2008 KTM 690 Enduro - First Test - Dirt Rider Magazine

Mike Metzger

You won't find this 690 in KTM's off-road lineup; the Austrian company considers it a streetbike even though Euros might call this machine a "hard enduro." It's the latest large-displacement single-cylinder dual-sport available and part of a shrinking breed: a bike for the street with the latest and greatest technological advancements that appeal to the eyes of a dirt guy. But this bike may not jump out and cry off-road to a KTM purist. It has some funny stuff on it that reeks of the on-road orientation. Yet KTM developed this motor in Dakar rallies and has seen fit to challenge Honda for Baja 500 and 1000 overalls on a factory version fully built to not just put-put around.At its heart is a fuel-injected monster that fires right to life and settles into a muzzled purr. It has very little vibration at idle and even less when riding at cruising speed, and that was the worst trait of the former LC4 engines. The first thing you notice when she starts rolling is power. Amazing power. Almost too much power on dirt, if there ever is such a thing. This bike will instantly light up the rear tire on the street or in the dirt anytime you aren't careful when you yank the throttle. With the FI being so good, you have to twist it a lot less than you'd be used to in order to get these startling results. Throttle control, my dear Watson, throttle control! Then when you learn this and the fact that the bike can be ridden a gear or even two high, things get really good. And our bike never fully broke in so we can only imagine the pull up top when she's running free.The next thing you notice about the 690 is that it's a lot smaller-feeling than previous LC4 bikes. In fact, it sits lower and feels smaller than the current street-legal EXCs or even the dirt-only XCs, largely because the seat is actually lower and runs up over where the gas tank and cap should be. Don't bother looking, because it's under the seat where the airbox usually is; they've been switched. Naturally, the 690 is roomy and control-position-adjustable like all KTMs.The bike has a light stance on its wheels and you'd be hard-pressed to feel the 320-pound weight in regular riding. Get aggressive and push the bike or get in awkward situations and you know it's heavy and no EXC. In fact, the foo-foo nature could rear its ugly head if the trail turns nasty because there isn't a trace of engine protection even though it looks like there are attachment points for a lower-frame cage and a good skid plate. Enter KTM Hard Parts or the aftermarket to the rescue. Also, the rear brake master cylinder placement is low and dangerous. Don't bottom out on rocks!Turning is sharp and precise as long as you don't want to make a tight turn, then you'll be pulling a three-pointer. The turning radius rivals a Mack truck because of the large-diameter fork, the trellis frame and the radiators. The suspension is actually pretty stiff and far from foo-foo. It delivers a surprisingly supple ride on the road and is great for medium off-road action. It sucks up regular bumps and chop, is crazy good on rolling whoops and even handles jumps within reason-since there's ample stiffness for carrying a passenger. Because of the overall firm feel, it does dance around on washboard fire roads. We even found some choppy canyon pavement that shocked our rider's hands and rear. The aggressive suspension settings might go unnoticed if the 690 sported a deep, soft cushy seat, but that's not the case. The perch is surprisingly accommodating considering the slim lines of the design, but those with delicate derrires will be convinced it's an example of fine Austrian wood sculpture after 100-plus miles.

The brakes are standard-issue KTM: strong and phenomenal. The front will easily throw the bike into a nose wheelie. Another thing that separates the 690 from the pack is that it comes stock with a slipper clutch. You don't feel it too much unless you get aggressive with the downshifts on the street. It cuts the wheel chatter to a minimum but still allows sufficient engine-braking. Its design allows the bike to use much-lighter clutch springs since the mechanism also locks up the clutch harder under power. Yes, the pull is feathery. On our rides the bike was getting more than 40 miles per gallon, as high as 48, which in these gas crunch times is a great thing, especially considering the power available.Is this the new one-bike-can-do-it-all machine? If you're way more high-performance street-oriented and not too aggressive with your dirt, then this KTM might be a good choice. It's better at doing both, with more emphasis on the street, than everything else out there except the BMW XChallenge, as it's the same kind of machine, just different. The KTM is a true dual-purpose machine, not to be confused with what dirt bike riders call dual-sport, meaning a dirt bike with a license plate. But if you've been counting the days that have gone by since the former king of the big off-road singles, the Honda XR650R went away, you should be very interested in this KTM motor. It's really that impressive.Opinions
I'm not really the do-it-all-bike kind of guy. I have a Honda motocrosser, a KTM 525 dual-sport/trailbike and a KTM 950 street/adventure bike. The 690 turns better in the dirt and feels lighter than the 950 but is heavier than the 525. I like how it felt skinny up front and the suspension was pretty impressive in the rough. It does handle well on the street and would make a great weapon in tight canyons if it had more street-oriented tires. If you're doing a lot of street, though, a windshield would be nice. I see the 690 as in between my two orange bikes, but I wouldn't replace one of mine with it. I ride the L.A. to Vegas dual-sport ride every year, and the 690 would be great for that, but my 525 does just fine. It doesn't have the high-speed planted feel and long-ride comfort (aside from the seat) of the 690, but my 525 also doubles as a serious trailbike for the rest of the year.
-Tom Wolf/5'9"/175 lb/B riderKTM's 690 is a very impressive machine with a brilliant engine and a chassis that's too street-oriented for my taste. The handling and suspension actually thrive on faster, stand-up single- or two-track. A few deep whoops in a row don't unsettle the handling, and bottoming isn't a big issue. Standing is great, since you won't want to spend a bunch of time sitting on this seat. The seat height is low enough to be attractive to riders of any size, and that's a target that the KTM 950/990 missed. As far as power goes, the only thing more awesome than a really fast big-bore thumper is an almost-silent one. What a cool engine. There's very little vibration generated, considering the size of the slug swinging around in there. For my taste, though, I want more sit-down comfort and dirt-road plushness or make the chassis lighter to become a serious dirt weapon. But either way, this is another case where KTM definitely stands for "Keep the Motor."
-Karel Kramer/6'1"/210 lb/B riderThe first thing I did when I left the KTM North America parking lot was leave a big black streak off the 690's rear tire. How irresponsible. But it was happening every time I left the line at a stoplight or coming off of slow- and mid-speed turns on the street. I thought I was on a MotoGP bike without traction control! Sure the stock knobbies are no match for the power on the street, but it was fun. I'll bet this bike will smoke my KTM 950 Adventure up to about 70 mph. Oh yeah, what about the dirt. It's a big dual-sport bike. It isn't as much of an off-road machine as my XR650, but it's capable. It's way better at jumping, actually. But it needs some protection and a gearing change before I'd get serious on the tough trails. For me this bike sits in no-man's-land because I'd rather have two cylinders and a windscreen on-road and don't need this much of anything (weight, power) off-road. But I wish I had one of these for the motor!
-Jimmy Lewis/5'10"/185 lb/A rider

MSRP: $8898
Wet weight: 320 lb
Seat height: 36.0 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.9 in.
Ground clearance: 10.8 in.What's Hot!
Power. Lots of power delivered in insane proportions.
The fuel injection is spot-on and makes for crazy-good throttle response.
This bike is quiet and sounds good, too!
For a big bike it feels small and is easy to move around on.What's not!
Throttle control mandatory.
Those tires will let you down on the street no matter how well they work on the dirt!
What? No skid plate? We don't need no stinkin' skid plate.
Turning radius of a semitruck.The EXCs
KTM's Street-Legal Dirt Bikes

We aren't going to get into how good these bikes are. They're great. Need some more? Check out our 450 off-road comparison (May '08 issue, 450 XC-W(R)) or our test of the 530 XC-W(R) (March '08). These EXCs, the 530 and 450, are the same bike with a few tweaks to make them legal for a license plate. What we'll talk about are the differences and how to make both bikes as potent as, or maybe better than, the off-road-only bikes. Wait, since you'll be legal to ride places that require street-legality, they're automatically better due to versatility.The biggest difference for these bikes is the final gearing. They come stock with a 15-tooth countershaft sprocket and a 45-tooth rear sprocket. That's great for running down the highway and not having the motor spin up, but it will cook your clutch and make the bike overheat (from clutch heat) off-road. The first step is to go to a 14-tooth countershaft, and we suggest getting a 48-tooth rear sprocket while you're at it. That way you don't even have to adjust the chain; just flip the axle block and you're ready to rip with gearing that has a low first gear and enough speed in sixth to run at more than 80 mph. If you could care less about highway cruising, you can go even lower on the gearing.Step No. 2 is to take a drill and put a hole in the carb vent tube collection box, or you can simply take out the drain bolt; that way it doesn't fill up with spent gas and make your bike run like a turd. While you're at the hose routing, there's a crankcase breather hose that plugs into the side of the carb. Unplug that and plug the hole in the carb, a KTM coolant drain plug (part No. 0910 100003) is the most sano way. Now route that hose back down where the carb vent hoses go. This stops your bike from filling the carb with oil in tip-overs, long downhills or in extended high-rpm running.If you think your bike needs a little more snap off the bottom and you can live with a few more decibels of sound, there's a stuffer in the muffler that you can trim. We rode it both ways and found it was OK on the 450 but we preferred the stock setup on the 530. Only cut off the smallest piece or you will have a raspy, too-loud beast on your hands and that's irresponsible. While trimming things, lose the large hanger off the rear fender extender. Or you can wait till the rear tire tears off the whole thing for you. And that chain guide atop the swingarm, if it isn't already gone, it will be soon. It isn't a bad idea to relocate the horn, too; it helps the bike run just a bit cooler.Our bikes ran flawlessly with the stock jetting but required some tuning on the fuel screw. An externally adjustable screw is a big help, and our recent experiences with adjustable-squirt leak jets would make even the pickiest rider happy.What we will tell you is the difference between the 450 and 530. It is torque. If you like to lug a bike and short-shift your way to momentum, the 530 is the choice. It doesn't feel as heavy as in the past when compared to its little brother, mostly because you don't have to rev it much to go the same speed. It runs on the highway a gear higher and will leap from 50-70 mph where the 450 takes some time to speed up. But if you like to rev a bike and ride with a little more aggression, then the 450 is a better choice. Rev the 530 and you get a heavy-feeling bike and a lot of wheelspin. Rev the 450 and it stays light and flickable and starts becoming very fast, feeling quicker than the 530. Otherwise, these bikes are identical. Great suspension, strong brakes, durable as anything and almost ready to race. Or if you've followed our steps, they're good to go.Now you have an EXC that's every bit of an XC-W(R), only you can go get milk on it and then haul beans on the weekend.Specifications
MSRP: 450 EXC, $8448; 530 EXC, $8748
Wet weight: 255 lb
Seat height: 37.5 in.
Seat-to-footpeg distance: 20.5 in.
Footpeg height: 16.8 in.
Ground clearance: 12.7 in.