BMW R1200GS Adventure vs. KTM 1190 Adventure R - Long-Term Test Wrap-Up

What a long, strange trip it's been.

BMW and KTM riding through the poppy fields

It took us almost a year, but we finally pushed these two beasts to their breaking points—literally. For the first six months of this side-by-side long-term test, we cruised all over the western United States and Mexico with very few problems to report and only a few rider-induced mishaps that required repairs.

Did this give us a false sense of security? Could these bikes take more than we were dishing out? Well, we intended to find out last autumn with more trips. After surviving the Cycle World Adventure Rally in Gunnison, Colorado, the bikes were prepped to head up to the California Sierras for the second of the two annual ADV rallies (for more information and to sign up for the 2015 editions, visit cycleworld.com/adventurerally). This time around, photographer Jeff Allen would accompany off-road ace Ryan Dudek on the poker-run-style event with strict instructions to take it easy on the BMW, which had just received nearly $2,000 worth of repairs after my crash in the Colorado Rockies.

ADV-repairs-1-LTWP
ADV-repairs-4-LTWP

Well, you can't have an adventure if you don't venture off the beaten path, right? Dudek and Allen managed to get way off the grid near Huntington Lake, California, riding down a dead end trail that only pro-level tester and Baja 1000 first-in-class finisher Dudek could eventually ride back up. Allen said that without Dudek there to save the day and ride the GSA out for him, it would have required a hike for him and a helicopter ride for the BMW. The lesson? Mortals can get in too deep!

Well into testing, our 1190 Adventure became very hard starting and we discovered our bike's engine had ingested a significant amount of dirt and dust that completely bypassed the air filter. A bit of research and contact with 1190 owners showed we were not alone in this phenomenon. KTM confirmed there was a flaw in the airbox/filter design (see Trip Notes), and warranty repairs for this issue took the 1190 out of circulation for the better part of a month, while the BMW marched on.

BMW R1200GS Adventure dirt riding action

This gave us the chance to try out a couple of products on the GSA, namely a pair of light kits from Clearwater Lights (clearwaterlights.com), consisting of Erica ($989) and Darla ($649) LED lamps (see CW EVALUATION: Clearwater Lights Darla and Erica Light Kits)that are tied into the bike's CAN-bus for broad controllability via the stock buttons/switches. The light output from these lamps is absolutely fantastic (16,000 lumens total), and other well-thought-out safety features make their premium price tag not nearly as hard to swallow. We also tried out Touratech's (touratech-usa.com) DriRide rider ($600) and passenger ($559.10) comfort seats, which have breathable, waterproof covers and far superior foam for long-distance riding.

Once the KTM returned, we had to break in the new top end and get it back to the dealer for an oil/filter change before prepping the bike for a journey down the Baja California peninsula to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Mexico. Another set of Continental TKC80s (its third) were mounted on the KTM, while we finally got a set of Conti’s brand-new TKC70s ($415) to try on the BMW.

KTM 1190 Adventure R overlooking the Baja peninsula

Although the planned route was originally supposed to take Allen, Dudek, and Dirt Rider Art Director Joe McKimmy to Cabo San Lucas primarily on asphalt, the trip, as with most of our journeys, included some detours that encompassed significantly more dirt than was originally intended. So the boys only made it as far as Loreto, about 700 miles south of Tecate on the east coast, and 300 miles short of Cabo.

On the return journey, it was once again the BMW’s turn for some drama. First, the GSA was tipped over in a concrete stream crossing, which was made slicker than ice by the unseen green slime under the surface. It got another QuikSteel patch on a cracked cylinder head cover (despite the stock crashbars). Next, its ESA rear shock blew out after hitting a washout at speed, forcing Allen to endure an undamped pogo-stick ride back to the US. Once home, the bike returned to Irv Seaver Motorcycles in Orange, California, for repairs. They discovered the front shock was also leaking, so both damping units were replaced under warranty. Further, the clutch finally called it a day and had to be replaced. At least with the newest boxer design, the clutch is mounted at engine’s front, no longer necessitating transmission removal as on previous versions. But parts cost was $1,458.46!

adventure riding over dirt on the Baja peninsula

As for the KTM Adventure R, a few key aftermarket additions made the bike more comfortable off road and better able to endure the floggings we administered. Fasst Company's Flexx Handlebars ($359.99; fasstco.com) and Simple Solution Handguards ($135.99) not only improve ergonomics while standing off road but also absorb harsh hits and reduce vibration to the hands, while the full-wrap guards offer maximum protection. Key to defending the KTM's underbelly was AltRider's skid plate ($394.97; altrider.com). This laser-cut, heavy-duty aluminum unit is incredibly sturdy and mounts to the KTM's massive M10 engine bolts at the rear for extreme rigidity. Despite the plate's burly nature, Dudek still managed to bend it, but it clearly saved the KTM from another calamity.

In regard to wear and tear, we smoked through a set of rear brake pads on each machine, largely due to our extensive off-road riding. Stock pads set us back $120.69 for the GS and $85.95 for the KTM. Other repairs that seemed pricey were the $65 brake lever for the KTM and a $400 horn button for the BMW. Yes, you read that right: After the Colorado crash, the GS’s little red horn button was dislodged from its housing. When in for service, a representative from Irv Seaver called to ask if I wanted them to replace the button. I said yes, but the button replacement entailed fitting a new left-side handlebar pod, which, with labor, tallied a totally ridiculous $448.10.

ADV motorcycles streamside in Colorado

Nevertheless, of all the long-term bikes we’ve had over the past few years, none have proven as versatile, comfortable, and capable as these two. There are very few machines that can survive the constant abuse that these two endured, while still being able to hop on the freeway and comfortably knock out 1,000 miles as we did on our return from Colorado. In our time with them, we unearthed some of each machine’s faults, discovered many of their limits, and tested some of the best aftermarket products available.

Conclusions on this long-term comparison? For starters, both of these bikes were expensive as delivered, while maintenance and repairs proved high due to the amount of time spent off-highway. Maybe the average owner wouldn't ride their $20,000 ADVs as hard as we did, but we're here to push the limits. In that light, if off-road chops and raw performance are your most important purchasing decisions, the KTM is clearly the bike. It's sportbike-fast on road and far better in technical dirt sections than any bike this big should be, all while being blessed with Bosch's amazing lean-sensing ABS and traction control (see TECH ANALYSIS: Motorcycle Stability Control, Explained). But if total versatility and long-haul comfort are more important to you, then the BMW is hard to fault. It offers supreme on-road manners, went everywhere the KTM did (though was much more challenging in the hard stuff), and has more available convenience and creature-comfort features. Every tester called it incredibly close, and the choice really came down to the projected use. Bottom line? Modern big-bike adventure isn't cheap (and we're sure glad there are good warranties), but it's sure worth it.

SPECIFICATIONS

BMW R1200GS Adventure KTM 1190 Adventure R
TOTAL MILES 11,064 11,837
NEXT SERVICE 18,000 18,600
MAINTENANCE COSTS $1,858.98 $1,641.95
REPAIR COSTS $3,173.87 $230
AVERAGE FUEL MILEAGE 39 mpg 40 mpg
PRICE AS TESTED (2014) $21,671 $18,134
CURRENT BLUE BOOK VALUE $17,395 $13,600
ADV airbox close-up

FROM DUST TO GORY

There has been a lot of buzz about the KTM 1190/1190 R’s airbox ingesting dust and dirt during extensive off-road riding. The fact that the KTM’s second scheduled service interval wasn’t until 9,300 miles—and that access to the air filter requires laboriously removing the fuel tank—kept us from catching the issue any earlier.

While on our Adventure Rally in California last September, Ryan Dudek began experiencing hard starting (due to tight valves), which led him to remove the tank and airbox cover to discover that the throttle body mouths were coated in dust and grime. With 8,020 miles on the clock, the KTM was taken to Orange County KTM to diagnose the issue. Despite a completely clean air filter, enough dirt, sand, and dust had been ingested to destroy our R’s top end.

This is clearly a flaw in the airbox’s design, and KTM repaired our 1190’s engine under warranty.

A complete top-end rebuild included: cylinders, pistons/rings, valve kit, base gasket, head gasket, valve collets, spark plugs, valve cover gasket, and head bolts/washers. To prevent future damage in similar riding conditions the dealer installed KTM’s Dust Protection Kit (part #60306922000, $64.79), consisting of a pair of fairing-intake-snorkel inserts that have a mesh fabric stretched over them as a first defense. Also, a better-sealing, high-performance DNA air filter (DNA part #P-KT12E13-01, KTM part #603 06 115 000, $124.99) was installed.

The lesson here: If you ride either version of the 1190 off-road in dusty conditions on a regular basis, upgrade to these better lines of defense and check your air filter frequently. If you let it vacuum up half of the Baja 1000 course as we did and have experienced issues, get it into your KTM dealer for repairs before your warranty expires.

ADV Tires diagram

TIRES, TIRES, AND MORE TIRES

Big adventure bikes have an insatiable appetite for rubber. Each machine is on its fifth set of tires (including the stock sets). Due to the significant number of off-road miles, knobbies have won the day. After trying out Kenda's (kendatire.com) Big Blocks (which were great in the dirt but not so grippy on road), we returned to our favorite ADV tire, Continental's (conti-online.com) TKC80. Not only do these tires bring out the very best in these bikes off highway—clawing for traction in Mexican silt, climbing up slickrock faces in Utah, plowing through boulder gardens in Colorado, and hopping over tree roots in the Sierras­—but they work well on asphalt too. They are easily the single best performance modification you can make to a big ADV machine. The shortest life we recorded on a set of TKC80s was less than 1,000 miles, while our best was almost 3,000. For the New Year's journey into Baja, we mounted up Conti TKC70s on the GSA. Jeff Allen was impressed with their overall performance but felt a knobby front was well warranted for the peninsula's ample sand and silt (we will definitely be trying a TKC70/80 cocktail soon). But for now we're curious to see how many miles we can get on the 70s before our bike gets repo'd.

FROM THE LOGBOOK
Blake Conner: The single most memorable moment for me with these two bikes was when Dudek and I rode the Slickrock Trail in Moab, Utah. At the time, I fully understood that we were doing something that few others would attempt on such big machines, especially with such major consequences for a mistake (250- to 500-foot cliffs!), and, stupidly, we had the bags attached. But we survived. It wasn’t until I went back on a KTM Freeride 250 R and rode the trail again that I fully grasped how insane we (at least me) were to ride ADVs there.
Jeff Allen: Just the sight of either of these bikes gets the road-trip part of my brain firing. Baja, ADV Rally, Yosemite, Baja again, 1,000-mile three-day weekend? No problem. A 2,500-mile weeklong ride? Even better. I wish the bikes would stay around a lot longer; I still have plans swirling around in my head. At around 600 pounds each, both bikes demand respect off-road. At the same time, they work so well in the dirt it’s easy to forget they’re not dirt bikes. In sand or when trying to get them stopped in the dirt, you are quickly reminded of their size. Give them the respect they deserve. That stated, these are great tourers with good wind protection and rugged luggage. Highway 1 to Oregon anyone? The wife will worry you’re never going to come home. It’s a real possibility.
Joe McKimmy: I prefer the seat height on the Beemer for my short, stumpy legs. With a 600-pound motorcycle, it’s nice to know you have more than a toe touching to keep your balance in awkward spots. For me, the KTM is much more comfortable off road, able to plow through square-edged chop and big bumps with ease. I think the 21-inch front wheel makes a big difference on the rough stuff. But I am really quite surprised how well the BMW handles over loose rock sections. The wide tires allow the bike to be really stable.

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ADV airbox close-up.

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Studio photo.

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