[UPDATED Oct. 20th 2014]
Season is drawing to a close, so time for a review.
Many times bike reviews are written after a days or weekends worth of riding. The riding is done on bikes provided by the bike manufacturer by bike journalists who usually pretty much repeat the previous reviews over and over only changing bike specs and a few photos each time. Real honest opinions, straight up un-sugarcoated criticism, actual real life user experiences or attention to detail is usually very rare. I will try to be more to the point and go into details on whats good and whats not. That said the following review is my personal opinion and I guess I'm biased because I bought the bike with my own money.
I've ridden the bike now for roughly 6500 kms / 4000 miles. My riding has been pretty tame compared to some RTW or adventure guys out there, but I'm assuming most current and future 690 owners are regular folk like me anyway so maybe my experiences will somehow reflect how the bike performs for most of us mere mortals.
The problem, when reading up on the 690, is that it is seeing a very wide range of use from RTW, to hard enduro to just commuting. Some parts that seem to be "prone to failure" may be just that, but people experiencing the problems are taking their bikes up the mountain via single track, round the world and back again. I think it's safe to say that cracking a tank mounting bolt (for example) after years of local fire road exploring is unlikely. Then again bouncing around for months in Kazakhstan with your worldly belongings on the back can very well crack a mounting bolt.
My riding so farI do most of my riding on the pavement out of necessity as the bike is also my daily commuter 6-7 months a year. I've done one longer trip (2040 kms) and an odd number of longer 400-500 km day trips. I try to get on the gravel as much as I can, but regardless of my efforts, my riding has been roughly 80-90% on pavement. I haven't yet taken the bike to anything resembling a demanding single track so I have no real opinion on the bikes true off road capability. The worst I've done is soft sand pits and poor quality forest roads. I have however taken 2014 KTM 250 EXC-F to a single track and I'm kind of glad I didn't take the 690 there with my skill set.
What is important here is that the 690 has handled everything that I've thrown at it. It commutes, does race track and even tours when necessary. It this respect it has fulfilled the multitasking duty I originally bought it to do.
|Long asphalt stretches in northern Norway|
|Old forest roads|
TiresI'm comparing the stock tires (Metzeler Sahara 3) to Michelin Siracs and Continental TKC 80s that I had on the 660 Tenere. I think the Saharas or somewhere between the two, definitely better than Siracs but better on and worse off road than the TKC 80s. Bear in mind though that the bike was very different so the comparison isn't very fair. All in all I would not hesitate to buy the Saharas again (and I did replace the rear at 5280 kms*) for my type of riding, but if you are fortunate enough to be able to get off the pavement more, maybe buy something else.
* I still had thread left, but as the season was closing and I knew I could not make the next long trip with the original rear so I decided to change it
|New rear at 5280 km|
Tire wearMy rear looked like this after 4670 kms / 2900 miles. I have ridden sensibly as a father of two should, so my tire wear is probably less than the average 690 owning knucklehead has.
|Front at 6100 km|
SuspensionI've read many opinions on the 690's suspension and how it needs to be reshimmed, adjusted and whatnot. Honestly, I think it's nothing short of awesome. It's very hard to find a a road going / multipurpose / duall sport / all road bike with a better stock suspension than the 690. And by that I mean quality components, adjustability and the range of conditions it works very well in. Ofcourse pure bred enduro bikes are better off road and so on. Bear in mind that the 2014 front suspension is different from previous years, so previous experiences with the 690 suspension may not reflect what the suspension performance is now. Only complaint I have is that adjusting the rear preload requires the bike to be dismantled to a point and because of that I haven't taken the time to setup the rear really properly. But as I said, it works fine for me as it is. It even does race track surprisingly nicely. Naturally the front dives under braking a lot more than you would want at a race track, but the riding is still fun and the bike feels completely safe.
ComfortThe stock seat is not horrible. Maybe it once was but not anymore. It's not a touring seat, but the 690 is not a touring bike. The Powerparts Ergo seat on the other hand IS horrible. Stay away from it. If you want a more comfortable seat, but are not willing to spend hundreds of euros/dollars, I recommend getting an Airhawk seat cushion or something similar. It's not as good as a true custom seat, but it will provide some additional comfort on long stretches at relatively low cost.
Riding position is one of the key elements of comfort to me and to me the 690 is sublime in that regard. Knee angle is minimal, forward lean is minimal and the handle bars are wide and at a comfortable angle. Sitting on the 690 is very natural. Wind protection even with the powerparts screen is poor, but that's a given with a naked bike.
VibrationsVibrations always come up when people talk about the 690. I haven't ridden the previous versions so I can't make comparisons, but I can honestly say that vibrations are not an issue with this bike. Yes, it is more vibey than many other bikes, but not enough to cause any kind of real discomfort for me. If you jump onboard the 690 from a big heavy adventure bike like the GS, S10 or 1190 adventure you will probably first classify the 690 as uncomfortable (and by direct comparison it is) but you will soon get used to the "feel" of the bike and the "discomfort" melts away. The bike is however vibey enoug to make the stock mirrors rather useless as they tend to blur quite a lot at certain speeds.
HeightThe more I ride it, the less the seat height is an issue, but sometimes it still is. The most common problem is getting the side stand up if you are parked in place that is tilted to the right. (which means that you cant reach the kick stand with your left foot as you need to reach so far to the right with your right foot) On the other hand, the bike is so light that normally I can just push the bike a few feet to a better position. The side stand seems to be sturdy enough to withstand the "horse mounting method" of climing aboard the bike. I've done it extensively and I've had no problems.
With the Airhawk seat cushion, the side stand problem becomes a real niggle and you need to pick a spot carefully to avoid sweaty pre takeoff routines when trying to mount the tall bastard. In tricky off road situations, something like a CRF 250 L feels much easier to keep upright when you can use your feet much better due to the lower seat height. My latest "crash" happened mostly because I just could not get my right foot on the ground to keep the bike upright and down I went. The situation was childishly easy, but there was little I could do. All that said, 90% of the time the seat height is totally fine even though I'm a shorty at 173 cm / 5'8".
Koubalink lowering link is a viable option of getting the 690 closer to the ground. I haven't taken that route yet, but I'm tempted. I have read that installing a Koubalink may result the rear to bottom out too easily and as a result the rear brake hose may get damaged. With what type of riding, rider weight, etc. this may be an issue, I don't know. I also have read reports of Koubalink users that have had no issues. Go figure.
EngineThe engine is the only thing I don't love on the bike. I had already decided to stay away from big singles, but the 690 had so many things going for it that I couldn't hold my promise after all. I like the power a lot, but then again I could come by fine with a little less. The thing that I don't like about the engine is it's rough character. It's noisy (not loud) and somehow too raw for my taste. It makes all sorts of rattles which I'm told are normal, but it just has this "racey" uncivilized agricultural nature that has me at constant state of alert. Someone described the engine as sounding like a bucket full of spanners, but maybe that's a bit much. Sometimes I feel that I would enjoy a boring "under powered" Japanese engine a lot more. I personally would be willing to trade the eccess of power for a more civilized feel.
RangeI can get roughly around 190 - 200 touring kms out of the stock tank before the fuel light comes on. It's a bit low, but in no way unmanageable. Strapping a few FuelFriend containers on the bike eliminates any range anxiety for most scenarios I may encounter. For true extended range one has to go shopping for relatively expensive aux tanks, but that's something I don't see necessary for my use.
RelliabilityThe KTM doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to reliability. Japanese brands have that to their benefit. On the other hand KTM does have a relatively good reputation of taking good care of their customers at least in my country. (now that's KTM, not necessarily the individual dealers). I have had no issues so far so I have no complaints about reliability. My nearest KTM dealer has also provided excellent service and I have no complaints about them either.
Funky oilI changed the oil after the trip to Norway and out came "funky oil". The bike had done 4100 kms at that point. I had previously changed the oil before the first service and the dealer changed the oil at the 1000 km mark.
I took pictures of the oil and sent it to the dealer and to internet wise men for opinions. Dealer's opinion was not to worry (probably just a little moisture) and internet wise men told me it was a case of anything from little moisture to bearing failure. The second oil change at 5998 kms produced normal used oil so I'm assuming it was just moisture on the first time. It's noteworthy to mention that I opened up the valve cover shortly after the funky oil incident and checked the rocker bearings. Everything was fine. The recommended oil change intervals are a bit much in my opinion. I've also read comments from other 690 owners and the consensus seems to be that the oil needs to be changed more frequently than what the manual recommends.
|back to normal|
The ABSABS on an enduro bike? Yeah, I know, but the ABS system works beautifully. Rear ABS is stupid on the gravel, but switching it off is a 10 second deal. It is however very annoying that the ABS resets itself when you turn off the bike. I almost always forget to switch off the rear ABS and notice the situation at the point I need/expect the rear to lock up. Not a good feeling and very often an oh-shit moment. There is a Powerparts switch to ease the pain, but even that is not a simple switch-on/off-at-anytime type of deal.
Fly-by-wire throttleNo problems, smooth and consistent. I like it a lot.
Touring capabilityYes it can. Stay off the highways and take the twisty roads and the 690 will have you smiling all the way. It can do highways just fine, but expect to get annoyed hanging on the bars against the wind for extended periods. Also the max relaxed "cruising" speed is around 96km/h, beyond that the engine starts to feel stressed. (which it isn't yet at that point)
A rear rack and a tank bag gets you a long way, maybe even all the way, but I would and will get side panniers racks. Less hassle during fill ups.
The super hot exhaustInternet wise men told me that the stock exhaust gets super hot, melts everything and can't be lived with. Not so, it gets very hot yes, but so what. Don't fondle it with bare hands and keep your luggage away from it and everything will be fine. Us spec 690s must have something mounted differently at the rear if they keep melting the left rear indicator, but my bike has no signs of any kind of melting or heat damage. If you have the money, absolutely go for a lighter aftermarket exhaust, but personally I don't think the 690 needs any more grunt than it already has so weight saving hasn't been motivation enough for me to part with my money.
Crash proof?As an enduro labelled bike, the 690 should be able to handle abuse that street bikes are not subjected to. Riding off road usually means that the bike will be dropped sooner or later and usually multiple times. The bike should therefore be designed and built so that it will stand at least a modest amount of drops and spills. I've dropped the bike 4 times and 3 times out of 4, I broke something. All the drops were from a very low speed or practically from a stand still. First drop cost me a rear indicator, the second the clutch lever, the third caused nothing due to it happening on soft sand. The fourth broke the radiator, side panel and water temp sensor. ( The bike fell on it's right side and landed on a small tree stump which gave the radiator a strong enough knock to crack the lower left corner open)
The basic design is solid, but the 690 needs at least a radiator guard and proper metal reinforced hand guards to lessen the odds of braking stuff when the inevitable crash occurs. Levers are expensive to replace and a new radiator will set you back several hundred euros (560€ in Finland!). While money will get your bike back on the road, it will not save your butt if you are find yourself with a broken radiator in the middle of nowhere.
While crash bars are seldom seen on enduro bikes, I might consider them for the 690. As far as I know, Touratech makes some, but the South African ROST offroad crash bars look even better. Either of those bars would not have saved my bike though...
|ROST Offroad crash bars for the 690 Enduro|
The turning radius is a bit on the large side for this type of bike. It can be improved a bit by adjusting the stop bolts. *Take note, that the bolts can be turned in too far in too. For some reason the bolts are not set for maximum steering lock from the factory. The issue itself usually only presents itself when you need to make a tigh u-turn.
|Turn these bolts in a bit ( not too far) to get a tighter turning radius|
Gas cap, filling the tank
Two things. The location of the cap sucks if you have to mount bags on the rear. You will have to unpack each time you need a fill up. (One reason to get side racks) then again using a tank bag on the 690 Enduro is hassle free.
|Pack accordingly, when you know that you need to access the fuel cap.|
The other thing is the actual filling up. The tank is so shallow under the cap that you can not really insert the nozzle inside the tank properly. You also need to angle the nozzle "just so" to avoid spraying petrol all over the place and even then you can only fill up at "half speed". Depressing the handle all the way will result in spraying petrol everywhere no matter how you angle the nozzle. The issue can be fixed with an aftermarket filler neck from CJ designs. The raised neck also reduces the risk of getting mud and crud in the tank.
|CJ Designs billet fuel filler neck|
A number of 690 owners have reported head shake and installed a steering damper ( Scotts being the most popular choice). Personally I have never experienced head shake even at the race track. I've done 140-150 km/h (85 - 95 mph) speeds on the race track without a problem (stock tires) at thats about as fast I want to go with this bike. If there is a problem at +95 mph I'm not concerned or affected. Different model years may be different in this regard and choice of tires will no doubt make a difference too.
Compared to...During the year I've test driven the 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure, 2014 KTM 250 SX-F, 2014 KTM Freeride E, 2013 Honda CRF 250 L. Previous bikes include Yamaha XT660Z (-09), Triumph Scrambler (-08), and a Sporster among others.
Would I buy it again?Yes, but I do realize that the 690 is a lot of bike for people like me that really do not posses the skill set to fully take advantage of the power and brutal nature. I would probably be just fine with a cheaper 250 Yamaha/Honda/Kawasaki.
|Hand guards with metal reinforcements|
|Nomadic rear rack|
|Burnsmoto USB power socket|
|Side stand extension plate|