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ADV BikesKTM 1290 Super Adventure Review

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Review

 KTM strives for new levels of luxury and performance in the Big ADV category.

Published on 09.20.2016

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad Review

When the KTM 1290 Super Adventure was first announced in 2014, the idea of a “Super Adventure” seemed a little absurd. The KTM 1190 Adventure was already a large motorcycle for dual sport standards and with 150 horsepower on tap, it offered class-leading horsepower at the time. So why on earth would KTM want to “Super Size” it?

The KTM 1190 Adventure has incredible versatility but if there was anything lacking, it would have to be some of the extra touring amenities and refinements found on its BMW rival. But KTM had something sitting on its shelves that could be the knockout punch for the class bully — a 180 horsepower 1,301cc LC8 powerplant from the 1290 Super Duke R Naked Bike that would slide right into the steel trellis frame of the 1190 Adventure.


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KTM added extra flywheel mass and a milder cam to create a motor with an output of 160 horsepower and 104 ft.-lbs. of stump-pulling torque. The larger motor would also help make the Super Adventure smoother running on the highway than any other KTM Adventure model produced before.

The Austrians didn’t hold back on throwing the full book of tricks at their new flagship model. The new 1290 Super Adventure would get equipped with every imaginable electronic gizmo to enhance performance, safety and convenience, and then some. With its large tank and long list of touring amenities like an oversized windscreen, cruise control and dual heated saddles, KTM was clearly looking to up the ante in the luxury Adventure Tourer class and go head-to-head with the BMW’s popular R1200GS Adventure.

Advanced Electronics Package

KTM launched the 1290 Super Adventure with the claim that it was “the safest motorcycle in the world” and the bike is packed with an amazing array of sophisticated electronic rider aids. It all starts with Bosch’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC), a system that constantly monitors acceleration, braking, weight transfer and lean angle. With this data, the MSC system knows exactly how much braking or throttle can safely be applied and instantly modulates the rider’s control inputs. It’s even involved in optimizing suspension damping rates, keeping wheelies in check and engine braking. In short, it’s there to save your bacon when you get too aggressive or make a mistake.

Another unique safety feature are the LED cornering lights. They look like integrated auxiliary lights but they are designed to turn on automatically when the bike leans into a corner (thanks to MSC) to shine light through the turn instead of directly ahead.

KTKM 1290 Super Adventure Review Cornering Lights
LED cornering lights come on when you lean into a turn and have three levels of brightness. The more you lean, the more light they put out.

The 1290 Super Adventure’s semi-active WP suspension is another system aided by MSC. The rider can select from four pre-set suspension damping modes (Comfort, Street, Sport and Offroad) and the MSC system continuously optimizes damping rates depending on the riding surface and rider inputs. In certain modes, damping is increased in front under hard braking to avoid fork dive, or in the rear to reduce squat during acceleration for a more stable ride. Suspension preload is also electronically configured with four available preset options to ensure the suspension is properly setup for the current load.

The power delivery system (MTC) has four preset modes (Rain, Street, Sport and Offroad) as well as Off. Rain and Offroad Modes trim power down to a manageable 100 horsepower with Rain Mode allowing minimal slippage and Offroad Mode allowing the rear wheel to spin up to 2x as fast as the front. Sport and Street Modes get the full 160 horsepower, with a sharper throttle response in Sport Node and the ability to perform controlled drifts.

Twin Brembo 320mm discs up front are radially mounted with four-piston calipers and a single Brembo 267mm disc on the rear provide impressive breaking performance with the aid of C-ABS (Combined ABS) and MSC. The electronics sense when the front brake lever is actuated and applies rear braking simultaneously in optimal amounts. It’s also lean-angle sensitive, so it knows exactly how much braking modulation to apply when the tire’s contact patch is reduced in a turn.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad
In Offroad Mode, the rear wheel can be locked up so you can steer with the rear but remains active on the front wheel. ABS can also be switched off completely on both front and rear wheels.

Other safety-focused rider aids include TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) that lets you to monitor tire pressure from the dash; a slipper clutch for smoother downshifts; a non-adjustable WP steering damper; MSR (Motor Slip Regulation) that blips the throttle automatically on downshifts to help prevent rear wheel skids; and Hill Hold Control (HHC) prevents the bike from rolling backward on inclines. Both HHC and MSR are an optional $400 software update that can be installed at the dealer.

Standard Equipment

Beyond the electronic rider aids, the 1290 Super Adventure comes packed with a long list of standard equipment. For those interested in off-road travel, the Super comes with a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear tubeless wire-spoked wheels. Suspension travel is 7.9 inches (200 mm) front and rear, which is .4 inches greater than the standard 1190 Adventure, although both bikes have the same ground clearance (8.7 inches) and seat height (33.9 inches). Crash protection is also standard, which includes hand guards, a minimalist skid plate and crash bars.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad wheels and tires
The Super Adventure comes equipped with a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wire-spoked wheels, running on tubeless Continental Trail Attack 2 tires.

The 1290 Super Adventurer is nicely appointed with touring amenities as well, including electronic cruise control, a large hand adjustable touring windscreen, heated grips, dual heated seats and an enormous 7.9 gallon (30 Liter) tank that will take you well over 300 miles between fill ups. There is also plenty of room to load your gear in the spacious aluminum-covered plastic panniers with a combined story capacity of 73 liters, and a large rear rack helps expands storage capacity further.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Passenger Heating Controls
Dual heated seats come standard and passengers even get their own heating controls.

All the extra equipment adds up to a claimed dry weight of 505 pounds (229 kg) ready to ride without fuel. That’s an increase of 37.5 pounds (17 kg) over the standard KTM 1190 Adventure, but still approximately 25 pounds lighter than its main competition, the BMW R1200GS Adventure.

Evaluation and Testing

We had an opportunity to clock more than 4,000 miles on the KTM 1290 Super Adventure riding across California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. During testing, we pounded the pavement on 600-mile highway days, scraped pegs on California’s Highway 2, stormed through deep sand in the Mojave Desert, traversed slick rock in Moab and climbed rugged mountain passes in Colorado. We’ve pushed the KTM 1290 Super Adventure offroad to its limits on almost every type of terrain, with and without panniers.

First Impressions

Components on our test bike were top-notch as expected from KTM. The oversized black handlebars with anodized black bar clamps give it a premium appearance. An electronic console, similar to the 1190 Adventure’s, displays current fuel consumption, range, average speed, distance to next service, gear shift warning, ride modes, suspension settings and more, all controlled with simple-to-operate left handlebar controls.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Console

Ergonomics can also be tailored to suit different riders. A plush-looking ergonomically shaped seat offers two height settings (33.9 inches and 34.5 inches). Both the handlebar clamp and foot pegs are two-position adjustable as well and hand levers can be fine-tuned for different hand sizes.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Review - Seating

Sitting on the bike for the first time, the 1290 isn’t substantially larger than the 1190 Adventure but the larger tank and windscreen do give it a touring bike presence. The motor makes a nice growl at idle with a lower, throatier tone than the 1190, letting you know there’s a beast of a motor lurking under the bodywork. Heading out on the first ride, we noticed more low-end grunt than the 1190 Adventure — at 2,500 RPM the 1290’s motor is already putting out 77% of max torque. Fueling is spot on with no surging or hesitation at slower speeds.

Getting out on the first deserted stretch of road, we had a chance to feel the full power. The 1290 accelerates hard, but the difference in power with the 1190 isn’t dramatic until you turn off the electronic aids. With the bike in Sport Mode and Traction Control off, the power is glorious!

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Power Wheelies
With MSC disabled, power wheelies in 3rd gear are effortless and the front wheel lifts off the ground at 60 mph in 4th gear with a crack of the throttle. Turn off the Traction Control system at your own risk!

KTM 1290 Super Adventure On the Road

First and foremost, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure was designed to be a smoother, more-refined Adventure Touring Bike that can eat up the miles. And what better way to test a luxury Adventure Tourer than a two-day (primarily pavement) ride from Los Angeles, California to Crested Butte, Colorado for the KTM Rally. The 1,000-mile ride, with a detour through Moab, included 10 to 12 hours days. And the large fuel tank had us in the saddle for longer than usual before getting a chance to stretch at fuel stops.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure cruising on the highway

On those long, lonely highways, you can crank up the windscreen, set cruise control, put your favorite tunes on the headset and just enjoy the ride as the miles fly by. The ergos are perfectly set up for a long journey with a comfortable reach to the bars and plenty of leg room for taller riders. Cruise control can be easily adjusted up/down with a finger switch and if the air gets a little chilly, you can crank up the heat on the grips and seat.

The 1290’s complicated-looking windscreen does an excellent job of redirecting air over and around the rider, reducing fatigue on long-duration trips. Although, adjusting the windscreen was a little tricky with one hand while moving at high speed. The bike can easily cruise down the highway at triple-digits for hours if you have extra points to spare on your license, and overtaking slow moving vehicles is effortless.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Windscreen

The only disappointment was the seat. We expected something more plush from KTM’s flagship luxury Adventure Tourer. It’s not that it’s a bad seat, it’s comfortable for about two hours of riding, but the third hour before stopping for gas can get a little squirmy. It’s one area where we’d have to say the BMW still has an advantage. But it is still an improvement over the 1190 Adventure’s seat and the overall comfort of the bike had us arriving at our destination, after a full day of riding, still feeling surprisingly fresh.

Driving around town, the 1290 Super Adventure has excellent slow-speed manners. The engine’s torque is very manageable and the bike comes to a halt with only a slight pull from the right index finger at stop lights. And if you find yourself stopped on a steep hill, fully loaded or with a passenger, the optional HHC stops you from rolling backward so you can get rolling forward with less effort.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure in the twisties
Do you need a 160 horsepower Adventure Bike? Absolutely not! But when the power is this smooth and manageable, it sure is nice to have it!

In the twisties, the 1290 feels right at home. Put the electronic suspension in Street Mode if you just want to cruise at a spirited pace. The semi-active suspension will adjust damping on the fly to help keep that 7.9 inches of suspension travel under composure. Or if you want to ride at a faster pace, put the suspension in Sport Mode and it will allow more fork dive to shorten up the wheelbase and tighten up corners.

The KTM loves long sweeping turns and when powering out of them you’ll be happy the enormous power is kept in check with MSC (trust us). Despite the big horsepower, the KTM is very easy to ride with the power management system on and the electronic intervention occurs so smoothly it’s hardly noticeable.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure twisty pavement
Turn off traction control and the Super Adventure will easily leave black marks on the pavement coming out of turns.

The slipper clutch aided by MSR is blessing to have when riding at a fast pace. If you accidentally decelerate or downshift too aggressively, the system allows engine braking to occur without any rear wheel skid or even a chatter. The system is almost idiot proof. It’s almost impossible to initiate a rear wheel skid on downshift, even if you are trying. You can definitely feel the heft of the bike in the tighter turns, but overall the Super Adventure is a fun an fairly-flickable bike you can enjoy riding like a sportbike all day long.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad

With much of the marketing material coming from KTM being about improvements in luxury and comfort, it got a lot of people thinking the new 1290 Super Adventure was primarily a street bike. But it rides on essentially the same chassis as the 1190 Adventure. Just a bigger tank and some extra amenities added. Could it really have lost its mojo in the dirt? We were eager to find out.

Once we arrived at the KTM Rally in Crested Butte, it was time to lower the windscreen, turn off that heated seat, remove the rubber peg covers, roll the bars forward slightly and drop our luggage at camp, so we could explore the surrounding trails.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad River Crossing

It took some getting used to the extra bulk and the bike could use bar risers for taller riders, but before long we were taking the Rally’s hard routes. The bike transitions from Street Bike to Enduro with ease, and feels much like an 1190 until you get into the steeper terrain where Super Adventure’s extra heft can be a handful.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad descent

The stock Continental Trail Attack 2 road-biased tires actually surprised us with the traction they provided in the dirt. There was a fair amount of slippage but the weight of the 1290 and the big contact patch of the rear tire allowed it to dig in and grip on some fairly slick climbs. In Offroad Mode, traction control performs well in all but the gnarliest terrain and C-ABS works great for confidence-inspiring stops in the dirt. Offroad Mode also enables controlled power slides to help tighten up your turning radius out of turns.

For the suspension settings, we found the KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad Mode to be ideal for common situations, but the rear shock did bottom out over larger bumps and jumps. Switching into Sport Mode solved the problem by stiffening up the damping and we were able to ride at a more aggressive pace.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad Jump

The one feature that didn’t work well in the dirt for us was the optional Hill Hold Control. Getting a big bike turned around on a tight trail often requires rolling up the hill at the edge of the trail so you can get backward momentum to turn around. HHC holds the bike on the incline for 5 seconds before the brakes are slowly released, killing all momentum rolling backward and forcing you to be patient and use leg power to turn around. However, we can see how this feature could still prove useful in certain off-road situations like being stuck on a hill.

Sliding around in the smooth stock tires in the dirt was an exhilarating ride, but we wanted to see what the KTM 1290 Super Adventure was capable of with a proper set of knobbies. So we slipped on a pair of the new Michelin Anakee Wild tires, which are specifically designed for big Travel Enduros like the Super Adventure.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure offroad tires
Sand is always a challenge for heavy ADV bikes but the 1290 was able to power through deep sand in the Mojave National Preserve with the help of the Michelin Anakee Wild knobbies we installed.

After installing the new knobs, the bike immediately felt more locked on a line and the increase in grip gave us the confidence we needed to explore further into unknown territory, ready to tackle whatever terrain we may encounter around the next bend.

We even took the Super Adventure to our secret off-road track for a head-to-head timed test with the 2016 BMW R1200GS Adventure (look for that in an upcoming story). The bike was able to skirt through whoops, deep sand, rocky trails and more with surprising stability and control. It requires a lot of strength and skill to get the SA through the rough stuff, but the suspension is forgiving and it recovers well if it starts to get a little out of control.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure Offroad Review
Offroad Mode drops the Super Adventure’s enormous power down to a more manageable 100 horsepower.

Final Thoughts

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure is achieving new levels of performance and comfort in the luxury Adventure Touring Class. And yet with all those extra creature comforts, the KTM can still can get the job done when the asphalt runs out. With a good set of knobby tires, the 1290 showed us it has “Killer Instincts” and doesn’t mind being pushed hard off-road. KTM’s “Ready to Race” heritage still runs strong.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure

All those comforts and conveniences come at a cost though, and a $20,499 MSRP is a significant investment. But considering all the standard equipment, like the included panniers and dual heated seats, it’s competitively priced with its primary competition — the Ducati Multistrada and BMW R1200GS Adventure. Plus, with its off-road capability, touring comforts and sporty performance, it has all the versatility to replace multiple bikes in your garage.

Isn’t all that technology a liability? When we first got our 2015 tester, we did encounter a few gremlins like a leaky fuel line, clunk in the fork and sporadic issues with the tachometer, fuel gauge and passenger seat heater, all of which were fixable under warranty. Our 2016 tester didn’t exhibit any of these problems though, so we can only assume those were first year model teething issues that have now been sorted out.

The 1290 Super Adventure is the perfect bike for those that want to cover vast distances on the highway in comfort, but still want to enjoy the back roads and a few trails once they arrive somewhere interesting. Sadly, there will be many Super Adventures that will never touch dirt, but there will also be those that will get their 1290’s dirty regularly, enjoying the challenge of pushing the limits of a big bike off-road.

Favorite Features:

  • Packed with every conceivable creature comfort.
  • Mind blowing acceleration with TC off in Sport Mode.
  • “Ready to Race” pedigree still comes through off-road.
Minor Gripes:

  • Seat isn’t as plush as we’d expect for a luxury tourer.
  • Windscreen can be a bit tricky to adjust with one hand.
  • Optional HHC makes turning around on tight trails difficult.

Big-Tank Luxury Adventure Tourer Specs Comparison

Adventure Bike Models HP Torque
(lb.-ft.)
Wet Weight
(lbs.)
Suspension Travel
(Fr./Rr.)
Seat Height
(in.)
Fuel Capacity
(Gallons)
Price USD
 Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX10583.35986.7/6.132.08.5$15,990
 KTM 1290 Super Adventure160103.35497.9/7.933.97.9$20,499
 Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro160100.35607.9/7.934.38.0$21,295
 BMW R1200GS Adventure12592.05738.3/8.735.07.9$22,045*
ADVPulse.com  
* Includes Optional Premium Package.
Photos by Alfonse Palaima and Bill Lieras

Author: Rob Dabney
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19 thoughts on “KTM 1290 Super Adventure Review

  1. Fantastic review! Answered a lot of questions I’ve had especially its capability offroad. I’m seriously considering this bike.

    • Hi Valkraider. The Tiger Explorer definitely has many of the same luxury touring features as the 1290 Super Adventure and could be considered a competitor in that aspect. We just listed the most direct competitors in the big tank luxury adventure touring class here. All four bikes listed have big 8 gallon fuel tanks. The Tiger Explorer has a 5.3 gallon fuel tank.

  2. Good review well done. I own one and ride it down here in New Zealand which has perfect roads for this bike. Although mainly used on sealed roads have taken it off a few times and goes really well on stock Conti Trail Attack IIs. Have just had 1st service at 15,000 kms and changed the tyres at 14,000 kms, fitted new Bridgestone A40 Adventures, so far so good they stick like glue even in the wet. Need to try some knobblies yet though so can get it ‘well off road’ either Anakee’s or TKC80’s. RobG I understand what you mean by being a tall bike I am only 5’6″ myself but can handle it OK with seat in lowest position so go on give it a go, you’ll be surprised.
    I agree the seat is s**t on long rides and needs to be better for a bike which is touted as a long range missile, shame on you KTM for this on what is a great bike in all other respects.

    • I own soartmotorcycletours and have a fleet of the 1290 sa at about 5000 mi the seat wont bother you near as much, was i agree a bit interesting as new. Awesome machine! have 22,000
      on my personal bike. Aside from, so far minor issue this as i said before is a awesome bike.

    • Hi George, I’m close to pressing the buy button for a 1290 down here in Nelson. I’d be interested if you have any updated thoughts about your offroad experiences, or whatever, with the bike. Cheers, Chris

  3. I, have owned a GS 11150R, and a GSA 1200, This is my first KTM, I, purchased it in April, and with winter approching , having hard time putting it up. I, can sum the KTM up into one word. FUN, Don’t marry a manufacturer, experiment with other technology and enjoy the thrill of riding.

  4. Hi! Could you say something about the heat coming off from the engine? I’ve read of various sites it is unbearable, yet in this review I don’t see it mentioned. I live in Madrid (Spain) where it can get pretty hot. If the heat the bike produces it too much this could be a issue for me. Thank you in advance! Edwin

  5. Pingback: Flagships in Battle: KTM 1290 Super Adventure vs BMW R1200GSA - ADV Pulse

  6. I’ve had one for a year and I can tell you about it in one word that others have used. FUN! I’m 5’8″, can’t put both feet down flat. It doesn’t matter. You don’t ride with your feet down. I raise the seat for long rides for leg comfort. Beemer, Yamaha, Triumph, Honda, Suzuki, Kawi, etc. also make great bikes.
    At the end of the day on the SA I’m happy with everything. It works. It’s fun.