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2023 KTM Adventure 390: An Honest Take On the Pros and Cons

Kurt Spurlock

We've had no shortage of fun aboard KTM's 790, 890, and 1290 adventure bikes, but where does the littlest ADV, the KTM Adventure 390, fit into the mix? Here's our take on Big Orange's entry-level ADV. 

If KTM is known for one thing above all else, it's their commitment to building high-performance motorcycles straight out of the box. As their "race ready" slogan suggests, KTM's machines have a reputation for delivering high-power engines, highly-capable suspension, and highly-advanced electronics straight from the factory, with little to no farkling necessary to get out and hit the road (or the dirt) as hard as you want. 

2023-ktm-390-adventure-rider-walking-towards-bike

Long story short, better than you might expect. 

But First: Can Small Bikes Actually Do Adventure Riding?

Historically the adventure motorcycle segment has been defined by extra large and extra powerful machines. BMW's massive 1200cc+ GS will be the first to come to mind for many, while bikes like KTM's 1290 Adventure and Honda's 1084cc Africa Twin won't be far behind. 

Free Motorcycle Trip Kit

Yet over the last few years, we've been witnessing a redefinition of what the ideal adventure bike should be. The "middleweight" segment is white hot, and bikes like the Yamaha T7, KTM 890 Adventure, and Ducati Desert X  continue to sell out as fast as manufacturers can build them. 

But how small is too small? As far as we're concerned, there's no such thing.

adventure-bike-for-beginners-ktm-390-adventure-in-dirt

Naturally, that statement comes with a few caveats. A proper adventure bike should be equal parts long-distance touring and off-road exploring, and for a small bike like the 390 to earn that adventure title, it needs to do a few specific things well. 

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As far as the touring bit goes, we want a low-displacement ADV bike to comfortably pull a respectable 70 mph cruise on the highway. Comfortably is the important word here, because while most mini-motos can fight their way to 70 mph, many of them vibrate so intensely at that speed that they'll shake your fillings loose long before you get to your destination. 

ktm-390-adventure-riders-side-by-side-in-the-dirt

To that end we say a small ADV should have at least six inches of suspension travel, off-road capable tires (at least an 80/20 style tire, although 50/50 is preferable), and ideally some degree of impact protection like a skid plate, engine guards, and hand guards. 

ktm-390-adventure-dirt-and-mountains

Last but not least, one of the major issues we've found with some smaller adventure bikes is that they're simply not comfortable to stand up on.

Granted, smaller engines will often have smaller frames by default, but there should be enough room in the rider triangle to stand comfortably on the pegs for proper off-road work.

Motorcycle Riding Position

Ideally, you should be able to grip the bike with your legs for added stability and control as well, whether that's at the front of seat or somewhere on the gas tank.

Now, with those features in mind, let's take a look at how the KTM Adventure 390 stacks up to its larger cousins. 

2023-ktm-390-adventure-rider-standing-in-desert

2023 KTM Adventure 390 Specs

MSRP: $7,399

  • Engine: Four-stroke single cylinder, 4 valve head
  • Displacement: 373cc
  • Bore x stroke: 89mm x 60mm
  • Compression: 12.6:1
  • Transmission: 6 speed manual
  • Final drive: Chain
  • Horsepower:  44hp @ 9,000rpm
  • Torque:  27.2 lb-ft @ 7,000rpm
  • Fueling: Electronic injection
  • Clutch: Wet/slipper

Chassis, Suspension, and Brakes

  • Frame: Powder-coated steel trellis
  • Front suspension: 43mm WP Apex, compression and rebound adjustable
  • Front travel: 6.7”
  • Rear suspension: WP Apex,  rebound and preload adjustable
  • Rear travel: 7.0”
  • Front brakes: Single 320mm disk, 4 piston caliper
  • Rear brakes: Single 320mm disc, 2 piston caliper
  • ABS: Street & cornering ABS with available off-road setting
  • Wheels: 19/17", wire spoke or cast
  • Tires: 100/90/19 front, 130/80/17 rear, Continental TKC 70

Dimensions/Capacities

  • Rake: 63.5 degrees
  • Trail: 3.8”
  • Wheelbase: 56.3”
  • Seat height: 32.6”
  • Ground clearance: 7.8”
  • Fuel capacity:  3.8 gal.
  • Weight: 379 lbs

Our Take on the 2023 KTM Adventure 390

It's not every day you get an entry-level bike that's built to a premium spec.

Sure, there may be a few cheaper beginner bikes out there with similarly adventurous intentions. Still, where other brand's entry-level bikes often look and feel built to a budget (both in terms of performance and finish), KTM gives us a truly handsome offering that just so happens to be beginner friendly.   

ktm-390-adventure-product-shot-adventure-bike-for-beginners

With well sorted suspension, a fairly legit electronics suite, a small-yet-performance focused engine, and a smattering of adventure-focused features straight from the factory, this little bike drives a hard bargain to pony up a bit more cash for a bit more refinement.

It is not without its faults, of course, but as a first bike that can do literally anything reasonably well from long-distance sport touring to off-road exploration, it's one of the most well-rounded small displacement bikes money can buy. 

  • Low seat height
  • Fun yet manageable engine
  • Premium suspension
  • Adventure-focused build components
  • Spoked wheels now available

The first thing that got our attention with the KTM Adventure 390 was its fit and finish. Entry-level bikes are typically marred by acres of cheap plastic, basic components, and simplified instruments, but more or less every inch of the 390 looks and feels like a scaled-down version of its larger cousins. 

There's the distinctive split LED headlight, the full-color TFT dash, the skeletonized swingarm, and, in the case of the 2023 model, the wire-spoked tubeless wheels. Throw a leg over the seat and you'll also be pleasantly surprised to find that pretty much anyone can flat-foot this little ADV at a stoplight, which bodes well for the new ADV riders it's aiming at. 

2023-ktm-390-adventure-wheels

We found the little single's 44 horses more than sufficient to deliver the requisite 70mph cruise, and unlike most bikes this size, you can actually run the 390 up over 90mph if you've got a little patience and don't mind the vibrations.

2023-ktm-390-adventure-engine-and-side

The other major selling point of the KTM Adventure 390 for us is that sweet WP Apex suspension. For a little over $7,000, you're getting the same diameter fork found on our last KTM 790 Adventure, and while the travel is a little over an inch shorter, you're still getting a toolless adjustment for both compression and rebound, which is practically unheard of in an entry-level motorcycle. 

ktm-390-adventure-fantasy-dirt

The off-road setting allows you to switch the rear ABS off entirely for slips and slides, but still keeps the front wheel in check, which comes in handy for steep descents over loose terrain. 

We'll also note that the 390 gets the most impressive complement of off-road focused protection features from the factory out of any entry-level ADV (and even some middleweights). These include factory engine guards, which are a godsend for new riders, as well as hand guards, and a "light" skid plate which, again, is no small feat at this price. 

  • Quality suspension, but limited travel
  • Ergonomics aren't ideal for standing
  • Middling ground clearance
  • Expensive for an entry-level bike

All things considered, we're convinced you'd be hard-pressed to find a comparable entry-level bike for the money, and believe KTM has delivered a seriously competitive package in the little 390.

With that being said, this bike isn't without its faults, so here are a few things to take into consideration if you're thinking of picking one up yourself. 

ktm-390-adventure-in-the-twisties

We'll also note that although the KTM's WP suspension is easily the most sophisticated and well damped in the segment, its practical offroad use is limited both by travel and ground clearance.

ktm-390-adventure-in-the-dirt

Lastly, standing up on the KTM Adventure 390 simply isn't ideal. The footpegs sit at a forward angle and are much too close to the handlebar for comfort when standing, which makes balancing tricky and leaves you perched precariously far over the front of the bike. 

ktm-390-adventure-racing-on-pavement

Hard braking has a tendency to "lurch" the rider over the windshield, which may make some rider's first taste of the dirt more literally than they'd like. 

Final Thoughts On the 2023 KTM Adventure 390

Ultimately we found the KTM Adventure 390 to be everything its name implies: It's low and compact enough to be truly beginner friendly, capable enough on the open road for proper long-range adventures, and, because it wears the KTM badge, it's got impressive engine performance and refined suspension to match. 

ktm-390-adventure-bikes-with-luggage

Despite its shortcomings, we still believe this is arguably the best adventure bike out there for beginners who are looking to put some miles under their belt in style while also getting their first taste of off-road riding.

The bike is a joy to ride on any surface, and while the ergonomics can be a little awkward in the dirt, there are plenty of inexpensive aftermarket solutions out there for folks who want to spend more time off-road. 

→READ MORE: 2021 Yamaha Tenere 700 Review: The Good and the Bad and The best (and Worst) Times to be Standing on a Motorcycle.

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ktm adventure tour 2023

2023 KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY

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2023 KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY: Norway

The KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY gets rolling again with another exceptional ride-out for KTM orange bleeders and those in search of making memories with their motorcycles. KTM have harnessed and condensed all the best aspects of an ADVENTURE experience in a three-day gathering that will roam some of the most spectacular topography on the continent.   

For the 2023 edition 150 riders will descend on the fantastic setting of Lillehammer in Norway in July. The site hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics so brace yourself for an epic Nordic landscape with endless gravel roads and routes that will excite all levels. The luxurious Kvitfjell Hotel is perched on the side of the Olympic downhill slope, but you won’t get too carried away because the event will already involve scenic outings through a 180-200km loop. Get inspired by the views and waterfalls and feel the full potency of your KTM along the trails.

The KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY brings KTM riders together to celebrate the best values of adventuring: camaraderie, exploration, discovery and having a damn good time on two-wheels with like-minded people.

Each KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY participant can make the most of their experience. Whether that means dropping into guided groups or programming their GPS to tackle the loops in authentic RALLY style. At the end of each day prizes, parties, food, and fun await back at ‘base camp’. 

The 2023 KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY is open to riders with the following eligible KTM adventure bikes: 390 ADVENTURE, 640, 690, 790, 790R, 890, 890R, 950, 990, 1050, 1090, 1090R, 1190, 1190R, 1290 and 1290R models. The Rallye is tailored to suit a wide range of rider abilities, from those in their first few years of adventure riding up to seasoned adventure pros.

As always, the KTM ADVENTURE RALLY is about offering an unmatched experience with like-minded people to our ORANGE adventure riders of all skill levels. Bring your partner, along with an old friend or make new ones, in the spirit of adventure riding, the KTM ADVENTURE RALLY is about getting back to the basics and enjoying your KTM adventure bike.

What's included:

  • 3x days of Adventure riding
  • 4x nights of accommodation incl. breakfast (July 24-28, 2023)
  • Tech-check on arrival day
  • 3x lunches and 4x dinners (excl. drinks)
  • KTM goody bag
  • Event photography and videography
  • Backup vehicle support
  • Medic support on the route as well as at the accommodation
  • Technical challenges
  • Spot prizes
  • Evening entertainment

REQUIREMENTS:

  • KTM ADVENTURE Motorcycle (in good riding condition before you arrive at the Rally) with license plate and vehicle documents
  • Fully Comprehensive Motorcycle Insurance
  • Ambulance Cover (ensure your cover is valid in Norway) / Medical Insurance
  • Motorcycle License (depending on your motorcycle)
  • Minimum 200 km Fuel Range
  • Offroad Clothing Including Rainwear
  • Suitable Tires for Offroad Riding (you will get more information about this after the booking)
  • GPS Navigation Skills (when not riding in a guided tour)

Registration process

Below is a link to register to the 2023 KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY, you will be redirected to an online registration portal which will ask for specific details and redirect you to the payment portal to secure your registration.

  • 2023_KTM EUROPE_ADVENTURE_RALLY_EVENT_INFO.pdf Download
  • TOUR TEST – 2023 KTM 390 ADVENTURE

TOUR TEST – 2023 KTM 390 ADVENTURE | BIKE TESTS

We convince an adventure riding veteran to swap his Suzuki DR650 for a 390 Adventure, KTM’s most accessible all-roads offering

H aving ridden the long way around on the bitumen from Dargo , I was sitting in the Orbost Club Hotel nursing a schooner – and what I believed to be a torn rib cartilage. I’ve had considerable practice at this. The fault lines on each of my ribs have long been chronologically dated and numbered for future reference, and I’ve long learnt how to balance painkillers and alcohol before dinner.

ktm adventure tour 2023

I’d agreed to provide Deano with a neophyte’s evaluation of KTM’s entry-level adventure bike , yet here I was having difficulty throwing a leg over a 750mm high bar stool. After eight long days since I’d picked up the new KTM 390 Adventure on the Gold Coast, the TFT display was showing almost 2800km after 39 hours on the move.

ktm adventure tour 2023

With little to do in Orbost other than watch the barflies shuffle joylessly between a hole in the wall and the screens displaying the gallops, the trots and the dogs, I had time to reflect on how I was in such a sorry condition so far from home. The year 2023 marked our 42nd annual ride – the first being from Cairns to Cape York in 1981 – and was being hosted by the Victorian regulars with a seven-day loop through the High Country, starting and finishing in Jindabyne. “Nothing too technical,” promised routemeister Blacky. “I’ll be riding my BMW 1250 GS.”  

ktm adventure tour 2023

For the three riders from the Tweed, starting in Jindabyne meant 14 hours of boredom on the motorway or a three-day scenic ride along the backbone of the Great Dividing Range; including the Murwillumbah-Kyogle Road, the Summerland, the Waterfall and Thunderbolts Way. The 40km of gravel forestry tracks over the range into Nundle was the perfect way to finish the first 600km day.

ktm adventure tour 2023

Despite eight hours in the saddle I suffered no discomfort, even before the first beer went down. Sitting in, rather than on the Kato’s 855mm high seat behind the efficient screen, the 390 Adventure’s ergos were well matched to my 180cm frame. With 32kW (43hp) and 37Nm there’s enough smooth power to cruise at legal limits and, while I never tried for a top speed on the new engine, I figure somewhere north of 150km/h is probable. This 390 was shod with more road-suited Continental TKC70 hoops, so I reckon I had a far easier day than Al on his KTM 950 Adventure or Doc on his KTM 640 Adventure, both of whom were sitting tall on more gravel-oriented rubber.    

ktm adventure tour 2023

The all-important adventure ride debrief

My experience on bitumen is limited and I’ve yet to scrape a footpeg on anything other than hard-baked clay ruts on unmaintained outback tracks, so I found the 390 Adventure capable of far higher speeds through the twisties than I care to ride – and at those speeds the brakes are excellent. The factory settings for the adjustable suspension were more than adequate for my requirements, too, so I didn’t feel the need to change anything.

ktm adventure tour 2023

One map and four different suggestions for the next move…

As it happened, I even neglected to change the 390 Adventure’s ride mode from ‘Street’ to ‘Off-Road’ before we set off early the following morning – despite what I knew would be a challenging track. To the month, 20 years had passed since we’d tackled what’s known as ‘the Barry Way’ from Nundle, through Ellerston, to Scone . At that time, Suzuki DR-Z400s were popular and Doc had just purchased the new fully faired KTM 640 Adventure – the first bike to claim the ‘Adventure’ moniker in what proved to be a portentous marketing statement.  

ktm adventure tour 2023

On that long ago occasion, we rode from Armidale to Hill End in one day, so on this occasion I figured an average speed of 50km/h would see us in Scone for a late Sunday breakfast. However, after two years of torrential rain the gnarly ascents were far more washed out than anticipated; the descents even worse.

ktm adventure tour 2023

Peg position isn’t ideal for comfortable descents

At first I couldn’t understand my discomfort. ’Bar risers may have helped, but the main reason I couldn’t stand up with any sense of balance was that the 390’s footpegs were tilted forward, making it really awkward to move my bum back over the rear wheel – a misjudgement from a brand which should know better. In a seated position on the bitumen it’s of little consequence if the footpegs are mounted on a slight angle, but while standing up, traversing rough terrain, foot position is critical.

ktm adventure tour 2023

Here on the river flats, the track became a fairly formed road and our pace picked up before the series of rocky fords across Ben Hall Creek and then, the far, far reaches of the upper Hunter River. Never much more than axle deep or 10m wide, these crossings appeared deceptively easy, but the moss-covered football-sized rocks proved a real challenge.

ktm adventure tour 2023

ByBre brakes, plus there’s cornering and off-road ABS to add even more flair

I know all there is to know about such challenges: stand on the ’pegs, hold a steady throttle at the lowest revs practical, focus on a dry point on the far bank, don’t fight the ’bars, and relax. I’ve actually done this once or twice. But as soon as the rear wheel starts to spin and steps sideways, I stall the bike, my arse drops on to the seat, and both legs end up in the river, 50mm above the top of my boots.  

ktm adventure tour 2023

Doc maintains he was counting, and that there were 20 such crossings. I thought 14 majors and six minors, and that I nailed a couple of the majors without putting both feet in the water. Maybe.

ktm adventure tour 2023

There were plenty of creek crossings on the adventure ride, some more difficult than others

Then, after all the extreme difficulties of the morning, it was an innocuous three-metre concrete culvert covered by barely 10mm of water that brought Al’s KTM 950 to ground, tearing his hamstring badly enough that his only agonising option was to head back home.

ktm adventure tour 2023

The morning – almost four hours to ride 160km – had demonstrated the 390 Adventure will handle the gnarliest terrain imaginable in the bush. The short (1430mm) wheelbase is a considerable advantage in tight conditions, but at slow speeds I felt every gram of the 158kg claimed weight and the 19/17 inch wheel configuration is a definite disadvantage in the rough and slippery water crossings. That said, despite my lack of expertise, both bike and rider remained upright.  

ktm adventure tour 2023

Running repairs

The most annoying thing was being distracted by the low-fuel hazard warning light flashing,   despite my knowing the available fuel range was more than adequate for me to make it to the pub. The fuel range on a 390 Adventure is a minimum of 300km no matter how aggressively the throttle is used. By squeezing almost 15 litres into the tank the range can be increased to more than 360km.  

ktm adventure tour 2023

With almost 1500km on the odometer I gave the 390 an oil change and replaced both oil filters. This task involved removal of the two-piece skid plate, something else that wasn’t considered during the design process.

ktm adventure tour 2023

At least he didn’t go fully arse over!

When tourmeister Blacky turned up at our rendezvous in Jindabyne on his KTM 525 EXC, I knew this adventure was going to be a little more difficult than I’d anticipated. Fording the Murray River at Tom Groggin confirmed my trepidation, and 30 minutes later, as I lay in a pool of mud, my right hand swelling to the size and shade of a lawn bowl, I was hoping track conditions may improve.

The front wheel had caught the sharp lip of a deeper than anticipated pothole and flicked me head over. With a 21-inch wheel and more aggressive rubber I may have avoided crashing, though a lack of focus was the undeniable culprit. Besides, Wikipedia clearly states that ‘an adventure is an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.’ The right hand-guard had snapped off completely, but luckily the brake was still serviceable.  

ktm adventure tour 2023

The 390 Adventure screen is impressive: comparable with its larger capacity siblings

Worse still, I’d damaged my ribs, but thanks to the back-up crew I survived the day without further damage. Other than a regimen of painkillers there was bugger all I could do about my ribs except rest up in Omeo the following day.

ktm adventure tour 2023

The 390 Adventure is well suited to this type of terrain

For hour after hour, a steady procession of motorcycles passed through town, which got me thinking about the meaning of adventure. Were the two mates – one riding a KTM 1290 Adventure, the other a CFMoto 800MT – who’d traversed the mountain passes on gravel roads any more adventurous than the couple who’d ridden their immaculate, decade-old Harley-Davidson Electra Glide on the Omeo Highway? As it turned out, all five of us were destined to continue on the Great Alpine Way across Hotham Heights to Bright . On this section the 390 Adventure was a dream. Sure I could have used a little more power on the ascent, but I felt more comfortable on the 390 than I would have on any of the aforementioned machines.

ktm adventure tour 2023

A big grabrail for pillions and/or attaching luggage

If gnarly outback adventuring is your bag, you’ll probably find the 390’s lack of torque, suspension travel, ground clearance and fuel range lacking. But anywhere else in Australia’s Adventureland, the 390 will, very comfortably, handle anything you can throw at it. As a commuter, even with the optional panniers fitted, it’s a neat lane-splitter, and the suspension will soak up the worst back-country roads as a stable, predictable and a great confidence builder.  

ktm adventure tour 2023

Dead Horse Gap: beautiful in summer, frightfully cold in winter

Test Peter Whitaker + Photography   PW & ADB

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REACH THE TOP OF THE WORLD WITH THE 2023 KTM ADVENTURE RALLY IN NORWAY

2023 ADV Rally - Save the date

2023 ADV Rally - Save the date

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2023 ADV Rally - Save the date

2023 ADV Rally - Save the date (. jpg )

KTM Motohall GmbH KTM Platz 1 5230 Mattighofen, Austria  +43 7742 6000 1953 [email protected] www.ktm-motohall.com

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Seat Time 2023 KTM 390 Adventure

Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Back in 2021, I had a long-term loan of a KTM 390 Adventure. I put more than 3,000 miles on the bike before I was done with it, and was impressed that KTM made such a great travel bike out of such a small machine. It was fun on low-stress gravel as well, but when the trail got rocky, I often thought: “I wish this bike had a set of spoked rims.”

As it turns out, a lot of other people wanted spoked rims as well. In 2023, they got their wish; KTM announced the 390 Adventure would come with spoked wheels from the factory (in some markets, buyers could supposedly choose between spoked rims or cast rims. In the US and Canada, spoked rims are standard for 2023, while cast rims are standard for Australia this year).

KTM had a press unit left over after this year’s Adventure Rally in Quebec, and I got my hands on it for a few days’ riding on street and dirt. Here’s what I found out about the ever-so-slightly updated machine.

ktm adventure tour 2023

Those wheels are the biggest and only real change on the ’23 model. I did, however, feel the bike’s riding position felt different when I climbed on board. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Not that much has changed

Looking at the PR for this year’s release, nothing much has changed. Getting on the bike, it feels different from the 390 Adventure I rode in 2021, but not that different.

ktm adventure tour 2023

Switching options on and off is easy and can be done in-flight. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

ktm adventure tour 2023

This bike has the accessory aluminum skidplate installed. Those crash bars come standard. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Small-bike fun

ktm adventure tour 2023

Most owners will probably tidy up the tail, and a lot will also opt for a new exhaust can. But as it is, I had a lot of people saying they really liked this bike’s looks. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

ktm adventure tour 2023

Even without a luggage rack, the 390 Adventure can haul enough gear for a moto tour. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Possible drawbacks of the new model

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  3. 2023 KTM Adventure 390: An Honest Take On the Pros and Cons

    We've had no shortage of fun aboard KTM's 790, 890, and 1290 adventure bikes, but where does the littlest ADV, the KTM Adventure 390, fit into the mix? Here's our take on Big Orange's entry-level ADV.

  4. 2023 KTM 890 Adventure | First Ride Review - Rider Magazine

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  6. 2023 KTM 390 Adventure | First Look Review - Rider Magazine

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  7. 2023 KTM EUROPE ADVENTURE RALLY: Norway

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  8. TOUR TEST - 2023 KTM 390 ADVENTURE - Australian Motorcycle News

    Dead Horse Gap: beautiful in summer, frightfully cold in winter. Test Peter Whitaker + Photography PW & ADB. We convince an adventure riding veteran to swap his Suzuki DR650 for a 390 Adventure, KTMs most accessible all-roads offering.

  9. REACH THE TOP OF THE WORLD WITH THE 2023 KTM ADVENTURE RALLY ...

    The annual European KTM ADVENTURE RALLY will forage north and across the spectacular topography of Norway for the 2023 edition that will mean plenty more exploration, adrenaline, camaraderie and good times.

  10. Seat Time / 2023 KTM 390 Adventure - Adventure Rider

    Clutching in for a shift on a lumpy, old-school Japanese thumper costs you more speed than you might think! And while the 390 Adventure doesn’t have scary power, many riders will be happy to have the safety net afforded by the leaning-sensitive traction control and ABS.