A Featherweight Adventure Bike

The 2018 KTM 690 Enduro Will Leave Big Adventure Bikes Its Wake


December 6, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Tom Henwood
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The 2018 KTM 690 Enduro is a middleweight dual sport bike aimed at riders looking to move on from dirtbikes or smaller enduros or dual sports. Comparatively, it’s a step up in performance from all three. Because of its on-road/off-road abilities, the KTM could even be considered a high-performance adventure bike. This particular 690 Enduro is tuned by Solid Performance.

The Good: Whether this bike is taking on highway blasts, cutting up single tracks and fire trails or wading through deep sand pits, it’s incredibly balanced. Power and torque seem endless, and there’s always enough twist no matter where you are in the rev range.

Who It’s For: Riders who’ve outgrown their smaller enduros or dirtbikes and want to upgrade. On the other hand, the 690 Enduro also positions itself as a bike for adventure riders who are looking to downsize from a bigger ADV bike in order to attack tighter trails since there’s less weight to wrestle.

Watch Out For: This isn’t an all-out adventure bike, equally suited to on- and off-road work. It’s much happier on the trails than on the road. If the weather turns for the worst, faster highways stints become tougher to handle given there’s no windscreen and no creature comforts you’d find on the bigger bikes.

Review:
Dual sport and enduro motorcycles are designed partially to tackle tight and twisty single track trails, dubious mud bogs, challenging sand pits and demanding highspeed fire trails. They’re also meant to cruise long bursts on paved roads and highways in between off-road stints. The Pine Barrens 500 then, is the perfect stage for the KTM: a three-day, 500-mile mix of all the terrain mentioned above. Throw in a nor’easter on the second day and you’ve begun to imagine the setting for my ‘stress-test.’

I’ve never trained for a ride like this before, but the way the PB500 necessitated it. I attended the Pine Barrens Adventure Camp with a borrowed Solid Performance-tuned KTM 690 Enduro in part to polish up my off-road skills and get used to the terrain, but also to familiarize myself with the bike. After all, I would be spending nearly 500 miles riding through some of the most gnarly off-road riding South Jersey has to offer.

‘Eye-opening’ is the best way to describe the first day of the Pine Barrens 500. The first few miles are pure pavement that gives way to slightly sandy dirt roads, all of which can be taken sitting down and relaxed. Reach the forest, however, and the Jeep trails are dotted with mud pits – you’re forced to skirt their edges, not knowing how deep the they might be in the middle. The trail narrows and the endless chain of four-foot-high whoops start; these are moguls for dirt bikes. My thighs are on fire, and it’s not even close to lunchtime.

Thanks to Solid Performance, the KTM came better prepared than me. The 690 was set up with a tuned WP suspension (Solid Performance’s specialty), PHDS Handlebar Mounts to mitigate vibrations and ease wrist and shoulder stress, Enduro Engineering Hand Guards to fend off any branches, protecting the controls from damage. Underneath SP fitted a thicker-than-stock PowerParts Skid Plate for defense against downed trees and rocks hiding in ruts. However, the real head turner is the combination of the Akropovic slip-on muffler, KTM Evo Kit Air Box Cover and fuel-remapping. The bike benefits from a boost in power and torque, plus weight reduction and better throttle response. Give the Enduro a hearty twist of throttle you’d think there’sn a .50-cal tailgunner along for the ride.

Whether I was dancing on the pegs, tipping the 690 from side to side, dodging trees or riding straight over the downed ones, the bike consistently felt nimble and predictable. Through the sand, even when deep divots and ruts caught me out, sending the bike to one side or the other, the light 690 could rein it back in. On the same trails, we were passing BMW R 1200 GS after R 1200 GS – some laid over, others struggling to shift their weight across the sand pits. My full face helmet hid my smug smile well. If there was ever an argument that bigger adventure bikes can be overkill, this was it.

On trails crowded with trees and branches imposing on personal space and littered with tight turns is where a bike like the 690’s strengths should live. A light, single cylinder bike on knobby tires should be awful on the open stretches of pavement connecting the trails. At a certain speed, vibrations, wobbling and a sense of instability tell every one of your senses you should back off, but the 690 Enduro tracked straight as an arrow. Some might say the bike was rock steady even at triple digit speeds.

Of course, the highway is where traditional big adventure bikes still hold an advantage. After riding through pouring rain on the second day of the event, the challenging trails were enough to keep my body temperature up; once we hit the open road, with no windshield, heated grips or massive fairings to break up and deflect the wind, the chill started to win the battle. We couldn’t get to the next trail fast enough.

Verdict:

If you’re outgrowing or out-riding your current dirt bike or dual sport, the KTM 690 Enduro is worth a serious look. Likewise, if you’re looking for a smaller bike to complement your big ADV-tourer, the 690 will feel featherweight by comparison. An entire day or more on the trails is a blast with the 690. It’s lightweight enough that you don’t get exhausted wrestling it through dense forest or deep sand and, if you do end up on your side, it’s less of strain to stand back up by yourself. Quite different than a 600lbs-plus BMW GS. If you’re looking to tackle more miles on pavement than dirt, though the 690 will happily take a tank and saddlebags, it’s best to leave the long hauls for the bigger ADVs.

2018 KTM 690 Enduro Tuned by Solid Performance

Engine: 690cc Single-Cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed
Horsepower: 67 horsepower @ 7,500rpm (stock)
Torque: 50 ft-lbs @ 6,000rpm (stock)
Weight: 309 lbs
Top Speed: 100 mph (stock)
Price: $8,749 (base)

Solid Performance and KTM provided this product for review.

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