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ADV NewsChris Birch Reveals His KTM 790 Adventure R Setup Secrets & Mods

Chris Birch Reveals His KTM 790 Adventure R Setup Secrets & Mods

 Here’s how Chris Birch sets up his 790R for his off-road antics.

Published on 04.15.2020

Few people on this earth can match the skill of Chris Birch on a big bike riding technical terrain. The enduro champ started gaining notoriety online about six years ago with his jaw-dropping 1190 Adventure R videos, and nowadays he’s making those stunts look even easier aboard the lighter, more-nimble 790 Adventure R. Sure, we know it’s all skill but curious minds want to know if there’s anything in his bike setup or mods that us mere mortals might be able to take advantage of. Luckily for us, Chris had some spare time on his hands during this lockdown and put together a little video detailing all that he’s done to his personal 790R, along with the reasoning behind the choices he made. Here’s a quick overview so you can save some time on taking notes:

Suspension: Chris normally likes running upgraded WP XPLOR PRO suspension with cone-valve technology and an additional 1.2 inches of travel, but his current bike is running the stock components (due to shipping delays) which he says are still very good. He also mentions he sets up his damping adjustments on the soft side, using something similar to the comfort settings in the owner’s manual. This gives him a more compliant ride and better traction for the more technical terrain he typically rides.

Chris Birch KTM 790 Adventure R bike set up

Wheels: The wheels may be one of the more significant changes to the bike. Since his 1190R days, Birch has been reusing the optional Powerparts high-performance rims. He states the rear is a 2.5×18″ and isn’t sure about the front, but it’s likely a 1.85×21″ to match. These are a lot skinnier than the stock 4.50×18″ rear and 2.50×21″ front. Thinner rims allow for skinnier tires and a rounder contact patch for better grip while also providing increased dent protection. This also decreases overall rotating mass as well for improved agility. These skinny rims don’t seem to be available in the current PowerParts catalog, but you can go with a custom set from Dubya or Woody’s wheels. 

Chris Birch KTM 790 Adventure R bike set up

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Tires: Chris is sponsored by Mitas, so he admits he’s biased. But he typically runs an E-12 rally tire in the rear and an E-13 in front, which looks more like a trials tread pattern but is a Rally Tire as well. That is the setup he uses for off-road-based adventure riding, and he runs the E-07+ when he’s doing more 50/50 dual sport riding. For a 100% off-road tire, he uses the Terra Force MX SM, which is designed for motocross competition. He also mentions he runs tire pressures between the low 20s to high 30s PSI depending on the terrain (soft vs rocky), and he uses heavy-duty tubes both front and rear to help prevent flats.

Custom Controls: Here is where Chris has gone with custom components. For the grips, he’s removed the rubber covers and then glued a set of Pro Grip 785 foam grip covers in place. This gives him improved grip and more cushion to reduce the jarring of impacts. He also has a custom-built rear brake lever made by XRC (Xtreme Race Components) — a small company in New Zealand. This puts the pedal higher around footpeg level so it’s easier for him  to stay on the balls of his feet.

Chris Birch KTM 790 Adventure R bike set up

On the Bars: Birch  says he likes to use the XRC Steering Damper because it keeps his steering light but kicks in when he really smacks something or has a big steering input. The XRC Steering Damper uses anti-fatigue bar mounts as well, which reduce the impact of bumps and jars on the hands and arms over a long day. Furthermore, he likes that this damper keeps the bars around the stock height which gives him better body positioning when he’s conquering near impossible to ride terrain. He’s also using the KTM Folding Mirrors, which offer low vibration and can absorb impacts from tree whacks and falls.

Chris Birch KTM 790 Adventure R bike set up

Navigation: Chris doesn’t mention the Garmin Montana he uses for navigation but it is clearly visible on the bars and he lists it in the video description. The Montana is a popular GPS device for Adventure Riders with a glove-friendly touchscreen, preloaded TOPO maps, and it fits nicely on the bars of the 790. He also has a Quad Lock Mount to attach his phone to the handlebars.

Clutch: To handle the constant abuse of hill climbs and loose technical terrain, he likes to put in a set of heavier clutch springs. This gives him more assurance he won’t burn the clutch out on the trail. To keep the clutch lever pressure similar to stock, he’s also using an aftermarket Camel ADV clutch actuator arm. The longer arm gives more leverage for a softer clutch pull and improved feel.

Lighting: For extra visibility on the road, Birch is using the Multi-Function Turn Signals from Cyclops Adventure Sports. These bright LED lights not only grab other motorists’ attention better with their sequential flashing, they are also a lot smaller and more-rugged than the giant stock blinkers that come on the 790 here in the US.

Chris Birch KTM 790 Adventure R bike set up

Seating: Birch has replaced the stock R seat with the KTM PowerParts Tall Ergo Seat. It has a +20mm higher seat height to give taller riders like him Chris, who is 6’2” (187 cm), a less-cramped riding position and a shorter distance to travel when transitioning from seated to standing. More padding probably gives him a cushier ride as well.

Luggage: Chris says he’s been involved with testing the Kriega Overlander OS luggage system and that it’s been designed to work on KTMs. It uses a base harness that he straps on either small or large dry bags, depending on the type of trip, and he claims he can barely feel them while riding the bike. He also mounts a small Kriega Kube bag on the inside of the windscreen for quick access to essentials.

Chris Birch KTM 790 Adventure R bike set up

Chris even admits, it’s not the most exciting KTM 790 Adventure R build. There are many more farkled-out examples you can find online that will dazzle the eye. What we like most about this build is that it shows you don’t need to modify the heck out of a bike — it’s purpose built and designed to function first. And even though he’s giving advice specifically for a KTM 790R, much of what he mentions is still sound advice for building other adventure bikes as well.

If you are eager for more tips that could potentially have an even bigger impact on your riding, check out Chris’s new ‘Say No To Slow’ How-To series he just launched on Vimeo. The first episode on ‘How to Wheelie’ is free!

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
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