When it comes to the Adventure scene, there’s a strong case to be made that nobody does it better than KTM. Take the 1090 Adventure R for example. Tom Roderick just came back from its launch, and in his First Ride Review, he gushes about how easy the bike is to ride both on- and off-road, thanks to its reduced weight compared to the previous 1190 Adventure, and despite carrying a powerful 1050cc V-Twin between its trellis frame, the KTM is able to dole out manageable off-road power thanks to its dirt riding mode.

Then again, Tom also came back from the Honda Africa Twin launch pretty impressed with its on- and off-road abilities, too. Granted, it was the DCT version that really enamored him, but the standard transmission version is a more than capable machine to tackle nearly any terrain.

Tom posed this question in his KTM review, so of course we asked ourselves: Which of these two is the better bike? The KTM or Honda (standard transmission in this case)? On paper, the 1090 Adventure R would appear to have the advantage: Bigger engine (1050cc vs. 998cc), more power, Brembo brakes, larger fuel tank (6.5 gallons vs. 4.96 gallons) and that unmistakable KTM off-road prowess.

But the Africa Twin costs significantly less ($13,299 for the standard transmission vs. $14,699), has more suspension travel (9.1-inch front/8.7-inch rear vs. 8.6 inches front and rear), lower seat height, and of course the optional DCT. Both have riding modes, ABS, and traction control.

Debating on specs will only get you so far. While there’s no doubt the KTM is a good motorcycle, the Africa Twin can likely traverse equally gnarly terrain. We can’t wait to ride them both back-to-back to decide a winner once and for all, but until then we leave you with this question:

  • I’d prefer the Africa Twin over the KTM because of it’s assumed better reliability and lesser workshop costs.

    • Johnny Blue

      KTM is still ‘the king’ of the Dakar rally. I’d assume they know how to build a reliable bike if it can take the abuse of such race.

      • Shlomi

        ..,,And they have the entire factory technicians at the end of each stage to put the bike back together each night. Face it the Ralley bikes have nothing to do with the stuff we buy at stores, same as the motogp bikes have nothing to do with the super sport bikes we buy at stores

        • Johnny Blue

          … and so does Honda and they didn’t win this year either.
          And the technology in the bikes you buy today in the stores is the racing technology used a couple years before… think about it… traction control, ride modes, alloys used in the motors/frames… everything is learned at the races.
          I’m not biased towards KTM. I ride a Fireblade. But in the dirt KTM is still the bike every other is measured against.

          • Vrooom

            KTM is likely the better dirt bike, but if you asked me which bike would more likely go 70 thousand miles needing nothing more than oil, air filters and valve adjustments, I’d bet on the Honda.

          • Johnny Blue

            Maybe you’re right, but if you look at the maintenance schedule for KTM is not bad at all. I looked at the manual for 1190 since the one for 1090 is not on their website and oil and filter change is at every 15000km (9300 mi) and valve clearance check every 30000 km (18600 mi). For a motorcycle to go around the globe on 2.5 oil changes and 1 valve clearance check is pretty amazing imho. And these relaxed maintenance intervals make me think the Austrians are quite confident in the reliability of their adventure touring bike.

          • Vrooom

            It isn’t the maintenance intervals that bother me, which I agree those are very well spaced. I had a KTM single dual sport that was constantly at the dealer for warranty and recalls. It spent 3 months of it’s first two years at the dealer, mostly due to an engine bearing problem.

          • DickRuble

            Out of curiosity; do you drive a GM car?

          • Johnny Blue

            No. Never did. In fact, right now I have no car at all. I moved to Amsterdam and I hardly see the need to have a car. My 03 954 Fireblade is enough as I can ride here all year long. What do you drive/ride?

          • DickRuble

            Oh..I was asking because you seem to base your choice of motorcycle on manufacturer statements (maintenance intervals) rather than empirical evidence and GM is good at boasting about their “awards”.. though historical evidence goes against their claims. I drive “made in Japan”, and ride “made in Germany” (with Japanese engine).

          • Johnny Blue

            Well, between the two here my choice is the KTM. A lot more bike with not a lot more money. I once had a VStrom 650 which was ok. The best motorcycle I ever owned was a 2011 BMW S1000RR, until it got stolen. Now I ride an older CBR because it’s cheap, it’s still powerful enough and it was affordable. Bikes and cars a a lot more expensive here in the Netherlands. But even if it’s a sport bike, I still rode it off the pavement on occasions… And before you say it, I’m not the only nut out there. I can’t even begin to compare myself with this guy: http://www.sjaaklucassen.nl/en/
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjBrpN9nmZQ

          • Sayyed Bashir

            I have 20,000 miles on my 2015 1190 R with no problems. The reason KTM dirt bikes need more maintenance is they are designed as race bikes, not as everyday bikes. READY TO RACE. So its your choice whether you want the best performance or the most reliability. Hondas are designed conservatively. Some may say they are boring compared to the KTMs.

          • Johnny Blue

            I think that pretty much nails it. It’s enough to look at the power outputs of the two motors to see that. Honda has about 30HP less.

          • spiff

            I am a KTM fanboy, but agree that no matter how good the competition is, a decade (or 70 miles) later, Hondas stack up.

          • Jon Jones

            100% Right on the money.

          • VForce

            Ask any Honda/ KTM dual line dealer which bike their service dept sees more. Walk into any service dept and look how many KTMs are getting repairs or recalls.

            If anything on “the data”- considering that there are far fewer KTMs out there, there should be less in for service repairs. Statistically speaking that would skew the advantage to KTM.

            That is certainly not the case.

      • Shlomi

        ..,,And they have the entire factory technicians at the end of each stage to put the bike back together each night. Face it the Ralley bikes have nothing to do with the stuff we buy at stores, same as the motogp bikes have nothing to do with the super sport bikes we buy at stores

    • Knute Dunrvnyet

      AND dealer network!

    • Sayyed Bashir

      “Assumed” is the operative word here.

  • Gruf Rude

    As a very short guy, I’m inclined to go with the shorter Africa Twin. Honda’s pricing is always better locally than KTM and I’ve always found maintenance to be easy on the Hondas.

  • Benjamin Hasselgren

    I know a lot of motorcyclist hate the idea of DCT (but love quick-shifter, doesn’t make sense for me). But as a rider that went from a BMW R1200R to a Honda NC750X DCT (2016) – I love it. To be able to choose. DCT is great in town and also when riding for many hours and miles and you are just tired of shifting all the time. People are different, but try it out before deciding it’s not for you.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      The quick-shifter lets you shift exactly when you want to, while DCT shifts when it wants to, which may not be what you want. You can keep overriding it but that can get tiresome. Motorcycling is about fun and enjoyment. If you want to just drive it like a car, might as well get a car.

  • Vrooom

    If I was rally racing the bike, going relatively short distances (hundreds of miles) I’d take the KTM, if was going around the world, I’d take the Honda.

    • roma258

      Pretty much this. But if I wanted a fun bike to rail on weekends and venture into some real offroad situations, I’d be tempted by the KTM.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Several KTMs have gone around the world. The latest is this couple that has traveled to every continent on two KTM 1190 Adventure Rs and is currently in South America with over 45,000 miles on their bikes. Do you have any similar Honda Africa Twin examples? https://blog.ktm.com/panini-tour-a-circuit-in-colombia-then-on-to-ecuador/

      • kak

        Since the AF is a fairly new bike and it takes longer than a weekend to circumnavigate the earth, I’m pretty darn sure that we will see plenty of examples if you just keep your panties on for a little while

        • Sayyed Bashir

          So how do we know it can go around the world if no one has ever done it?

          • s4awd2

            I could be wrong but maybe because its a Honda 🙂

          • kakeyed

            Like I said, keep your panties on. And while you are impatiently waiting for something so trivial, try a nice big cup of common sense.

  • Auphliam

    I would probably buy the KTM simply because of Honda’s maddening decision to NOT sell the awesome looking Red, White, and Blue, Africa Twin color scheme in the U.S. 🙂

    • VForce

      Well your prayers are answered- the R/W/B is now available in the USA for 2018.

      I am looking forward to hearing your evaluation of it now. 🙂

      • Nick Abrahall

        With the Honda you buy reliability
        For some reason European bikes are forgiven for their recalls and warrenty problems
        If the same amount of problems happened to jap bikes they’d be publicly shamed and taken from the market.

        • Jon Jones

          All too true.

          • spiff

            And someone building quality is the first to step up to fix the problem. This is a good thing. Fixing the problem without it being a big deal is the answer. I want to own the perfect machine, and it is good to know the builders have the same goal.

            Recalls are free, and are normally sourced out before it is a wide spread problem. I just call it standing behind your product. (Btw, it is totally better when a bike has no recalls.)

        • Sayyed Bashir

          It is a false assumption. Are you keeping track of the dozens of major recalls of all Honda models in the last five years? Just type “Honda recalls” in Google. There are 3,350,000 results! Honda reliability?

          • Nick Abrahall

            It is not an assumption but i include in bmw as i polled owners of them as well
            Basically manufacturer can get more hp out of a motor but they should be understressed for remote usage
            “Ready to race?” Means you need a pit crew like real racers do
            Also highly tuned v-twins means costly services

          • kakeyed

            Nick, are you still polling BMW owners? If yes, I’d like to participate. I’m dumping my PoS BMW and going back to Honda.

          • Nick Abrahall

            Only an informal poll but appreciate the feedback
            I looked into a bmw and ktm but went with the honda as well (AT)
            Only complaint i can find is a gummy switch and rusty spokes in salted ice
            That’ll do me for outback Australia

          • kakeyed

            Is there any place to view this poll? I’m very curious about reliability. Thanks for your reply and for taking the time to do the poll!

          • kakeyed

            At least, Honda have the balls to admit there is a problem and quickly take action to fix it. BMW are well known for final drive issues and my bike is no exception as this is the 2nd time the thing eats it’s bearings. Oil covered brakes and tires could be considered a safety issue by some, as the seal gets torn up from the mangled bearing cage. Some would also see a slight safety issue with unexpected rear wheel lock up or collapse as the ball bearings fall out. BMW prefers to ignore this little problem and that mentality is trickled down to the BMW shops, as the parts guys and the mechanic both reassured me that it’s normal and to be expected. I just have to replace the bearings every 40k kms (25k miles) to be safe!!! Good attitude on safety issues.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            I am sorry about your problem. These things don’t get out in public, except maybe in BMW forums. If it was considered a safety issue, the NHTSA would have been on BMW like a ton of bricks, like they did with Triumph ($2.9M fine) and Toyota ($1.2B fine). I love the belt drive on my Harley. No maintenance needed in 155,000 miles.

          • kakeyed

            Wow! 155k Miles on a belt! Incredible.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Belts will run forever if you don’t mess with them.

  • KTM: “Ready To Race”

    Honda: “Ready To Do Everything Else”

  • Stephan Eichenlaub

    I’ll keep my 950Adv and my 950SE alive as long as I reasonably can. Neither of these new bikes beats them on dirt.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      KTM is King in the dirt (and now on the street with the Super Adventures and Super Dukes).

  • JMDGT

    I grew up riding Hondas. It us true that when you start out with a certain brand chances are you will stick with it through your lifetime. I gave up on Honda in the early 2000’s. I still have a soft spot for them. These are both great bikes but I prefer the Africa Twin. A friend has a Honda with the DCT option and loves it. I’d have to try one but it sounds appealing for this kind of bike. Long live KTM. Long live Honda.

  • Kid Thunder

    I’m not an off road guy & I don’t usually like Hondas but they are reliable & that’s what you need in the outback.

  • James Dwyier

    Of the two I’d likely choose the Honda for an ends of the world tour. However, when it was time for a new ADV bike last July I test rode both the 1190R and the new Honda AT manual. I’m no fanboy of either and have owned bikes from both manufacturers previously. The KTM won me over despite the higher price tag. Better motor, better suspension, tougher plastics, and more dirt ready right out of the box than the Honda. Is the KTM overkill? Perhaps, but despite some misgivings about KTMs in general they sure make bikes that put a big’ol smile on my face. If I wanted something truly end of the world capable I’d just buy a KLR and use what I saved on the purchase to buy food and gas. 🙂

  • Hulluvatime

    I didn’t read the entire blog, but did anyone say “I’d have to ride them both before deciding?” Should matter more than most of the techno babble below. I believe both of them will be very reliable if maintained reasonably well. The AT needs some changes to go off the road; pegs, tires, etc. Weight is a big deal to me and the KTM is about 20lbs lighter with the same amount of fuel. Probably not hard to lighten the AT though with a new pipe, battery, etc. I’m waiting for the head to head and also the 2018 KTM 800 adventure.

  • Bob Martin

    The Honda Africa Twin was designed from the ground up to go to the deepest corners of the Earth. Every decision was made for this goal. Tube tires, out in the middle of nowhere and you dent your rim, this is what you want to have. Sure Just about everywhere else you probably want tubeless. Steel frame, if you are riding from small town to small town on the African continent or South America or any other remote location and you crack your frame any welder can fix it, break your fancy chrome-moly frame and it is game over. Factor in the size of dealer networks and the reputation for reliability that Honda has built for over that last half a century it is an easy decision to go with the Africa Twin. Having said all that my next bike I will seriously look at both bikes in that if I was to ever go to the deepest corners of the Earth I will take my KLR.

  • MaynStream

    I own a KTM and I love it however, KTM does not have the widespread parts and service network that Honda has and for this reason I would vote for the AT for my next adventure bike.