Oh, the venerable 690 KTM. Is there really anything left to say about it? Over the years it has come to occupy its own little spot in the back corner of the twilight zone. That realm that lies just beyond the dirt bike but not quite crossing over to the dark side of adventure bike land.
Well maybe that description is a bit to ethereal for the big orange thumper. Or maybe just silly. Perhaps it forces us to see the dilemma of the big single market: jack of all trades and master of none. The Japanese bikes bring economy and utility to the table. KTM could actually claim price point, compared to a 500exc it might just be a lot of bike for the money, but it is still expensive. Yet the real calling card of the 690 Enduro is performance. yet, it may be hard to see it in that light sometimes.
But perhaps it matters not. I was in a dealership a while back looking at the 2014 690 sitting on the floor. I casually asked the proprietor if he had ridden it yet, explaining that there is a whole bunch of new stuff under the hood this year. “No” he said, he had not ridden it and was not up to speed on the new stuff. “You see, we only get a couple of 690’s and they all sell pretty quick, so we just don’t give it much thought.”
That is the problem with us bikers, we want things at the absolute extreme, it either has to be the biggest, baddest, newest or the smallest and slowest to interest us. Things in the middle just don’t push the right buttons. But that never stopped us from going riding, so here is the dope on the 2014 KTM 690 Enduro R.
For 2014 the big news is in the 690 motor. It gets all the updates that went into the new Duke last year. That means a new head, throttle body and fly by wire throttle.
For a bike that looks substantially the same on the outside, there is quite a lot of new stuff inside. As for the motor changes, these are just what I asked for after testing the Duke last year.
It only takes a couple of minutes in the saddle to feel the changes in the motor. On the street it is distinctly smoother than ever before. Up to 65mph, it is dead smooth. Beyond that, the vibrations do start to intrude, but not like in previous years. It is hard to be exact without a real back to back comparison, but the motor is certainly stronger too.
It seems a bit odd to look at a dirt bike with no throttle cable. But it is hard to argue how well the fly by wire system works. It seems to smooth out the rough spots, not in the bike, but in the throttle hand. All very refined feeling and a far cry from the days of trying to ride big finicky thumpers in the dirt.
Shifting on our new bike was a bit stiff, but will probably get smoother with miles. The slipper clutch is wonderful. The standard under seat mapping switch makes big changes in the 690’s power, bigger than ever before. In standard mode the 690 is very fast on the street. In the dirt, it is just too much. The wheel spins up too easy and the power is wasted. But with a flip to the mild mode, the 690 is a gentle giant kind of motor.
Most of our previous testing on the 690’s has been about doing what it was made for; touring, backroads and exploring. This time I figured I would just treat it like a pure dirt bike and see how it handled real single track. Of course we did lots of other stuff too, like riding to and from the single track.
The Los Ancianos Club host a fun run each summer in the Tecate area of Baja. The old guys really know how to put some single track together. Some of it is so tight as to almost be torture, endless first gear stuff. This year things are a bit drier than normal, no moisture in the sandwashes makes for deep going.
Thanks to the superb motor characteristics, the 690 handled things pretty well. The super light clutch pull makes up for the tall first gear. Seriously, the clutch feels like a 125. The throttle control on super slow trail is very good. The 690 refuses to stall or buck around.
The deep sand was still a challenge. The front wants to wander around a bit and riding aggressive is the best bet. So it doesn’t handle the sand quite as well as say, the Honda XR650, but by any kind of ADV bike standard it is remarkably good. I was able to keep a good pace going compared the the other riders in the group, but I found myself getting tired quick too. It was a real work out.
Anywhere that the ground was firm, it was game on! All that grunt and the feel of a real dirt bike encourage hard throttle use. But the bouncy suspension and low ground clearance rapidly bring you back to reality. Keep the pace reasonable and it is a roaring fun ride all around.
The suspension was a bit hard to make sense of. In general it worked fine at any mild pace, but was quickly overtaxed at any speed. Don’t go hitting things hard! KTM tells me that the bikes come with way too much sag from the factory. Our test bike had 8 full turns on preload added just to get the static sag in the right range. The separate function fork made it easy to add compression when needed. But after playing with the shock clickers a bit, it was clear we were just trying to ride the bike too hard for the set up. A couple of good hits to the undercarriage confirmed that. So we just backed the pace down to a sane speed.
The ABS brake system was mostly a pain in the ass in the dirt. This isn’t like the new 1190 system, it’s the old style and useless in the dirt. More over, it requires the special “push the button until the light blinks three times and release” to turn it off. This has to be done every time the key is turned on.
Looking through the literature, KTM offers a special plug in dongle for the 690 that has an off road specific mode that will allow the rear to lock while the front ABS is still in operation. We did not get a chance to try it, but it might be a good way to make the ABS more practical for dirt riders. Otherwise I would be tempted to remove the fuse from the system, as many 990 riders do. On the street the ABS works fine.
I think it is rather telling that for such a big bike, it feels so good that it encourages hooligan behavior. It is even more so on the street. Getting the bar mounted map switch from Sicass racing would be mandatory. With such a pronounced performance difference between the maps it would be a shame to just be stuck in one mode. On fire roads, the mild mode is almost like traction control, the rear will spin just a bit, then hook up and shoot forward, all very controlled.
The only modification we did to the Enduro R was to swap for a Seat Concepts seat. It worked great and I can now easily run a full tank of gas through the 690 without having to stand up going down the highway.
The changes to the motor are enough to call the KTM significantly revamped and improved. This is a smooth as a single cylinder bike with knobbies gets. The addition of the ABS doesn’t get me too excited, but maybe that is just me. What really sells me is the fun factor. The new motor configuration adds power and reduces vibration, both of which will lead to more ride time for me.
I still would like to see a cosmetic makeover to give it a beefy Dakar replica look. But for the kind of riding I would use a lightweight adventure bike for, it suits the bill just about right.