2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Editor Score: 92.75%
Engine 19.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.25/10
Brakes 9.25/10
Instruments/Controls4.25/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.5/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score92.75/100

One year and a handful of months ago I was returning from Spain with the knowledge that KTM had constructed something special; the 1290 Super Duke R. The SDR went on to claim MO’s 2014 Bike of the Year award, as well as similar accolades from competing publications. If you read my First Ride Review of the SDR, this story will sound familiar. In what seems like déjà vu, I’m returning from Spain with the knowledge that KTM has constructed something special; the 2015 1290 Super Adventure.

Having fashioned this new Adventure model around the SDR’s monstrously potent 1301cc 75° V-Twin, it should come as no surprise that the Super Adventure’s performance is impressive. Still, there are numerous ways in which an OEM can screw up a new model – especially when introducing first-time technology such as semi-active suspension. Aprilia did it with the Caponord last year, and we were largely unimpressed (see our Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout). The Super Adventure’s semi-active WP fork and shock are, however, up to the task of bitch-slapping a curvy road straight.

Discuss this at our KTM Forum.

The 600 square-mile island of Gran Canaria rises to an elevation of nearly 6400 feet, with switchbacks crisscrossing the island’s interior, continuously rising and falling over its volcanic topography. For two days we explored the island, never once retracing our steps, and in the process racked up nearly as many vertical miles as horizontal ones. The 1290 Super Adventure, its chassis, semi-active suspension, and especially its engine met every challenge and thwarted every obstacle. I should caveat that no part of this press intro was conducted off-road. So, any impressions of its performance in the dirt will have to wait.

KTM chose Gran Canaria Island and its abundance of flowing corners and tight switchbacks, that ceaselessly undulate with elevation gains and losses, to showcase the company’s new flagship motorcycle. The Super Adventure equaled in performance what the island offered in challenging, beautiful roadways.

KTM chose Gran Canaria Island and its abundance of flowing corners and tight switchbacks, that ceaselessly undulate with elevation gains and losses, to showcase the company’s new flagship motorcycle. The Super Adventure equaled in performance what the island offered in challenging, beautiful roadways.

With the 1290 Super Adventure, Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer is flexing its technological muscle. The few gripes we had with the 1190 Adventure in our Battle Of The Adventures, such as no cruise control, no heated grips or heated seat, needing a more easily adjustable windscreen, have all been addressed with the 1290 model, and then some. The most important technology being the bike’s semi-active suspension.

Super Technologies
Semi-active Suspension Heated Grips & Seat Ride-by-Wire Throttle
LED Cornering Lights Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Cruise Control Slipper Clutch Hill Hold Control (optional)
ABS/Cornering-ABS (C-ABS) Ride Modes Motor Slip Regulation (optional)
The WP semi-active fork with its anti-dive function maintains composure when subjected to extreme braking forces, never exhibiting the mushy, squirminess associated with longer travel suspension, which, on the Super Adventure, is 7.9 inches, front and rear.

The WP semi-active fork with its anti-dive function maintains composure when subjected to extreme braking forces, never exhibiting the mushy, squirminess associated with longer travel suspension, which, on the Super Adventure, is 7.9 inches, front and rear.

Similar to other semi-active suspension components, the WP units on the Super Adventure provide four settings: Comfort, Street, Sport and Offroad. Using the left handlebar-mounted switchgear a rider can, on the fly, toggle between the four, selecting the appropriate setting for the riding conditions. A welcome feature developed by WP is the anti-dive function, which maintains chassis neutrality instead of severely pitching forward through the fork’s stroke when the front brakes are applied.

Interestingly, KTM chose to have the most anti-dive in the Street setting, while allowing for more dive in Comfort and Sport settings. For Sport, the reasoning behind this decision is to provide more front end feel while allowing the rider to better finish a corner. Personally, I preferred the Street setting and its increased amount of anti-dive, but then I’m a fan of BMW’s Telelever front end. Comparatively, the KTM’s anti-dive, even in Street mode, allows for more front-end dive than does BMW’s Telelever unit.

Preload is electronically adjustable, with settings for a solo rider, rider with luggage, rider and passenger, and rider and passenger with luggage. Compression and rebound damping are constantly adapting to rider input and data from all the sensors feeding the bike’s ECU. Even on rough, chunked-up asphalt, the WP units managed to adjust compression and rebound damping in quick procession, inspiring rider confidence and making you forget you’re atop a long-travel ADV bike and not something smaller and more sporty.

For those concerned about the ever-increasing complexity of motorcycle components, WP says its electronic, semi-active suspension has a lifetime expectancy of 100,000 hard miles. The WP representative I spoke to emphasized the word hard, meaning, their testing incorporates more than just commuter and light touring duties.

Saddlebags are standard equipment on US models, as are the crashbars and centerstand. Removing the saddlebags exposes a nearly invisible mounting system, keeping the bike attractive in non-touring mode. Saddlebag sizes are 42 liters (left bag) and 31 liters (right bag), the right being smaller to clear the muffler.

Saddlebags are standard equipment on US models, as are the crashbars and centerstand. Removing the saddlebags exposes a nearly invisible mounting system, keeping the bike attractive in non-touring mode. Saddlebag sizes are 42 liters (left bag) and 31 liters (right bag), the right being smaller to clear the muffler.

In addition to the semi-active suspension, KTM graced the Super Adventure with heated grips and seat, cruise control, TPMS, ABS and C-ABS, MTC and two less familiar technologies, LED cornering lights and Hill Hold Control (HHC).

HHC is KTM’s version of Hill Start Control introduced on the new BMW R1200RT last year. It has the same purpose of making steep hill starts with a fully loaded motorcycle less intimidating. By maintaining brake pressure after the rider releases the brake lever, the system keeps the motorcycle from rolling backwards while the operator manipulates the throttle and clutch. It may not sound like much, but given the situation for which the technology is intended, I’d rather have it available than to not have it. This is one of two mentioned technologies in this story that are optional.

Cornering lights are comprised of three levels of LED lights connected the bike’s lean angle sensor. Depending on the amount of lean, one or all three will illuminate to provide better nighttime cornering vision. The angle of projection is adjustable via a screw adjuster beneath each light. Our riding took place during daylight hours, so the system’s effectiveness remains unknown to us.

Cornering lights are comprised of three levels of LED lights connected the bike’s lean angle sensor. Depending on the amount of lean, one or all three will illuminate to provide better nighttime cornering vision. The angle of projection is adjustable via a screw adjuster beneath each light. Our riding took place during daylight hours, so the system’s effectiveness remains unknown to us.

While ABS has become a common technology among new model motorcycles, KTM’s Cornering-ABS (C-ABS) is a newer version of ABS technology that compensates for the reduced amount of tire grip when the bike is leaned. Putting faith in the technology became easier throughout the two days as I continued to trail brake deeper into tight switchbacks. With the semi-active suspension minimizing front-end dive and knowing that even if I made a mistake C-ABS had my back, treating the Super Adventure with the same aggression usually reserved for pure sportbikes became second nature.

All this braking confidence begins with the dual Brembo, 4-piston calipers and 320mm discs mounted on each side of the front wheel. Considering the wet weight of the Super Adventure will approach 600 pounds, the Brembos exhibited stellar power and modulation with no apparent fading.

The larger windscreen displaces more wind than the 1190 Adventure, creating a pleasant bubble of calm for the rider. Turbulence is tempered by way of the reinforced slot near the top of the windscreen. It works, but the design is unavoidably, directly in a rider’s line of sight which is a nuisance until you get use to its presence. Unlike the 1190 Adventure, the 1290’s screen can be adjusted on the fly. Note the cruise control switchgear on the right handlebar.

The larger windscreen displaces more wind than the 1190 Adventure, creating a pleasant bubble of calm for the rider. Turbulence is tempered by way of the reinforced slot near the top of the windscreen. It works, but the design is unavoidably, directly in a rider’s line of sight which is a nuisance until you get use to its presence. Unlike the 1190 Adventure, the 1290’s screen can be adjusted on the fly. Note the cruise control switchgear on the right handlebar.

Speaking of weight, KTM claims the Super Adventure weighs only 27 dry pounds more than the 1190 Adventure (505 lbs vs 478 lbs, respectively). When we weighed the 1190 in our Battle Of The Adventures comparison, that bike tipped the scales with an additional 44 wet pounds more than its claimed dry weight. So, for the Super Adventure, if we take its claimed dry weight of 505 pounds add 44 pounds of fluids plus another 11 pounds for its 1.8 additional gallons of fuel, we get a bike weighing 560 pounds. Saddlebags are approximately 12 pounds each, bringing the total to 584 pounds.

Battle Of The Adventures: BMW vs. KTM + Video

We’ll get you an official wet weight soon enough, but for now, rest assured that the Super Adventure feels lighter than the figures suggest, much lighter than the GSA we just tested. But if our extrapolation is correct, the Super Adventure will have its hands full when it encounters Ducati’s Multistrada, the S Touring model weighing 516 wet pounds when we last tested it (2013 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring Vs. 2013 Triumph Explorer + Video).

To provide more rotational mass, two kilos (4.4 pounds) were added to the LC8’s crankshaft, one kilo on the flywheel and one on the rotor. This version’s not as quick to spin, compared to the SDR, but when you let it fall below 2000 rpm and then whack the throttle, the engine lunges forward without a hiccup, building steam as it picks up revs. KTM is claiming 160 hp at 8750 rpm and 104 lb-ft. of torque at 6750 rpm.

To provide more rotational mass, two kilos (4.4 pounds) were added to the LC8’s crankshaft, one kilo on the flywheel and one on the rotor. This version’s not as quick to spin, compared to the SDR, but when you let it fall below 2000 rpm and then whack the throttle, the engine lunges forward without a hiccup, building steam as it picks up revs. KTM is claiming 160 hp at 8750 rpm and 104 lb-ft. of torque at 6750 rpm.

As torquey as the Super Duke R is, the Super Adventure seems even more so due to an extra 4.4 pounds KTM added to the crankshaft, and a new cylinder head with “flow optimized ports and combustion chamber.” During our two-day outing, I discovered that third gear was about the only gear the Super Adventure needs. Exiting most hairpins, the Super Adventure managed to grunt out of with authority. If a downshift was needed, it was only to second gear. The engine is a veritable tractor of torque that’s able to spin right up to its redline providing almost the same rush as its SDR counterpart. In other words, the bike brilliantly enables my lazy riding nature by allowing minimal gear shifting no matter the corner or level of aggression.

For keeping things calm at the rear wheel, KTM employs a slipper clutch, and there’s also the optional Motor Slip Regulation (MSR). MSR is Austrian speak for minimizing back torque pressure from a decelerating engine. Utilizing both seems somewhat redundant (a conclusion Duke came to in his Ducati 1299 Panigale review), but with both employed on our test units, the Super Adventure certainly did not suffer from its rear end unwantedly hopping about on the rare occasion when I actually downshifted entering a corner.

The seating position is roomy, if a little wider in the seat/tank juncture compared to the 1190 Adventure (but it also carries 1.8 gallons more fuel than the 1190). There’s ample legroom and an easy reach to the wide handlebars – handlebars that go a long way in rapidly transitioning the Super Adventure. Seat material is firm yet comfy for all-day travel.

The seating position is roomy, if a little wider in the seat/tank juncture compared to the 1190 Adventure (but it also carries 1.8 gallons more fuel than the 1190). There’s ample legroom and an easy reach to the wide handlebars – handlebars that go a long way in rapidly transitioning the Super Adventure. Seat material is firm yet comfy for all-day travel.

Considering the engine’s displacement and its amount of torque, clutch pull remains light, easing clutch modulation. The transmission shifts smoothly in either direction. To add a little more touring aspect, KTM gave sixth gear a taller ratio compared to the SDR’s final cog. Long days in the saddle are made more bearable by way of cruise control, as well as heated grips and heated rider and passenger seats.

+ Highs

  • Enough torque to part the Red Sea
  • Technological tour-de-force
  • Basically, it’s an SDR with more wind protection and saddlebags
– Sighs

  • View-obstructing windscreen
  • The amount of rear tires you’ll be destroying
  • Maybe KTM should have mounted a 17-inch front wheel instead of a 19. Is anyone really going to ride this bike in the dirt?

With its bevy of technological bell and whistles, performance and comfort that’s all included in a price less than $21k ($20,499 to be exact), the 2015 1290 Super Adventure looks to be a contender for another MO award when we conduct our search for 2015 Bike of the Year contestants. Can KTM pull out a back-to-back win?

Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse. The Super Adventure needs to be measured against its contemporaries, chiefly Ducati’s Multistrada, the bike that’s owned the sport-adventure-touring segment since its introduction. There’s also BMW’s soon to be launched S1000XR. This is a three-way shootout that just can’t happen soon enough!

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure Specs
MSRP $20,499
Engine Type 75° V-Twin
Engine Capacity 1301cc
Horsepower (claimed) 160 hp @ 8750 rpm
Torque (claimed) 104 lb-ft. @ 6750 rpm
Bore x Stroke 108mm x 71mm
Compression 13.1:1
Fuel System Keihin EFI with 52mm throttle bodies
Transmission 6-speed
Final Drive Chain
Frame Tubular, molybdenum, powder-coated steel space frame
Front Suspension 7.9 inches
Rear Suspension 7.9 inches
Front Brakes Twin Brembo four-piston, radially mounted calipers, 320mm discs
Rear Brakes Brembo two-piston, fixed caliper, 67mm disc
Front Tire 120/70-19
Rear Tire 170/60-17
Seat Height 33.9/34.4 inches
Wheelbase 61.4 inches
Dry Weight 505 lbs
Fuel Capacity 7.9 gal

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    Video Bangkok Motorbike Festival 2015 [Full HD]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtD9URxjgUc

  • Biker Bob

    This looks like a fine machine. But how many have the $21k entry fee for this club?

    • Craig Hoffman

      Lots of people seem that have that kind of coin for Harleys. Fewer will have it for an insanely powerful, competent, advanced and just plain cool bike though. Go figure.

      • nickatnyt

        That, and nobody under 5’10” or inseam less than 31″ can ride the KTM.

        • appliance5000

          They’re surely big bikes for people with thick boots.

  • Stephen Miller

    So you only like this bike because it’s insanely powerful, versatile, and competent?

  • DickRuble

    The Multistrada has owned the sport adventure segment? Where? At Starbucks?

  • JMDonald

    This bike needs a small bit of refinement. The Multistrada tops all contenders in my book. KTM needs to remember that there is no bigger handicap than that of great potential. This bike has a lot of potential. After a year or two it very well may be the top adventure bike. IMHO. Out of the shoot it is one of my favorites.

    • DickRuble

      Do you own a Multistrada?

      • JMDonald

        I am due a new bike this year. I say this year but I have been salivating for a new bike for the last five years. The 2015 Multi is tops on my list. I saw it and the KTM at the Dallas IMS show a few weeks back. I am having a problem with its chain drive. I like shaft drive. Who knows?

        • DickRuble

          I don’t own one and I wouldn’t venture to say this or that motorcycle tops the list without getting a chance to ride it. The journos do hype the Multistrada quite a bit but there may be a reason you don’t see many (or any) Multistrada riders going on a ’round-the-world adventure. Just adjusting the valves is a full day job, according to this forum posting

          http://www.ducati.ms/forums/44-multistrada/140407-diy-mts-1200-valve-check-adjustment.html

          And the vast majority of the owners on the forum state that they would not even attempt it. I am curious if, after digesting the information, you would still consider the Multistrada tops of your list.

          • JMDonald

            After reviewing a number of motorcycles that I like I have come to the conclusion that the features and specifications of the Multistrada are superior to the others without riding the 2015 model. As long as the valve adjustments aren’t prohibitively expensive it wouldn’t be a deal killer for me. I like the features on the Multi including the fact that is weighs a lot less than it’s competitors. I don’t like the fact it is chain drive. My statements as I pointed out were made in my humble opinion. In my opinion the Multistrada is a more refined offering than the Super Adventure and is a better fit for the majority of riding that I do. I don’t need to ride one to know it is tops on my list. As soon as demo rides are available at my local dealership I will.

          • appliance5000

            Unless you’re just riding on tar, I wouldn’t take any of these around the world. A vstrom or the yamaha fj-09 would be far better choices. Probably something even simpler than those.

          • DickRuble

            KLR 650?

          • appliance5000

            One thing I’ve learned is to never ever argue with a KLR owner – so yes – most definitely.

          • DickRuble

            Don’t have one, don’t plan to buy one. Was just asking.

          • appliance5000

            Hey I was just kidding.

            3 things I’d look for would be light weight, fuel injection and water cooling. FI has way fewer parts than a carb and can handle elevations, water cooling allows tighter tolerances and more power per pound.

            Another consideration is , how much do you stick out in the local environment. You might be treated very differently if you’re on a sherpa rather than a big gs or ktm.

            I think the KLR has done yeoman’s duty but with new inexpensive modern machines it’s harder to make an argument for them.

            A great resource is this website: http://www.sibirskyextreme.com/2013/08/bike-selection-101/

            He’s the real deal.

  • TalonMech

    Too bad KTM refuses to use a shaft drive on their adv bikes. I have dealt with chains all my life, but after having a shaft on my super tenere, I’ll never have another chain driven motorcycle. I know chain and sprocket is lighter and more efficient, but I’ve gotten spoiled and lazy with the trouble free shaft final drive.

    • http://www.neworleanspowersports.cm Leonard Maraist

      Drive shaft = Wheel hop, added weight (un sprung), power reduction, hesitation, different cornering left verses right and loss of control in hard acceleration out of a turn. The solution for all “lazy” riders that want the KTM performance is…. $149.99 full service twice a year and a $49.99 follow up lube and adjust all in a prepaid VIP package. The “big easy” package is not only the name of the town were in but the solution to your problem. We make a very good living taking care of all the “Lazy” riders of New Orleans. Ask your local dealer for the same deal! Pre-paid (financed) at $12.00 a month or per visit above.!! If your spending $20K plus on the best bike made today. Force your dealer to give you the best service at the best deal!! VIP at the Super Bowl today will cost you $30,000.00 per ticket, $100,000.00 for the package and its over in a weekend!
      I’m just saying.. there is a solution to the riders that want it all!

      • TalonMech

        Strange, I’ve never really noticed any wheel hop, or difference in left and right cornering. Not saying it isn’t there, just that it must be pretty minor to avoid my notice. Never lost control coming out of a turn either. As I said before, I’m fully aware that chain drive is lighter, but I never notice the extra weight when I’m out riding, and I don’t want to or need to take my bike to a dealer twice a year. I’m sure this KTM is a fine bike. Just not for me without shaft drive. BMW, Yamaha, and Moto Guzzi all have shafts on their big ADV bikes, so I know it works just fine. To each their own and all that.

        • David Miller

          Trust me. BMW shaft drive is pants. This from managing a fleet of RT’s and my own GS. No idea about Yam or Moto Guzzi though.

  • Old MOron

    Sounds like a great bike. Too spendy for me, but a great bike. Can’t wait for the three-way comparo!

  • Guest

    If only there was a way in which we could know what this bike looks like. Maybe if that rider could somehow get off the bike for a second and take a picture of it with his cellphone or something? I don’t know, very complicated I guess. Like the picture below, who knew how they ever figured that out.

    • appliance5000

      mmmm – like

  • Rokster

    f only there was a way in which we could know what this bike looks like. Maybe if that rider could somehow get off the bike for a second and take a picture of it with his cellphone or something? I don’t know, very complicated I guess. Like the picture below, who knows how they ever figured that out.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    I wonder how much money they saved by putting that cheap ass weak horn that most manufacturers seem to neglect

  • Thomas Conway

    In almost all head to head tests the Multi always is called the sport tourer of the bunch. Now with the split forming in the adventure class (adventure bike and adventure sport tourer) the Multi is the sport tourer to beat. Can’t wait for those test ride reports. My guess, the Multi will stay out in front in this new class.

  • John B.

    You gave the 1290 a 92.75/100 Editor’s Score. What motorcycle received the highest Editor’s Score ever and what was that score?

  • dirt350

    I got my first KTM this year. I got the 350 EXC-F. I like it a lot. I guess I am going to go pick up one of these for longer rides. The 350’s seat is not going to be comfortable after a couple hours.