I fear finding out, but damn it will be fun until that day. Though watching a friend who dumps his 990 continually, it’s really just having a nap. Pick it up, brush it off, and be on your way, this bike crashes well if there’s such a thing.
Just south of the NWT Boarder, I realize this bike’s adventure conundrum. Glenn on the F800GS has pulled to the side of the road. Rodding up on the KTM I come along side.
“Did you see the Caribou?”, he asks.”
“Uhm… no. There was a Caribou?”
“No, a herd.”
If the KTM 990 Adventure has an issue, it’s being so engaging and entertaining you miss stuff on it, herds of caribou, grizzly bears, the world… which defeats adventure’s purpose for some.
3 Riders 3 Conclusions:
To paraphrase a comment on our YouTube channel, “Ok, so which is the best in your opinion? And good luck after that… You’ll be crucified regardless.” Such is the high journalistic cost of riding to the Arctic on someone else’s bikes, and we’re ready to pay our due. Please make sure the nails are sharp, they hurt less.
So on with it, our answer to the ultimate adventure question, “Which bike would I own? Which bike would I take around the world? The BMW F800GS, the BMW R1200GS Adventure or the KTM 990 Adventure.”
The BMW F800GS
Kevin puts it best, “After taking the F800GS into the mountains near Vancouver last year, running steep and rocky roads complete with hairy scree slopes for drama, I was expecting the F800GS to be the best off road.” Except it wasn’t.
“Loaded, the dirt bike-like F800GS lacked as adventure bike. The suspension failed to soak up the rough roads, washboard and potholes, nor was it as planted on the highway as the others.”
While Glenn summed up the ergonomic shortfalls, “The seat is like a 2-by-4, the wind protection is minimal, the suspension needs some work, but the motor is great.” Still, Kevin nails the consensus between the two, “It’s a fine bike, with no major flaws, but isn’t in the same league as the 990 or R1200GS Adventures. Compared to the other bikes, I just didn’t look forward to riding it as much.”
Myself, when the going gets tight, tough and technical, these are the keys I snatch.
The F800GS’s dirt bike feel has me imagining churning through jungle mud in Central America with a mad grin on my face. Small, light, and with a great power-to-weight ratio, the F800GS feels like the next best thing to off-road lessons. The weather protection and seat diminish the joy, reminding me our mandate is choosing a bike for sweeping adventures.
You can’t fault the F800GS for what it is, adventure gone light, which opens you to finding where it fits. Riding solo, on an open-ended trip to Ushuaia filled with short-mileage and high-challenge days, with no onus to keep up to the bigger adventure bikes and no schedule, the F800GS would be my choice. After chain and suspension upgrades that is. Comfort is for those who like to sit.
The F800GS by falls into third place on our Arctic challenge, and that’s the last of our “so say we all” consensus, because for each of us it came down to a slugfest between the R1200GS Adventure and the KTM 990 Adventure. Justifying our decisions, we’ll lay bare our prejudices, preferences and physical attributes shaping each rider’s conclusion
Kevin Miklossy – Photographer/Reviewer:
Most of my off-road experience comes from a KTM 640 Adventure purchased at the season’s start, and it’s a pretty tall bike for my 5’10” height. And between the 640 and last year’s 990 Adventure test I came to the task with prejudices, I expected to clearly prefer the 990 for its off-road prowess, size and power.
The R1200GS Adventure left me hesitant on technical challenges, it is tall and heavy, and I’m not. That makes the bike hard to manoeuvre in the dirt, which stole some “adventure” from the bike. Presented with exploring deactivated roads alone, I passed, worrying I’d be unable to pick the GSA up if I dropped it. And given its stature, tipping over a GSA on technical trails is far more likely than the KTM or F800GS.
On-road the GSA is the best of the three with excellent weather protection, comfortable seat, and great range of adjustability on the suspension. Surprisingly, it was also excellent on dirt roads, once you adjust to drifting the massive “apocalypse cow” through gravelled corners. The GSA is planted and by far the best over potholed roads, the downside off-road is the suspension feels remote making it difficult to tell how close the “edge” you are, as in “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine…. I’m screwed!”
After taking the KTM 990 Adventure to a sport-bike rally last year, I knew it would be the most fun on road. Its power, sound and amazing on and off road handling appeals directly to an adventurous part of my soul. For me it’s very comfortable, but not relaxed, and demands being pushed.
Like the GSA, the 990’s height and weight were a handful on technical trails, but the KTM is just so capable – making me feel like if I just try we can do it. More important, the KTM 990 Adventure inspires and challenges me.
I anticipated choosing the KTM, and in the end I still will, but by a far smaller margin. The 1200GSA asks me to grow old with it, and I would… But first a few years on the 990 Adventure! I’ll trade it in on a GSA when I calm down a bit… Just a bit though.
Glenn Simmons Photographer/Reviewer:
Finishing night shift at 1:00 AM in the ICU, August’s ride to the Inuvik seems so long ago as I answer the dreaded “which bike” question and the response needs some personal context.
I’m 47 years old, married, 5’11” tall and 172 lbs. – a perfect fit for most motorcycles. I’ve been riding for most of my life, learning to ride on a Honda 100, a Suzuki 90, and a Kawasaki KX125. After that, I hit the road on a Suzuki GS 750E. After many bikes and hundreds-of-thousands of kilometres riding paved North America, my return to the dirt is a very pleasant surprise of re-discovery. It’s telling that I presently own an older KTM 640 Adventure.
Full disclosure; I’d near decided before putting a mile in the saddle – it would be the KTM 990 Adventure. My heart was set on the KTM, last year’s model fit me and my riding style like a glove. I loved the bike and felt the KTM would win over both BMW’s.
Arctic Challenge underway and… crap! I liked all these bikes, but it came down to two.
The R1200GS Adventure is huge, luxurious and heavy with all of the comforts of home; I appreciate not being 20 anymore. I love heated handgrips, gas gauges and electronic suspension… and the list goes $27,000 on and on. This is where the KTM lacks, the creature comforts wanted by a 40-something adventure rider with the time and means to ride the four corners of a Continent.
I love the KTM though; it fits me and has a fun factor that the other two bikes don’t. It’s the best in the dirt and the most stable on the highway, but not the most comfortable. If the planet was all dirt the KTM would win hands down, but it’s not and I have a wife and like to travel with her.
If you ever consider having a passenger, the R1200GS Adventure has no competition; a day long ride, weekend or longer, riding with someone on the back is that much better knowing they are as comfortable as you are.
So I reluctantly give up the funtastic KTM for the comfort of the big BMW. The GSA won’t beat the KTM for handling on road or dirt, but wins out with the amenities KTM’s fury lacks. It comes as a shocking conclusion to me, but in the end I would choose the R1200GS Adventure.
Neil Johnston – Writer/Reviewer:
I’ve never agonized over a conclusion this much before. I’m always a fan of the smallest, lightest simplest adventure bike for the job, even if at 6”2’, 210lbs my 39 year-old frame dwarfs it. For me the BMW F800GS is still tempting – after we go all “gentlemen we can rebuild him” on the chain, suspension, seat and screen.
The KTM 990 Adventure then? Romping up and down the west coast, or shooting across a continent and putting “the sport back in dual-sport” at every turn… absolutely. The KTM is a demanding bike though. It’s less approachable than the F800GS, but when it clicks, the KTM is sublimely hardcore. Provided I’m more about the ride experience than experiencing the world, which leaves BMW’s R1200GS Adventure.
The GSA will take you around the continent or around the world without batting an eye and near regardless of conditions. Though, for the 1% of an epic ride you face the Sisyphean challenge of pushing, grinding and banging up single track, you’ll never mistake it for a dirt bike. For the other 99% the R1200GS Adventure is smooth, comfortable, quiet, stable, protected, and lets you see the world. It feels like it’s built for a 6”2’ German, which I find convenient.
So is “Mr. Smallest bike for the job”, about to eat his words?
Empirically I’d choose the have-it-all R1200GS Adventure, except you pilot it, not ride it. The GSA trades in comfortable detachment rather than visceral engagement.
For me it’s the KTM 990 Adventure… with optional gas can. Irrational? Yes, it’s a bike thing.
Do I care? No.
The KTM is still too big (where’s the damn 690 Adventure?), but phenomenally fun. The F800GS is a flimsy foil asking for upgrades, the R1200GS Adventure a clumsy broadsword, but the KTM 990 Adventure… it’s a freaking light-sabre. Sophisticated, elegant, and so easy to get caught in the moment with you’ll likely slice your partner’s arms off, but they didn’t want to ride two-up anyways. There are deficiencies, but the path of dust in your wake as you cut a grinning swath across the country makes up for them.
31 Comments Add yours
Great article. After owning a BMW R1150GS and a KTM 640 Adventure, I can agree to much of what is being written about these bikes. The BMW is the best, easiest to ride, while the KTM is more of a hardcore, balls-to-the-wall, jump on and hang on for dear life kinda bike. Good review of the 800GS and its weak points. It may not be what I was hoping for after all. Thanks
Also remember the context of the review. I think that the F800GS would have faired better on a shorter more technical ride than either of the big bikes. Depends truly on what sort of riding you have planned.
I always love it when these articles get to the description of riding the KTM 990. BTW, if you let the bike run for 15 minutes from cold without touching the throttle, it will recalibrate the computer and the jerkiness will be gone.
Great article, entertaining writing, thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it and I hope it proves useful.
Thanks for the great review guys – I’m in the market for my first Adventure Bike & was asking myself all the questions you answered for me. I am after a more off-road orientated adventure bike so KTM here I come!
It’s a great fun beast ScottyG! We’ve a friend who just bought a 2010 and is finding that the revised fueling and subtle change in weight distribution has left the 990 better off road than the 2008 generation.
Thank you Gentlemen!!!
I am a former road racer- Super Bike, Super Sport and of course the little 600s as well, also Moto X for the younger years. I have had in the neighborhood of 20 bikes over the years and I can say that I loved and hated each and every one or one reason or another.
Your objectivity in the article is great and appreciated I have ridden the three bikes reviewed over short rides (-150 Miles) and can say for me the KTM has it. I still like to have fun when I ride and find the KTM the best for that. If one day I feel the need for a U boat to take in the scenery instead of enjoy the visceral feeling of riding a bike I may opt for the Big BMW… Or a Cadillac DTS I feel isolated in/on either.
My newest bike is the KTM 990 Adventure R and all I can say is WOW!
Thanks again for the wonderful Article,
Great write up! Amazing you guys never dropped the fully loaded 1200GS, not even in the mud. I would have liked to hear how hard it was for one person to pick it up after a couple of boggy fall’s. The lighter bikes,no problems. But the 1200GS ?? Now that would be an interesting addition to the story.
I will endeavour to drop the next one we have out so we can find out… No, no, I won’t. My shoulder’s already crunchy from bench-pressing a fully loaded KTM 640 Adventure last ride. There’s a tag line, “Meet the BMW R1200GS Adventure, for when you can hire a mongolian horde to lift it.”
Hi guys, just a footnote to my last post – I am now the very proud owner of a new 2010 KTM 990 Adventure & I couldn’t be happier. My first trip was 2300km from Sydney to Melbourne return via the NSW Snowy Mountains & the Victorian High Country & I still can’t wipe the smile off my face. Thanks again for the great article.
PS. the 990 comes ALIVE at 7000rpm…
Your analysis of the three bikes are superb. I can actually feel the way each bike handles in your reviews. As if i’m sitting on them as you decribe them. It is also very helpful that you give the bikes personalities. I can relate to that type of characterization very well. Thanks for the best review of these bikes I have yet to read.
That is the best complement a writer/reviewer could hope for! You’ve hit an important point, bikes and even brands do have character and personality. It comes out in quirks, features and handling, but the sum of those elements amounts to character.
Thanks for the great information from the real world. I have been reading a ton over the last week on the catagory as I am debating pulling the trigger on a 2009 R1200 GS in good shape, but it is snowy here in Alberta and a test drive is out of the question. Being 6’2” and about 215lbs I think I have found my answer after reading your review.
OH, and the ride you based the reviews on is now on my list!
Glad we could help. I highly recommend the ride, check out the videos if you haven’t already: http://www.onewheeldrive.net/2010/02/05/arctic-adventure-video-the-dempster-part-1/
R1200GS is downright comfy at 6’2″, KTM is a bit cramped at the hip for me and I share the same stats.
Thanks again for all the great info, and I will be sure to check out the videos!
Not sure if you get involved in this kind of advice, but figured I would ask anyway. How do you or (or anyone else in the know) feel about this for my first GS, though by no means my first bike:
Equip Package 1, Safety Package, New rubber, and set of three paniers (forget brand, not BMW)
Warranty until April 2011
19 000kms (bought by tour company, ridden to Alaska and Yukon two summers ago by client, bought back by dealer)
Some dings and scuffs, but service records are good and no record of serious parts replacement or accident
With some dickering I think I can get them down around $13000.00
New in Canada these days the well equiped 2010’s/11’s seem to be well past $20 000. I don’t mind spending money when appropriate, but don’t mind saving some either!
Again, not sure if you care to comment, and no offence taken if you don’t.
I can’t really comment on price, because I’ve not been paying attention to the market, but that seems a hell of a deal.
Most touring companies are pretty good about maintaining mechanicals, and that little bit of warrantee helps. These are go forever bikes, and generally they get traded out of fleets due to milage. We Canadians seem to think 19,000 is high, but a BMW R-engine is just getting warmed in by that point.
If you can find the name of the tour company, you might be able to see what their maintenance track record is.
That is good advise, and good to hear. Thanks again for the information, and congratulations on the best website on this topic I have seen, period.
Hope to be part of the GS family soon!
Just thought I would let you know that I am now the proud owner of the 09 R1200 GS menioned before. There was a “slight” mixup in the price I was quoted originally, but I still think I got a pretty good deal. Thanks again for the info here, it was a big help.
Let me first begin to say a warm and special “Thank you Neil.” I have been following your channel now for the better part of a year and marvel at your wonderful life force…
Your attention to detail is brilliant! With that said, I truly understand how hectic a pace your mind works in defining and redefining these (moto) tests. I have seen all your workings on YouTube and this channel, just to name a few. 🙂 You have many fans on the inter-web just craving your holy grail reviews on just about any subject under the sun.
-As many readers have warmly stated before on several posts that your reviews on these bikes are probably the best so far on the web. Good on you!
So the point of this post is to alert you to my new 2011, 990 R coming within the next few months and a planned month long journey into the Canadian Outback. First things first though; A ride south, via Portland to north-eastern Nevada for some dry lake bed camping. Really… I need a bit of warmth before heading north… 🙂
Neil… I notice that within all your video’s with the 990 that you never equipped it with tank guards. Why? I understand that these bikes were loners, but why did you not equipped it with a bit of protection? Are the tank guards really needed on this bike for better protection? I’m just curious….
I’ll keep this short and sweet; but again a very, very grand Thank you for all you do. Your Mum must be proud of you. 🙂
Great article! Im convinced, I just ordered my 2011 ktm 990 adventure Dakar. Should be here by April 15. If your buying one in the next month or two, ktm is giving away a free $1000. GPS Garmin 665
Great article. I really enjoyed it and it seemed accurate and fair well done!
Although there’s nothing wrong with the good ole KLR650!
Ive had the klr 650. It was a great bike until I test rode the KTM 990. It was like getting off a bicycle and getting on an explosion of fun. If you enjoy the KLR, I would advise you to not test ride the KTM or the BMW. All in fun, Keep riding til your cheeks fall off!
Now why would I be so foolish as to do something like that? It’ll just cost me more money as well as a load of work selling my wife on the safety merits of the 990 and why I “need” a sfer bike. No, for now ill stick with the bicycle. Well, I have been eyeing the KTM at the motorcycle shop, but hey that’s juts looking. 🙂
I’m not sure what happened to my spell check on that one.
Just wanted you to know that “Kilter” (The F800GS)is doing just fine here in Ontario having recovered from the performance anxiety you boys put it through. The rad is still cable tied in place (without a need to replace it) and it has been fitted with lots of guards and bling making it much better suited to that type of Adventure Riding. The chain breakage issue you experienced was a result of a bad batch of chains that BMW has since recalled. (Scratch one off the “we broke it” list!) Affected owners were treated with a new chain and both sprockets installed under warranty.
I’ve put a lot of miles on it since I bought it and still haven’t got used to that seat. I’m able to combine gas stops with butt breaks so it’s bearable. After three 8 hr days in the saddle it seems to be less of an issue. Still wouldn’t trade it for any other bike!
Keep up the good work.
ps….how do I buy the DVD?
I’m just about finished cutting a digital download version, will that do rather than the DVD?
Have to add my good experience with my F800GS to the list here.
I have probably put 25% dirt/trail and 75% tarmac on the bike. Rode it to Mexico City and back first trip out. Really wondering about the high speed weave reported in the test story. Have pushed mine past 100mph with full loaded Holan panniers and full camping gear on the back without a hint of weave or wobble. ??? Mine is equiped with nice Wild Heart crash bars from South Africa that contour to the lines of the bike, no more than minor scratches from dropping it several times off road, on places like Imogene Pass by Teluride. No radiator damage either. The seat is very much hard as experienced in the test but I have found that the addition of an AirHawk seat cushion, adjusted properly, puts butt-ache out to about 500-600 miles before its noticable. No chain problems… mine went to 7000 miles before it even needed much more than a tightening (mine replaced after 7K as noted in a previous comment about the chain recalls). I installed a taller BMW touring windscreen with an adjustable MRA Vario deflector mounted at the top. Using BMW hand guards with this combo the wind goes right over top of my helment with NO buffeting at any speed. Its not to tall or in the way for offroad and up on the pegs. Other than the problematic jarring washboard handling of the front forks….. by using some normal, affordable aftermarket parts, the test really could have turned out differently. I push the bike quite hard and find it quite stable on the road and sure footed off road.
I own a F800 GS and it has been at Lynchburg, Battley’s, Bob’s, and Morton’s.
This is really a review and telling of my experience with my bought brand new motorcycle, and BMW and it’s dealers not just Battley although they seemingly did their best to screw up my motorcycle and me.
I just picked up my F800GS from Mortons BMW after they had it for a month for repairs this time. They finally decided to replace the fuel pump even though the time before last they should have replaced it instead of making me take it to them again and have to torture my friend for a ride to pick it up again.
On top of it the guy at Mortons gave me a hard time about picking it up “finally”!! I then said well if you had replaced the fuel pump the last time you would not have had to keep it for another month and then replace it. He said there was nothing wrong with the fuel pump last time. I then said the trouble codes were not a clue that it needed replacing and he said no.
I could see it was pointless trying to comunicate with him so I stopped.
I wanted to ask him well why did you replace it this time.
The last time Battley had my motorcycle they said it was ready for pick up and when I tried to drive it off their lot the handlebar had to be turned way to the left for the motorcycle to go straight. Battley refused to fix the problem they caused. My motorcycle was not like this when I took it to them. Another dealing with Batlley was when I paid them for my first service. I had waited all day for the motorcycle and at night when it was ready before I rode it away I noticed some oil on the left side of the engine and I just figured it was some oil they had spilled and forgot to wipe off. When I looked at my motorcycle in the daylight the next day oil was all over the engine and there was obviously some thing cracked or a leaking gasket.
Non of them have made my motorcycle right, in fact some of them have made the motorcycle worse/broken it when they got their hands on it.
When a BMW dealer says my motorcycle is fixed and ready to pick up, I have learned to always ask are you sure? Nothing is falling off, cracked, leaking, etc. The BMW dealers always say yes but then when I pick it up oil is coming out of the engine, the front end alignment has been destroyed, etc. etc.
BMW and the dealers do not seem to care if I am killed, maimed and harmed in some fashion by riding their death trap. I say this because they knew the motorcycle had problems and sent me out to ride it and break down on major highways in traffic traveling at 70 plus MPH. I was fortunate that I was not run down by a truck or some other catastrophic event did not happen…yet. They seem to be trying though.
The dealers always say there is nothing wrong with my motorcycle and try to blame the break downs, bolts falling off, not shifting,leaks, non starting, etc. on me.
They say ridiculous things like: I do not know how to ride, the oil that is recommended in the owners manual is the problem, etc.
They seem to think I love asking friends, family and my work constantly help me with my breakdowns. All the dealers are too far away and I waste most of a day or whole days dropping of and picking up my motorcycle from them.
They all seem incompetent and hateful.
I do not know if it is BMW Motorrad that makes them such horrible dealers or what. But BMW HQ defiantly needs to blow up their structure/management and start from scratch.
All my dealings with Motorrad have been abominable also logic and decency do not seem to be in their customer service plan. I have tried being, calm and logical with them but they have proven by their actions and none action to not understand logic, there products and services.
The time before last I had it at the BMW dealer it needed a fuel pump because it threw codes saying the pump had problems/faults and the motorcycle did not always start. For some reason the dealer did not replace it then. They sent me out on the roads only to have me come back again and again. I now have to ask a friend to give me a ride and waste another day picking it up.
It seems the dealers have and ride my motorcycle more than I do.
I should be able to charge them rent for keeping and riding MY motorcycle.
I bought a BMW because they used to make a good product. I thought they would have good customer service. I wanted to love my purchase/BMW, but BMW and it’s dealers seem to have conspired to make sure I hate even the thought of BMW!
BOY DID I MAKE A BAD DECISION WHEN I BOUGHT A BMW!
Do not buy a BMW the dealers are too far and the way the dealers and BMW have treated me and others is heinous and shameful!
I wish I had something good to say about my BMW and BMW in general but I do not.
I also own a KTM(love it), and a Suzuki now, and a friend owns a Kawasaki and a Yamaha they seem to be good motorcycles and at least some of the dealers have proven to be much closer and more customer service oriented and helpful.
The KTM 990R, (2011) is now 250mi. (U.S.) and is beyond words at this point! So simple to work on if something goes awry. The power band is extreme for this class of bike and what it is intended for. Did some dirt last two weeks in eastern Oregon and bout nearly killed myself on the torque band! It was so pleasurable not to use full throttle to get the wings spinning aloft. Just synergy in art of pure weight to horsepower! Damn this bike rocks on the highway. I was cruising on a twisty’s when these jerks of crouch rockets punched it and flew passed me doing about 48mph (U.S.). I mean these twisty’s were tight and I knew they were capable riders, but for God sakes!
I looked in my rear view mirrors and saw six more riders coming up behind me fast and, so I decided then to let them go passed. Granted I was behind two cars and I guess they needed to go somewhere fast! Later on into the ride of pleasure I saw three riders down, with one car involved. As I grew closer the scene ever grew into nine cars involves. Road jam! There were cars pulled off on all sides of the street and bogs on both sides. I parked the KTM 990R off to the side and assessed the situation, as I am a medic in orthopedics’. A few broken bones and some contusions to a few of the riders, other than that all was well. Paramedic’s were called and there was nothing more that I could do.
No one dared to venture off the four lane road into farm land that engulfed both sides of the road way. Too soft and you “WILL” absolutely not make it around the jam! It was for certainty! After that thought a gentle grin besieged my minds eye and laid hold forever a GRIN upon my childish face….
I could just see the emergency vehicles asking “Does anyone own a helicopter, Bull Dozer or a KTM to help out? I was all about me on the Black Stallion; and I was not about to sit still for who knows what. Walked up the “Orange Crush” and said to the Alien, (That is its name), are you capable? Just then I remembered my past on my Honda XR 650L in the dirt and this new bile was more than capable. Enough said.
I spent the last four minutes scanning the terrain and decided to go East where the pack was thickest. Booyakasha! I mounted the Austrian horse and people looked @ me with awkward grins, as if to suggest where the ‘Hell’ does he think he is going in this mess.
I nodded once and pointed my nose into the cross wind. The Akrapovic’s were given four smooth throttles as to my intention and with a quick throttle in first I over took an eight, (8 ft. US) slope down into farm country and smoothly plowed my way about the man made Enduro farm land. Crikey Mick!! To be nice I stopped in a clearing when it was safe to do so and looked back into the mess. Mouths dropped and heads turned in my direction I took it all in…. Who knows what they were thinking. From my stand point I was free…
It was great to be Free!
This is what the bike does for one soul. It let’s you invent….. and I mean quite literally. That is.. if you are capable! The crowed looked on, as I mounted the stallion. Slowly I did so that they could see the human potential of its creation.
With the bike in First Gear I made quick process of the dirt beneath my rear wheel and was gone! I exited one the field some miles up and when I hit the pavement; I so wanted the dirt again. Pure pleasure!
Oh! I was doing 90MPH (U.S.) in the corn field for those that was wondering. 75 MPH (U.S.) on average. Upon my destination I hopped off my 990R and walked into my residence.
My wife said.. “How are honey?” I said “Brilliant.”