Review: KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

“Ready to race” the digital display of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S announces when you press the start button. Not a lie, as the bike will soon prove. Did you expect something else, with 160 hp and 140 Nm? But before we talk about power, let’s first take a closer look at this bombshell.

The 1301 cc LC8 engine that created quite some excitement for the KTM 1290 Super Duke, was also used by the Mattighofen team for a sports-touring motorbike and an adventure bike. I tested the 1290 Super Duke GT, the sports-tourer, before. Time to get to know that adventure bike.

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure comes in an S and an R version. The R focuses more on offroad, with its spoked wheels, 21″ front wheel, higher seat and standard crash bars. The S aims at the asphalt, with cast wheels, 19″ front wheel and a lower, two-part, height-adjustable seat. I got to test the S for a week.

Brutal or subtle?

I remember from the 1290 Super Duke GT that it simply was a brute bike. In so many ways. Brute power, rough sounding exhaust, not always refined in handling. So I expected the same character from the 1290 Super Adventure S. And it immediately surprised me: Mr. Adventurer is more subtle than his sports-touring brother.

However, with its looks you’d assume the opposite. Especially the not particularly modest design of the headlight. Not everyone’s a fan of it. Me neither at first, but after a while, its distinctive and even photogenic nose grew on me. Finally a KTM adventure bike that comes close to that still good-looking 990 in terms of design.

A push on the start button generates quite some fuss. Caused by the optional Akrapovic exhaust. Its shortfall of subtlety has a Moses and the Red Sea effect in dense traffic. Or in this case: Orange Moses and the Car Sea.

And then it’s time to clamp the handlebars firmly – because maybe the bike throws you out of the saddle like a wild stallion – you open the throttle and … notice that this Super Adventure is extremely easy-going. There’s no sign of any brutality at all. Not yet.

The Super Adventure has four riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain and Offroad). Even in Sport, the Brussels city center at peak hour wasn’t a problem. Yes, the Sport mode has the harshest gas reaction, but you don’t necessarily need kid gloves to keep the KTM under control. Still, I found the Street mode more comfortable. I didn’t even try Rain (with 100 hp instead of 160) and Offroad.

Hard, harder, hardest

Fortunately, the 1290 Super Adventure doesn’t throw all the brutality overboard. Sporty driving is so easy and so tempting that a sixth sense for speed cameras would be a blessing. You go so fast so quickly, that it’s almost impossible to open the throttle completely. The (optional, perfectly working) quickshifter makes the explosive accelerations even more insane. And although the traction control was on, short wheelies couldn’t be avoided. The traction control, like the ABS, has cornering technology. A good thing.

Curves? Our Austrian friend never says no to that. It enters them smoothly and accurately. Keeping the line doesn’t take a lot of effort, if you choose the right suspension setting that is. Sporty driving with a rocking horse is rather difficult, but I’ll come back to that later. If you like to shift gears lazy, the bike’s not up to that. And under 3000 rpm it isn’t much fun, unless you’re a fan of a shocking, heavy vibrating engine. Just downshift and release all that raw power as you exit that curve. Delicious!

The brakes (double 320 mm Brembo’s in front, single 267 mm Brembo in the rear) do their job, although I had expected a bit more initial bite. After two days however, I was used to it.

Comfort and technology, apps and TFT

You suppose a motorcycle that will take you on an adventure has a bit of comfort? Well, the Super Adventure has it largely straightened out. A good, upright sitting position, the arms relaxed on the wide handlebar, the legs in a not too sharp angle. The windscreen can be adjusted in height while riding and provides reasonable wind protection. The seat is pretty hard but – for my buttocks – not too hard.

The vibrations of which the Super Duke GT (MY 2016) suffered, have largely but not completely disappeared. To be fully honest, I have to mention that the (generously sized) foot pegs come without rubbers. To emphasize the offroad character, you see. The cruise control is less rude than on the Super Duke GT, but still not perfect. Especially the continuations still have room for improvement. There is a charging box with USB connection below the display to charge your mobile phone. Small side note: too large phones won’t fit (my LG G4 for example). And if the KTM guys themselves are gesturing quotation marks when they say that the charging box is “watertight”, I would pay some attention.

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is equipped with a WP semi-active suspension which offers you the choice of Sport, Street, Comfort and Offroad riding modes. Of course you shouldn’t hope for lots of comfort in the sporty setting, just as you can’t expect excellent sportive handling in the Comfort setting. The differences between the settings are noticeable and personally I found the Street mode the best compromise. Not too soft, not too spartan. Via the menu settings you adjust the suspension in a few clicks. So switching quickly is done in a jiffy. You can also set the load with which you are on the road: solo or with a buddy, both with or without luggage.

The dashboard of the Super Adverture S looks like a mini tablet. The tilting, full digital TFT display has a clear layout and allows you to select a number of favorites. Convenient and perfectly readable.

KTM also makes use of connectivity: with the KTM My Ride app (paying, Apple / Android) installed on your smartphone, you have access to music and navigation via Bluetooth. Music on your mobile phone plays via a Bluetooth helmet set and can be operated by the buttons on the handlebars. Navigation instructions appear on the digital dashboard. And incoming calls can also be answered via the app. Not tested because not a very connected dude 😉

With the 23 liter tank filled to the brim, the display shows an optimistic 420 km range. I never made that distance, but 300 kilometers is certainly doable if you don’t pretend being a MotoGP pilot all the time.

Through the checkout

Looking at the overall picture, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S’ standard equipment is remarkably substantial. Cornering ABS and traction control, slipperclutch, centerstand, cruise control, connectivity options, semi-active suspension, driving modes, 12V and USB chargers, keyless ride, handguards, large, adjustable foot pegs, LED lights, cornering lights, tire pressure monitor, luggage rack … A vast package that brings the base price to 16.695 euro (in Germany).

My testbike got a lot of accessories like an Akropovic slip-on, the Travel Pack (quickshifter, hill hold control and motor slip regulation) and a supplementary headlight kit. But KTM has been so nice to add most of the essentials to the standard package (cornering ABS and traction control, cruisecontrol, electronic adaptable suspension, …). The only extra’s I personally would add are the quickshifter and heated grips.

Conclusion

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is simply put a fantastic bike. A beast that can go insanely fast, but at the same time is perfectly controlable. The 1301 cc V-twin is what makes the Super Adventure a big seducer in the first place, and the reason why you would start doubting not to buy its biggest competitor, the 1200 GS. That, plus the price difference.

The standard equipment of this allroad includes more than just the essentials. The option list therefore doesn’t necessarily have to lead to an extra talk with your bank, as it is sometimes the case with other brands. ABS and traction control have cornering technology, the suspension is semi-active, driving modes and cruise control are all included in the package.

Here and there KTM has some working points and its design may not convince everyone, but you’d still have a tough job denying the 1290 Super Adventure S is an excellent motorcycle.

Photography: Kenny van Houttave

Pros

+ Insane engine
+ Extensive standard equipment
+ I love the design
+ Good riding comfort

Cons

– Bye bye driving license?
– Cruise control: still room for improvement
– Somewhat less vibrations would be nice

Tech specs

Engine

Design: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
Displacement: 1301 cm³
Bore: 108 mm
Stroke: 71 mm
Power: 118 kW / 160 pk at 8,750
Torque: 140 Nm at 6.750
Starter: Electric starter
Lubrication: Forced oil lubrication with 3 oil pumps
Transmission: 6-speed
Cooling: Liquid cooled
Clutch: PASC (TM) slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated
EMS: Keihin EMS with RBW and cruise control, double ignition
CO2 emissions: 129 g/km
Fuel consumption: 5.52

Chassis

Frame design: Chromium-Molybdenum steel trellis frame, powder coated
Front suspension: WP Semi-active suspension USD Ø 48 mm
Rear suspension: WP Semi-active suspension monoshock
Suspension travel (front): 200 mm
Suspension travel (rear): 200 mm
Front brake: 2 x Brembo four-piston radial fixed calliper, brake discs, floating
Rear brake: Brembo twin-piston fixed calliper, brake disc
Front brake disc diameter: 320 mm
Rear brake disc diameter: 267 mm
ABS: Bosch 9ME combined ABS (incl. cornering ABS and offroad mode, disengageable)
Chain: X-Ring 5/8 x 5/16″
Steering head angle: 64 °
Ground clearance: 220 mm
Seat height: 860 mm
Tank capacity (approx.): 23 l
Dry weight: 215 kg

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