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ADV BikesDucati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

Seeing just how capable these street-focused adventure touring bikes can be.

Published on 08.24.2018

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

Examining the sliding scale that is adventure bikes, depending on who you ask and how you ride, the start, middle, and end point of that scale is hard to define. But what isn’t hard to tell is that both the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S and KTM 1290 Super Adventure S fall closer to the street/sport side of the scale. These bikes are more focused on road performance, highway comfort, and long distance ride-ability than being able to blast through single track. That being said, both bikes surprised us in the dirt, albeit for different reasons.

On paper, the Austrian and Italian “S” machines stack up nearly as apples-to-apples as they come. The biggest difference between the bikes on the spec sheet is the ground clearance. The Orange bike has 8.6 inches to the 6.6 of the Ducati. The suspension travel is the second biggest difference but still only about an inch apart, with the KTM at 7.9/7.9 inches and the Ducati with 6.7/6.7 inches. The KTM also has 41 more ccs but once you are past 1200, that isn’t much of a difference. Both have semi-active suspension, have two cylinders (one a V the other an L), and are within 2 claimed HP of each other (158 for the Multi and 160 for the KTM).


On the scales, there is only a 6 lbs difference with the Ducati coming in at 518 and the KTM at 524. They both have TFT digital dashes with bar-mounted thumb controls, both are ride-by-wire and have four ride modes, both have quickshifters (up and down) and both have cast wheels and street oriented tires. But the KTM does have a 19-inch front / 17-inch rear wheel combo while the Duck is 17-inch front / 17-inch rear.


Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S comparo

Specs aside, once you sit on both bikes it is quite evident that there are some major differences. First off, the seat height is about an inch and a half different between the Ducati (32.5 inches with the low seat position, which was how our test unit was delivered) and the Super Adventure S (33.9 inches). Seat shape was also vastly different – the KTM has a flatter (front to back) more rounded seat (side to side) while the Ducati’s saddle is much more scooped out and tapered to a skinnier front section.

The foot controls are pushed a little farther back on the Italian machine while the KTM’s pegs and pedals are in a more neutral position. This made standing up on the Super Adventure feel more natural and maintainable than standing on the Multistrada. Both bike’s bar positions were a little low for prolonged standing, but the Multi’s handlebar has more of a street-bike-like sweep while the KTM has a flatter, more off-road bar bend. Footpegs on both machines have rubber inserts that make street riding smoother and don’t impede short jaunts down dirt roads. However, the KTM’s pegs are larger overall giving a more solid foothold.


Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

We are not sure how it feels to be shot out of a cannon, but riding these bikes can’t be that far off. Both the LC8 and Testastretta DVT motors are iconic in their own right, each with long histories of successful motorcycles. It was an absolute pleasure to ride them back to back because doing so really displayed the differences between the motors that would otherwise be difficult to notice just riding the bikes alone. The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S has a slightly more lively, free-revving motor that makes its power in a pretty traditional bell curve. Right off the bottom it is strong and torquey, but really comes to life in the mid-range, and finishes strong on top, but not so much that you’d need to bounce off the rev limiter to get the most out of it.

On the other hand, the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S starts with an even torquier, chuggier power immediately off idle that builds a touch slower than the KTM, but has enough excitement down low to short shift all day. Into the mid range the power is a bit ho hum, but when you let the revs climb into the top-end, you get that g-force feeling in your stomach and you think, “Why would they make a bike this fast?!” The sportbike lineage of the Ducati really rewards riders who aren’t afraid of letting the Italian machine sing. The power curves of the two bikes feel somewhat opposite with the KTM’s excitement right in the middle and the Multi’s exciting power both down low, and up high.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

A more practical explanation of the the power differences is looking at wheelie-ability. Obviously, both bikes can loft the wheel with minimal effort. But the KTM, in first, second, third, or fourth gear, is itching to wheelie with the rpm at about 6,000 and just a crack of the throttle, no clutch. The Ducati, on the other hand, will do power wheelies in first and second gear. This is more about where the bikes make their power, not which bike makes more, as evident by the aforementioned HP numbers.

Handling Dirt

There was no real surprise riding the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S in the dirt. And by dirt we are talking about mostly hard pack, relatively smooth roads, with a few softer, rockier roads sprinkled in. Being both “S” models, we respected the OEMs and didn’t torment these more touring-focused machines with any rock gardens, single track, or aggressive off-roading. Getting back to the 1290, since it is easier to stand and has longer travel suspension, the few rocks, rain ruts, and soft spots didn’t really faze the bike at all. Also, having a 19-inch front wheel helped keep the tire from digging into the few sand sections we came across.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

What was surprising, however, was how the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S held its own off the highway. A combo of the lower seat position, immediate torque, and agile handling made picking our way around (not over) rocks in the road a pleasant experience. With the Ducati, it’s more about slowing down, choosing a clean line and making it through tough riding rather than standing up and charging. On smooth, fast dirt roads, the Multi could be ridden much faster yet the 17-inch front wheel felt a little unsettled, while also making softer dirt and sand a chore since it wanted to dig in rather than stay on top. Switching to more of a 50/50 dual sport tire would be extremely helpful for the Multistrada 1260 S off-road.

Handling Street

Again, riding these bikes back to back was a blast and very illuminating on the mostly tight, twisty, cambered roads we could find. Both will satisfy your MotoGP fix and have you quickly outpacing any of your buddies on bikes with knobbies. Yet they both raise your adrenaline levels in different ways.

First off, the Ducati’s cockpit is decidedly more sportbike-like and the way it handles twisty roads is very much in the same vein. The whole bike is lower and the rider is lower in the bike — both characteristics encourage sporty aggression. Even though the wheelbase is actually longer than the KTM’s, the Ducati feels shorter, smaller, and more nimble. The Multi is so responsive to rider input, it took us by surprise how quickly and effortlessly the bike leaned into corners. But, that same precise steering characteristic can become an issue if you are not a precise rider. A novice rider might call the Ducati twitchy and too quick-turning, yet with a seasoned asphalt rider aboard, being nimble and agile allows for mid-corner line changes and the ability to put the bike exactly where you want on the road.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

Conversely, the KTM has a much more supermoto feel to its handling. Still very sporty with plenty of grip from the stock tires but the rider position and taller stance makes it harder to get into that “low and forward” sportbike position. That being said, neither tester felt like they were any slower on the KTM. You just feel farther off the ground and the front wheel is a little farther out in front of the bike. This also makes the 1290 Super Adventure S more stable and easier to ride fast for the non-sportbike rider. Leaning into turns, it isn’t as precise and takes more rider input, but this leads to a smooth, consistent cornering feel that has no hint of twitchy-ness. Once you settle into a turn, the KTM feels locked in throughout the corner.

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Author: Sean Klinger

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5 thoughts on “Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

  1. I read tests/reviews in three languages, German, French and English. This one tops in relevance on all categories and no fuzz factor…Good insights, without turning a blind eye on the short comings. Congrats, we all know of the tight rope a journalist walks… or no more rides from the the manufacturer…;-)

  2. Very good article and enjoyable reading. Having owned both I found the KTM a little less demanding when long distance touring yet every bit as capable.

  3. Good review, IMHO, with a lot of details about the little things that may affect a buy/don’t buy decision. I’m on my second 1290 (2015 SA, 2019 SAS) now and love the SAS, and I think most of the observations in this article are spot on. The SAS motor is a beast, and it handles beautifully. Great for distance as well. The observation about leaving the fob at home though is a little misleading. If you start the KTM and leave without your fob the dash will give a warning that says “No key in range.” It would be impossible to miss.
    I rode the Multi S and Enduro before buying my second 1290, but both the Duc and the KTM are great bikes. I think the biggest deciding factor for me was the anticipated cost for service on the Multi.


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