2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Review: Triple Threat Motorcycle
KTM has an impressive five-motorcycle lineup of open-class V-twins, ranging from serious off-road machines—the 1090 Adventure R and 1290 Super Adventure R—to the street-exclusive 1290 Super Duke GT and 1290 Super Duke R.
Sitting right in the middle of the five is the do-it-all 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S—a motorcycle that is almost equal parts ADV, sport tourer, and sportbike. It was difficult to get Editor Don Williams out of the seat to hand over the Fast Facts, but we finally prevailed.
1. The 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is an incredibly flexible motorcycle. Its touring credentials are obvious with the optional touring cases installed, and it’s reasonable to expect that a bike with Adventure and KTM in its name will go off-road. What you might not anticipate is that the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a capable upright sport bike. While not the best at any one of those three disciplines, it impressively corrals the trio of functions into a single motorcycle.
2. Touring is what the Super Adventure S does best. This motorcycle is my idea of a touring bike. Not only do you sit fully upright, you also sit very high—especially with the seat in the tall position. With your tailbone resting 34.4 inches above the asphalt, you get a birdseye view of our great nation. Think of it as sitting in the observation car on an Amtrak trip. With the husky V-twin motor, the S eats up the miles and can go over 300 miles between gas stations. KTM has a penchant for hard seats, but the saddle doesn’t bother me until the low-fuel lamp glows.
3. If you have fast friends, the Super Adventure S will allow you to keep up with them in the canyons. For all but the craziest of the crazies, the S has the power and handling to far exceed the intended use of any public road. Handling is neutral and intuitive, with the semi-active WP suspension adding plenty of stability. Turn-in and exits require a bit of effort due to the size of the bike. The Bosch ABS knows when you are in a corner, making hard riding even safer. If you’re on an unfamiliar road, the S is especially reassuring. Doubtlessly, you will love the highly responsive feel of the 1301cc motor when in the Sport power mode.
4. The S has plenty of cornering clearance due to its height, and the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires are more street-oriented than its name implies. I had zero complaints about the Scorpion Trail II tires on the road. They put plenty of sticky rubber on the ground, and don’t do anything unexpected. Of course, if you aren’t going off-road, a switch to full-street Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires might be in order. If you’ve got the skill, many of your sport-bike riding friends will hate you when you get to your lunch stop.
5. Going off-road has its limitations, as this is the most street-oriented KTM Adventure. The KTM 1290 Super Adventure R and, particularly, the 1090 Adventure R are the true ADV bikes in the line. They have knobby tires mounted on wire-spoked 18/21-inch wheels. The S has 17-/19-inch cast aluminum wheels and sport-touring Pirellis. You can take the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S on unimposing unpaved routes with confidence—you’ll have a blast and KTM has electronic ride modes to facilitate dirt riding. Stay away from Jeep trails and the like, as the S’s wheels are too small and the tires too smooth.
6. The electronic modes work exactly as described. You get the expected Sport, Street, Rain and Offroad power and traction control modes. Sport and Street put out full power—160 horses, claimed—with Street having a softer delivery. Rain and Offroad cut power by about a third, and smooth out the throttle response further. Complementarily, the semi-active suspension has Sport, Street, Comfort and Off-road settings, plus settings for a passenger and luggage. The setting do what they say, and it’s far superior to monkeying around with clickers. The Super Adventure S also has off-road ABS that turns off ABS to the rear wheel—perfect.
7. You can mix and match the electronic settings easily to taste, giving you a personalized ride. I rarely used the Sport power mode, preferring the smoother throttle of the Street setting, even when going fast. The Sport suspension mode is great, though, for the canyons, with Street working well when touring the twisties. Click it into Comfort on the freeway, and you’ll enjoy reduced fatigue on bumpy highways. The Offroad settings are all just right, as you would presume from KTM. Happily, there’s a convenient multi-button pod on the left handlebar, making it possible to confidently change modes without stopping.
8. The 6.5-inch TFT screen is nice and bright, with plenty of information—except GPS. You can fine-tune the display a bit, and running through the menu is a breeze. The lack of GPS on an ADV motorcycle with a nice display is disappointing. A sore spot is the KTM My Ride app that interacts with the Super Adventure S. I tried it out, and wasn’t impressed because it didn’t do what I wanted it to do—get GPS on the TFT. Its rating is 1.5 stars on the Apple App store, and KTM decided they needed to charge your $8 for it—yes, eight bucks. Really.
9. The panniers are $1200 well spent for touring. They install and are removed easily, and are roomy enough for a fairly long trip. The locking and mounting mechanisms are good ones, so you can travel with confidence, even on bumpy dirt roads. They are also nicely visually integrated into the look of the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S.
10. The magic of the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is that it makes everything easy. The electronics are perfectly matched to the potent motor and impressive chassis, and you can change the settings on a whim. Comfort is premium-level, and the big KTM draws appreciative looks and comments wherever it goes. You can put on serious miles without worry or fatigue, and that’s exactly what a do-it-all long-distance sport-ADV-touring motorcycle should do.
Photography by Kelly Callan
- Helmet: HJC DS-X1
- Jacket + pants: Alpinestars Valparaiso 2 Drystar
- Gloves: Alpinestars SMX-1
- Boots: Sidi Armada Gore-Tex
2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Specs
- Type: 75-degree V-twin
- Displacement: 1301cc
- Bore x stroke: 108 x 71mm
- Maximum power: 160 horsepower @ 8750 rpm
- Maximum torque: 103 ft/lbs @ 6750 rpm
- Compression ratio: 13.1:1
- Valve train: DOHC, 4vpc
- Fueling: Keihin EFI w/ 52mm throttle body
- Exhaust: Stainless steel muffler w/ regulated catalytic converter
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Clutch: PASC slipper clutch, hydraulically operated
- Final drive: X-ring chain
- Frame: Powdercoated chromoly trellis frame w/ aluminum subframe
- Front suspension; travel: Electronically adjusted, semi-active inverted 48mm WP fork; 7.9 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Electronically adjusted, semi-active WP shock; 7.9 inches
- Wheels: Cast aluminum
- Front wheel: 3.50 x 19″
- Rear wheel: 5.00 x 17″
- Tires: Pirelli Scorpion Trail II
- Front tire: 120/70 ZR 19
- Rear tire: 170/60 ZR 17
- Front brakes: 320mm discs w/ radially mounted 4-piston Brembo calipers
- Rear brake: 267mm disc w/ 2-piston Brembo caliper
- ABS: Bosch 9ME Combined-ABS w/ Cornering-ABS and off-road mode; disenengageable
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 61.4 inches
- Rake: 26°
- Trail: 4.7 inches
- Seat height: Two position: 33.9 and 34.4 inches
- Ground clearance: 8.7 inches
- Fuel tank capacity: 6.1 gallons
- Curb weight: 489.4 pounds
2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Colors:
2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Price:
- $17,999 MSRP (Travel Pack: $525; Touring Cases: $1200)
2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Review | Photo Gallery