BMW R1200GS Adventure vs. KTM 1190 Adventure R - Comparison Test

Big new European ADVs battle it out in the American West.

BMW R1200GS Adventure and KTM 1190 Adventure R group action shot

Adventure touring has hit the Electronic Power Era. BMW’s original go-anywhere GS is now boasting big horsepower and computers that control almost everything. KTM’s entry into the class, the 1190 Adventure R, has a distinctly leaner look and feel with even more power, albeit a more complex yet less integrated electronics package.

These bikes represent the dreamy edge of hopping on a bike and riding around the world, paved or not. They are the same yet distinctly different, like a story told in two separate languages. So we took them on a serious all-terrain trip to sort out which is the real king of adventure. To safely and confidently off-road over a route that included snow, ice, mud, and sand, both machines were shod with Kenda Big Block tires.

Despite power and performance being the main drivers of sales pitches these days, comfort should be the first area considered in reviewing these bikes. Contrary to its long-established reputation for rock-hard foam, the KTM wins on seat comfort. But from there, the BMW has a roomier layout, a better riding position both seated and standing, and more wind protection, even with its smaller accessory windscreen fitted. In the battle between ground clearance and a low seat height, the footpeg-to-seat distance on the Austrian bike is a little cramped for most, and the handlebar bend encourages sitting.

BMW R1200GS Adventure on the CW Dynojet dyno:

BMW R1200GS Adventure dyno chart
BMW R1200GS Adventure UPS DOWNS
Relaxed, comfortable, and yet exciting to ride Missing the big-flywheel, off-idle torque of the Airhead
Hides its weight well for such a big girl Seat angle slants you forward into the tank
Fuel range for the American West Significantly more expensive than KTM

How the manufacturers mask the weight of these bruisers, as well as how they approach getting good handling, is attacked in different ways: The flat-twin allows a low center of gravity and a weight-forward bias that helps balance packed panniers, which we had on this trip. The GS is 53 pounds heavier (dry, with saddlebags) and feels it when stopped or in rough going but magically feels light when moving on most terrain. The KTM’s lighter weight is obvious when in the saddle, but the mass is carried higher, so it feels more “present.” The KTM’s dirt-friendly 21-inch front wheel gives lighter-feeling steering, but the front end isn’t as planted in sweeping pavement corners. It is not unstable but not as arrow-like as the GS, either.

The BMW has a tighter turning circle, but the 19-inch front wheel lets you feel more of the bumps on any surface. The suspension on both bikes is amazing, especially considering the heft of these machines. With the BMW's Dynamic ESA push-button parameter changes, the e-settings make sense, but the "Hard" damping mode lets you feel too much ground through the chassis. The KTM just has great suspension control—no nonsense. Both will bottom off-road, a sign you are going too fast or being too aggressive. Amazingly, you really feel the last 2 gallons of fuel on both of these bikes after a fill-up. The BMW's tank holds 7.9 gallons; the KTM's, 6.1.

Power is abundant on both bikes, and it should be noted that for most riding, especially off-road, traction control is kept exceptionally busy. But give the tires grip and the KTM destroys the BMW, making it seem as if the GS were caught between gears every time. And maybe that is the story of the powerplants: The BMW has three gears for every situation. The KTM has the right gear (both have appreciably wide-ratio six-speed transmissions). The GS pulls from 2,000 rpm with authority, wanting a shift at 7,000 and taking its time getting there when compared to the KTM. That said, the new GS is a revvy rocket compared to the last air/oil-cooled GS. And, in that change, the BMW has lost its off-idle, flywheel-augmented torque (despite the Adventure’s 2.1-pound-heavier flywheel as compared to the one on the standard GS). Combine this with a slightly vague clutch feel, and the bike is easy to stall in slower-than-first-gear technical off-road riding. The KTM doesn’t pull until 3,000 rpm but goes way higher, way faster. KTM has also really improved clutch feel and engagement on the 1190 versus previous models. No stalling here.

KTM 1190 Adventure R studio right-side view
KTM 1190 Adventure R UPS DOWNS
Wow, that is really fast! Electronics save you, don’t sedate the ride Bad things can happen quickly if you are not experienced enough to wrangle it
Feels light and agile because it is Shouldn’t it go 300 miles?
Real suspension that works properly Eats knobby-type adventure tires for lunch

Electronics plays a large role in these bikes with TC and ABS (and e-suspension on the BMW). Predetermined global settings can also be individually tailored. Systems on both bikes make it easy to change or activate/deactivate features once you learn the rules. Running or not? Reset with key off? Close throttle or pull clutch? See your owner’s manual—they wrote the instructions and you’ll need them at first.

Which has the better setup? The KTM’s system is just milliseconds better in both ABS and TC. We’re not sure if it has to do with the lean-angle sensors (cornering ABS is awesome) or just a newer or faster computer, but it pulses the brakes and controls the butterflies slightly better, slightly smoother, and a bit quicker. You’ll never need to disable the TC or ABS on either machine unless you are in a very weird traction situation.

Loaded with brand-specific luggage, the KTM looks ready but fails once in the dirt: Dust can lock your bags permanently, and a log can remove one of them instantly. In contrast, BMW’s is tough and durable and can be expected to last off-road. It’s just better made.

Picking an outright winner is tough because both bikes are so good and do the same things in different ways. But we can do some word association to make it easier: BMW equals comfort; KTM equals performance.

That said, the more advanced rider can appreciate and use the added performance the KTM offers and not be caught out or tricked by it. The BMW, built for the masses, holds the course that has made the GS famous.

SPECIFICATIONS BMW R1200GS Adventure KTM 1190 Adventure R
PRICE (AS TESTED) $21,671 $18,134
DRY WEIGHT / GVWR (with bags) 582 lb. / 1045 lb. (with bags) 529 lb. / 970 lb.
WHEELBASE 59.0 in. 62.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 35.0 / 35.8 in. 35.3 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 7.9 gal. 6.1 gal.
FUEL MILEAGE 38 mpg 34 mpg
0-60 MPH 3.1 sec. 3.1 sec.
1/4 MILE 11.46 sec. @ 116.16 mph 10.88 sec. @ 127.31 mph
HORSEPOWER 108.6 @ 7990 rpm 127.6 @ 9330 rpm
TORQUE 78.0 lb.-ft. @ 6630 rpm 79.6 lb.-ft. @ 7790 rpm
TOP SPEED 125 mph 142 mph

Group action shot #1

Group action shot #2

Static group shot #1

Static group shot #2

BMW R1200GS Adventure action shot.

BMW R1200GS Adventure cockpit POV.

KTM 1190 Adventure R action shot #1

KTM 1190 Adventure R action shot #2

KTM 1190 Adventure R action shot #3

BMW R1200GS Adventure - studio right-side view

KTM 1190 Adventure R - studio right-side view

BMW R1200GS Adventure dyno chart.