As you’d expect the 690 Safari felt pretty much like a regular 690-R on the lanes: tall and well suspended and with that lovely willing motor. The extra size is noticeable of course - especially when picking your way through rocks as we did - as there’s slightly less visibility looking down toward the front wheel, but fortunately it doesn’t intrude on the riding at all. That’s because the front tank is far enough forward to not impinge on your knees and the extra-large pegs allows you switch position (though you do still notice the 690’s left-side exhaust down by your boot).
On the road the 690 Safari felt like it came straight off the factory production line. There are no squeaks or rattles, no nasty vibration or noisy turbulence to contend with. The bars turn easily from lock to lock without the fairing getting in the way - Swampy has re-routed some of the cables away from the bars and into the fairing; and the whole thing feels exactly like a standard Adventure bike might.
My only criticism of the machine has to do with the stock bike underneath. Because of the potential of that formidable 63hp, 654cc motor, KTM uses a system it calls EPT (Electric Power Throttle) to limit the bike’s power in the lower two gears in order to prevent wheelspin, which means you have to rev it a bit more than you might imagine for a 650 to really get going away from the line. The bike also has a bit of a tendency to turn itself into corners as soon as you begin to lean (more than you would expect). I wonder whether a little bit of suspension set-up (perhaps lowering the back-end slightly, or maybe even changing the amount of trail using a slightly different fork offset) might help to counteract this, and make the bike more of a relaxed bend-swinger - more in keeping with its intended use.
No doubt the boys will want to play with the bike over the coming months to perfect the set-up. But as with any ‘special’ it’s what the owner prefers that really matters. Daz is three inches taller than me so lowering the rear end might not be his ideal solution to this issue - if it even bothers him in the first place.
So far Swampy has built three Safari machines for different customers all of whom are reportedly delighted with the result. But as he puts it: ‘This is the basic set-up if you like. You can have any colour you want, you can have any size, shape and colour of seat you want, and of course you can have any engine mods you require, depending on how deep your pockets are.
‘We’ve tried to keep the bike as standard as possible, using as many original parts as we can. The beauty of using KTM parts like the screen is, first of all it keeps the cost down, but secondly in a worst-case-scenario where someone has damaged their screen, they can simply go to a KTM dealer, order up a replacement part and then cut it to fit using their original as a template.’
Daz has now completed the first batch of fairings which are awaiting paint and finishing depending on owner’s preference, and Swampy will build the bike up to the required specification. The basic cost of the transformation is £3,000 (that was in 2011) for a fully finished bike (that’s a ride-in, ride-out price, there’s no kit available), but of course you can specify the machine with your own graphics and paintscheme for a bit extra. That means you could have your company name or your own name emblazoned on the side if you prefer (remember the graphics are lacquered over for a professional paint finish). And of course Swampy can build you whatever motor you want in the thing.
With secondhand 690s available from about £3,000 that means you could have a freshly painted Adventure sports machine on which you could head off for the holiday of a lifetime for around the 6k mark. Plus of course you are getting something incredibly exclusive. So for all you 690 owners out there, desperate to broaden your bike’s repertoire, or perhaps simply tired of waiting for KTM to launch their own Adventure model, the 690 Safari HAS to be the answer to the question so many of you have been asking…
Swampy would like to thank: Niky J @ AMP Grahics, Graham @ AMS Precision, Marina Easter for vinyl, Alec @ Core Racing and of course Daz. RUST would like to thank both of them for engineering not just a good bike but also a great day out. Cheers guys…