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.