2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure - FIRST RIDE REVIEW

Barbaric or benign, KTM’s big new luxury ADV can be whatever you want it to be.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure action shot

When the KTM 1290 Super Duke R concept was first shown at EICMA in 2012, we couldn't believe our eyes. At the time, it seemed so over the top, almost absurd. But now, after having lived with a Super Duke R for more than a year—and also having logged serious miles on two versions of the 1190 Adventure—stuffing the 1,301cc twin into the brand-new 1290 Super Adventure makes complete sense.

How so? With one of the very best electronic packages in all of motorcycling, the Super Adventure can be anything you want it to be. Mile-eating tourer? No problem. Roost-chucking adventurer? Yup. Wheelie-crazed hooligan? Yeah, that too. With engine—and now suspension—management so advanced, there is no such thing as too much horsepower. A couple of quick flicks through the onboard menu, and the Super ADV can be as tame as a kitten or as fearsome as a tiger. But that super-sized V-twin is only part of the news with this bike; it has a whole lot of other features that are just as notable, although none of them get your attention in quite the same way as its engine.

The Super ADV’s standout features include: semi-active WP suspension, cruise control, heated rider seat and pillion, LED cornering lights, electronic engine-braking control (called MSR: Motor Slip Regulation), and Hill Hold Control (HHC). Not only are these new to KTM’s Adventure range, but also they are a first for the Austrian company in general.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure dashboard close-up

Before I tell you how the new KTM Super Adventure was to ride, let’s take a closer look at some of these features. Most significant is the WP suspension, which has a 48mm fork and a rear monoshock that are electronically controlled by the bike’s suspension control unit (SCU). This happens in real time based on information from stroke sensors on each unit and a pair of accelerometers front and rear. The SCU applies damping changes instantly and constantly to maintain the desired preferences selected by the rider in the menu, with Comfort, Street, Sport, and Offroad options. These selections are totally independent of the bike’s similarly named ride modes. Rear preload can be set via a menu in the computer, while the SCU automatically adjusts damping depending on the load and weight distribution readings it takes from the sensors.

While on the subject of electronic wizardry, KTM’s MSR is an electronic means of limiting compression braking to the rear wheel, and helping the slipper clutch keep the bike stable under hard braking while downshifting, by cracking open the throttle butterflies slightly to reduce load. Since the stability control system knows the bike’s lean angle, this is taken into account as well. Hill Hold Control, another new feature, keeps the Super Adventure from rolling backward on inclines by automatically applying the brakes for five seconds when the ECU senses the vehicle is on a hill, all without the rider having to be on the brake. If the rider hasn’t started to move forward after five seconds, the brake pressure is slowly released, but if the rider wants HHC to re-engage, all he needs to do is re-apply the brake to start the cycle over again. This should make getaways a snap when you have a passenger and fully loaded bags.

Another cool feature: Two LED arrays built into the leading edge of the fairing. These are not auxiliary lights in the traditional sense; they illuminate only when the bike is banked over. The three LEDs on both sides are aimed at different angles, and they light up in sequence as the Super Adventure reaches different lean angles. At 10 degrees, a single LED lights up, followed by the second at 20 degrees and then all three at 30. This is designed to dramatically improve lighting on a twisty road at night by filling in the void when your leaning motorcycle’s headlamp is pointed off the road at places you really don’t want to end up.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure static side view

Back to the one thing that makes the KTM Super Adventure such an e-ticket ride—its engine. Although sharing many components with the 1290 Super Duke R powerplant, such as the cylinders, connecting rods, and pistons, the crankshaft's flywheel mass has been increased by 4.4 pounds for improved bottom-end performance. The cylinder heads are also unique, and carry different camshafts than the Duke R. Additionally, the ECU is unique, sharing nothing with the naked bike. KTM engineers fine-tuned this engine to give it a powerband that's more suitable for a luxury-adventure tourer than a complete nutcase like the Super Duke R. Claimed horsepower is 160 (compared to the Duke R's 177) and peak torque is rated at 103 pound-feet. KTM says there's substantial torque over a spread of 7,500 rpm.

The press introduction and ride for the new Super Adventure took place on Gran Canaria, the second largest island in the archipelago off the coast of northwest Africa. This felt appropriate because I had ridden the 1190 Adventure on neighboring Tenerife for the first time two years ago. It was after riding that bike that I returned and told the rest of the Cycle World staff that the 1190 might just be the single-best motorcycle ever made. Now, though, after spending two days exploring the inner island's vast wealth of twisty roads, I have to say that this new bike trumps the 1190.

The first thing you must know about the Super Adventure is this: It possess almost a diabolical amount of performance. Despite all of the amazing electronics put in place to save your butt when you can’t restrain yourself, it’s still an animal of the most predatory nature. To get a true sense of what lies underneath the layers of intervention, I shut off the TC completely, which also happens to allow the bike to wheelie undeterred. As we headed up into the mountains at a brisk pace, I quickly discovered what a nasty (in a good way) machine KTM has built. Like the Super Duke R that preceded it, the Super Adventure produces instant and amazing acceleration. The front tire just skims the road surface at times, or occasionally snap into huge wheelies. This is truly amazing when you consider how composed the Super Adventure is when all of its electronic systems are turned on.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure corner action shot

Scrolling through the ride modes during my two days of riding, I can assure you that this KTM can act as tame and smooth as a Gold Wing, able to adjust its power to levels that give the rider massive confidence on slick or wet roads. And in Offroad mode, the rider can hang out the rear like he’s on a giant dirt bike with the benefit of TC. When Sport mode is selected and TC is enabled, the Super Adventure provides the rider with just the right safety net, thereby boosting confidence.

All of these systems work so effectively together that it makes me think the KTM Super Adventure might just be the perfect single bike for almost any type of riding. As with the Super Duke R, the Super Adventure has power everywhere, but what’s most notable is the low-end torque. This will be most appreciated when moving away from a stop on a bike loaded with a passenger, luggage and a full 8 gallons of fuel (2 more than the 1190).

Adding to KTM’s growing list of electronic management is the Super ADV’s new semi-active suspension. Along with the bike’s industry-leading ABS and Motorcycle Stability Control system, the suspension adds another layer of safety that is all but invisible to the rider, whether riding fast on a twisty road or just touring along the highway. Once the rider has selected the suspension mode, the WP units constantly monitor inputs from every integrated system to provide optimal damping balance. Never on any occasion did I feel the big Super Adventure wallow or feel like it had less than optimal damping for the occasion. Chassis balance front to rear always felt excellent, and ride quality was easily selectable: plush or firm.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure front view profile

One of the fork’s side benefits—which I tested in a most extreme way—is its anti-dive function. In Comfort or Street mode, the fork instantly stiffens under hard braking to keep the forward weight shift from bottoming the suspension, which should keep your passenger happy on sporty ride. But for those riders who prefer a bit of natural dive to help the bike steer through tight corners, Sport mode allows just that. The system reacts so instantaneously that I could feel it making adjustments as a I crossed over small sections of rough, broken pavement. On other occasions, I was amazed at how quickly the bike added compression damping after a wheelie had been set down.

Of the other new features, HHC is a stand out. It worked exactly as advertised, and it will take away some of the frustrations of riding with a passenger. It was a bit more difficult to sense the effectiveness of the electronic compression braking control, most likely because the engine already has a well set up slipper clutch and the electronic element is so transparent in function. Of the features that we’ll have to wait to sample back in the US are the LED cornering lights. We never rode at night, and the few tunnels we passed through only gave us brief tease of their effectiveness.

Ergonomically, the new KTM Super Adventure has taken a big step forward. The new seats, with individual heat controls for rider and passenger, are very supportive and comfortable. After a long day in the saddle, I felt totally fresh and could have spent substantially more time in the saddle. Another big factor contributing to rider comfort is the touring windshield. It’s manually adjustable, and this can be done with ease on the fly. There’s also a good range of height adjustment to allow the rider to find a buffet-free pocket of air. My only complaint is that the thick upper edge of the windshield would distort my view into corners on really twisty roads. One other nitpick: The activation button for the cruise control is just out of thumb range; otherwise, the system worked beautifully on our few short stints on the highway.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure scenic action shot

One of our complaints against the standard KTM 1190 Adventure is that it lacks the creature comforts and features of the BMW R1200GS/Adventure. With the introduction of the new Super Adventure, KTM has addressed all of those shortcomings, building a bike that will peel the paint off its German rival from the north and enter into the same hyper-performance realm as Ducati's Multistrada. At $20,499 (including bags), the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is definitely the company's flagship, a premium offering that still undercuts the Bavarian boxer significantly when optioned similarly.

So, as absurd as this bike may have seemed originally, KTM has succeeded in convincing me that the new Super Adventure is exactly the bike the ADV market needs.

SPECIFICATIONS 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure
ENGINE liquid-cooled DOHC 75-degree V-twin
BORE x STROKE 108.0 x 71.0 mm
CLUTCH Hydraulic slipper
FRAME Tubular, chrome-moly steel
FRONT SUSPENSION 48mm WP Semi-active fork
REAR SUSPENSION WP Semi-active PDS Monoshock
FRONT BRAKE Twin 320mm discs, radial-mounted four-piston calipers
BRAKE SYSTEM REAR Single 267mm disc, two-piston brake caliper
SEAT HEIGHT (UNLOADED) 33.8/34.4 in.

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