As the ADV market has matured, the bikes have evolved into quasi sport-touring machines that can competently handle light off-road terrain. None of them, though, have ever been able to go blow for blow with KTM’s 950/990 Adventures in the dirt. The flip side of this? The big KTM Twins were seriously lacking in features, overall comfort and on-road performance. But after riding the brand-new KTM 1190 Adventure on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands earlier this year, I saw that KTM had begun addressing these issues. The engine, chassis, electronics, handling and rider comfort had all improved dramatically. One big question, however, remained: Would the yet-to-be-released R version maintain its huge advantage over its competitors in off-road handling and composure?
Having just spent two mostly off-highway days on the new R at its press launch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I can state unequivocally that the off-road-oriented bike lives up to the reputation earned by its predecessors. KTM has managed to make a huge leap forward with the new-generation R as a streetbike, while also simultaneously improving the 1190 as a dirt machine.
KTM’s Adventure has always defied physics; it feels far more lithe in the dirt than any 500-pound machine has a right to. One of the key attributes is a chassis that instills confidence in the rider, which means it’s easier to ride at an aggressive pace you’d never try on some of the competitor’s bikes.
For riders who ride most of the time on the road, the single most noticeable improvement will be the engine. But for those who spend a larger chunk of time on the dirt, it’s the ABS. KTM’s Bosch 9ME combined-ABS is the perfect complement to a great chassis. Unlike BMW’s R1200GS, which requires a little plug-in dongle to access Enduro Pro mode, the KTM (when stopped) allows you to quickly scroll through the menus on the info screen and switch ABS to Enduro mode. In this mode, the rear wheel is allowed to lock and the front is tuned to bite more.
On the 1190 R, gone are the days of grabbing the front brake off-road and discovering a bike that seems to freewheel while causing panic with dramatically longer stopping distances. Get into an off-camber downhill corner a little hot on the 1190 R, and you can brake aggressively—even trail brake—without fear of locking and tucking the front. A little brake slide will also help get the bike turned. Further experimentation with panic braking on dirt revealed that a huge, four-finger handful of front brake could be grabbed and the 1190 R would stop quickly and safely without any drama. The Continental TKC 80 knobby front tire would grab and release as the ABS cycled quickly, the steering remaining light and controllable the whole way. It may be possible for a world-class rider to stop quicker with the system off, but certainly not as consistently. Liter-class ADV bikes attain ridiculous speed off-road in a hurry, and KTM’s ABS lets the rider scrub it off just as efficiently.
With those fantastic braking manners and a chassis inspired by KTM’s winning Dakar bikes, the 1190 R clearly has the makings of a potent ADV bike. The R’s WP suspension has a little more than an inch of extra travel front and rear (there’s 8.7 in. of travel versus 7.5 for the standard 1190). At 35 in., the fixed seat is higher than the standard 1190’s, which is adjustable from 33.8 to 34.5. The fully adjustable fork felt soft when landing from water bars, even with the compression damping almost maxed out. KTM says the U.S.-spec models for 2014 will have updates not present on the European-specification 2013 models we rode.
For the sake of simplicity, the EDS (electronically adjustable suspension) is not offered on the 1190 R, but there is an easily accessible remote preload adjustment knob that allows quick tuning of the shock. Tubeless, wire-spoke wheels (21 in. front/18 in. rear) allow the use of more aggressive knobbies such as the Continental TKC 80s on the testbikes, although Conti Trail Attack 2 tires are standard. At 62.2 in., the wheelbase of the R is 0.8 in. longer than a standard 1190’s, but a steering head angle of 26 degrees is shared by both bikes. The R also has a bit more trail, 5.1 in. versus 4.7.
The abundant off-highway riding around Steamboat offered everything from graded dirt roads to OHV double track littered with rocks, mud holes and ruts. In this environment, it didn’t take long to develop confidence in the 1190 R. Whether broadsliding the bike along gravel roads or flicking it from berm to berm in the tighter stuff, the R felt positively lively, like it weighs 100 pounds less than KTM’s claimed wet weight of 518-lb. Without a doubt, the 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure R is the most confidence-inspiring ADV bike I’ve ever ridden off-road, much of that attributed to how much easier it is to get the bike stopped with the Enduro ABS.
As fun as the 1195cc V-Twin is on the road, it’s only amplified when you get into dirt. With four different drive modes, including Sport, Street, Rain and Enduro, the 1190 R tackles any type of road or trail condition. The first two modes allow the bike’s full claimed 150 horsepower to be tapped, while the latter pair are limited to 100 hp. Sport mode has the most aggressive power delivery and least TC intervention, while Street provides a bit more of a safety net. In Rain mode, rear wheel slip is virtually eliminated, while Enduro allows the rear wheel to spin at twice the rate of the front for beautifully controlled slides. After sampling the Enduro mode, I soon discovered that the Twin’s power delivery is so smooth (and its fueling so well mapped) that TC could be shut off completely when in Street or Sport mode and traction was still readily available in the dirt. Throwing huge roosts, however, was much more entertaining.
Rider comfort has been significantly improved compared to the 990 Adventure Baja. The 1190 R’s seating position is great for long stints in the saddle (although the seat could be bit cushier), while the handlebar and footpegs offer a small range of adjustment for optimization. Wind protection provided by the adjustable screen is excellent, with buffet-free airflow. The high seat will definitely be a challenge for riders under six feet tall, but that extra travel is well worth the compromise. The rider will find the multi-functional cockpit to be well laid out, with menus that are easy to browse (and set) and electronics that are simple to navigate. My only complaint: It would be nice to be able to turn off TC on the fly, in the same manner as the ride modes can be changed.
As always, KTM’s Power Parts accessory division has a large selection of bolt-on products to enhance functionality, protect and personalize the 1190 Adventure R, which is a lot of motorcycle for $16,799. BMW’s standard R1200GS starts at $15,800, but that’s a base model that most dealers don’t even order. And we’re still waiting to see what premium BMW puts on its upcoming Adventure version. As for the rest, the KTM undercuts the Triumph Explorer XC and Ducati Multistrada, while also being only $2000 more than Yamaha’s more street-oriented Super Ténéré.
KTM’s 1190 Adventure is a huge step for the company, a bike that’s in contention to win any ADV shooutout. But when it comes to off-highway play, the new 1190 Adventure R is in a class of its own.