Thoughts on the Kove 450 Rally whilst riding through the Richtersveld

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Andrew to most
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Feb 6, 2006
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Cape Town, deep in the lentils
KTM 990 Adventure
The Kove 450 Rally.

Out of the blue, Conrad from @Off Road Cycles called me to ask if I was keen to ride the new Kove 450 through some desert for a few days and then to give an honest opinion about what I thought of it. Well, if you know Conrad, that wasn’t exactly how he said it, he has a much more masterful command of the more colourful aspects of language. But, regardless, I needed no time to think about it.

“Yes of course! Just say when!”

I have followed this bike with great curiosity since, out of the blue, it was first entered in the Dakar. Everyone laughed up their sleeves when these unheard of Chinese bikes with three rookie riders pitched up at the start line for the 2023 edition. There is no more brutal test of a machine than the Dakar Rally. It looked the business. It had the right lines, very similar to the Factory KTM Rally, but… “it IS Chinese” was what everyone was thinking.

When all 3 bikes made it to the finish line, all the laughing stopped and everyone wanted to know what was this little bike all about?! Was it just a rebadged KTM in camo or what?


Well, here’s a small hidden detail that I think speaks volumes about the bike. I was fixing a puncture, (Roofing nails!)

when from the back whilst groveling in the dirt I spied this in the rear tanks moulding;

That’s finger mouldings in the rear tank for grabbing the back of the bike. No cut out or extra grab handle. Just a unique feature that is all form and function born of people doing the right things for the right reasons. This philosophy is apparent in the rest of the bike. There are no short cuts or cheap shots. Every aspect of the bike just oozes quality and engineering all directed at a singular purpose – a lightweight desert racing machine aimed at the Adventure rider.

Since then some of the biggest names in the adventure and racing crowd have given the inputs on this bike, the internet is awash with reviews and owners stories. There is very little of anything but praise for the little 450. For a first time effort, they seemed to have done something outstanding.

And now, with just 10 of them in the country, I was getting to take the little beast into my favourite part of the world – the Richtersveld. I’d have 3 days to learn what there was to know about this unicorn. I met up with it in Sprinbok

and rode it to the Orange.

The short story is; I think it’s an outstanding bike from almost any point of view or context with remarkably few cons to all the pros I found!

Anyway, lets back track a bit...

For years, for me, it was only a litre class bike or nothing. I would go where I wanted and have that glorious V-Twin KTM 950 drag me into and out of places that often involved tons of sweat but a lot of fun. There were very few places I wouldn’t go. I was young and brave and helpfully, strong.

More, I didn’t think that Dual Sport Adventuring was possible on anything smaller than 800cc class bikes. Why? Because you needed to carry a good amount of stuff, be able to cover vast distances, be comfortable, be dependable, have range, good lights, have excellent suspension, be good at the rougher stuff whilst still capable of 150kph sustained cruising to shrink the distance between here and way over there.

To get to this, even the standard very capable KTM 950 beast I had, needed bigger tanks, reworked suspension and upgraded lights to get it to where I wanted.

It was ingrained into me that bigger was always better. I think it’s intrinsically a failing of the male ego and enhanced by the South African gene. Motorcycle Manufacturers for the western markets have made the most of this trait and given us these monsters that, whilst made to leap around by the Chris Birches and GS Challenge winners types, eat tires and make us mere mortals crap ourselves when the adventure turns off the smooth gravel stuff. It takes full on commitment to take some of these behemoths far off the beaten track.

There are not a lot of people who will ride 200 plus kg bikes through km’s of thick sand, along rutted steep jeep tracks and definitely none who strayed more than 300km from fuel. Sure, it’s fun to slide around smooth gravel sideways and shrink distances between towns by hours, but they are a limitation.

They don’t slow down well in emergencies.
They don’t get much more than 5000km from a rear if you baby it and definitely no more than 3000km if you beat on it.
They require masterful levels of competence to explore the wilder places.
They’re expensive and expensive to maintain.
They don’t get much further than 300km per tank.
There’s a LOT of bike to pick up.

Then, not that long ago, maybe 8-10 years ago, there started to appear the mavericks. People who shucked their monsters and started to adventurise their 500 enduro machines. They had realized that they were overbiked. The lightweight bikes in the market then that were marketed as dual sports, simply didn’t have the quality suspension or the horsepower package. The best of them was probably the dependable but boring DR-Z400 Suzuki Or the Honda 250L and later the 300 l/Rally. They simply lacked a bit of oomph and suspension was, um, adequate.

Nope, it was easier to adventurise proven packages than try increase the performance of what was available. Mostly, everyone bought an enduro machine and then added long range tanks, better seat, better lights, beefs up the subframe to take luggage, maybe add oil and charging capacity. It’s wasn’t a cheap exercise. But, now there was almost nowhere one couldn't point ones nose at.

The less travelled wonders of the Kaokoveld, Richtersveld, Trankei, Botswana, Tankwa, etc. opened up to mere mortals.

Trouble was, that getting to those places was far better with a trailer. These ex-racing bikes make terrible long distance open tar tourers. 120 is about their limit. They’re a pain in the arse in this department, literally.

Until then, I turned my nose up at all of these until I was asked to come test the Honda 250 Rally.

At first ask, I thought it would be a joke until I took it for a spin for a few days in the Tanwa Karoo. The light bulb went on – Many of us are simply overbiked… we’ve bought into the hype and as a result are limited and doomed to stay on the more beaten tracks. “Hmmmm, that track looks promising, BUT… can I turn it around? Will I drop it? How thick is the sand? What’s the climbs like? Where’s the next fuel? Etc.

And so started my education on adventuring on smaller bikes.

I have my ex-Amageza KTM 525 that was a blast to race, but really opened my eyes to the joys of adventuring on lighter bikes.

Sure, a downside is that long distances on tar require patience and good mirrors, but once into the places to explore, they come into their own. It’s exactly the right tool for those more off the beaten tracks. They leave the big bikes in their dust whilst being MUCH safer and far less effort to go into the wilder parts, not to mention MUCH cheaper. A simple example, a rear tire can last years on these bikes rather than days on the bigger ones.

It's not even a comparison anymore, the bigger bikes become the limitation and the liability. Sure they have 120hp and ABS, and and and... but it becomes a survival mission on them rather than fun. Long after the big bikes have turned back, even a half fit, deeply middle-aged old fart is still beaming away exploring the wonders of our worlds.

But, and this is a big but… there are almost no 500 class production dual sport bikes that can really go off the beaten track, except the rare AJP7 and one other I can’t remember at the moment. KTM could have raided their parts bin from their 450RR Factory Dakar bikes years ago and filled in this untapped corner of the market.

Well, shame on them, Kove took the plunge, forged their machine in the worlds toughest race and then set it free. Bully for them! They have the 450 Rally and the full fat 450 Rally Pro. I had the Rally.

I knew it had to be good, but I wanted to see for myself. Who will this bike suit? What will it be very good for? What’s the pro’s and cons of the thing?...
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Firstly, lets just say that nothing on the bike is half arsed or cheap looking. All the fasteners, bolts, metal and plastics ooze quality.

But, before I get to the good stuff, let’s get the things I didn’t like out the way. Actually, these are all minor niggles with two of them being preferences rather than issues…

First is really an earplug problem. The intake, a massive drain of a thing is just forwards of your crotch under the seat and, when on it, at near full throttle openings, drowns out the exhaust even! If you’re just cruising along, the engine note and exhaust are all rather pleasant, but it quickly becomes an issue if you want to be racing along.

Second, there is one other thing that only became apparent because at one stage we were doing some very serious sand with lots of boulders and more hard enduro type stuff. It is not a hard enduro machine. First is marginally longer than the 500’s that were with us coupled with a peakier high revving less torquey engine. This type of riding needs lots of clutch which thankfully is feather light and has excellent take-up. However, I believe that the bike I had had already been geared shorter with a larger 53 tooth sprocket on the back. Standard must be even worse. With the current gearing it’s perfect for Adventuring and getting into the more hardcore areas whilst still being able to cruise at 130.

The third was that in hot conditions when parked, there’s a venting issue. What I think is happening is the rear tanks venting is not adequate and is pressurizing fuel forwards into the front tanks. When the bike has a lot of fuel in it, this causes fuel to be pushed out the vents of sidestand side tank. I did find that in 40 degree heat and an hours stop for a puncture it was just a few more seconds longer starting.

So what did I love about it?

Most Everything!

So it’s a 450. I was with 3 other 500’s all in Enduro trim. Swapping between them, where they can hold a higher gear and ride the torque, I was using 2 and keeping it on the boil. That engine LOVE’s to rev! From about 7000, it seems to hit a powerband and screams off to the redline at 8.5k. There’s not that vicious monster torque on tap of the 500’s for lazy long power slides or instant lofting of the front wheel. It get 51hp from its 450cc’s. A KTM 450 makes about 57hp, so it’s in the ball park. Still, I had full fuel in it so that’s another 30kg’s strapped on and could be felt.

Dry is 145kg's and wet is 175kg's against the 500's I was with 120kg's wet. That difference is noticeably felt.

It is both light and strong with feather light controls, great stability and a very eager engine. The clutch is a one fingered affair with excellent take up point and feel… despite being cable operated.

The suspension is really good straight out the box. Even with my dainty 100kg slimline bod it was coping admirably. I took out 4 clicks of compression on the front and 2 clicks of high speed compression on the rear and left the rest of the fully adjustable shock and forks at standard settings.

In the entire trip, I never found a single false neutral from the very crisp gearbox. The clutch needs just one finger and is one of the best actions I’ve ridden.

I love that the air filter can be removed without tools in under a minute. This was how it looked after 3 days of dusty desert.

Inside, spotless

The electric and thinking bits, all neatly packaged.

There is a challenge though, the inner metal frame is sharp and if care is not taken, the filter, I think will get cut. I bit of filing will sort that out. I can see carrying a tube of contact glue might be worth taking along.

600km’s of fuel range just creates so many Google Earth opportunities!

Then there’s the 75kg “payload limit”!? “maximum payload for the entire bike is 75kg, do not overload.” That means for those of you who like kitchen sinks, well you don’t need a GS anymore! I took my Giant Loop along, it fits as if it was made for the bike. I’d hate to try out the max payload limit though, but it’s nice to know that if you have to pillion out someone, it can do it… there’s no passenger pegs though, nor any facilities to fit them.

I believe there are already aftermarket racks to mount to those studs on the rear

The screen is easy to read and the menu’s simple and intuitive. You can connect to it via your phone too.

The ABS when full on was overly assertive in the gravel. In the manual, they do say – “The ABS does not reduce the braking distance. In some cases, the anti-lock braking system may result in longer stopping braking distances. l The anti-lock braking system does not work when the vehicle speed is below 10 km/h” – fair enough. I found the brakes to be outstanding both front and back. Great power and feel.

Getting to the menus are the simple rocker and select buttons. It can be done on the fly. Love it!

Leaving just the front on with the rear being able to slide about was perfect. Happily, it remembers the setting if you kill the bike. But, If you turn the key off and leave it off for a set period of time, it resets itself. Fair enough.

Ergonomics? It’s a tall bike, I’m 1,78 and I can’t flatfoot it both sides. Seat, foot, handlebar distances are excellent. It has elastomer bar clamps – I don’t know of a production bike that comes out with these – I get carpal tunnel easily and didn’t get it much with this bike. Standing is again neutral and comfortable. It really is fabulously apportioned. I know that there is a 30mm lower seat and another 30mm can be taken out of the rear with a factory link for such things.

Go try buy rally footpegs from KTM and see what they ask. This comes with them standard.

Short people will feel it a bit high...

It’s light and very stable to ride, the geometry feels long from the stability and yet it’s easy to throw about.


I fell 3 times and in the tight stuff bottomed the bashplate once very heavily and then glanced off a rock we squeezed between. There was just one slight marks on the plastic,

a slight scuff on the handlebars (not standard)

and a ding in the bashplate that didn’t go through

Sorry Conrad

It’s a tough little thing!

I can see this bike fast becoming the best option for couples who are getting out there. It will be the only bike out there where there is no compromise for either. She can have it lowered if need be, and he can throw it around as he wants.

Then, there’s the “Oh, what a great addition” bits. It has an OEM ball for your GPS or camera.

And it has a USB charging port. How civilised!

I like digging around in a bike. There is nothing that doesn’t ooze quality. All the bolts, fasteners, plastics, design is clear. I didn’t have the time to take the tanks off or do an oil change, but basic maintenance couldn’t be simpler. There is a quirk of the bike that it doesn’t have a dip stick or oil level window. Apparently you empty it, change the filter and fill it with 1.3l of oil and be done.

It’s a stupidly good deal for us Adventures; for just over R200k, you put a bigger sprocket on the rear, throw your kit on, mount your GPS and go. It gets better from there. Having listened to Conrad about these things, the price of keeping things maintained and ship shape will make the KTM’s and BM’s of the world blush furiously.

There’s the full fat Pro version if you want to go racing that takes this package and adds go faster stuff whilst removing the environmental and nanny bits.

Too soon, my time with it came to an end.

I want to thank @Off Road Cycles Conrad for going well out of his way to offer me the loan of this outstanding little bike. And, though I am gushing about it, to be clear, I wasn’t paid a cent or offered any incentives or gifts for anything I have done as a result. I have zero interests in his shop or commissions for whatever comes from this review.
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I wasn’t out there on my own. We have a small team that enjoys going into the more unexplored places. This bike was up to the task and got me to those rare epic places of solitude where a recharge and reset is possible.

In no particular order



Trying to be arty farty

Who needs bikes stands anyway when you have a winch.

I mean, really!? Literally in the middle of nowhere!?

Morning view

I had dropped my hat on the trail just 10k's from camp at the end of the previous day. The temperature was radical and I was overheating and needed to get into the river. I went back to get it the next morning before the sun became too fierce.

Pretty hey?

Quality time


King of the organisers

Orange River Fillet


My favourites

The gang.

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Thanks @Kamanya
Die bike bly spook by my.
Hoe vergelyk die seat height met 'n 950/990(S/R) (vra namens 'n vriend)
Great write up, thanks.

I’m slightly the wrong side of 100kg, how did the bike haul with your weight? You do mention staying 1 gear lower - is that the solution?

Would you have been comfortable riding from CT to the Richtersveld on it?
Great write up, thanks.

I’m slightly the wrong side of 100kg, how did the bike haul with your weight? You do mention staying 1 gear lower - is that the solution?

Would you have been comfortable riding from CT to the Richtersveld on it?

If you are going with litre class bikes you'll be left behind.

With my 100kg arse, 15kg's of water, kit and crap and a giant loop of maybe 15kg's, it cruised at 130 on a slight uphill against a headwind. It will certainly do long distances and definitely in more comfort that than an Adventurised 500.


My comment on being a gear lower than I should have was from habit of riding 500's and to show that even though it is a high revving 450, it can lug along fine.
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Thanks @Kamanya
Die bike bly spook by my.
Hoe vergelyk die seat height met 'n 950/990(S/R) (vra namens 'n vriend)
From the interwebs

KTM 950 Adventure S is 915 mm (36.0 in) for the 2003–2004 models and 895 mm (35.2 in) for the 2005–2006 models.

Kove 450 Rally has a seat height of 910–960 mm, depending on the model. The standard model has a seat height of 910 mm, while the low seat model is 2 in lower at 36 in

For a small bike, it does sit high, but once on it, I am 1.78 and can both feet it but my heels don't touch down.
Excellent @Kamanya

The KOVE is a great bike

I have heard about this guy below and his bush cooking

He looks like a riding god and a finely tuned athlete - those calf muscles at full stretch

A 3kg fillet and roast veggies in the middle of nowhere - would love to meet him

I hear that like most chefs he is a difficult grumpy C…t


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A quick word about the difference between the Kove 450 Rally, (the one I was on)


and the Kove 450 Rally Pro.


Firstly, that full fat version is well over R150k more - still nearly a house mortgage cheaper than a KTM 450RR!

Next, they are exactly the same engine, chassis, wheels and tanks.

BUT... but the Rally Pro has no ABS, no catalytic converter, no indicators. The Rally Pro does have a titanium exhaust system, carbon fibre rally tower and instruments, steering stabilizer, Tri-nitride lower fork coating, 960mm seat height, bib mousses, navigation equipment, and water and tool storage.

And the very big BUT....

It is not homologated nor can be road registered in Southern Africa on ENATIS because it doesn't have all the deleted bits required to pass. It will not be road legal. So, it will not pass scrutineering for Rallies.

If you want to rally the bike, buy the standard bike and upgrade to the racing parts. It's all bolt on plug and play.

Conrad @Off Road Cycles will not be importing any Rally Pro's but will gladly make your bike into one.