If you spend upward of $15 000 on an adventure bike, it is totally understandable that you would want to know that it is going to be reliable. Some brands, like Yamaha and Honda, are almost synonymous with reliability. With other brands, like KTM, the opinions are more varied.
So are KTM adventure bikes reliable? Based on a survey of more than 10 000 bike owners, Consumer Reports ranks KTM in 8th place in terms of reliability. Many adventure bike riders have ridden their KTMs around the world, and since 2001, KTM has won the Dakar Rally 18 years in a row. A well maintained KTM can be just as reliable as a Japanese bike.
Ever since I rode a KTM 950 Adventure S in the Tankwa Karoo in South Africa I was in love with orange. But listening to stories of unreliable bikes and constant repairs, also got me worried about reliability.
So I did some research and this is what I’ve found:
Consumer Reports bike reliability survey
Consumer Reports surveyed more than 10 000 motorcycle owners to find out how reliable their bikes are in terms of frequency of repair and how happy they are with their brand of bike.
The company is an independent, nonprofit organization that does research to inform purchase decisions to protect the consumers.
In the analysis of the survey results, they adjusted for mileage ridden over a one year period and estimated repair costs for 4-year-old models without a service contract.
The results shows that KTM is ranked in 8th position in terms of most reliable brand. According to owners, parts are readily available and most owners are satisfied with their KTM experience. The survey has also found that KTM’s dirt bike reliability is similar to the top Japanese brands.
What about the reliability of other bike brands?
The top four spots unsurprisingly went to the four Japanese manufacturers, with Yamaha taking the top spot for most reliable bike brand. BMW, incidentally, came in 11th place. That does not mean BMW’s are bad bikes, but it does support the suggestion that KTM is not as bad as some people may think. I did a complete write-up on the reliability (or lack thereof?) of Italian bike brands here.
Examples of Round the World trips on KTMs
What better testimony about the reliability of an adventure bike do you want than real-life accounts of actual people riding their KTMs around the world. I’ve found numerous bike blogs of people travelling for months with their KTMs. Here are a few examples:
KTM 640 Adventure
Chris Addison rode his KTM 640 for 70 000 km through several continents. Before he left he considered many different brands of adventure bikes, and finally decided on the KTM. On his site he said the bike “survived with flying colours”.
KTM 990 Adventure R
Rupert and Fanny Feng traveled from Cape Town to Cairo on two KTM 990 Adventures. Four years and several expeditions later, Rupert described his black 990 Adventure R as “spotless”.
We actually kept contact via email as we were riding a similar route about a month behind them. Check out their blog HERE.
KTM 500 EXC
After turning down a KTM 690 Enduro R that the salesman suggested, Aaron Steinmann has amassed over 60 000 miles on his super light-weight KTM 500. He has seen 50 countries on six continents. You can read more about his travels on this KTM blog.
|KTM 640 Adventure
|70 000 km
|KTM 990 Adventure R
|KTM 500 EXC
|60 000 miles
Clearly, there are at least some hardcore bikers that have done some hardcore trip with their KTMs without killing them.
How has KTM fared in the grueling Dakar Rally?
The Dakar Rally is the world’s most grueling bike race. Covering close to 4 900 miles and crossing some of the most challenging terrain, it is not easy on riders or their bikes.
In order to finish a race like the Dakar, a reliable bike is non-negotiable. Winning the race, requires reliability over thousands of miles while pushing the bikes to their limits in the scorching temperatures of the desert.
How has KTM fared in the ultimate test of motorcycle reliability? Since 2001, KTM has won the Dakar bike race 18 years in a row before being dethroned by a Honda in 2020.
Yes, the race bike is not the same as the production bikes and the team has a bunch of qualified mechanics to make sure the bikes survive until the finish line. But that amount of research and development experience in racing has to at least filter through to the production bikes in some way.
Why do people question the reliability of KTM bikes?
I am not sure where exactly my own doubts started, but it is almost common knowledge in the same way that Land Rovers are known to be unreliable.
I’ve looked around and I suspect that when KTM rejected Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s proposal to ride 19 000 miles around the world on two KTMs in 2004 may have played a role. BMW immediately said yes and became the bike of choice for many motorcyclists, after they successfully rode from London to New York, the Long Way Round.
Charley was very upset, as he had his heart set on a KTM. In the documentary they mentioned that KTM probably said no because they were afraid the bikes won’t make it.
Scouring adventure riding forums, the question of KTM reliability does not take long to surface. The questions usually start with anecdotal evidence of reliability issues, but is often met with stories from KTM owners that have covered many thousands of miles without issues.
It is important to note that owners that experience problems are more likely to write about it. The riders who are happy with their bikes often only reply, instead of writing a post about how their bike never breaks down. I can’t help but wonder whether KTMs are maybe also getting abused more than other brands, just because they louder and more fun to ride hard.
So you still want a KTM?
If you are still keen on a KTM adventure bike (I am, after doing the research for this post), I suggest doing your own research before you buy. And talk to as many current KTM owners as you can.
If you maintain your bike well and look after it, it is unlikely that any new bike will be much less reliable than the other brands. Except maybe for a Royal Enfield.
How should you care for your motorcycle chain for it to be as reliable as possible? Check out this post to find out.