2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure Review
Clinging to the side of the vast volcanic Caldera de los Marteles, I flick through the narrow twisty roads of Gran Canaria, dragging the toes of my boots through hairpin corners as I draw mental analogies between the powerful volcanism that created the Canary Islands’ magnificent scenery, and the incredible power of the machine I’m using to carve through it.
I’m piloting the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure — the third incarnation of the KTM Adventure, and the new flagship model in the orange company’s range of travel-enduro motorcycles. While the 1190 Adventure is engineered for performance and versatility, and its 1190 Adventure R sibling is optimized for extreme off-piste touring, the engineering objective for the 1290 Super Adventure is to design and build the world’s only luxury and sporting travel-enduro motorcycle.
After all, KTM has made it abundantly clear that it intends to redefine and seize primary ownership of the world-wide adventure touring market. Just 10 short years ago it launched its first 950cc V-twin Adventure into a motorcycle segment originated and dominated by the BMW GS, commencing a David vs. Goliath-like rivalry that has fueled rapid innovation from both marques.
However, KTM has a trump card, for at its disposal is the absolutely potent and superbly rideable 1290 Super Duke R’s 1301cc LC8 engine. Rallying behind the mantra of “more is more,” the engineering team in Mattighofen, Austria set about adapting the lightweight power plant for a wide range of scenarios, while matching it to an overall package that introduces amenities geared towards comfort and convenience and making the “adventure last longer.”
At first sight, the 1290 Super Adventure is quintessentially Austrian, with chiseled angular looks inherited from the Super Duke R. Yet, it retains the sporting rally racing aesthetic common to the Adventure range. Twelve LED day-time running lights in the shape of a U unmistakably announce the presence of a KTM motorcycle.
New is KTM’s take on adaptive headlight technology, in the form of built-in cornering lights. Rather than traditional auxiliary lights, the LED cornering lights are comprised of three segments of LED lights that fire to the left and right and in increasing intensity for sharper cornering, all of which is controlled by an on-board lean-angle sensor.
Soft leather-like seats are crafted with luxury in mind and equipped with two-stage heating with separate controls for the pilot and pillion—design considerations for comfortable long-distance touring that are not typically associated with KTM’s performance-first approach.
A large adjustable windshield for maximum protection from the wind and elements is designed to lessen rider fatigue on long journeys, and provides the convenience of one-hand operation while underway.
Luggage mounting points are incorporated in the aluminum subframe assembly and side panniers will come standard on the 1290 Super Adventure on US models when they land stateside. A nearly eight-gallon fuel tank is fully integrated into the ergonomics of the chassis and rider cockpit, providing for a range of well over 300 miles.
Firing up the LC8 engine is a sensory experience all its own, with the rapid fire exhaust note from the combined silencer and catalytic converter being audible evidence that the insatiable spirit of the Super Duke R lives beneath; a quick twist of the throttle confirms it.
The 75-degree V-twin outputs a neck- snapping 160 horsepower and 103 ft/lbs of torque. Notably, an additional 4.4 pounds of flywheel weight allows the engine to proffer up a monstrous 77 ft/lbs at a mere 2500 on the rev counter.
Despite all of the superlatives and accolades associated with the Super Adventure LC8 engine, the coup de grâce with respect to model differentiation is the pervasiveness of electronic rider assistance.
In partnership with Bosch, KTM incorporated Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC), which debuted last year on the 1190 Adventure. MSC integrates lean-angle sensors with ABS and traction control systems to allow for powerful braking and acceleration on wet and slippery surfaces, even while leaned over in corners. Additionally, the front and rear brakes are linked, so the application of the front brake automatically engages the rear brake to ensure overall stabilization.
Although highly evolved to provide assistance rather than unwanted intrusion, MSC can be completely disengaged, or an Off-Road mode can be selected that allows for spinning up the rear wheel under acceleration and locking it up under braking—essential for aggressive dirt excursions.
Designed in conjunction with the engineers at WP, the semi-active suspension utilizes a Suspension Control Unit to measure stroke travel and speed every 10 milliseconds and modulates the damping in the fork and shock to maintain a balanced attitude of the chassis. This is accomplished by compiling telemetric data gathered by potentiometers located inside the front fork and around the rear swing-arm pivot, and corroborating that with accelerometers located fore and aft in the chassis.
Manipulating the settings for the electronic assistances is accomplished quite intuitively with a large LCD display on the left of the rider cockpit, controlled by arrow, select, and back buttons on the left side of the handlebar.
The downside to this simplicity is that the rider may find himself a little distracted as he scrolls through myriad menus and drill-downs while on the road. KTM’s answer to this is the ability to save favorite settings and create customized menus.
On board the new 1290 Super Adventure, the immediate feeling is one of power and versatility. Long stretches of highway are devoured in speed and comfort with the transmission clicked into overdrive 6th gear) and the windscreen providing plenty of protection from buffeting wind and road grit. A nice feature of the cruise control is that while activated, but not engaged, it displays the last set speed, so the rider knows what to expect when he hits the Resume button.
Weighing in at 548 pounds fueled up and ready to ride, the Super Adventure is lightweight for its class. Still, the laws of nature seem to be ignored, as a bike this big shouldn’t be this effortless to ride.
To get a baseline, I take the old school approach and turn off the electronics to prove the hypothesis that the Super Adventure is really the Super Duke disguised in adventure touring garb, and I couldn’t be happier! Wheelies in 1st through 3rd gears are just a flick of the clutch away, and the braking is crisp and progressive. Of course, outside of the rather juvenile need for the exhibition of speed, electronic assistance is not only faster, it’s safer, too.
My go-to setting is Sport drive mode and Street damping. In this configuration, I had access to all 160 horses with a snappy throttle response and controlled sliding of the rear wheel at corner exit, but I also had the most progressive damping, keep- ing the bike stable in g-out situations and undulating tarmac.
Additionally, Street damping maximizes the anti-dive properties and it’s very noticeable, as damping is increased as soon as the accelerometers detect braking, keeping the angle of the bike level and the feeling very balanced. A byproduct is that it is a bit harder to tighten up a corner without the usual front fork dive. On the other hand, it is easy to ride and requires considerably less body input, which means a lot less rider fatigue on long days in the saddle.
Every available setting is relevant, as each one is appropriate for a different scenario— Comfort mode for cruising the beachfront malecón, Sport for lighting up the canyons, plus Rain and Off-Road as conditions present themselves.
The electronic assistance is so effective that it virtually operates in the background, allowing the rider to lose himself in a state of flow from corner to corner, with the big twin providing the soundtrack. So much torque is delivered so early in the rev range that shifting the transmission becomes nearly optional, as 3rd gear can easily pull through a hairpin turn with perfect aspiration.
After a few hundred miles, I’m completely awestruck from experiencing such a wide spectrum of versatility, utility, and high-performance sport motor- cycling from the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure.
KTM continues to be an unstoppable juggernaut of innovation, redefining traditional motorcycle categories, and staying true to its performance pedigree. Yet, I feel that I have only scratched the surface as I think of the end- less possibilities that knobby-block tires would provide for the pursuit of a two-up adventure, off the beaten path, of course. A real Super Adventure.
Photography by Sebas Romero and Francesc Montero
- Helmet: Shoei Hornet X2
- Eyewear: VonZipper Fulton
- Jacket & Pants: REV’IT! Vapor
- Gloves: REV’IT! Vapor H20
- Boots: Sidi Adventure