Best Adventure Motorcycle 2013: KTM 990 Adventure Baja

December 27, 2013
By Motorcycle USA Staff
As we mentioned in our selection of Ducati’s Multistrada for Best Street Bike, the Adventure-Touring class continues to orient more and more toward street performance. The current-generation ‘Strada and its blistering 130-hp engine set the standard, with BMW and KTM following suit with a ground-up redesign of the R1200GS and the all-new 1190 Adventure platforms. Both feature unquestionably sportier performance for the street, as well as electronic suspension and all the latest ride-by-wire upgrades. Either one are deserving of Best Adventure Bike of 2013, with the easy choice being BMW’s GS, with the Bavarian marque updating its flagship model with a new water-cooled Boxer and revitalized chassis. But this year, we’re going to play the contrarian by selecting KTM’s 990 Adventure Baja.

Similar in concept to the Dakar edition from previous years  the 990 Adventure Baja comes with several ADV accessories as standard kit.
American ADV riders didn’t get the new 1190 Adventure in 2013. Instead the 990 Adventure returned in special Baja trim – the dirt-oriented 990 getting one last hurrah.

The stalwart 990 Adventure has ever been the most capable of the big Trailies in the dirt, at the expense of its street performance. This has oft been to its detriment, particularly in comparison tests like MotoUSA’s 2011 Adventure-Touring Shootout. The KTM placed fourth overall in that 2500-mile 11-day ADV trek, but was unanimously rated the best in off-road performance. We are not so deluded to think our shootouts directly drive product development, but the media does contribute in some way to the current street-heavy bias of the 1200 AT offerings. And we can’t help but wonder if the current 1200 ADV mounts are less Adventure bikes than awesome street bikes you’d never want to crash by riding in the dirt.

In contrast the 990 Adventure, with its Spartan touring amenities, knobby tires and utilitarian looks practically begs to get scraped up off-road. MotoUSA got to better appreciate the 990 in its limited Edition Baja spec during AltRider’s 2013 Taste of Dakar event, where it charged up dunes and wove through single track. It also ate up asphalt as needed. Not as good as the Ducati or BMW, to be sure, but it got us to the adventure without serious fault.

The KTM 990’s pleasingly analog dirt-heavy inputs (linked braking and ABS – what are those?) caps the end of an era of sorts, as the large-displacement AT segment gets even more high-tech and street-biased. MotoUSA selects the swan song KTM 990 as Best Adventure Bike of 2013 for playing dirty and always delivering on its Adventure name.