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ADV NewsRoland Sands Transforms KTM 790 Adventure Into A Retro Classic

Roland Sands Transforms KTM 790 Adventure Into A Retro Classic

Modern tech meets classic-enduro style with this bold custom build by RSD.

Published on 03.05.2021

For many riders the look of a straight-off-the-rack KTM 790 Adventure, with its sharp lines, futuristic snout and the bright orange motif, personifies the ultimate adventure machine. But when ex-racer turned world-famous bike builder Roland Sands looks at a motorcycle like the KTM, he’s probably going to see something else: A machine’s alter ego. A never-seen-before bike. 

In the case of a friend’s 2019 790 Adventure, what Roland and his crew at Roland Sands Designed (RSD) saw was this retro-inspired stunner. A bike that looks low-key classic from every angle — literally unrecognizable from its model of origin — yet wasn’t made to part with any of the mechanicals that make it such a modern trail slayer. 

In a new video about the build, Roland explains that his friend wanted to downplay the 790’s aggressive aesthetic, so in an effort to make the machine less chesty, one of the first orders of business at RSD was to rotate the KTM’s sizable radiator from a horizontal to a vertical position, a move that caused the unit to all but disappear. The Adventure’s stock aluminum skid pan was then modified to match the radiator’s slimmer profile. 


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Vintage KTM fenders continue the new, slender line forward, with the front fender sporting a stylish, custom steel brace. The stock WP forks wear RSD custom, bobby socks-style steel fork guards. The 790’s large, distinctive twin headlamps, windshield and cowling were all replaced by an unassuming round single lamp borrowed from a Triumph and finished with a custom steel cage. 

Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build
Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build

RSD did an amazing job getting the smaller headlamp to look as if it were designed to compliment the Adventure’s large LED touchscreen display. A ProTaper EVO High Bend handlebar capped in modified stock hand guards finish off the cockpit view.

Ironically, the retro tank just happened to be hanging around the shop, a leftover from an RSD project that involved turning a Suzuki GT750 — remember the Water Buffalo? —  into a stunning flat track bike for famous pro rider Travis Pastrana. But Roland says modifying the tank was “a crazy story” and became the most difficult and time-consuming part of the project. To make it work, chief fabricator Aaron Boss had to create a complex prism of plates on the bottom of the tank in order for all the plumbing and connections to mate properly.   

Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build

And yes, roughly about a gallon and a-half of fuel capacity was thrown out by replacing the KTM 790’s signature low-slung tank, which is why there is a Rotopax one-gallon auxiliary cell affixed to the right rear subframe via a Rotopax LOX pack mount.

The improvised tank, which is perhaps the single most defining element of the bike, then inspired the black custom sub-frame, on which is mounted a Husqvarna Vitpilen seat, chosen for its long, flat minimalist vibe. Moving rearward, the thin seat then ties right into the short, low vintage KTM fender with a resulting line that is incredibly pleasing to the eye. 

Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build
Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build

Completing the bike’s lower line, a modified Akrapovič slip-on sweeps up from the header to become almost fully shrouded in a custom-painted aluminum number plate. A Burly Brand tool roll and quick-release tail pack are useful garnishes, while versatile Dunlop Trailmax Mission adventure tires sit on the stock spoked aluminum rims.

Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build
Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build

After that, basically everything mechanical was left sweet-for-the-trail stock. 

In the featured video, Roland reminds us that although RSD is most famous for cruiser, cafe racer and flat track customs, this isn’t the first ADV build to roost out of his shop in Los Alamitos, California. Our favorites to date have been his Dakar GS and an Africa Twin police bike we featured a few years back. 

Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build
Roland Sands KTM 790 Adventure build

As adventure riders, a fault we can find in RSD’s latest custom ADV crossover is the bike’s name: Urban Assault. I mean who in the world looks at that bike knowing a fully-formed KTM 790 Adventure resides within and thinks of riding anywhere near the city? 

Parts List

  • Wheels: OEM 21” F/18” R
  • Tires: Dunlop Trailmax Mission Front/Rear 90/90-21 F, 130/90-18 R
  • Brake Rotors: OEM
  • Brakes: OEM
  • Suspension: OEM WP
  • Triple Clamps: OEM
  • Handlebars: Pro Taper EVO, CR High Bend
  • Handgaurds: OEM modified handgaurds
  • Foot Controls: OEM
  • Fork Guards: Custom fabricated steel
  • Front Fender: Vintage KTM plastic fender w/ custom fabricated steel fender brace
  • Headlight: Triumph headlight w/ custom fabricated grill
  • Tool Bag: Burly Brand Tool Roll w/ custom fabricated holder doubling as dash mount
  • Fuel Tank: Custom modified Suzuki GT750 fuel tank
  • Radiator: Modified OEM radiator mounted vertically
  • Skid Plate: Modified OEM skid plate
  • Exhaust: Modified Akrapovič slip-on
  • Subframe: Custom fabricated steel
  • Side Numberplate: Custom fabricated aluminum
  • Rear Fender: Vintage KTM plastic fender
  • Auxiliary Fuel Tank: Rotopax 1 Gallon w/ LOX pack mount, attached to subframe
  • Seat: Husqvarna Vitpilen seat
  • Tail Bag: Burly Brand Tail Bag w/ custom fabricated mount

Photos by Joe Hitzelberger

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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14 thoughts on “Roland Sands Transforms KTM 790 Adventure Into A Retro Classic

  1. Pingback: Roland Sands Transforms KTM 790 Adventure Into A Retro Classic - ADVENTURE & OVERLAND MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL

  2. What a nice way to completely Destroy a great looking motorcycle. My son is 34 and I asked him what he thought. He said it looks like something the army used back in the day. YUK!

  3. Must be an age and testosterone thing to think he destroyed a “great looking motorcycle”. There definitely is no comparison between a KTM snarling me too plastiking design meant to appeal to a certain segment and a Himalayan on steroids that actually looks like a motorcycle. Congrats to RD for one of the few designs that appeals to grownups, at least to those of us in the over the hill gang.

    • You need to view more Cafe Racer or Retro style bikes. This is wrong in so many ways. Tank doesn’t transition in the front nicely like a retro should. The fenders are botch jobs from existing off the shelf mx aftermarket parts, nothing to retrofy that hideous radiator. Having built a number of retro bikes, this does close to nothing to embrace the ethos of what a true retro scrambler should look like.
      Clearly ‘taste’ is a subjective thing.

  4. From an estetical point of view nice. A bike to show off.

    From a practical point of view: cearly several steps back. Zero wind protection is the one. Removal of the practically designed large capacity fuel tank with low point of gravity and replacing it with a small tank plus a rotopax – second one.

    I prefer the original. Form follows function.

    • Even if that form is a Autobot transforming into a praying mantis? Kidding.

      My thought is that KTM does need to better their styling if they want to appeal more broadly. The current ones are overly aggressive; I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Calving pissing sticker were there any surfaces flat enough for one.

  5. Pingback: Speed Read, 7 March 2021 – motorcycleciti.com

  6. Pingback: Speed Read, 7 March 2021 – berserkerbrotherhood.org

  7. Normally I appreciate what they do but in this case, I have to ask ‘Why?’. It’s a completely pointless exercise…..and it’s butt ugly!!!

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