Life is a series of milestones. In motorcycling, those markers might be your first ride, your first oil change, your first track day, your M-Class endorsement, or your first solo trip.
Despite the fact that I’ve been street riding for many years, my sport leanings have kept me on somewhat of a short leash. I’d do the few-hundred-miles morning jaunt through the canyons and retreat back home to safety and, most likely, some cereal. That’s a far cry from what many motorcyclists do, especially during the summer months when touring cross-country becomes a highlight for riders all over the world.It was my turn to notch the belt, as they say. When we first proposed the idea of covering WSBK and MotoAmerica at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I mulled over the idea of driving up. Considering the less than stellar scenery that the US Route 101 offers in central California, plus the prospects of traffic and dealing with parking, I opted to take the trip up on a motorcycle and finally hit the fabled Cabrillo Highway (aka California 1).For many California riders, this type of ride would be gobbled up in an average day’s work, but I live a motorcycle life similar to that of a raccoon—short range and largely unseen by the public—although I generally don’t steal things from trashcans and hiss at people.This trip would mark several firsts. First time up the Cabrillo Highway through Big Sur, the first time at Laguna Seca, and the first time I’d laid my hands on an adventure bike.The 2016 KTM 1190 Adventure seemed like the perfect choice for the job, but I had some reservations. Like many sportbike converts, I viewed the adventure bike as an overgrown enduro that wasn’t particularly great at being an enduro or a street-faring motorcycle.It was an ignorant stance to take, but in my defense, not completely unwarranted. The 1190 Adventure is somewhat imposing. It’s a tall bike with a seat 35-inches high, a large adjustable windscreen, pannier laden, and, to someone that has begun their riding career on the most stripped down speed-efficient machines, its appearance can seem overbuilt.All of those knickknacks, from the panniers to the heated grips, and a dash featuring more information than I knew what to do with—all of those things have a purpose and, much to my dismay, it wasn’t foreign. In fact, it’s incredibly useful when the necessity to use the features arise.Despite its size, the 2016 KTM 1190 Adventure is quite narrow (save for the dirt-style handlebars). Once you’ve weaseled your way into the pilot’s seat, it’s just another motorcycle—one adept at going far further than I’d previously gone.I also have something of a “yes man” personality when comes to new opportunities. So, while reticent to the whole ADV/Hi-Viz Uncle thing, this seemed like a chance to live like David Attenborough and observe what that side of motorcycling has been ranting about.A V-twin and a trellis frame isn’t exactly unfamiliar to me and, when traveling, a bit of home can go a long way. So, I took off from Ventura County, shoving my laptop, toothbrush, and some clothes into the panniers, setting off to one of the world’s most famed raceways.If you’re anything like me, your approach to packing is thus—grab things and stuff them in a container until they fit, all while leaving approximately 45 minutes later than you should have. For international travel, add (1) passport. Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s talk about the powerplant.I’m quite open about my love for all things V-twin and the KTM’s LC8 1195cc twin engine, with a claimed 148 horsepower and 92 ft/lbs of torque, certainly soothed preconceived notions a bit. If I had to choose a word to describe the 1190’s heart, it is raucous. The “Ready to Race” slogan that KTM lives by makes it presence known from the moment that you hit the starter—a pure, unimpeded exhaust note rings out.That’s exactly what I needed when powering up US 101, through Santa Barbara and into the meat of the trip, an area just north of Goleta, where the scenery begins to represent California at its best—Gaviota.Admittedly, I didn’t do the true California 1 run, crossing over to the Cabrillo Highway at Las Cruces. Instead, I made the jump in San Luis Obispo, a sleepy college town that makes for a great place to grab a bite to eat, get gas, or try to meet some affluent hippies.The abridged version of the California 1 allows you to get on it in San Luis Obispo. Exit the 101 at Osos Street, work your way around and trust the signs onto the Cabrillo Highway. After slogging up the 101, fighting traffic the entire way, it was a sigh of relief that I could actually begin putting the 2016 KTM 1190 Adventure to the test.Within the first few miles, the 1190 came into its own. The 61.4-inch wheelbase keeps you planted and on your line perfectly. Even when rolling into corners with speed well above what Adventure riding is commonly associated with, the bike remains planted when cornering.What helps all of that along is the WP-EDS (Electronic Damping System) that allows you to adjust the fork and shock damping with the press of a couple of buttons. In Sport mode, things are kept in a moderately taut setting. Where the KTM excels is the curvy Cabrillo Highway, up past the lighthouses and rolling hills, moving into the sections of Big Sur.For the first hour or so of the journey, you’re met with long, deep sweeping curves that edge up against a rocky shore. Though it was foggy, it is pristine and seemingly untouched by the happenings of the now overpopulated and grotesquely inflated LA and Bay Area metropolises. It has been left alone—a time-capsule like route.Tipping a bike of this size in can be a bit daunting at first, but KTM has done a remarkable job when it comes to the handling. Whether you’re pushing into corners and lightening up the front end on exit, the 1190 does incredibly well on-road. It was one less thing to worry about when getting the rare glimpse of seals perched out on rock outcroppings or the endless views that, quite frankly, took more than a concerted effort to not fixate on.Two lanes, a view of the ocean, the cover of trees, a motorcycle, and your thoughts—that is exactly what these types of journeys can offer. To the introvert, the motorcycle is something of a meditative experience. Sure, we’ve gone boldly into the new age with communication devices, but turn those off and what’s left is just the bike, the rider, and the elements.I’ve been told by more than one rider more seasoned than myself, that missing out on the twisties in and around Big Sur would be a tragic mistake. Some of that certainly is hyperbole, but I can’t say I’m in complete disagreement either.There are some sections of Cabrillo Highway, especially towards the north end, that had been muddled with construction. For that, I was thankful of the amicable suspension, as well as the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear, wire-spoked wheels and aftermarket dirt-oriented Continental TKC 70 Twinduro tires. The large-diameter wheels are meant to do a good bit of off-road work, but in this case they’re getting the same treatment on-road.When closing into those tighter sections of the California 1, the electronics package that comes equipped on the KTM 1190 is more than most riders need—with semi-linked, lean-angle detecting ABS, there was just that much more focus on the ride. Up front, you’ll find dual 320mm discs with Brembo calipers doing the lord’s work.Brake feel is as you’d expect from top tier components—precise, powerful and more than ample for the type of riding I was doing. What is truly impressive is the predictability of the braking package. Rider input is put at a premium on this bike, as it weighs well over 500 pounds with the six-gallon fuel tank filled.
Where the KTM does falter is at extra-legal speeds that some of us are familiar with. Above 100 mph or so, there is a a sustained bit of flightiness. Of course, there is an easy fix—slow down a bit.
Admittedly, I was riding in a spirited pace, taking in the road for what it was worth. That’s a narrow perspective, in many ways. I probably should have soaked in the atmosphere a bit more, stopped for a bite to eat, and taken pictures, if only for the sake of the story. But, this ride was for me, so pre-existing photos (sans the roomy panniers) will have to do. Sometimes, that’s what we need to do—put it all down and do it simply because we can.The weekend was a blur, with interviews, meetings and the World Superbike and MotoAmerica race—that’s why everyone converged upon Laguna Seca. The weekend wrapped, trailers were packed up, and the hill near the corkscrew returned to its natural state—nothing more than a natural formation with a bit of grass layering it. It was quiet again.Like most everyone else, I stuffed the 2016 KTM 1190 Adventure’s panniers full of my worldly belongings and set out for home. The 300-some-odd-mile trip doesn’t seem like much to some and, in retrospect, that’s about what a trip through Ojai will amount to. But, this was something different.
In the end, it wasn’t much of a trip to the veteran touring rider, but it was mine. My first trek up north. I went up with no goals, other than to see what people have talked about ad nauseam. This trip, despite its length, allowed me to see past the confines of my own world view. If a few hundred miles up the coast was the cost of me changing my perspective, then perhaps we should all make the investment. The only thing that I’m left with is a basic question: Where to next?