“It looks like a kids bike”

What is the perfect trail bike? It's an argument that has been around almost as long as green roads, and it doesn't look like it will be settled any time soon. Small and lightweight for the tricky stuff or bigger and more stable for the road miles? Old and cheap to maintain or new and reliable?

New TRF member Philip Carter (Gloucestershire TRF) recently swapped road for dirt and traded in the BMW for KTM's 'do everything' bike, the 690 Enduro R. Having never ridden green roads in his life, his first 4 weeks of KTM ownership was a roller coaster that saw his first TRF ride out, rally and enduro. How did the 690 cope...?

I sold the BMW K1600GT and returned home on a KTM 690 Enduro R.  My family were notably underwhelmed by my purchase and the comment “looks like a kids bike” stuck in my head.

Admittedly the 690 is tiny and basic compared to the K16 or my previous R1200GSA but at the ripe age of 53 I’m expected to make odd decisions and I wanted to try green laning after thirty years on tarmac.

With my £45 paid for TRF Membership I watched with TRF Gloucester Facebook page for forthcoming rides and this sounded perfect - “mostly easy going”, a ride starting from Bisley this weekend.   I clarified with the ride leader ‘Muddy Pete’ via the TRF forum if it would be OK for me, a novice, to come along and was given the green light.  Three days later I was at the start along with nine other green laners on what was to be a baptism of mud and water for me.



Gloucestershire TRF putting the 690 and rider through their paces


The 70 mile, six hour route was hugely varied and while the rest of the riders seemed to ride gracefully through the mud, ruts, water and up slippery stone tracks, the 690 and I parted company on countless occasions, suffice to say I fell off more than the rest of the group combined.  A lot more.  After picking up the 143Kg 690 for what seemed like the 20th time, I was knackered to say the least and glad I wasn’t on my former 1200GSA, but it was a lot of fun.

While my novice green laning skills must have been frustrating to others, the TRF Glos group were hugely supportive and never hesitated to stop and help me push or pull my bike through sections which I was finding challenging.  I was also impressed that ‘Muddy Pete’ always brought the ride to an “engines off” halt each time we met a horse and rider and slowed the group to crawling pace past any ramblers.  Great to see such courtesy.

The 690 found my ‘offs’ challenging too.  In standard factory trim, apart from knobbly tyres and a radiator guard, both hand guards had disintegrated, the front brake lever snapped off as did a rear indicator, an exhaust heat shield fell off burning a hole in my Gore-Tex trouser, the Bluetooth headset which I’d stupidly left on my helmet disappeared somewhere along the route and to top it all, I cracked the left hand engine casing cover on a rock thus the engine dumped all its oil overnight on the garage floor.

My local KTM dealer, AMS in Tewkesbury, got me back on the road quickly in exchange for £414 which included proper off-road hand guards.  They also advised fitting a more robust engine bashplate which I ordered from Adventure-Spec for £180.


Testing out the bike's competitive spirit

The following weekend I agreed to do an ‘Adventure Raid’ at the Sweet Lamb Motorsport Complex in mid Wales with RallyMoto GB, organisers of the All Terrain Rally Challenge.  My backside wasn’t happy about the 690’s narrow hard seat on the 100 mile tarmac ride there and while 6th gear is fine for cruising at 50-60mph (max is over 100mph), I longed for a higher gear and more lazy engine revs albeit the lack of wind protection doesn’t encourage you to ride any faster.   Even with knobbly tyres, the bike was surprisingly sure footed on tarmac and returned a very respectable 60mpg.

In contrast to the last weekends green laning, I was on one of the smaller bikes at this event which was dominated by KTM 950/990’s and one 1190.  First activity, three laps of the 10km off road course, ‘timed for fun’.  What had I let myself in for?!  We were set off at one minute intervals and while I managed a 12:31 fastest lap time and saw 60mph on one long straight, the quickest rider on the day logged 8:51.  Humbling!  In the afternoon we were split into groups, some heading off to do a Roadbook navigation exercise while others opted to explore the endless forestry trails, me included.

In my hands the 690 seemed very at home in this environment, lapping up the faster pace and never wanting for more power.

A huge result was I didn’t fall off once, perhaps helped by the RallyMoto event organiser, Robert Hughes, advising me to drop my tyre pressures significantly to get added grip and smooth out the ride.  After 12 hours on the bike, I was pleased to get home just before if got dark.

For my fourth weekend of KTM ownership I decided to participate in the Bristol TRF fun day at Wickwar, entering the 3-4 mile Enduro loop on what was described as an ‘Old School Moto X track’.

Hmm, I was well out of my depth here, not just in terms of ability but also rider attire.   In a sea of riders wearing snazzy Moto X body armour and whacky vests my High-Viz yellow road jacket stood out like a sore thumb.



High vis jackets as standard

Clearly wing mirrors are also not fashionable on a Moto X track either but on the plus side I was able to see all the fast approaching bikes which were about to overtake me.  I refrained from using my indicators when approaching turns in the track though.  Yep, I felt like a right numpty.

The terrain was also challenging, no more so than my green laning adventure from Bisley, but it was a faster pace and the 690 turned into a bucking bronco over the humps and bumps, again probably down to rider inexperience and wrestling the bike rather than going with the flow.  The 690 also has fully adjustable front and rear suspension so perhaps I need to seek the wisdom of others on how best to set this up for my slight 100kg weight.  On the plus side, yet again I managed not to fall off.

The KTM 690 is poles apart from the K1600 but that’s what I was looking for.   Yes it’s slow and unrefined in comparison, but it’s a hoot to ride and the ability to venture off tarmac has introduced a new fun factor to my motorcycling.

I’ve just taken delivery of 2 inch bar risers to make for a more relaxed standing position and I’m going to get some high density foam bar grips to dampen the vibes then I think that’s about it for mods.

So what next?  More TRF Green Lane rides for sure plus one of their days assisting with a horse endurance event, another RallyMoto Adventure Raid and probably most beneficial, some proper off-road skills training so I can learn exactly what this 690 Enduro is capable off.

Philip connected with his regional TRF group through Facebook and the Forum. Find out which is your local group and say hello here.