The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure represents the pinnacle of modern motorcycling. It’s fitted with cutting edge of technology yet the rider aids are only as intrusive as you want them to be. The 1290 Super Adventure comes with almost every imaginable gadget yet the focus is still on riding and it plays the role of sportsbike, tourer and off-road capable adventure bike all in one.
The origins of KTM’s flagship machine come from an unlikely source – the KTM 1290 Super Duke R which is regarded as one of the most insane naked motorcycles ever built. Most motorcycle companies would have slapped a fairing on the Duke and released a sister sportsbike, but not KTM. Instead they decided to take an 180hp engine and create an adventure bike with it – one that actually has dirt capabilities.
Taking a step back, the idea of doing so seems quite ludicrous and yet riding the Super Adventure it all makes sense. A big part of that is thanks to the electronics that KTM has bolted onto this bike which makes it close to being the most sophisticated motorcycle you can buy today. It’s also probably because KTM decided to tone things down slightly by reducing the power of the engine to 160hp – still plenty of grunt in anyone’s book.
KTM implemented new cylinder heads and a new crankshaft with a greater flywheel mass and the modified engine management system which provides a very useable power band. Despite the decrease in power from the Super Duke R, the 1301cc engine still dishes out an immense 140 Nm @ 6,750 rpm. Looking at the torque curve 108Nm is available from as little as 2,500 rpm. It’s almost like an electric bike’s power plant. When the engine setting is set to sport mode, acceleration is viciously quick and would put some sportsbikes to shame. Despite the immense power on tap, fueling is near perfect – it’s completely manageable and controllable even when accelerating hard out of turns.
If you’re after a more sedate ride, things can be dialed back by choosing one of the other engine modes. Street mode maintains the use of the engines full potential but with a more moderate throttle response. The rain and off-road modes reduce power to 100hp and the throttle is less aggressive on the power delivery. Depending on the selected ride mode, the traction control will allow different amounts of wheel slippage: soft slippage in street mode, controlled wheels spin on sport and up to 100 per cent slippage for off-road riders when in that mode. If desired, traction control can even be switched off entirely.
Accompanying the choice of engine modes and traction control are settings for the semi-active suspension. It’s here that the technology really makes an impact on allowing the KTM 1290 Super Adventure to be both a luxury tourer and dirt capable adventure motorcycle at the same time. Selectable modes of comfort, street, sport and off-road change damping settings while the onboard computer ensures that the actual damping is
continuously adjusted in real-time to the riding style and surface.
In addition to damping control, the ECU has a few clever tricks up its sleeve. For example, the anti-dive function prevents excessive front fork dive on braking. This enhances riding comfort especially when riding with a pillion and ensures that at night, the headlights keep illuminating the whole driving lane even when braking. The respective damper
mappings always corresponds to the weight distribution and the control unit automatically increases the damping in proportion to any increase of payload.
But that’s not the end of it. Integrated with all of this is another control unit which among other features comes with Bosch’s cornering ABS. In addition to providing a linked braking system (using the front brake also activates the back brake), the system enables the rider to brake and accelerate in safety even on wet roads and other slippery surfaces, as well as leaned over in corners.
The best thing about all this technology is that you don’t even know it’s there. Despite some spirited riding I didn’t once see the traction control icon light up on the dash. On the dirt and gravel it intervenes more but that’s a good thing considering the sheer amount of mass you’re propelling over loose surfaces. For most, you’ll hardly ever touch the various modes, save perhaps for when you either go off-road or have to ride in the rain.
And that’s the story of the 1290 Super Adventure – this is an incredibly sophisticated bike that could have disappeared up its own exhaust pipe with how clever it was trying to be but instead this is just a brilliant motorcycle that you can get technical with if you so choose. Without all that technical wizardry it’s probably unlikely that the 1290 Super Adventure would be as capable off-road as it is.
It’s not just the electronics that make this a machine you can take on the dirt, KTM has done its best to make this a serious adventure bike. Up front is a 19 inch wheel and both front and back use spoked rims. Front suspension travel is also 200mm which is second only to the KTM 1190 Adventure R. Despite its heft this is a truly off-road capable machine.
I found the ergonomics almost spot on though that will change depending on your own dimensions. The seat height is adjustable and has a range of between 860mm and 875mm which is pretty accommodating for a wide variety of people although no doubt some would have probably have preferred a higher pew. Around the front of the bike are crash bars but stupidly the 1290 Super Adventure doesn’t come with a crash plate to protect the engine and exhaust headers. We realize this would have added extra weight but it seems a cardinal sin not to include a simple device to protect an extremely expensive engine. There’s also the fact that bike is chain driven rather than shaft driven – but this is a route KTM always takes and no doubt feels it’s the right choice when it comes to weight savings.
A steering damper is hidden below the bars which helps keep things controllable up front and is probably just as beneficial for off-road riding as for on. The tires are more skewed towards bitumen than dirt but provide a decent amount of grip and feedback – but like any road orientated tire they’ll struggle in the mud.
Without turning this review into War and Peace we won’t dwell too much on the other bits of kit KTM has included on this bike but they include heated grips, a heated seat, slipper clutch, tire pressure monitoring sensors, a massively height adjustable windshield and front and rear LED lights (and blinkers). Of special mention are the cornering lights – comprised of three LED segments each, the light units are mounted on both sides of the tank and connected to the lean angle sensor of the stability control system. In corners, one to all three segments light up depending on the lean angle to ensure the stretch of ground ahead is always perfectly illuminated, even while turning.
On the negative side, the engine gets hot – very hot. We were riding in cold temperatures and our left leg was getting pretty toasty and I’d hate to think what it would be like in summer. There’s also no getting around the 1290 Super Adventures girth – true off-road riders would probably be better off with the 1190 Adventure.
But that’s okay because the bike isn’t designed to be a dedicated off-road machine, it’s designed to be a sportsbike, a luxury tourer and an adventure bike all in one. And the 1290 Super Adventure pretty much nails it. That is if you can afford it. At $20,499 the Super Adventure costs more than what most families would spend on a car. The question you have to ask is that is it necessary to spend that much to get the experience this bike provides? And the answer is actually yes. The Aprilia Caponord Rally and BMW R1200GS provide 90% of what the Super Adventure does and for much less cost – but if you want the best the 1290 Super Adventure is currently the king of the castle – if you’re willing (or able) to pay for it. No other motorcycle save for perhaps Ducati’s Multitrada S provides the sheer speed, handling and technology that the KTM provides.
Not only is the 1290 Super Adventure KTM’s flagship motorcycle, it has set the bar for the industry.
2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure Specifications
|Engine||2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°|
|Power||118 kW (160 hp) @ 8,750 rpm|
|Torque||140 Nm @ 6,750 rpm|
|Gear Box||6 gears|
|Front Brakes||2 x Brembo four piston, radially bolted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm|
|Rear Brakes||Brembo two piston, fixed caliper, brake disc Ø 267 mm|
|Front Suspension||WP Semi-active Suspension USD Ø 48 mm|
|Rear Suspension||WP Semi-active Suspension PDS Monoshock|
|Front Tire||120/70 R 19|
|Rear Tire||170/60 R 17|
|Dry Weight||229 kg|
|Tank Capacity||30 liters/4 liters reserve|