KTM believes that no adventure bike can compete with its 1290 Super Adventure R. You only need to know this because it explains why I’m chasing eight-time New Zealand Enduro champ and 2010 Red Bull Romaniacs winner Chris Birch across the Peruvian desert at 75 mph. Up sand dunes. Across wind-blown whoops. Miles from anything or anyone, hold for the Peruvian natives that know this land like the back of their hand. If you wholeheartedly believe that you’ve built the best travel enduro bike to ever hit showroom floors, then you better be ready to prove it. KTM is.
Fortunately for me, a complete stranger to this terrain, the 1290 Super Adventure R is everything the boys in orange suggest it will be—something between an extension of the 1290 Super Adventure and an evolution of their 1190 Adventure R. KTM will compare it to the latter of those bikes, though the rest of us will probably see it more as a 1290 with extra off-road focus.
Engine specifications do a good job of identifying the bloodline, this bike using the same Super Duke R-derived LC8 powerplant as the 1290 Super Adventure, with larger (yet lighter) pistons than the 1190. It gets the same 1290 Super Adv crankshaft with added flywheel mass for smoother, more controllable, bottom-end performance, and camshafts with mellower profiles, for more torque and less top-end horsepower.
The difference is that, for emissions reasons, KTM has updated the cylinder heads with the same resonator chamber affixed the 2017 Super Duke R (and the 690 Duke head before that), which helps improve overall smoothness and fuel efficiency. Power output is a claimed 160 hp @ 8,750 rpm, and 103 pound-feet of torque at 6,750 rpm—the same as the 1290 Super Adventure. There's no shortage of power, plain and simple.
Geometry has stayed mostly the same between all of KTM’s big adventure models, with small variances in wheelbase and trail on the more street-oriented versions. And that’s mostly the case here, KTM having stuck to the same wheelbase and rake as the 1190 Adventure R (62.6 inches/26°, respectively), but also given this bike a little less trail (4.8 inches versus a claimed 5.1 inches).
The tapered steering head bearings on the older bike would allow for too much freeplay if under-tightened, but contribute to heavy steering if over tightened, so easier to set up ball-bearings are used here. KTM also increased spring rates over the 1190, and outfitted the bike with a WP-built, Progressive Damping System (PDS) shock that’s intended to act like two shocks in one, sans linkage. This is important because a non-linkage PDS shock (which KTM uses for its enduro models, but not motocross bikes) is a low-maintenance option that eliminates grease-hungry pivots or bearings. It also enables for more ground clearance (a linkage is usually the bike’s low-point), which is beneficial when, oh I don’t know, you’re clamoring over a rock pile in the middle of the Peruvian desert. Without much idea as to where you are.
Opposite the more street-oriented Super Adventure models (technically, you won't actually be able to buy the equally new 1290 Super Adventure S in the States), the R jettisons semi-automatic suspension for manually adjustable bits that are easier to fine-tune in the wide variety of off-road riding you’ll do. This is not to be confused, of course, for a transition away from electronic rider aids. And in many ways, the SA-R is just as advanced as its track-loving, Super Duke R brethren.
What does that mean as it relates to rider aids? Well, in a nutshell, it means multiple riding modes (four total, including a 100 hp “Offroad” mode), lean-angle-sensitive traction control, cornering ABS, cruise control, and KTM’s RACE ON transponder/key. Cruise control and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard, though you’ll have to upgrade to KTM’s optional Travel Pack (Price TBD) to gain access to KTM’s Hill Hold Control, KTM My Ride, Quickshifter+, and Motor Slip Regulation system, which was first introduced on the 2017 Super Duke R and is something like a corner-entry traction control system that prevents the rear tire from skidding by opening the throttle butterflies as requred. All trick stuff.
Styling updates are in line with the rest of KTM’s new-for-2017 models, the Super Adventure R sporting an updated LED headlight that KTM is exceedingly proud of, and that I think we’ll all learn to love, too. Cornering lights are standard, as are the illuminated switches that work on an angle-adjustable and absolutely gorgeous (plus well-laid-out) 6.5-inch TFT dash display with special coating for zero glare.
Smaller revisions include intake ducts that are intended to help keep dirt from getting to the engine (an optional second filter accessory goes a step further), a cell-phone storage compartment behind the headlight, and windshield that can be manually adjusted with one hand, on the fly. Because it’s an R, and R means you better at least consider riding it off-road, this Super Adventure also gets steel crash guards, TKC80 tires on spoked 21-/18-inch wheels, a single seat, and orange frame. Footpegs and handlebar are adjustable between two positions.
On (And Off) The Trail
Before heading off into the desert, I asked Birch if he had any advice for riding a motorcycle as burly as the 1290 Adventure R off-road, to which he replied—rather directly—with, “Stop talking about how heavy it is.” I would be wrong to not mention that the bike weighs 479 lbs. without liquids, or that it has a 35.1-inch seat height, but according to Birch, “Once you get the feeling for it, you can use the weight and momentum to get through stuff. So rather than thinking about how it’s big and heavy, just think of it as a cool bike. Get that out of your head and enjoy your bike rather than worrying about it.”
Thanks to my dad, I’ve got a long enough inseam that I personally didn’t struggle with the seat height or overall size. The 1290 is a tall motorcycle, yes, but it’s also very comfortable and carries its weight well enough that there's no problem balancing it at a stop. If you’ve spent any amount of time on a big motorcycle before, you’ll be just fine on this 1290. Even if you haven't, probably.
Street riding was limited, but on pavement the bike felt just as friendly as the Adventure R that came before it, with smooth fueling and all the power you could need to get by slower traffic. Wind blasts get cut up pretty nicely by the short screen (the tradeoff is not hitting it with your helmet when manhandling the bike off-road) and the cruise control works fine. I remember the Ducati Multistrada Enduro’s adjustable screen being a bit easier to reposition than the KTM’s, but this screen is also easier to adjust than the BMW GS’s while rolling down the road. Meanwhile, the seat strikes what feels like a nice middle ground between those two bikes; not too firm (Ducati), and not too soft (BMW).
I’m breezing past these notes because, honestly, the Super Adventure R is more about covering yourself in mud, dirt, and sand, which is why KTM almost immediately led us in to the Paracas Nature Preserve, where we’d mosey through small fishing villages, rip across dry lakebeds, and work our way across 200-foot-tall cliffs overlooking portions of the Pacific Ocean that look so foreign, they might as well have been a world away from home. This is adventuring.
This, this is also where the Super Adventure R feels at home. Stand up, roll the throttle on, and it dances across the coastal desert floor with a feeling of, “I won’t hurt you, but I’ll promise to show you a good time.” Power is tractable enough that, in any riding mode, you can step the rear tire out with confidence and ease, and the chassis feels more than capable of handling the weight (sorry, Chris, I did it again). If this was a straight-up Super Duke R engine, I'd be massively overwhelmed, but in Super Adventure tune, the LC8 feels friendly as it does fun; that last little bit of top-end aggression has just been eased off.
Outside of the preserve, I’d misread the terrain from time to time and go plowing through things I most definitely should have been avoiding, and while the bike would step sideways, it always came back. Don’t make silly inputs or hold on too tight, and it’ll be okay, it seems. Put simply, it’s better than me.
Suspension goes a long way in providing that sure-footed feel. The stock settings begin to feel a bit soft, yes, but those manually adjustable clickers are your friend, and you’d be wise to go a step beyond me and actually tighten them up if you’re going to do any real adventuring. As it is, you’ll bottom out from time to time, and hear the occasional clatter from the (thankfully) stock skidplate. The 8.7 inches of travel and 9.8 inches of ground clearance are nothing short of gifts from KTM. Use them.
I believe pretty strongly that you couldn’t have 180-hp sportbikes if it weren’t for today’s electronic rider aid systems, and for the same reason, don’t imagine you could have 160-hp adventure bikes if it weren’t for a solid understanding of how to harness all that power through a bulletproof electronics package. Fortunately, the 1290 Super Adventure R has that, and while I didn’t always rely on the traction control system (deep sand and TC don’t necessarily get along), having those systems makes the Super Adventure R seem less intimidating and more manageable. This really and truly isn’t the raw, unruly beast that you’d expect it to be off-road, and I think a lot of that is owed to KTM’s understanding of how to keep everything in check through electronic programming, without completely bringing the fun to a halt.
That’s important, because at the end of the day, adventuring is about having fun. It’s about not having to turn around as you come face-to-face with a four-story-tall sand dune, but saying screw it, clicking down a gear, and maybe only getting stuck when you get three-quarters of the way up and hit a soft patch (don’t ask me how I know, because I’m not much for throwing my riding friends under the bus…). The 1290 Super Adventure R is a lot of motorcycle, yes, but it’s a lot of very capable motorcycle, and just as willing to go off the beaten path as you are.
The bike is probably not for everyone, and the majority of those who do buy it, might not even plan on using it to its full potential. But it’s nice knowing that the potential is there. Peruvian desert at 75 mph or not, I find it hard to believe you wouldn’t be surprised by what this bike is capable of.
Get out there and try it, I dare you. It dares you.
|ENGINE TYPE||Liquid-cooled V-twin|
|BORE & STROKE||108.0 x 71.0mm|
|SEAT HEIGHT||35.1 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||6.1 gal.|
|CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT||478 lbs.|