NEGATIVE TEST REVIEW OF THE KTM 690RThe KTM 690R was my official dream bike but I couldn't afford it, so I was ecstatic to get a week's test ride but wound up being disappointed and puzzled as to what KTM intended with the 690R. I believe one of the main problems is that the 690R has been adapted from a motard model and has a lot more work needed to make it a competent mid-sized adventure bike or decent dual purpose bike. Here are the key problems I see with the KTM 690R.
KTM 690R close ratio gearboxThe KTM EXC range is well known for their wide ratio six speed gearboxes that allow pottering around at walking speed but loping along on the highway as well if needed. Unfortunately, the 690R has a very close ratio gearbox more similar to a motocross bike. This was probably due to its motard heritage, and KTM neglected to change the ratios despite it being a common complaint - the 2012 is no different to the 2009 in this regard. In stock trim, first gear feels too high for dirt work, while it seems to be revving higher than needed on the highway. KTM seriously needs to rework the 690R gearbox for adventure or dual purpose riding.
Also, there are false neutrals between fourth, fifth and six gears that are very easy to hit unless you do the very firm gear changes you would normally associate with old workhorses like the Suzuki DR650. KTM are renowned for precise gearboxes that respond well to fast light changes so there is a design flaw here somewhere that was present on both the 2009 and 2012 models we rode. This is also reported by other riders. Some say the problem eventually goes away but our 2009 model had over 6,000 miles up and the false neutrals were still easy to hit.
Twitchy jerky engine at low revsIt's a big thumper and will have heaps of low end grunt, right? Wrong. In stock trim, the 690R was unbearably twitchy and jerky at low revs, whether on a single track or negotiating city traffic. You can remap the ignition mapping with four different settings, we eventually opted for setting number one which took a lot of the 690R's power away, but made it a lot more manageable in the dirt. It's a common problem reported by 690R owners, and various solutions are proposed. Our other test rider wound up buying a 2012 690R and spent $550 on a complete dyno/remap and $350 on an FMF exhaust. While still a bit twitchy, it was vastly improved and felt a bit more like a solid thumper while still screaming away at higher revs. But why didn't KTM simply offer this mapping solution already? Also, other riders have used a G2 cambered throttle to ease into lower throttle openings. But when KTM charges so much for this bike, you would expect them to revise and update the 690R as they do with the rest of their bikes.
Don't get me wrong, the 690R is a great engine once it's in full song, with probably far too much power for the average rider as it simply wheel spins in almost any gear. But it's not a comfortable bike to cruise on in standard trim.
KTM 690R exhaust systemI've always liked KTM exhaust systems and opted to keep them and ignore aftermarket ones. They aren't too restrictive, are quite light and keep the bike quiet enough to not piss off residents near riding areas. But the 690R pipe is a shocker; it weighs a ton and the catalytic converter means it runs so hot it melts the plastic sidecover - a terrible design they still haven't changed for the 2012 model.
Seating position and ergonomicsThe footpegs are very high and all but the shortest riders will find themselves in a jockey-style position. If the KTM 690R was meant to be a serious dirt bike this would be fine as you shouldn't be sitting down very often and clearing obstacles is important. But this isn't the bike's purpose, so all but the shortest riders will probably be buying aftermarket pegs to feel less cramped on the bike. Tall to mid-sized riders will probably find they will need to raise the bars too; overall the 690R seems to be set up for very short people (although they won't be able to touch the ground).
The seat is pure dirt bike style, so again this begs the question of what did KTm intend this bike to be? Interestingly, the 2008 model started with less suspension travel, then it increased for the 2009 to 2011 models although the seat height got even taller in the process. For 2012 they have decreased the travel again and brought the seat height down again, so it seems KTM is concerned about shorter riders getting their fee on the ground.
What is the KTM 690R meant to be?!So why all the negative points? You'll find most reviewers give glowing reports on the 690R, probably because if they say anything negative they won't get access to any more bikes to "test". This review will hopefully balance their bias, and you will find that all the above points are discussed on various forum posts about the KTM 690R.
KTM call the 690R their all rounder, but it's motard heritage is evident. I found when pushing the bike very hard offroad then it performed very well; the superb power kicks in and the jerkiness is left behind, the close ratio gearbox is still annoying but does keep the bike in the powerband, and the overly stiff suspension starts to work well. But the moment you are cruising along, back comes the jerky response and you feel every bump in the road or track with that suspension. A 12 liter tank seems far too small for this kind of bike too, and the Rally Raid or Safaritank options cost a fortune. I've owned a Husqvarna TE610 and ridden the TE630, and believe it would make a much better all rounder style bike at a much cheaper price.
KTM needs to do some serious work to the 690R for it to match their claims on the website. KTM has a good reputation for listening to what riders are saying about their EXC models and updating them rapidly, but generally they are doing bugger-all to address the glaring problems with the 690R.
POSITIVE TEST REVIEW OF THE KTM 690RIt's amazing how differently the same bike can be viewed. As mentioned above, I liked the test bike so much I went out and bought a 2012 KTM 690R. Yes, it is jerky and twitchy in the dirt but I was happy to throw money at the bike to get it right, and an FMF pipe and full dyno/remap have largely cured that issue. The 690R now has a flat power curve and can pull from just above idle until it's screaming away. The power of these bikes is amazing, and unless you are a gung rider you will only use it's full power on bitumen as otherwise the bike is just chewing up rear tires!
The suspension is probably too stiff for anyone but heavy riders, but backing off the compression damping a lot improved it a lot. It's still not plush but a change of springs would get it perfect. I found the steering a bit twitchy but this was improved a lot with a steering damper. I'm quite short but thought the footpegs were mounted very high and so I felt very crunched up on the bike, but a pair of lower pivot pegs solved that, along with bar raisers.
The gearbox is a bit too close ratio for more liking, but I do like to rev my bikes a lot and don't mind lots of gear changing so this didn't prove to be a major issue for me.
The KTM 690R has been beautifully designed, something most KTM owners can appreciate. I agree the KTM has quite a lot of design flaws that need attention, but in my opinion you are getting a better bike to start with. If you are going to fork out the big bucks for a good bike, it's worth paying more to get it right and have your dream bike.