2013 KTM 1190 Adventure R Review

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

The best multipurpose motorcycle ever built?

After riding BMW’s all-new R1200GS early this year, I figured it would sit gracefully at the top of its adventure-touring class for awhile. But KTM’s new 1190 Adventure R is set to shove the king off his throne. It’s more powerful, marginally lighter, has a larger fuel capacity and is equipped with a sophisticated electronics suite. And if the GS is equipped with its many desirable options, the KTM’s $16,799 MSRP is less expensive.

KTM 1190 Adventure R Scorecard

Editor Score: 91.75%
Engine 19/20
Suspension/Handling 12.75/15
Transmission/Clutch 9/10
Brakes 9/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.5/10
Value 9.25/10
Overall Score91.75/100

The regular 1190 Adventure retails for $16,499, and for an extra $300 the R brings 30mm extra suspension travel and larger wheels (a 21/18-inch combo rather than a 19/17 pairing) that are better able to cope with aggressive off-road riding. The R is visually distinct by its robust engine guards and a shorter and tinted windscreen. However, the R forgoes the non-R’s electronic suspension adjustment in favor of fully adjustable but manually altered suspenders.

The testing ground for the Adventure R was the spectacular setting surrounding the mountains of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which would serve up a wonderful plate of terrain to properly evaluate the R’s off-road chops. Continental Trail Attack 2 tires (90/90-21; 150/70-18) are standard equipment, but considering our dirt-heavy ride route in damp conditions, we were thankful our bikes were fitted with Conti’s TKC 80 rubber, a 60/40 dirt/street knobby design. A patented spoked-wheel design allows tubeless tires.

Also read our First Ride review of the non-R 1190 Adventure

Oh, Colorado! An adventure-tourer’s nirvana.

When seen in person, the Adventure looks smaller than in pictures. It appears svelte and tidy, and unlike most ADV manufacturers, KTM didn’t force a beak-like appendage on the Adventure’s front end. LED daytime running lamps below the headlight and LED turnsignals give it a modern appearance.

All Adventures employ a cro-moly steel frame with laser-cut tubes that are robotically welded. KTM claims it weighs just 21.7 pounds and is powder coated to oppose corrosion. Under the seat is an aluminum subframe, removable to enable fixing crash damage. The R is said to weigh 519 pounds with its impact-resistant polymer 6.1-gallon fuel tank full, up nearly one gallon from the previous 990 Adventure. For reference, the R1200GS is supposed to weigh 525 pounds.

The Adventure R looks sleeker than most of its competition. A luggage rack is standard equipment.

Powering Adventures is an 1195cc, 75-degree V-Twin powerplant based on the RC8. Upper-rpm power has been muted in favor of a broader powerband, but its alleged 150 crankshaft horsepower is identical to Ducati’s claim for the class-leading Multistrada 1200.

The use of ride-by-wire throttle management eschews dual throttle valves in favor of single butterfly valves in the 52mm throttle bodies. Each cylinder head employs two spark plugs, an arrangement said to deliver “more efficient combustion as well as a smoother combustion cycle,” especially in the low-rpm range. Additional benefits are better fuel economy (a purported 20% improvement) and lower emissions.

KTM’s 1195cc powerplant is likely the most compact of its class. Stout engine guards are standard on the Adventure R. A protective skid plate is an optional accessory.

Mount Up!

Like any large-displacement adventure-tourer, the 1190 R’s lofty seat height may scare away inexperienced inseam-challenged riders. Rather than the height-adjustable two-piece saddle on the regular Adventure, the R uses a one-piece seat placed at 35.0 inches. Although 15mm lower than the 990 Adventure’s seat, I can’t touch both toes at the same time with my 32-inch inseam.

Otherwise, the 1190 R has an accommodating cockpit with several ways to custom tailor its fit to riders of different sizes. Handlebar clamps offer two positions; pegs can be relocated 15mm higher and more rearward. A tapered aluminum handlebar is a nice touch, and both levers are adjustable for reach. The R’s windscreen retains the adjustable sweep of its brother, locking in place by two locking tabs that require stopping the bike to adjust its position.

The Adventure’s handlebars are set slightly low for use when standing up. It’s possible we’ll see slight ergo mods to MY2014 bikes.

Up-to-date instrumentation is from a triple-panel gauge pack made by VDO. A pair of LCD displays bookend an analog tachometer. A digital speedo, shift light, gear-position indicator, fuel gauge, coolant temperature, dual tripmeters and a clock reside on the right side, while a multifunction display on the left provides readouts for things like tire pressures, ambient temps, average speed, fuel consumption rate, fuel range and various electronic settings. A Favorites setting allows a rider to choose five items to be displayed.

KTM’s V-Twin fires up quickly and is immediately ready to ride. A squeeze of the clutch lever reveals an improbably light pull thanks to a Power Assist Slipper Clutch that enables light springs. And yet the clutch displays smooth and reliable modulation. Also light is the shift effort from the six-speed gearbox, again proving that KTM trannies are as slick as any.

The 1190 Adventure will out-power every adventure bike except, perhaps, Ducati’s Multistrada.

Electronic Tricks

KTM’s Adventures have a full suite of electronic rider aids to assist when traveling over a multitude of terrain and riding conditions, including four “Power Management” ride modes. Sport and Street deliver the full 150 horses, while Off-road and Rain limit output to 100 ponies.

See how KTM”s 990 Adventure stacked up to its class rivals in our 2012 Adventure-Touring Shootout

In conjunction with the ride modes is KTM’s Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) to regulate tire slippage. The Bosch-controlled MTC is fed data from many sensors to judge when to activate, including wheel-speed differential, acceleration, roll rate, and lean angles. Intervention is purely through the R-b-W throttle control rather than ignition or injection interruption, resulting in less intrusion felt by the rider.

Rain mode is the most intrusive/safest selection, while the Street setting allows slightly more wheelspin. Sport does a good job of lacking intrusion by allowing some rear-end drift. Off-road impressively allows the rear wheel to spin up to twice as fast as the front wheel. MTC can also be switched off entirely.

KTM’s traction control allows considerable wheelspin when set to its Off-road mode.

Braking duties are handled by a Brembo combo that includes dual 320m discs up front with Brembo four-piston calipers actuated by a radial-pump master cylinder that provides solid feedback. The rear is slowed by a 287mm rear disc and four-pot caliper.

Bosch provides the ABS component, using the latest 9ME brake-pressure modulator as seen on Ducati’s latest Multistrada. A combined-ABS arrangement, application of the front brake in Street mode automatically applies some rear braking force that stabilizes a pitch-sensitive bike like this long-travel ADV.

Switching to the Off-road ABS setting allows a greater degree of front-wheel slippage, disconnects the linked application and disables the antilock function of the rear brake. And it performs exactly as an experienced rider would program it. I was amazed to be able to paint 30-foot skid marks from the front tire when braking hard on a dirt road, with no loss of steering control or other evidence of skidding. Pulsation at the lever is felt only when grabbing a mittful. Old-school dirt riders can disable ABS completely.

This is an ABS system even experienced riders won’t want to deactivate.

There is no global off-road setting that includes MTC and ABS settings – they need to be selected independently. Somewhat annoyingly, a disabled ABS and TC setting reverts automatically to their default (i.e. On) settings when the ignition is switched off, forcing a rider to use the kill switch rather than the key during short stops. Purchasing an electronic dongle ($109.99) from KTM’s Power Parts division disables the auto-default function and also allows the use of low-grade fuel. Baja, anyone…?

Rocky Mountain High

The roads of Steamboat Springs gave us time to explore the Adventure’s amiable urban manners. It feels agile at low speeds, and throttle response is never jerky despite the healthy power on tap. Brake modulation isn’t overly aggressive yet offers powerful force when asked for.

It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect setting for testing KTM’s big trailie than the mountains of Colorado after a night of rain.

Out on the open road, few will wish for more power. Enthusiastic riders (me!) can yank up nice second-gear wheelies at 45 mph, surfing on a healthy dose of torque. The motor is claimed to produce 92 ft.-lb. of it at its peak.

Long-distance riders, especially tall ones, may wish for two things: the higher windscreen of its non-R sibling and a bit more legroom. For an ADV machine, the ride position forces a fairly tight knee bend. The light-ish steering response at low speeds fades when velocities get higher, as the gyroscopic effect from its 21-inch front wheel slows its steering.

One of KTM’s American reps described the 2013 Adventure’s steering geometry as being tuned for stability on the Autobahn. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a few geometry tweaks when changes for 2014 are announced at the end of this month.

KTM’s Adventure R performs well on the road despite its aftermarket knobby tires. Note the standard hand guards. Heated grips are an optional accessory.

But it’s when the pavement ends that the Adventure R shines brightest. Our route first took us over relatively open dirt roads, an easy enough hurdle for any ADV bike had it not been complicated by sodden sections. Here, the Off-road power mode delivered smooth acceleration to maximize traction, responding like CV carbs compared to the Sport mode’s snappy power delivery that feels like you’d just bolted on a set of flat-slides. Its powerband is expansive for an ADV bike, pulling strong from as low as 3500 rpm and up until its 10,500-rpm rev limit.

Confidence gets a boost when employing the Adventure’s expertly tuned rider aids. The ABS and TC strategies are helpful and intervene only at high levels. It’s reassuring to count on ABS when riding down a muddy hill, especially since you’re able to lock up the rear brake to help slow the bike. TC allows considerable wheel slippage under power, which helps the Adventure finish a corner

Some of the forest roads we traversed were rocky and demanded smart line choices to avoid big hits. Large impacts from the occasional dumb line choice were absorbed quite well, not suffering front-end deflection thanks to conservative steering geometry and its standard steering damper.

The Adventure R’s one-piece seat allows plenty of fore-aft movement for widely adjusting a body position to suit navigation of tricky terrain.

WP Suspension, a KTM subsidiary, supplies the 48mm inverted fork and directly mounted (no linkage) monoshock which serve up 8.66 inches of travel (up 1.18 inches from the standard Adventure). Both are fully adjustable, with the shock featuring both low- and high-speed compression damping. The fork’s damping adjusters at the top of the fork legs are conveniently hand-tunable from the saddle.

Later in the day, we cavorted on a constricted and challengingly muddy trail, swooping through timberland and jumping across large holes filled with water. Standing on the large serrated footpegs and blasting through the right path, I felt almost as if I was aboard a heavy dirt bike rather than a 1200cc adventure-tourer.

Most A-T riders would be relieved to simply emerge unscathed from technical conditions like these. But on KTM’s R-rated Adventure, I had a gleeful smile drawn on my wondrous face. It is exceptionally adroit off-road for a machine of its speed and distance capabilities.

ADV riders who value off-road performance will surely enjoy the Adventure R’s proficiencies.


The introduction of KTM’s 1190 Adventures is going to change the landscape of the adventure-touring market. The non-R version has broad-band capabilities that will challenge its rivals on any paved roads, and it’s intended to steal conquest sales from other brands. Meanwhile, the Adventure R is directed at KTM’s hardcore devotees, and it easily vaults to the head of its class in terms of performance off-road.

Its flaws are only minor nits to pick. For example, I didn’t like how the turnsignal switch doesn’t have a tactile “click” when pressed. The horror! And it was surprising that a R-b-W-throttle bike with “touring” as part of its class description doesn’t have cruise control. Some riders might appreciate some ergonomic tweaks, which we might see by the time MY2014 models arrive in America by this January. KTM NA expects about a 50/50 split between the two models

“We’re going flat out,” says John Hinz, KTM’s North American Product Line Manager, noting that the Austrian company is investing a considerable 6.3% of revenues into its R&D efforts. And that investment is fully evident when riding the incredible 1190 Adventure R.

KTM’s 1190 Adventure R is perhaps the best multi-purpose motorcycle on the market today.
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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2 of 10 comments
  • Tom Brown Tom Brown on Oct 18, 2013

    Cool bike. Too tall for me...Maybe if the pre-load was turned down a bit? Would like to have the larger windscreen. They are right about cruise control. Once you've done 300 miles of slab or even empty 2 lane with it, you won't buy a bike without it again. These bikes are very difficult and expensive to service. Expect to pay your dealer to do it...Ask what it will cost and how often before you buy. Agree with the guys who think a lighter bike would be better even if it gave a bit less performance for an off-road bike. I'd still want cruise and would trade that for all the other electronics any day. Finally, the Triumph 1200 is a cool street bike. I love triples. It has cruise but it's much heavier than this thing and it isn't a serious off-roader. Both the GS and this bike are much better if you ride off-road.

  • X32792 X32792 on Aug 11, 2014

    Gimme something about 400 pounds (or less) with 6 gears, 5 gallon tank, bench seat, seat to peg distance for someone taller than 5' 4", small wind screen on Dakar type cowling, 21" inch front tire, 18" rear tire, 10-11"suspension travel -- AND 60-70hp burning REGULAR gas.

    Don't know if anyone at KTM is listening, but something practical as outlined above would SELL. Who needs 150 hp burning premium fuel, weighing 500 pounds?