it looks great.

    • cesardagord says:

      The Ducati Desert Sled looks like a legitimate old school scrambler. Not a rally machine, but a nice interpretation of the vision of the 60’s in turning standards to scramblers.

  9. Paul. says:

    Why no comparison to the ktm 1090?
    Personally I think we will be disappointed in the 790. Still to heavy for the hard core rally rider types. I have the 701 and many other bikes, 1190, gs1200, dirt etc. I still miss my ktm 950 SE. THE 701 is the go to bike for hardcore ADV riding hear in Colorado.

    • cesardagord says:

      There is a great chance for you to be right. But I reserve the right to be optimistic, if not too naive.

    • cesardagord says:

      No particular reason, except that for one thing the 1090 it is very close to the Africa Twin. And second, I’m not sure what the 1090 really is, it seems a bit lost in KTM’s line up, especially if the 790 is not going to be the light weight rally machine we talk about.

  10. Christof Henning says:

    Thank you very much for this article!

    It is one of the best on this topic. You give a very good overview on the different segments and different classes.

    I truely hope the T7 or XTZ 700 or whatever they want to call it is under 190 KG and about the same hp of the MT07, which has a? Really great engine.

    Best regards Chris

  11. Patriot159 says:

    I too pine for one of these. My modded DR650 does a pretty good job of serving as an ADV lite rig. The suspension mods make it very off road worthy and comfort mods make it a good street bike but the single cylinder engine is not conducive to 75 mph highway droning. I could do a 790 kit that would give me 50 hp. and 50 lb./ft. of torque (plenty of power for me), but alas, its still a single. If I could shoehorn an FZ-07 motor into my DR chassis (motors weigh about the same!) I’d have a 360 lb. wet “Goldilocks’ bike”! but since I can’t, I’ll have to buy a factory one. Come on Yamaha (or KTM if I can afford it) I got a check ready to go!

  12. VintageThumper says:

    Thanks for pulling this article together. I’ve been into Adv bikes since the KTM 950, which was a very cool machine, but still big and heavy for anything more than sliding fire roads (with my skills). Tried a BMW R1200GS, and found it to be very non confidence inspiring off-road. Way to big and heavy with vague feedback as to what the front end was doing. Tried a Triumph Tiger, and while the lighter weight and handling were fun, that triple motor is really better suited for pavement. Along the way I also built a KTM 450 dual sport. It was a blast off-road, but that thumper was not the hot set up for putting down hundreds of miles on the pavement. I now ride a Honda Africa Twin, and while it’s definitely better than the current behemoths in its class, it really is just a trimmed down big pig. The thought of a 400-450 pound twin with real live off-road cred has me all fizzed up. Hope one of these makes it to the states. I’ll be all over it.

  13. Evo says:

    Thx for you great article here. I’m currently in a similar situation looking for a lightweight Enduro. Even a single cylinder is not your first choice I really would like to mention a new Enduro which should come in July 2017 to Market which looks at least on paper very interesting. Time and test drive will tell later this year 🙂
    I have no relation at all to SWM but maybe I will be a new client within the next months if test drive works as expected.

    • cesardagord says:

      That’s a nice motorcycle. If I’m not mistaken, that motor is from the the mid-2000’s Husqvarna TE610. Husqvarna was parsed out, motors went one way, brand went another way.

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