The 690 Enduro R is big for a dirt bike, but it’s small for an adventure bike. After switching directly from the BMW it feels absolutely like a full-blown dirt machine.
If you recall from our recent visit with the 690, it too was an all-new offering in 2008. The original LC4 range of bikes had long performed the delicate balancing act of straddling both the off-road and street markets. The basic package had been offered in everything from a track oriented SX model to canyon carving supermoto version. Perhaps the most loved of all was the beautiful rally styled adventurers, these still have a strong demand in the used bike market.
After a two-decade run, the big Single was overdue for a revamp. While still dubbed the LC4, the next generation package is a big leap from the previous version. The 655cc motor is far more refined than its predecessor, with more power and a complete lack of vibration from the counterbalanced motor.
The fuel injection is another of the real advances. Unlike nearly every road-going Single produced in recent history, the 690 does not feel like it has been completely detuned. It starts, idles and runs cleanly all the time.
Coming in at a 320-pound curb weight, it sits right at the very upper limit of something that could be considered a true dirt mount. Yet this puts it in the range of other 650 class dual sport models. The difference, other than the higher price, is that it boasts a significantly higher level of capability than most of the bikes in the dual sport class. That is emphasized by the quality of the components found standard on the KTM. The single front Brembo brake is powerful and has good feel. The hydraulic clutch and six-speed transmission are nice touches. Wide foot pegs, aluminum pedals and adjustable levers are just more examples of the attention to performance found everywhere on the 690.
As performance is the priority, creature comforts are kept to a minimum. The instruments are very basic and kept as small as possible. This does make it difficult to read at times, especially when it gets dusty, but the automatic low fuel odometer reset is a nice touch. The lighting package and switch cluster are similar to what comes on the street legal EXC dirt bike models. The seat is a long and narrow instrument of torture.
The WP suspension components give nearly 11” of travel front and rear demonstrating more of the 690’s dirt focus. The 48mm inverted fork has both compression and rebound adjustments, although it lacks the preload adjuster found on most of its KTM siblings. The rear is fully adjustable and features a linkage system. Both ends are sprung relatively stiff.
On and Off the Road
So the question now is just how would these two bikes stand up together? Sitting in the driveway they look a little bit like the odd couple. My greatest concern was that they might be so different from each other as to make the trip a tedious affair. We had a lot of ground to cover and were determined to make as much of it on dirt as possible.
Our first day of riding started late and extended well after dark. Heading out of the city I opted for the familiar KTM to negotiate the traffic. I am consistently struck by the fact that the agile 690 feels like such a dirt bike that it should be illegal on the street. It makes a great weapon for traffic duty. The 800 is not far off either, but it takes some discipline to remember that there are two very wide saddle bags trailing behind.
When we hit the first dirt section, a long graded logging road, I took the opportunity to jump on the GS. My first impression was that the front end is very skittish. It seemed to wander along with a mind of its own, not at all confidence inspiring. Contemplating the problem it’s decided that the addition of the saddlebags and gear (over 80 lbs total) had taken some of the weight bias off of the front wheel. Raising the fork in the clamps to help move some weight back over the front was a major improvement. Fortunately I have the correct Torx bit in my KTM tools to do the job. BMW is a huge fan of the awkward fasteners.
Sure enough, that small change transformed the handling. The preload adjuster had already been turned in for the long pavement ride to reach Idaho, but we added just a tad more once there was dirt in the equation. Afterward the GS felt more like a proper mount. It glides down the fire roads with ease, erasing small pot holes and washboard conditions.
By comparison the stout suspension of the 690 suffers here. Every small road imperfection is transmitted directly to the rider. Big hits are fine, it’s just the small ones and chatter (and the horrible seat) that cause discomfort. Playing with the fork clickers helped only a little. Ultimately toward the end of our trip the fork started to soften up noticeably. I suspect this is the typical pattern of WP suspension components, they take a long time to break in.
If we had to get off and scout ahead, the KTM was always first to test what’s passable and what wasn’t.
As we neared the first day’s end, we were forced to turn back on a narrow mountain pass were the road had washed out. There was a second possible route and it’s our only chance for making forward progress, otherwise we’d have to double back. Near the top of the second pass we encountered snow. At first we were able to skirt our way around the edges, but finally were faced with a 50-foot-long drift that is nearly 1.5 feet deep. We decided to make a go at it.
The 690 with its Bridgestone MT21 tires was the first across, mostly because we figured it would be easiest to lift out if needed. It took some pushing and dog paddling, but one rider was able to negotiate it through. Having been introduced over a decade ago, the MT21 is a virtual standard by which dual sport tires are judged. Our experience with them has been very positive. At around 1,000 miles the front starts to show some cupping, but it never seems to affect the performance on street or dirt.
Now what about the 800? The time has come for a real world off road test. Just prior to the trip we ditched the stock Michelin Anakee treads for the more dirt-oriented Continental TKC80 Twinduros. The deep snow quickly captured the low-slung GS and then it became an all-out tug fest to keep it moving. With a little assistance we were through and able to have a good laugh about it. First test passed.
These conditions do bring out the weakness of the Twinduros, they lack any true side grip. So as long as the traction is good they do well. But if the conditions get slick, proceeding with caution is the rule. Having said this, the only time the Beemer touched the ground in our travels was from being blown off the sidestand in a severe wind.
We would see much more snow and mud during the trip and in each case the 690 would easily outpace the 800. Still, the 800 held itself up quite well. On one occasion I was leading JC down a road near Sandpoint and he missed a turn. I thought for sure he would soon stop as road funneled down. It became a single track with some significant sidehill sections and one short but steep downhill. When I caught up with him he had already negotiated the entire section on the GS, with bags, proving that with a moderate pace it can go nearly anywhere.
With the extra weight on the rear, the TKC80 tire was reluctant to spin, making for a very smooth and carefree ride. The KTM, on the other hand, loves to attack in the dirt.
The majority of our time was spent on fire roads. The KTM loves these, ready to attack, jump or roost at any opportunity. One advantage it has is the standing position. The large cockpit provides great control whether sitting or standing. The GS is not quite as suited to standing. The bars are lower and the foot controls become difficult to find when upright. Removing the rubber footpeg inserts helps some, but the steel pegs are narrow and any time you really need control it’s best to sit down.
With some practice the GS is a willing dance partner for drifting in and out of dirt corners. Yet when real life riding means blind corners and oncoming traffic, it is again best to keep the 800 reigned in as it is much more sluggish to make emergency reactions.
Much of this is due simply to the tires, given the same Bridgestones as the KTM, the GS could probably be pushed a little harder. Considering there is around a hundred pounds difference in the curb weight of these two, plus almost another hundred for the baggage, the 800 handles it all very well. The extra weight of the luggage makes a big difference on corner exit. With so much power on tap, the unloaded GS likes to spin up the rear tire, but we were able to get on the gas much earlier, and quite aggressively, as long as it was smooth. However, once it does break loose, then the weight is a curse.
The motors of each are best described as smooth and powerful. For fire roading they are about on par with each other in terms of practical power. Once on the tarmac the 800 can really stretch its legs. The 690 is quite willing to cruise up to 70 mph, but that is about the top of its happy place.
The fuel injection works great on both. We hit altitudes of 8,500 feet and never heard a cough from either. Both of the bikes start to show a little hesitation and stumble at slow trail speeds, particularly the Beemer. This is about the only place a little clutch action is needed. Both clutches work smoothly and without fuss.