Mission KTM 990 Journey: Rescuing & Reviving An Iconic ADV Bike

Angelena Iglesia

“Probably the most harmful bike ever constructed.”

This can be a paraphrase, or possibly the precise title, from {a magazine} evaluation I bear in mind studying shortly after the KTM 950 Journey S was first launched in 2003. Clearly, I used to be intrigued. The creator was waxing ironic by indicating that the engineering on this oddity of journey bikes was of a stage that allowed the rider to do issues most definitely past their talents. Rolling alongside at what you assume is a snug tempo on a comparatively clean, curvy grime street, and looking out down on the speedo to see you’re doing 130 mph is eye opening. It’s one thing that makes you understand the potential penalties of unleashing the total fury of what’s arguably the biggest consumer-friendly model of a rally bike ever constructed. That stated, A little bit of historical past is so as.

2003 KTM 950 Adventure Rallye
The unique race bike that began all of it, the KTM 950 Rally, had rather a lot in frequent with the manufacturing mannequin. Picture: KTM

When KTM’s V-Twin LC8 platform was first launched to the world in 2003 within the type of the 950 Journey S, it was a game-changer. Based mostly closely on the KTM 950 Rally prototype, the bike wasn’t deemed prepared for manufacturing till pilot Fabrizio Meoni had already received each the Pharaons Rally (2001) and the Dakar Rally (2002) aboard the machine. 

For a number of many years, producers similar to Honda, Yamaha, Cagiva, and KTM all began constructing twin-cylinder off-road monsters, and buck-and-a-quarter speeds on the Dakar all of the sudden turned an nearly frequent factor. The KTM 950 Rally was the final of this breed of large-displacement twins to race Dakar earlier than being banned as a result of security issues in regards to the speeds these dreadnaughts had been able to. What was unleashed to the general public in 2003 was basically a legalized rally bike able to by no means earlier than seen efficiency off-road for this class of bike, even in its tamed manufacturing kind.

With a chassis nearly unchanged over the following 10 years, the 950 Journey S elevated displacement to turn out to be the 990 Journey R in 2006, and would proceed on with solely minor updates till 2012. As such a singular bike design, the KTM 950/990 Journey platform constructed a legendary repute as an off-road succesful journey bike that also stands years after its discontinuation. 

2012 KTM 990 Adventure
The 950 Journey S elevated displacement to turn out to be the 990 Journey R in 2006, and would proceed on with solely minor updates till 2012.

A Worthy Revival

Not too long ago, a good friend of mine reached out to ask me if I’d be fascinated by adopting his 2008 KTM 990 Journey that had been sitting round gathering mud. Usually, this would appear like unbelievable luck, however having been on a number of journeys with this bike I used to be nicely conscious that it had not lived a sort or mild life. This specific 990 checked the “onerous journey” field extra instances than anybody can rely. The place many massive twins spend a good period of time at native espresso outlets, this one had been misplaced on the backside of a river in Mexico.

Close to the very best level alongside considered one of Northern Baja’s trails, a big and usually dry floodplain started absorbing water from a storm a couple of miles away. In minutes, the route went from dry path, to muddy mess, to a wall of water main the best way for a torrent to observe. Whereas the water remained a manageable depth, the rider started crossing the plain. Earlier than reaching the opposite facet, a four-foot excessive wall of water got here careening in from the gap, slammed the bike and rider to the bottom, and carried each about 100 yards downstream till being stopped on a tree stump.

The 990 discovered and rescued after being swept away by raging waters in Mexico.

Happily, the rider was capable of get out from beneath each the bike itself, and the crushing onslaught of water, and climb to security. The 990 nonetheless, remained buried underneath the silty maelstrom for a half an hour till the flash flood waters lastly started to subside. Solely as soon as the floodplain calmed from a raging torrent to a fast-flowing river was the bike capable of be recovered with the assistance of a neighborhood rancher’s truck.

Numerous journeys out and in of varied restore outlets healed a few of the wounds on this bike, however thriller issues continued hidden someplace deep contained in the factor. Once I acquired the bike, it began and ran however its erratic throttle response made it basically unrideable. Chipping paint and scars from an abusive life had been clearly noticeable. But with its Scotts steering damper, upgraded skid plate, baggage racks, and the monstrous exhaust be aware from its Leo Vince pipes, the general platform was arrange fairly properly.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
The V-twin growl from its Leo Vince pipes is a factor of magnificence.
KTM 990 Adventure bike build

Having owned a 2005.5 950 Journey S which was in all probability my all-time favourite bike to journey, clearly I had an affinity for these machines. Sadly, that 950S was totaled in an incident on the road a few years in the past. This ‘basket case’ of a 990 had been written off as a misplaced trigger by most, however for me I felt prefer it deserved to be again on the path and I used to be keen to place within the time to try to repair it.

The Specs

Earlier than diving into this moto-resurrection saga, what is that this bike? By the small print, the 2008 KTM 990 Journey (customary mannequin) is a 999cc V-twin inhaling by means of a really excessive consumption and exhaling by means of equally excessive twin pipes. Producing a claimed 98 horsepower and 70.1 ft-lbs of torque at 6,500 rpm, this powerplant is linked to a 6-speed guide transmission and rides in a trellis-style chassis the place it additionally serves as a careworn member.

KTM 990 Adventure project build

In inventory kind, this chassis has a wheelbase of 61.8 inches, 10.3 inches of floor clearance, and a seat peak of 33.9 inches. General claimed dry weight for the bike is 438.7 kilos, and that weight will increase by roughly 35 lbs as 5.8 gallons of gas are added between twin tanks hanging from both sides of the bike. All this rolls on a 21”/18” set of spoked wheels that includes Brembo brake calipers gripping twin 11.8 inch rotors up entrance and a single 9.5 inch rotor within the rear. WP suspension gives 8.3 inches of journey throughout.

Getting The Engine Sorted

Whereas the bike did begin, and produced ahead movement, it was roughly the equal of driving a mechanical bull powered by nitrous and the dangerous desires of a thousand indignant hippos. In brief, a barely controllable powerband. Clearly there was going to be numerous work concerned, so first issues first, deal with the extra fundamental upkeep objects similar to oil change, oil and air filter upkeep, cleansing/lubing the chain, gas filters, in addition to draining and changing the present gas of unknown age sloshing round within the tanks.

Comfort was clearly not in thoughts when contemplating the oil change process on the 950/990. The manufacturing unit service guide goes as far as to state, “Since many components should be demounted for an oil change, we suggest having the engine oil modified by a licensed KTM workshop.” Along with a lot of the entrance finish physique work needing to be eliminated, the left-side gas tank additionally needs to be eliminated for this course of. 

KTM 990 Adventure bike project build
We gave our venture bike some contemporary quarts of Motul 7100, an ester-based full artificial designed for high-performance bikes just like the KTM 990 Journey.

 The distinctive dual-tank design of the 950/990 is a double-edged sword, relying on whether or not one is wanting on the bike from a driving perspective or a upkeep perspective. This design permits the bike to be amazingly slim like no different bike on this class on the time, whereas protecting the gas weight decrease. Relating to upkeep, this implies numerous bolt spinning because the bodywork and gas tanks want to come back off for nearly any process associated to the motor.

Gasoline filters can are usually uncared for on the 990 as a result of they’re tucked away contained in the gas pump, which is tucked away contained in the gas tank. As soon as eliminated, the gas pump itself must be disassembled and reassembled to realize entry to the filter. Whereas not an excessively advanced process, there are definitely many steps concerned.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
Altering the gas filter requires eradicating the left-side tank and the gas pump, then disassembling it to entry the filter contained in the pump itself. Whereas not rocket surgical procedure, there are a number of steps concerned, and changing all seals is extremely advisable.

With the right-side tank eliminated and the air field opened up, ports on the throttle our bodies will be accessed to permit them to be synchronized or “balanced.” The thought is to make sure every cylinder is receiving the identical quantity of air by means of the butterfly valves, and the distinction in a motor with correctly synced throttle our bodies versus an out-of-sync setup is staggering, particularly at or close to idle. 

Additional steps taken to attempt to tame this beast included much less fundamental upkeep procedures together with changing a particularly soiled gas filter, balancing the throttle our bodies, changing and adjusting the throttle place sensor unit, and performing what is named the “15 minute” ECU studying repair – a course of that enables the bike’s ECU to relearn optimum settings for the bike’s present surroundings.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
The previous battery was shot so we put in a Fireplace Energy Lithium Battery that places out 310 chilly cranking amps and weighs simply 2.4 kilos in comparison with 230 CCA and eight.6 kilos for the substitute AGM battery.

As soon as a few of these extra perfunctory mechanical duties had been taken care of, the bigger points started to disclose themselves. An enormous “detent” within the throttle response proper off idle which morphed right into a bucking bronco impact towards the mid-range. With the usage of TuneECU software program, 18 completely different gas maps had been examined in an try to right this drawback, however to no avail. Every map altered the attribute of the engine and would change the symptom, however by no means absolutely right it.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
As many as 18 completely different gas maps had been examined in an try to right our fueling drawback.

Feeling a bit stifled with our progress on the venture, we requested the grasp mechanics at KTM North America HQ to test if the ECU was faulty. What they discovered was a myriad of different issues as a substitute, brought on by age, neglect and numerous failed troubleshooting efforts over time, that contributed to the erratic fueling signs we had been experiencing. Mis-adjusted throttle cables, incorrect ignition curve, and unfastened wiring had been among the many gremlins lurking on this machine.

After having a lot of this stuff corrected, the bike was now rideable however nonetheless had a brutal stumble at round 4000 to 5000 rpm. Our buddies at KTM advised a few issues to test into that had been possible the reason for the ultimate fueling problem. The 990 has three MAP (Manifold Air Stress) sensors — one on every throttle physique and a 3rd within the entrance cowling behind the instrument cluster. Given time and the suitable circumstances (similar to being drowned in a silty river in Mexico), these sensors can turn out to be soiled and clogged, doubtlessly inflicting a stumble at sure RPM ranges. 

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
Changing cracked vacuum strains and cleansing the MAP sensors would reveal a completely new bike.

Upon inspection, it was instantly obvious that the brief vacuum strains connecting these sensors had been cracked and leaking. Changing these hoses and attachment factors, cleansing all three MAP sensors with a de-oxidizing digital components cleaner revealed a completely new bike. Probably the smoothest and best-sounding 990 Journey I’ve ever ridden. 

Refreshing The Chassis

Among the many record of upkeep carried out, even these extra easy sounding bits took on uncommon varieties on this venture. For instance, altering fork oil. Whereas that’s arguably a stage 1 or 2 process, what made it uncommon is that we weren’t altering the oil in ‘this’ bike’s forks. 

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
2005 KTM 950 Journey S donor bike earlier than it was totaled in a crash.

As talked about earlier  on this story, I additionally personal a 2005 KTM 950 Journey S which was totaled in a crash. Whereas driving this bike some years in the past I used to be sadly hit by a VW Jetta when it determined to all of the sudden zig as a substitute of zag mid-way by means of an intersection in LA, leading to fairly a bit of injury together with a damaged body. Fortunately, I used to be capable of buy it as salvage and it got here in helpful as an organ donor for this venture bike. 

In inventory kind, the 2005 950 Journey S featured a fork spring price of 0.48 which I had beforehand upgraded to stiffer 0.52 springs and re-valved the suspension. In flip, the rear shock remained principally inventory, apart from a spacer which was eliminated to extend the journey to its full potential. These adjustments elevated the general peak of the bike a lot that the middle stand and facet stand needed to be lengthened. 

KTM 990 Adventure rescue build
The fork oil hadn’t been serviced in over a decade. What got here out was a nasty chocolate milk shade with barely any viscosity.

The forks of our 2008 990 Journey venture bike had been considerably shorter than the older 950 Journey S’, and had been additionally in want of some dire upkeep. Quite than put the hassle into the 990’s shorter legs, we opted to swap each the forks and rear shock from the 950 S to carry our venture bike a bit nearer to its authentic rally heritage. With the suspension swapped, the wheel journey, seat peak and floor clearance had been now raised 2 inches greater than inventory.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
The suspension swap additionally required an extended ‘S-model’ heart stand and kickstand.

This swap led to some fascinating challenges, because the older 950 didn’t possess ABS, and thus the mounting factors on the fork stubs for issues similar to wheel sensors and fenders don’t fairly line up. There have been sufficient obtainable threaded choices to permit all the things to be assembled, and solely on shut inspection can the variations between the mannequin years be seen. One other key distinction between the 2 fashions is the facet stand killswitch, which didn’t exist on the 950 Journey. A 2012 OEM 990R facet stand was sourced because it incorporates a magnetic kill change tab and has the required size to deal with the taller suspension.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
We changed the previous fork oil with Motul Artificial 5W to provide the entrance finish that ‘contemporary from the manufacturing unit’ really feel.

Whereas the brakes had been working, fluids of unknown age and situation had been changed to reinforce stopping efficiency. The everyday technique of bleeding air from the programs by pumping the grasp cylinders till all air is purged is efficient, however will be time consuming. A vacuum pump brake bleeder was used to extra effectively pump out the air and replenish the previous brake fluid with contemporary Motul DOT 5.1.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build

Saving one of many extra apparent and quick upgrades to the bike for final — the tires. A set of the old-style Heidenau K60 Scout hoops of unknown age was mounted on the 990 after we acquired it. That they had clearly been on the bike for an extended whereas, and the rear tire was squared off to the diploma it resembled a automobile tire greater than a bike tire. These had been swapped out for a contemporary set of Dunlop D606 entrance and D908 Rally Raid rear knobbies, which additional improve the KTM’s rally-like efficiency.

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
KTM 990 Adventure bike build
We swapped the previous tires for a contemporary set of Dunlop D606 entrance and D908 Rally Raid rear knobbies to get the bike prepared for Baja.


One factor that undoubtedly set KTM’s first twin-cylinder bike other than the pack when it was first launched in 2003 is aesthetics. This bike merely appeared like nothing else on the market, for higher or worse. Even the varied shade schemes and rally-esque fashions just like the 2004 “GO!!!!!!!” bike stood out from the pack. Over time, the paint utilized in these vivid shade schemes proved to wrestle with remaining hooked up to the gas tanks, and would ultimately bubble and flake off on most bikes which had seen greater mileage and extra in depth off-road use.

KTM 990 Adventure ADV Pulse project build
The saddle was refreshed with a brand new cowl from Seat Ideas however the paint is in dangerous situation and nonetheless must be addressed.

Our check 990 was no completely different on this regard, and was affected by this dreaded bike dandruff. For some motive, the suitable facet appeared prefer it had been by means of a struggle, whereas the left facet, only some skirmishes. The seat as nicely, was severely light with a pair small holes, so it acquired a brand new cowl from Seat Ideas. New graphics are one other visible improve we’re contemplating to additional carry this legendary machine again to its former glory. 

The Last Stretch

Other than a couple of tweaks on our to do record, the bike is now prepped and prepared for an actual journey. Loads of these levithan grime bikes are nonetheless going robust, and a Baja run with a couple of different 990s is within the planning phases. Given this specific bike’s challenged historical past, throwing it into the gauntlet of Baja’s distant and rugged terrain is each a becoming check and a possibility for redemption after its final journey down south. 

KTM 990 Adventure bike build
KTM 990 Adventure bike build
Stoked to have our 990 again on the path and we will’t wait to let these twin pipes roar out within the open desert.

I’ve been driving nearly completely trendy machines these previous few years, a lot of which have been a lot lighter, bleeding-edge tech middleweight journey bikes. Climbing again aboard KTM’s first twin-cylinder bike design could sound like one thing that will be a toned-down stroll by means of the land of classic bikes. However after thumbing the starter and listening to the percussive bark that roars from this machine you’re reminded that it is a bike that was banned from essentially the most troublesome rally on the planet as a result of it was just too quick and highly effective. Keep tuned for half 2!

Pictures by Rob Dabney and Jon Beck

Creator: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of by no means determining what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, aggressive browsing, and touring as a musician are someway a part of what led Jon to journey by means of over 40 international locations as far as an journey bike photographer, journalist, and information. From precision driving for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for journey tales, Jon brings a uncommon mix of expertise to the desk. Whereas he appears happiest when misplaced in a desert someplace, deadlines are met more often than not.

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