Already the king of off-road when it comes to open-class adventure motorcycles, the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R gets a new frame, IMU-enhanced electronic wizardry, aggressive dirt tires, and more. With the 1290 Super Adventure S taking care of those who prefer the street most of the time, the R comes loaded for bear from a company that knows a thing or two about off-roading. This is not a motorcycle for the faint-hearted, so tighten that chin strap and ride along with us.
Unless you are a large rider, the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is intimidating the first time you get on. The tank area seems vast, the handlebar wide, and you have to have a longer-than-average inseam to not be on both toes at a stop due to the 34.6-inch seat height. If the kickstand is the slightest bit on the downhill side, it takes some muscle to lift it up. This is not a beginner motorcycle, and someone who has never ridden a dirt bike will likely be a bit shocked at the dimensions.
The new Bridgestone Adventurecross AX41 tires are a dog whistle to the off-road crowd. Usually, the best you can hope for tire-wise on an ADV bike from the factory is a 50/50 mix. Given the 524-pound fully fueled curb weight of the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, the AX41s are as knobby-like as is practical. Air them down to 20 psi or so—you can run them tubed or tubeless—and they will help you take the R almost anywhere you dare. KTM’s tire choice and 21-/18-inch wire-spoke wheelset with Alpina aluminum rims tell you just how serious the Austrians are about off-road performance.
Although you can’t see much of it, the R has a new frame this year. There’s a longer swingarm to balance a steering head that has been relocated 0.6 inches to the rear, and the V-twin motor rotated two degrees forward. As you’d expect, the frame is still a chromoly trellis design, though it’s now matched to a bolt-on aluminum subframe. Should you fall and tweak the subframe, you can replace it rather than having to swap out an entire frame—essential for the serious off-roader.
The R carries over six gallons of fuel in three different tanks. Two gallons are at shin level to keep the center of gravity low. You can’t miss the extensive orange-painted crash bars to protect the tanks. When the tanks are topped off, we’re talking 36 pounds. As you run through the fuel, the top tank empties first, giving the R a lighter feel as you run through the initial supply. The range displayed on the seven-inch TFT dash is highly conservative—not a bad thing, though it can cause some unneeded anxiety. Serious riders will use their tripmeter and experience to know when refueling is necessary.
KTM cut 3.5 pounds off the motor via new engine cases, though we can’t claim to feel it. More importantly, KTM claims to have improved the oil routing and cooling system—there are now two radiators—to improve durability. The new cooling system and bodywork are designed to route heat away from the rider at low speeds. When picking through rock gardens, we didn’t feel excessive warmth from the 1301cc motor, so we’ll judge that as a success, though our rides were not in summertime heat.
The electronics have been updated, and that’s where the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R establishes itself in different venues. We tested the bike with the Tech Pack, which adds Rally mode to the Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road modes. The Tech Pack unlocks essential features—adjustability for traction control, engine braking management, and throttle response, plus a quickshifter and hill-hold control. For the $750 asking price, there’s no way we would buy the R without it.
The Tech Pack’s quickshifter is outstanding, as is the updated Pankl six-speed transmission. We’re long fans of quickshifters on the street, and now we’re hooked on quickshifters for off-road riding. Pankl reworked the shifting mechanism for a shorter throw and lighter transition between gears, and it makes a difference. KTM tucked in the gearshift lever, likely to protect it from off-road tip-over damage. Without the quickshifter, changing gears is a bit tricky. However, all it takes is a nudge of the lever, so being short and inboard isn’t a problem. Also, quickshifters usually work best on multi-cylinder motors. That KTM engineers got the quickshifting mechanism and programming so right for its big V-twin is impressive.
The clutch has new friction discs this year. It has a nice feel when slipping the clutch in technical sections, which is inevitable on open-class adventure bikes. First gear is predictably tall, and we would like a lower ratio for easier management at slow speeds.
When you ride the R off-road seriously, you will fall in love with Rally mode. The Off-Road mode is okay for basic off-pavement excursions such as hard-pack dirt roads. However, Rally mode is the only option for riding in challenging terrain, especially at speed. When I first took the R off-road, I ran Off-Road mode and never felt comfortable—the electronic rider aids are too intrusive, and I didn’t have the sense of control and response I require for riding off-road. Rally mode completely changed my opinion of the R as a dirt bike—albeit still a hefty, powerful dirt bike.
The Rally mode changes the power delivery in significant ways. Instead of the overly timid throttle response of Off-Road mode, Rally makes the engine snappier. That means the reaction you want and expect as you’re navigating a difficult route. Further, wheelie control is dropped. You can lift the front end as needed, thanks to the brisk throttle and massive amounts of torque from the big V-twin. Finally, there are nine levels of traction control that you can change on the fly via thumb and index finger buttons on the left handlebar.
With Rally engaged, how fast you can go in the dirt is entirely determined by your bravery, confidence, and skill. Watching Associate Editor Jess McKinley operate the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R off-road is a sight to behold—he’s in the photos. While he doesn’t quite ride it like his personal Yamaha YZ250FX, Jess looks incredibly smooth on the R. He can slide it with abandon, light up the rear tire as needed, loft the front end over obstacles, climb rocky hills with authority, and come back from a ride with a toothy grin. Jess is at the upper end of the ability range of potential R riders, especially off-road, and it is incredible what the KTM can accomplish in the right hands.
Even if you are more modestly talented off-road, the Super Adventure R is an exceptionally willing partner. Riding the KTM is a constant give-and-take of challenges. The R pushes you to try more with the confidence it provides, then you test its limits with your skillset as you ride. My boldness increased with each ride, as the R responded to everything I threw at it without the slightest flinch.
Ergonomically, the R is outstanding for riding in the dirt. Sitting down, the motorcycle feels wide—it’s a big machine, and your knees are far apart. However, KTM engineers worked a miracle with the standing ergonomics. The R feels as slim as a dirt bike with your rear off the seat. With the R being so narrow through the midsection, it’s possible to use all your dirt bike instincts. That translates to more confidence, and a huge part of riding the 1290 Super Adventure R is being self-assured. Timidity equals failure in the dirt on this bike.
Learning to use the traction control to balance the beast’s power output is a key that helps unlock the potential of the R in the dirt. While I might not need nine levels, the ability to adjust wheelspin is critical, as turning the big ADV motorcycle often means steering with the rear end. Turning up the traction control also pads down the throttle in more technical conditions where you know you don’t want to spin the rear tire.
While we’re on the subject, the Bridgestone AX41 tires are an essential part of the off-road equation. As much as I like turning the bike with the rear end, there are situations where that’s not possible. The front knobs give the confidence needed to change direction on sketchy soils. In a straight line, including sandy stretches, the Bridgestones wander far less than the usual ADV tires, giving you the confidence to up the throttle and let it fly through the soft stuff. Rally mode and the AX41s are a match made in off-road heaven.
The Offroad ABS mode is superb, as are the Brembo components. Twin 320mm discs and radially mounted calipers have more stopping power than you need in the front in the dirt. Fortunately, the pads have a gradual engagement for easy control. You can never switch the front-wheel ABS off, which is fine when the ABS isn’t too intrusive, and that’s the case on the R. The rear wheel can be locked up at will, and the 150mm-wide Bridgestone slides predictably.
It’s easy to forget about the WP suspension off-road because it does its job so well. Managing a motorcycle weighing over 500 pounds in the dirt is not a trivial task. The WP Xplor suspension is set up quite well from the factory. Spring-preload and damping on the single functions fork are easily adjustable by hand while you are astride the bike at a stop. However, changing up the shock requires tools, dismounting the bike, and getting down on your knees—far less than convenient.
While we don’t need semi-active suspension units, electronic adjustment of the damping on the fly would be a huge help. Going from a crawl to flying across open dirt terrain to hitting the Interstate to carving a paved canyon backroad can happen with remarkable regularity when out on an epic adventure. Still, the saving grace is how versatile the stock settings are.
In addition to its off-road prowess, the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is also built for touring. Ergonomically, the upright position is good for the long haul, and the seat is firmly comfortable. You might even consider mounting some highway pegs to the crash bars if you put a lot of freeway miles on the big boy.
The windshield is adjustable over a two-inch sweep. The adjustment is made via knobs—either hand will do. At 5-foot-9, the wind hit me comfortably in the chest when in the lowest position. Ramped up, the screen deflected the airflow right at my helmet. So, unless I can get a taller windscreen, I’ll just keep it in the low position. Of course, everyone is built differently and has their own expectations and comfort zones. Most importantly, it’s adjustable.
KTM has tamed the LC8’s V-twin vibes nicely. The rumble doesn’t go away. Instead, it’s pleasingly soothing. The exhaust is quieter this year, reducing mental fatigue on long rides.
When out on the open highway, Street mode is the way to go. You get full power, though throttle response is padded down a bit. Engine compression braking is light, and traction control is medium. This gives you a relaxed ride, and you can still quickly pass another vehicle without downshifting. Sport isn’t bad for high-speed touring, as the throttle is smooth, though aggressive. Regardless, Street makes sense on the open highway and around town. Cruise control is standard, welcome, intuitive, and effective. Aluminum panniers are optional; sadly, we didn’t have a chance to test them.
The 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R also has a sport-bike component. That beefy motor, shared with the Super Duke R, though imbued with different tuning, has no shortage of power on tap. Plus, the upright seating position feels good when making time through the canyons. The Sport power mode is responsive without being jerky—go for it. You can top 100 mph in a very excited heartbeat, should you find the need. At about 120 mph, the AX41s indicated that was enough on the pavement as headshake develops despite the standard steering damper.
Dirt-oriented tires and 524 pounds are your limiting factors in the twisties. You will likely find yourself pushing the boundaries of the KTM’s edge grip simply because it’s so much fun to confront challenges. While you will notice that you aren’t on street tires, and that’s a 21-incher in the front, the Bridgestones are predictable, so you have plenty of warning to back off a bit if your riding style is too aggressive. Most people will be satisfied with the R’s canyon prowess, as it’s impressive. If you aren’t, the S version awaits, though you will have to give up the striking off-pavement performance of the R.
The electronics suite is controlled via an array of buttons and switches, with a beautiful seven-inch TFT keeping you apprised of the situation. There are six buttons on the left handlebar to navigate the software. Four directional buttons surround a center select button, plus a separate “back” button above the grouping. I found myself instinctively hitting the left button for back rather than the back button, though an owner should quickly adapt to that. While you can adjust the modes easily, you have to dig a bit deeper to get into the more arcane settings.
The display on the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is easy to read, with the most important information in huge fonts. You’ll never forget how fast you’re going in any mode, and the gear position indicator is clear. In Rally mode, you’re well-apprised of the traction control setting.
A two-way C1 and C2 switch on the right handlebar allows you to select favorites for quick access. Before I figured this out, I felt like switching between modes was too cumbersome. However, I was won over after setting C1 to choose between power modes and C2 to access engine acceleration and deceleration traction control.
The fob is an integral part of the system, and there are still bugs. You use it to arm the power button, lock the steering, unlock the seat, and pop open the fuel cap. However, the end of one ride was ruined when I got the dreaded “Fob out of range” warning on the display while riding on a highway. Not wanting to get stranded, I rode home non-stop instead of stopping for lunch. When I unzipped my pocket and reached in, the fob was there, minding its own business. I switched off the KTM and turned it back on, indicating the electronic system again recognized the fob.
The 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is both demanding and rewarding. This is not a motorcycle for a casual off-road adventurer. The R is serious about its mission and responds best when you have the same commitment. The R reveals its abilities as you implement yours—it’s a two-way street. The more we rode this exceptional motorcycle, the more we grew to love and respect it—just don’t skimp on the Tech Pack.
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Motos and Friends—the weekly Podcast brought to you by the editorial team at Ultimate Motorcycling.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
In this week’s first segment, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the much anticipated Yamaha MT-10 SP. That’s the model with the Ohlins semi-active suspension. It’s only been available in Europe for the last couple of years, but finally the good news is, that it’s coming to America. The big question is, whether the extra 3k you’re going to have to pony up for the Ohlins is actually worth it, or perhaps there’s just not that much improvement over the stock KYB suspension that has suited the Yamaha MT-10 so well until now?
In the second segment, Associate Editor Teejay Adams chats with Val Collins. Val grew up on motorcycles and learned to love speed, however her real love is Formula 1 tunnel-boat racing. These are the guys and gals that are strapped into a tiny cockpit and then hurtle down the straights at 120 mile per hour and pull 5G in the corners. We attended the recent season finale in Lake Havasu and watched our friend Mike Quindazzi try to take the win. Val chats with Teejay about her love for two-wheels and tunnel-boats. Yeah, it’s crazy stuff.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode and have a great Thanksgiving Holiday!