2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Review

What a beast, I thought to myself as I put my first few miles on the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R. In retrospect, that thought kind of made sense given the fact that the mill tucked beneath the 1290’s new tank design is an iteration of the Super Duke’s 1301cc V-Twin – the naked bike dubbed by KTM marketing folks as “the beast.” And beastly it is. Even in larger ADV garb coming in at 542 pounds dripping wet, the SA-R is still an absolute ripper of a motorcycle that is fully capable of serially killing rear tires.

It took a while for us to get our hands on this big orange monster, but we’re certainly glad to have finally done so. While the middleweight ADV wars have seemed to steal all the thunder lately, you’d be remiss to forget the lightning clash preceding those machines in the open-class adventure segment. KTM has long held the title of most pointedly off-road worthy in the category, but as time has marched on and smaller, more manageable, machines have infiltrated the market, do customers still want sky-high seats and serious off-road intentions in these big bikes? Never one to rest on its laurels, KTM has reworked its big adventure line and delivered a motorcycle that is better performing in every way, with useful technology that helps the rider use the machine exactly how they prefer. 

A new recipe

The orange Kool-aid is now just a bit sweeter. The Super Adventure R has received a pretty thorough redesign and, as we’ve seen happen with other OEMs, seems to be bringing its big bikes more inline with its middleweight’s winning formula. These changes have made a massive difference in how the SA-R handles itself.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

At $19,499, the big KTM is starting to look like a bargain in the category.

To start with, the 6.1-gallon fuel tank’s new design mirrors that of the 890 and 790 Adventures before it. The bulk of the 1290’s 36 or so pounds of fuel is now carried low on either side of the engine, allowing the 1290 to keep its center of gravity as low as possible, which really helps with quick transitions from side to side and while navigating slower technical terrain. 

Looking to further increase the big bike’s agility without compromising stability, the steering head has been moved back 15mm while the swingarm has been extended 15mm. The redesigned frame is said to weigh just 22 pounds. In addition, the steering head redesign allowed KTM to rotate the engine forward by two degrees, and is now secured by new aluminum struts. The XPLOR suspension has also been optimized to keep the machine’s Alpina tubeless wheels in contact with the ground and offers 8.6 inches of travel from its 48mm fork and PDS-type shock. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R seat

Removing the seat is as easy as pushing the small black button (while the motorcycle is on) located to the right of the side panel, which releases the latching mechanism electronically.

Bolted to the new frame is a more stout one-piece aluminum subframe that also helps lower the seat height to 34.6 inches. Passenger pegs are bolt-on and easy to remove should you find it necessary (which you might because they get in the way of moto boots while trying to move back on the motorcycle).

The beastly 1301cc LC8 V-Twin is now said to be 3.5 pounds lighter thanks to thinner cases (which were pretty thin to begin with) and a few other internal upgrades. On the Rottweiler Performance dyno we saw 139 hp at 8700 rpm and 96.2 lb-ft. of torque at 6500 rpm at the rear wheel. The mill is also now Euro 5 compliant. 

To keep the big Twin cool, KTM is using a dual radiator setup that works in conjunction with the fans and redesigned bodywork. The airbox is also easier to access thanks to the new tank design (a particularly nice feature to see after having removed the 1190’s tank so many times to access its air filter); its cover is found just under the small storage compartment near the handlebar, and can be removed with just six bolts.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tft display

The TFT is tilt angle adjustable and offers connectivity via KTM’s KTM MY RIDE app.

Rounding out the new features is a monstrous 35-inch² TFT display that provides plenty of information and is easy to navigate with the new backlit switchgear (even the intensity of the backlighting is adjustable) found on the handlebar. In that big ol’ display you can access ride modes, traction control, ABS settings, and a myriad of other options. Not only is the display easy to navigate, it also features visually pleasing images to further describe what the setting you’re tweaking is actually doing to the motorcycle. From ABS and TC, to its cornering lights, many of these settings are further enhanced by a new 6-axis IMU from Bosch.

Unleashing the beast

I will say that my first few miles on the back of this monster were in Rally mode with the throttle response also set to Rally (the sharpest), which meant a slight twist of the wrist sent the big bike rocketing forward with ferocity. A bit much for cruising around town. In Sport mode, throttle response is a touch more smoothed out, but again, too much for grocery getting. Street mode seemed to be a more reasonable choice for everyday riding, whether that be commuting, or just bouncing around town. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R in action

The 1290 Super Adventure R’s key fob can be used normally, but also offers an Anti Relay Attack setting that provides an extra layer of security by requiring a button press on the key fob which then gives a 10 minute window to start the machine.

Unlike most of the big adventure bikes these days, KTM opts to use the standard XPLOR manually adjustable suspension on the R model – the S has the electronic stuff. While suspension tuning isn’t as simple as a press of a button, you have a lot more adjustability with the manual WP components. In the standard settings (sport, standard, and comfort suggested settings can be found on the inside of the fairing near the left fork leg), the 1290 SA-R feels fairly soft, making cruising and backroad strafing a comfortable experience. For more aggressive riding though, the sport settings felt better equipped to the task, both on road and off. Adjustment for the fork is toolless, but you’ll need a standard screwdriver and socket for the shock (preload is easily adjustable via a hand crank knob). 

During my first bit of time on the SA-R I noticed the front end felt flighty – even more so under hard acceleration and at speeds of 80 mph or above. PDS-type shocks tend to be very sensitive to preload adjustment so, adding two full turns of the hand knob made a massive improvement in getting the bike balanced.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R preload adjuster

Preload adjustment is toolless front and rear.

The SA-R’s riding position is just about perfectly neutral for me at 5’8” with a 30-inch inseam. I could roll the handlebar back for a bit more comfort while on the pavement, but I would want to roll it forward again while standing, so I left it as is. The tiny windshield on the R model can be cranked up just enough to get some of the wind blast off of the rider’s chest, but even at my height, it had no effect on airflow around my helmet. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R in action

We returned an average mpg right around 40 during our time on the 1290 Super Adventure R.

I’m continuously impressed by how well modern adventure tires like the equipped Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross AX41 (a model name with length befitting this machine) do on road. In the mountains to and from our off-road testing, in Sport mode, the 1290 SA-R is entirely capable of such riding. Out of corners, the TC light would flicker to remind me of the machine’s immense torque as I rolled on the throttle. Still, the AX41s are pretty capable of decent lean angle and grip while braking, and also didn’t cause any annoying vibration on the interstate. 

The engine hums along smoothly at about 4200 rpm at 80 mph, and since we’ve got cruise control, it’s as easy as setting it, and forgetting it on the slab. Unfortunately, you’ll have to opt for the S model to get the adaptive kind. Once you’ve made it to the curves, you can be lazy with the big V-Twin and let its torquey motor lug down into the rpm range with nary a shift needed.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R in action

Our bike was equipped with the $750 optional Tech Pack which gets you the Rally Pack, Motor Slip Regulation, Hill Hold Control, Quickshifter+, and Adaptive Brake Light.

If you do find yourself shifting more though, the optional Quickshifter+ rows up and down through the gearbox smoothly. Shifting on the 2022 SA-R feels smoother thanks to the new lighter shift drum and copper-coated shift forks. Pull at the hydraulic clutch was never tiring even after long rocky stints on the trail where it was needed at times to smooth out power delivery. 

You expect the 1290 Super Adventure R to be a handful off-road and, in a way, it most certainly can be. Even in Off-road mode with its measly 100 hp, it’s easy to get yourself in over your head with nearly 550 pounds worth of momentum sliding around. If we’re talking about high speed off-road riding, the story is much the same as it has been; drifting and power slides a plenty are a lot of fun on the 1290 SA-R. It’s when the going gets a little slower and more technical that the new design shines brightest.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R engine

A bit of protection from the factory can be found in the side crash bars and skid plate.

Really, it’s the same story as the 790 and 890. The new fuel tank design lowering the bike’s CoG makes a massive difference when traversing tricky terrain. This setup makes what was once a tall, top-heavy machine, much easier to handle in technical situations. After a day of everything from mountain roads, to sand and rocky two tracks, the difference between the old 1190s, 1090s, and 1290s is immense. The new 1290 SA-R is everything it has always been, yet better in every way.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tft display

Being able to adjust TC on the fly feels even more useful on the 1290 versus the 890 simply due to the amount of power on tap.

The electronics, particularly in the optional Rally mode which allows for adjustable throttle response as well as on-the-fly adjustment of TC with its new ergonomically placed +/- paddles, lets you really tailor the ride to the terrain. I’ve said it before with the middleweights, but KTM has really hit the nail on the head with the way its electronics package integrates with the motorcycle and rider. Rather than feeling gimmicky, the systems are easy to use and allow you to help push the envelope. 

Dial the TC back when you have room to get loose and crank it back up as the trail tightens.

With the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, you have a machine that can easily tour the country and provide exhilarating performance when the road gets twisty or when the pavement runs out – and there’s a good chance that you won’t be running into the machine’s limit before you hit your own. She’s still a big beastly thing, but really, we wouldn’t have it any other way.


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