This is the biggest of the big Adventure bikes from the Austrians. It’s a full-on tech assault on the world of the mile-eaters. And it’s a flag carrier for the new era of modern motorcycling
When KTM launched a bike rather grandly named 1290 Super Adventure, we knew it had to reach great heights, otherwise it would be consigned to the annals of motorcycle history. Super Adventure? We’ll see…
So, right from the off, I’ll lay my cards on the table. This is an amazing bike. It may just be the best bike made in this sector so far. It’s the big, big Adventure I’d go for as I sit here writing this world launch report.
It looks physically huge. For many the fact that it’s got the wrong three letters on the tank and no shaft drive will be enough to write this off as a bad idea made real. But they’d be wrong. Really, hugely wrong.
So, what to know about this newest of new from the party-boys in Austria. Essentially this is a big bore 1190 Adventure with cylinders and pistons from the awesome Super Duke 1290 launched just over a year ago. And it’s dripping with top tourer tech.
Kicking out 160bhp compared to a BMW R1200GSA’s 125 with a lot more torque (103lb-ft at 6500rpm compared to the German’s 92lb-ft at the same revs) and a stomping 77lb-ft of that Austrian oomph available at just 2500rpm, you can see that KTM has gone down the big power route.
But there’s more to it than just impressive figures. The Austrians call this the ‘luxury’ tourer and that’s largely down to the semi-active suspension, a live system that’s a first for KTM and changes damping in real time underneath you as you ride. It reacts to how aggressive (or not) you’re being with the throttle, the type of road surface the suspension is sensing and levels of grip, lean and wheel slip. Monitoring the world thousands of times a second, this latest innovation might just be one of those iconic moments, a specific birth in motorcycle history.
This bike is now the top of the KTM Adventure family. It’s a family that has four bikes in it with the 1290, 1190 R, 1190 and the new-licence friendly 1050 (which is reviewed here a few pages on). KTM is pushing the 1290 as the state- of-the-art in Adventure tourers. And honestly, I’m finding it hard to argue with that.
Let’s just get the bits you’ll notice in the dealer’s shop window out of the way first. There’s all new styling with a massive screen, mounted into the fairing just under the shoulders are the cornering LED lights which light up as needed on each side of the bike as you corner. Get lower in the turn and more lights appear. The idea is, that this helps you see as you corner. The reality is that it looks very cool indeed and more than once did I spend too long watching bikes in the mirror as they pitched hard over lean then right through a long tunnel just to see the left, then right lights flash on and off in turn.
The bike looks big and top-heavy. But it’s not. A lot of the weight is kept low and the 1290 is very nimble at speed or pottering pace, new cosmetics keep the enduro-style big shoulder and the firm has spent a lot of time re- routing air flow across the top of the motor so that hot air doesn’t hit the rider in the vegetables – an old fault of the 1190 on long rides. It works, kind of. If the old system was 100% bad then this new one is about 30% of that. You can still get a bit cooked at 20o plus, if you’re riding at a ‘brisk and spirited pace’.
The seat is new, the brakes are familiar and the subframe has an integrated luggage carrying system built in. Pillions have their own dial- control for the heated pillion seat and that big windshield is easy to adjust with its own dial system and no tools.
It’s hard to get away from the tech on this bike, in fact it’s impossible. You get to choose the suspension setting you want, the amount of load on the bike, the amount of power and aggressive(ness) of the throttle action too. This is in four riding modes and four suspension modes. Accessing these is very, very simple. Just two presses of a button will navigate you around the large and easy to understand digital screen and from there you make your choices. You can make the choices on the move should you want to. Once you get used to this system it becomes second nature and really does give you another second or third string to your riding bow.
How the semi-active suspension feels on the move is actually quite hard to describe. Mainly because you can’t feel it working, but you’re aware that something’s going on underneath. As the bike’s springers change damping in line with the way you’re riding, you can feel the bike stiffen or relax accordingly. It’s the fact that this happens without you doing anything other than working the throttle or throwing the bike into a corner which is the new sensation. There’s a real sense of the bike being alive around you and aware of what you want. Then it delivers the right damping in the right way at the right time. After a couple of corners you can just forget about the tech and get back to that lovely art of riding big bikes fast. But the second you decide you want to roll off and plod for a bit, the bike relaxes around you and the luxurious super tourer is back.
For the majority of the launch ride I set the suspension to Comfort mode and had the throttle on Sport. I wanted to see how quickly the suspension could react to very aggressive, full-on power, snapping on and off between perilous switchback mountain roads and still return to luxurious plodding comfort when I had to roll off the gas for the odd little town. And I’m telling you now that it’s amazing. The semi-active suspension worked perfectly, despite hours of me trying to upset the applecart with lots of purposefully ham-fisted blasts of full-on KTM power.
Brakes, chassis and even dash are familiar in look and feel. If you’ve ridden a big KTM before then the 1290 feels very much like the 1190 but wider and more upright. There’s plenty of legroom, a full day of hard riding didn’t suffer from one bit of cramp, and I can’t imagine anyone having issues with the ergonomics of the 1290.
So it’s all good. Aside from two small points. The first is that screen – it’s a great screen and deflects a lot of wind, but it’s just an inch too tall for the 5ft 8in me and as such it’s when the bike’s leant right over I found that the top inch of the screen was slap bang in my line of sight. There is a simple, although unofficial, cure for this – take the screen off, turn around the brackets for it and mount the screen back into position.
The riding modes, that suspension and the whole way the bike can turn from luxurious, comfortable and easy-to-ride super tourer into a taught, responsive and just plain fun upright 160bhp superbike moves the game on a whole
new level. The 1290 even gave me a return of 35.3mpg on the day’s often very, very quick and aggressive riding, which I was genuinely surprised about. Trust me, for testing a bike like this we ride hard and far and to see anything in the 30s wasn’t expected, so a 35.3mpg figure is genuinely welcome.
Don’t let the three letters on the tank put you off. Go ride this bike.