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2017 KTM Adventure Review

Super Adventure 1290 R & S, Adventure 1090 R

Words: Jock McLauchlan Photos: Greg Smith/iKapture


What a launch, what an occasion and bloody hell… what a bike! Well, bikes actually. When you hear the launch ride is set near Katoomba, in the heart of the Blue Mountains, where off-road trails are virtually endless, you get quite excited.

Then when you finally lay eyes on your new machine complete with Akrapovic muffler, Continental TKC80 knobbly tyres and a full KTM Hard Parts bashplate… well, not only does it endorse in my mind further that KTM takes adventure bikes and riding them very seriously, my excitement levels start to nudge the limiter.

But firstly, I should back it up a bit, from Sydney we jumped in a van for the 100-odd km drive to Lilianfels Blue Mountains resort and spa. Lilianfels in Katoomba is right at the stunning Echo point lookout above the Three Sisters. They’re a beautiful sight in the early morning light.

The launch of the 2017 range of KTM Adventure bikes, including the 1290 Super Adventure R and S, and 1090 Adventure R was held in the Blue Mountains, NSW
The launch of the 2017 range of KTM Adventure bikes, including the 1290 Super Adventure R and S, and 1090 Adventure R was held in the Blue Mountains, NSW

They, and the massive surrounding valley, are all part of the greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Site and absolutely worth stopping for if you happen to be passing that way. Anyway, arriving at Lilianfels, a fabulous place with an elegant, timeless air, riders were greeted by the ever friendly face of KTM Events Manager, Rosie Lalonde and Marketing Manager Nicole Leong.

Because our plane was late (broken rubber band I think), we barely had time to admire the lines of immaculate new 1290 and 1090 models before being handed an arm load of KTM promo items, ushered to our rooms and told, “press conference in five minutes”.

The 1290 R model is the hardcore off-roader, while the S features semi-active suspension and sticky rubber for road and light unsealed road duties
The 1290 R model is the hardcore off-roader, while the S features semi-active suspension and sticky rubber for road and light unsealed road duties

For 2017 KTM has four updated adventure models. There’s the 1290 Super Adventure R, 1290 Super Adventure S, 1090 Adventure R and 1090 Adventure. In a nut-shell the differences between the 1290s are the S is more road-oriented with WP electronic semi-active suspension, cast alloy 17/19-inch wheels, a bigger screen and less suspension travel.

The R model has conventional, fully adjustable and hydraulic/wire spring suspension with 220mm travel at each end and wire spoke 18/21-inch wheels. Both 1290s have the super-cool 6.5-inch TFT dash display that really can be read in all light conditions and the ultra trick LED headlight with graduated cornering lights and daytime running lights, as well as state-of-the-art ABS and traction control systems.

Both the 1290s feature the trick new LED headlight
Both the 1290s feature the trick new LED headlight

The 2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Getting down to business, the 2017 1290 engine is actually 1301cc, with 160hp and a colossal 140Nm of torque. Yes, you read that right. These figures seem utterly insane and bordering on the ridiculous, even for a giant, extreme adventure bike such as this… until you ride it.

The 1290 powerplant is a 1301cc twin with 160hp and 140Nm of torque
The 1290 powerplant is a 1301cc twin with 160hp and 140Nm of torque

For me it was absolutely love at first throttle twist! After all – KTM say this machine is aimed at the Alpha Male, a man who is probably a decent offroad rider and wants the ‘real deal’ in an adventure machine too. And bloody hell is this stunning bike it! I’ll say it now – the KTM 1290 engine is without peer in its class, and by a huge margin. Nothing comes close.

The 1290 R doesn’t just have a bigger engine. KTM understands that buyers really are going hard offroad on their big adventure machines… perhaps even harder than they thought was the case a few years back. So, to suit the riding, harder springs, stiffer damping and a ‘full’ twin-piston PDS shock now grace the R models.

The 1290 Super Adventure R also features easily removed airfilters, ensuring you'll be back on the road in no time
The 1290 Super Adventure R also features easily removed air pre-filters, ensuring you’ll be back on the road in no time

KTM has also come up with clever, easily cleaned air pre-filters below and on each side of the headlight for dusty conditions. A one minute job would change them and keep the big V-twin breathing freely – possibly an engine saver in extreme environments.

Another change is a new type of steering head bearing KTM has developed. It’s simple and clever too. No longer is it a tapered needle roller, but probably the simplest description is a normal roller in a tapered cage.

The 1290s also feature a a new type of steering head bearing KTM has developed
The 1290s also feature a a new type of steering head bearing KTM has developed

I’m not sure if I imagined it or not, but the 1290’s steering felt slightly more secure than the that of the 1090, which uses the traditional-style tapered bearing. Probably… possibly… I’m not quite sure.


Riding – 1290 Super Adventure R

Right, shall we ride them? Yes, but first, before a day’s adventure riding on a 1290 R, I’d seriously recommend a hearty breakfast and, boy, does Lilianfels deliver. With a full, happy belly, I thumbed the KTM into life and headed out in the offroad group.

First up the 1290 Super Adventure R which features a key fob for easy starting
First up the 1290 Super Adventure R which features a key fob for easy starting

There is no need to fumble for the key with your gloves on either, because a transponder you keep in your pocket activates the KTM, as long as you’re nice and close to it.

The plan was to ride to our lunch stop, meet up with the road group and swap over to the S models, so that everyone had a fair crack at each bike. It was cold. I’d made the rooky mistake of checking Sydney weather before I left… 20 plus degrees, sweet.

"If everyone could do this Prozac sales would stop overnight – depression worldwide would have a cure – it’s that awesome."
“If everyone could do this Prozac sales would stop overnight – depression worldwide would have a cure – it’s that awesome.”

However the Blue Mountains are high and a bloody lot colder I can tell you. Within a few kilometres I’d finally found a valid reason for cruise control… it’s to set the throttle so you can tuck both hands down behind the radiators to ease the frostbite.

Yes, heated grips are available, but weren’t fitted to our test bikes. Anyway, the sun was out and it wasn’t long before we hit the offroad stuff, which got the blood pumping and warmed me up. The first 10 kilometres or so offroad were smooth, wide and very fast dirt/sand base bush tracks and very grippy.

The 1290 provides smiles by the spadeful, thanks to that 160hp on offer
The 1290 provides smiles by the spadeful, thanks to that 160hp on offer, and both faster and easier to control than the old 1190R

I’ve gotta say, the smile factor was off the scale. It’s hard to convey the amount of sheer happiness 160hp, knobbly tyres and a smooth-sliding dirt road can create… if everyone could do this Prozac sales would stop overnight – depression worldwide would have a cure – it’s that awesome.

The bigger engine is clearly faster, the power delivery definitely better and easier to control than the old 1190R – I know this for sure, as I owned one until last year. The main power delivery improvements are the beautifully smooth off-idle throttle response and greater torque through the very broad midrange.

Traction control off is necessary to get the most out of the 1290 R in these situations... although it provides a great safety net for riders with normal skillsets
Traction control off is necessary to get the most out of the 1290 R in these situations… although it provides a great safety net for riders with normal skillsets

This means feeling out traction at low speeds is a doddle and fast sliding is way more manageable because the extra torque provides a fatter ‘grunt’ curve. Meaning, you can slide with less revs, thus making it more controllable. However, this is with the fun police (traction control) turned off… the only way to really get a proper feel for power delivery.

Be warned though, in this mode it can very much bite the hand that feeds it when provoked carelessly, we are still talking about 160hp in an offroad environment – so an experienced throttle hand and a clear mind is probably a minimum requirement for this setting.

The 1290 R with rider aides turned off can really come back to bite you, so isn't for the faint hearted, or new rider
The 1290 R with rider aides turned off can really come back to bite you, so isn’t for the faint hearted, or new rider

The full nana police still reside in the various default modes like Sport, Street, Rain and Offroad, and they could be a life saver for the imprudent rider.  Overall this engine is a stunner and as I said before – peerless.

A few kilometres later the tracks began to tighten up and get rougher. The previous day’s rain had filled the many large, and quite deep, potholes on what had become a 4WD track. I had slowed after a few big clunks, from the forks bottoming out, with water splashing everywhere when Chris Birch rode up beside me and yelled, “Five in on compression and two on rebound.”

Taking the 1290 R through a picturesque section
Taking the 1290 R through a picturesque section

“What?” I yelled back… as my hearing isn’t that flash. A quick chat ensued, I made the changes and the improvement was noticeable. Yes, the bike still bottomed out when jumping down water run-off mounds on the track, but the balance was good and the 1290 stayed nicely controlled. The suspension action truly is top-notch straight from the box, and very adjustable.

  • Strong Points – Phenomenal engine; great suspension, nicely balanced.
  • Weak Points – Possibly too much motor for some, won’t remember settings.

Riding: 1090 Adventure R

We pressed on down a long, in places rocky, bumpy trail until Black Fellows Hand Trail, an impressive shear rock canyon. Here we did some photo work before I swapped to the 1090 R, which I rode down to Turon Gates, where we did more photos in a river crossing, then on through Sofala to lunch at Chesleigh Homestead.

The 1090 R feels instantly lighter and much less powerful with 125hp on offer
The 1090 R feels instantly lighter and much less powerful with 125hp on offer

It was easy to immediately notice the way the 1090 felt lighter and less powerful… I’d call it more the thinking man’s big adventure bike. Power is a more than respectable 125hp, some 30hp up on the 1050 model which preceded it. It’s the same size engine as the outgoing 1050 but it’s not restricted – KTM has decided to give us the engine as-is, full-fat as it were. That’s where the extra 30hp have come from.

The 1090 does however offer a considerable improvement over the previous 1050, with excellent handling
The 1090 does however offer a considerable improvement over the previous 1050, with excellent handling

Initially, I found the 1090 a little boring (yes, I know…) as it doesn’t have the massive grunt of the 1290, but as I settled in I found the 1090 still plenty fast enough, noticeably lighter than the 1290, with excellent handling along some quite loose rocky 4WD tracks.

The 1090 R is still plenty fast enough if a little boring in direct comparison to the 1290 R
The 1090 R is still plenty fast enough, if a little boring in direct comparison to the 1290 R

In reality, I think, the main difference between the 1090 and 1290 will be tyre wear. The 1090’s motor gives its tyres a much easier time, making tyres last longer, but I have to say I think think the ‘fun factor’ is a little higher on the 1290 when pressing on offroad.

It’s just it feels a little down on power after getting off the phenomenal 1290. I didn’t get the opportunity to ride the road-oriented 1090 Adventure.

The 1090 Adventure R will no doubt be the more manageable choice for many riders however
The 1090 Adventure R will no doubt be the more manageable choice for many riders however
  • Strong Points – Lighter; more manageable for most riders, easy to use power.
  • Weak Points – Nothing, but won’t remember settings.

Riding – 1290 Super Adventure S

Fed and watered it was 1290 S time. One word kept springing to mind – wheelies! Sticky tyres, huge torque and a super-comfy dirtbike style riding position can only lead to this kind of behaviour. Thankfully this bike is so much more than that.

The 1290 Super Adventure S is the road orientated offering, with 160hp on offer and bucketfuls of torque
The 1290 Super Adventure S is the road orientated offering, with 160hp on offer and bucketfuls of torque

As a mainly road and gravel-road machine it is absolutely stunning – this is the bike I would choose to tour the country aboard. On the road it is beyond fast, with confident and effortless handling, as well as comfortable and ‘hoonable’.

It has a fantastic screen for keeping the weather at bay and fabulous brakes. The electronic suspension works well and has a multitude of on-the-fly adjustments, but, of course, you’d still need an R model in the shed for when you want to get really dirty!

The 1290 S features semi-active suspension and is both comfortable and hoonable
The 1290 S features semi-active suspension and is both comfortable and hoonable

Really, my only gripe with all of KTM’s new Adventure models is they don’t remember some settings once the ignition has been turned off. The main ones are turning off the ABS and anti-wheelie settings for use on dirt or gravel roads. I found it tedious to keep having to scroll through to get my desired options after stopping and turning the ignition off.

One gripe across the model range is that some settings are not remembered once the ignition is off, such as ABS and anti-wheelie, but this is no doubt to prevent owners from being caught out
One gripe across the model range is that some settings are not remembered once the ignition is off, such as ABS and anti-wheelie, but this is no doubt to prevent owners from being caught out

With our fast and tight mix of tarmac riding done on the S, plus a little gravel, it was dark and time to head back to Katoomba. Showered and cleaned up our media group hopped on the bus to our final dinner/chat at the wonderful Boiler House restaurant.

The 1290 S is the ideal choice for the ultra long distance tourer, especially if you were to tour around the country
The 1290 S is the ideal choice for the ultra long distance tourer, especially if you were to tour around the country

It had been a stunning KTM Adventure launch – the bikes, hospitality and the incredible attention to detail made sure the bikes were shown in their best light.

Unfortunately, there’s never enough time on a launch of multiple bikes to cover each model comprehensively, but suffice to say, KTM has significantly improved its Adventure models for 2017, and placed them squarely into real adventure territory.

There's no doubt that KTM have significantly improved their Adventure line-up for 2017
There’s no doubt that KTM have significantly improved their Adventure line-up for 2017
  • Strong Points – Outstanding touring/gravel-road machine; Easy electronic suspension
  • Weak Points – Won’t remember settings

2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R

KTM 1090 Adventure R Technical Specifications

  • Manufacturer website – www.ktm.com/au
  • Price – $19,955 + ORC
  • Engine – 1050, 75-degree v-twin
  • Bore x Stroke – 103 x 63.1mm
  • Power – 125hp at 8500rpm
  • Torque – 109Nm at 6500rpm
  • Compression Ratio – 13.0:1
  • Induction – Adventure EFI 52mm throttle bodies
  • Engine Management – Keihin EMS with RBW, cruise control, twin plugs per cylinder
  • Transmission – Six speed, slipper clutch
  • Frame – Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated
  • Front Suspension – 48mm WP inverted forks, 220mm travel
  • Rear Suspension – WP PDS shock, 220mm travel
  • Brakes – Brembo four-piston radial calipers and 320mm discs (F); 267mm rear disc Brembo fixed caliper (R). Bosch 9M+ ABS
  • Rims – Spoked alloy; 2.5×21″ (F); 4.5×18″ (R), tubeless
  • Tyres – 90/90-21 (F); 150/70-18 (R)
  • Steering Head Angle – 64-degrees
  • Trail – 123mm
  • Wheelbase – 1580 +/- 15mm
  • Ground Clearance – 250mm
  • Seat Height – 890mm
  • Fuel Capacity – 23 litres
  • Dry Weight – 207kg – 230kg with all fluids and full tank of fuel
2017 KTM Adventure R
2017 KTM Adventure R

2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S (Super Adventure R) Specifications

  • Manufacturer website – www.ktm.com/au
  • Pricing – $23,995 ($25,995) + ORC
  • Engine – Liquid-cooled, 75° V-twin, four-stroke, DOHC
  • EMS – Keihin EMS, RbW, double ignition
  • Displacement – 1301cc
  • Bore x stroke – 108 x 71mm
  • Power – 118kW (160hp)
  • Torque – 140Nm (103.3ft-lbs)
  • Clutch – PASC slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated
  • Frame – Chromium-Molybdenum steel trellis frame, powder-coated
  • Rake – 26.0°
  • Wet weight – 238kg (240kg)
  • Fuel capacity – 23L
  • Front suspension – 48mm WP semi-active fork, 200mm travel (WP 48mm inverted forks, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound, 220mm travel)
  • Rear suspension – WP Semi-active monoshock, 200mm travel (WP direct mount rear shock, adjustable for preload, hi/lo-speed compression and rebound, 220mm travel)
  • Front brake – Dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, dual 320mm discs, Bosch MSC lean-sensitive 9ME combined ABS
  • Rear brake – Brembo two-piston caliper, 267mm disc, Bosch lean-sensitive 9ME MSC combined ABS
  • Wheels & Tyres – Cast alloy wheels (Tubeless, wire spoke, aluminium rims), Pirelli Scorpion Trail II, 120/70 ZR 19, 170/60 ZR 17, (Continental TKC80; 90/90-21 front; 150/70-18 rear)
  • Dimensions
  • Wheelbase – 1560mm +-15mm (1580mm)
  • Seat height – 860mm (890mm)
  • Ground clearance – 220mm (250mm)
  • Instruments – 6.5″ TFT
  • Service interval – 15,000km

2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The 1290 S and R feature dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs, and Bosch MSC lean-sensitive 9ME combined ABS
The 1290 S and R feature dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs, and Bosch MSC lean-sensitive 9ME combined ABS

The 1290s also feature a TFT display
The 1290s also feature a TFT display