Review: KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

In 2018 I tested the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S and during that test week I developed a profound love for the bike. So much so that the Super Adventure made it to the number 1 on my list of favorite test bikes that year.

That experience made me very curious about the new 1290 Super Adventure S, which got a big make-over for model year 2021. Even though an untrained eye perhaps wouldn’t notice much of that update.

The headlight is probably the biggest eye-catcher. It now contains the sensor for the (standard) adaptive cruisecontrol. Quite easy to spot as well: the new 23-litre tank hangs like two large cheeks along both sides of the also renewed frame. Furthermore, the LC8 V-twin has been thoroughly revised: it weighs 1.6 kg less now, received a Euro5 diploma and spits out 160 hp/138 Nm. The steering head was moved 15 mm rearwards for sharper handling, while the swingarm was extended by 15 mm for more stability and grip. And there’s more, but we’ll discuss that later.

When I hop on the bike, I immediately notice that the adjustable seat (849 / 869 mm) is lower and narrower at the front than on the previous model. At the same time, the new position of the handlebars gives you a more compact, accessible and more manageable feel. So let’s get going with this big adventure bike.

From the first meters you will notice the better weight distribution. The new tank lowers the center of gravity, which has an undeniably positive influence on the agility of the bike. The new Super Adventure steers noticeably lighter and more playful.

I took it to the Moselle region for a few days where it took both hairpin bends and long flowing “wide-open-throttle” corners with ease and eagerness. The 1290 combines light-footedness with stability and accuracy at any speed, which boosts your confidence enormously. The combination of improved weight distribution, revised frame and the new suspension does a great job.

Speaking of the suspension, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S comes equipped with a new WP semi-active suspension. You can choose between the Street, Sport or Comfort mode. If you purchase the optional Suspension Pro, you’ll even get three more modes: Offroad, Auto and Advanced, and there’s a switchable anti-dive function (!) with a clear difference between on and off. In each setting you can adjust the preload of the monoshock while riding (20 mm – a handy feature for the short-legged), while in the Advanced setting you can fully adjust the fork and rear shock.

I tried out various settings, and even though the Auto setting works really well, I couldn’t get used to it right away. As the name suggests, the suspension automatically adjusts to road conditions and riding input. If you ride slowly, it will feel more comfortable. If you ride sporty, then maximum grip is priority. Either way it was difficult for me to get used to. Even though that may have been due to myself. Just like I only got used to ‘not shifting’ after my second turn on a DCT equipped Africa Twin. Anyway, the Sport setting turned out to be the obvious choice for me: predictable and accurate in all circumstances.

Perhaps this 1290 has lost some of its hooligan traits compared to the previous generation, but on the other hand it now feels more reliable and even sharper. The new Super Adventure always gave me a lot of confidence. It’s awesome to trail brake and turn in hard, and then accelerate out of the corner with full force. Time and time again, never getting unsettled. Excitement assured, with bonus points for the flawless (optional) quick shifter.

Riding modes are of course also available. Street, Sport, Rain and Offroad are standard, Rally is optional. In all riding modes you can switch off the ABS and traction control separately, while in Rally mode you can even control the wheel slip and throttle response.

Today, many modern adventure bikes serve as the technological flagships for their brand, and the same thing goes for the Super Adventure. Sophisticated suspension, cornering ABS and traction control, smartphone connectivity, hill hold control… it almost seems like business as usual. The adaptive cruise control is less common, even though I already got a chance to experience it earlier this year on the BMW R 1250 RT. It works exactly the same here: the cruise control nicely takes into account the distance to the preceding vehicle (you can set that distance, by the way), and those who prefer non-adaptive cruise control can simply switch off the adaptive facet.

I’ll leave it in the middle whether you should be a fan of adaptive cruise control or not. There’s no point in using it when enjoying nice twisties, because in that case you want to control the bike yourself. I did find it useful on the highway. When you’re tired of the endless straight, you just put on the cruise control and let the bike do its thing. The windshield (easily adjustable while riding) and the tank cheeks will nicely protect you against harsh weather. The only downfall of this cruise control is that it takes away your attention a bit too hard in my opinion. So at some point you’ll probably realize you’re hanging behind a van doing 110 km/h, just because the engine can slow down very subtly.

To control all those electronics, you need handy buttons and a display with a clear menu structure. Not exactly KTM’s strongest point in the past. On the new Super Adventure S, we see that the Austrians firmly tackled that flaw. The 7” TFT display in itself is an improvement. A lot of basic information is summarized clearly, but the menu behind it also manages to capture the huge amount of settings clearly and logically. No, you won’t need that manual anymore.

The buttons also got better, which is mainly due to the five-way menu button. On the right side of the handlebars you’ll find two programmable favorites buttons, which are very useful if you like to have for example the heated grips or riding modes quickly at hand. But despite the undeniable progress, there is still room for improvement. The placement of some buttons (such as the back button) still lacks some intuitiveness.

Conclusion

After all the praise the predecessor received, could KTM improve on their 1290 Super Adventure S? Looking back on my week with the 2021 model, I don’t know whether it’s a stupid question, or if KTM surprised me yet again. Of course they’ve made progression! The biggest step forward being the revised frame and the new tank, taking the weight distribution, agility and handling to a whole new level.

No matter if you want to travel comfortably or just ride sporty: on this adventure bike it all comes naturally. And the enormous offer of technology does an excellent and subtle job.

It seems like KTM is smoothing down the rough edges just a little bit with every model they release, and the new 1290 is no different. Not everyone likes that. But make no mistake, this Austrian is easily one of the sportiest riding adventure bikes on the market. ‘Ready To Race’ is no lie.

Pros

+ Riding behaviour, agility, road holding
+ Improved buttons and menu
+ The V-twin remains sensational

Cons

– The buttons could still be simpler and more intuitive for me
– Is it getting too civilized for some?

Tech specs

Engine

Torque: 138 Nm
Transmission: 6-speed
Cooling: Liquid cooled
Power: 118 kW / 160 hp
Starter: Electric starter
Stroke x bore: 71 mm x 108 mm
Clutch: PASC (TM) slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated
Displacement: 1301 cm³
EMS: Keihin EMS with RBW and cruise control, double ignition
Design: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
Lubrication: Forced oil lubrication with 3 oil pumps

Chassis

Tank capacity: +-23 l
ABS: Bosch 10.3ME Combined-ABS (incl. Cornering-ABS and offroad mode)
Front brake disc diameter: 320 mm
Rear brake disc diameter: 267 mm
Chain: 525 X-Ring
Dry weight: 220 kg
Frame design: Chrome-moly tubular space frame, powder-coated
Front suspension: WP SAT (semi-active technology) Upside-Down Ø 48 mm
Ground clearance: 223 mm
Rear suspension: WP SAT (semi-active technology) shock absorber
Seat heigth: 849 mm
Steering head angle: 65.3 °
Suspension travel front / rear: 200 mm / 200 mm

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