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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

Suspension

Since both testers are around 215 pounds, instead of setting the load mode to “rider plus luggage,” which technically we were, we set both bikes to “rider and passenger” to accommodate our extra girth and the luggage we had for five days of riding. The load modes change the preload on the shock with electric motors, no knob turning required.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

With the loads digitally dialed in, we noticed that both bikes felt very balanced. On the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S we were concerned that the nearly 8 inches of fork travel would give us a lot of dive when riding aggressively on the pavement, yet that was not the case. With the damping mode in Sport, there is a small, controlled amount of fork dive which was a conscious decision by KTM engineers. Sport bikes should have some front-end dive to help shift the weight more to the front wheel for better front brake traction, and fork compression reduces the turning radius. In damping mode Street, there was the smallest amount of perceived movement from the suspension as the bike stayed very level and balanced. Switching to Comfort and Off-road damping modes, the suspension was softer and offered a little bit plusher ride, but the difference wasn’t really that drastic.


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On the other hand, the difference between the Ducati’s stiffest and softest damping modes was very noticeable. In Touring mode with the fork and shock adjusted to their softest settings, the Ducati offered a Cadillac-like plushness. Again, like the KTM, the Multi’s Sport mode allows a small amount of fork dive, yet less than the orange bike. Unlike the KTM, the 1260’s damping modes are part of the overall ride mode which was somewhat limiting. If we wanted softer damping for a rough section of pavement but wanted full Sport power delivery, we would have to pull over, navigate into the Sport mode damping settings, adjust the fork and shock softer, then head out again. Or we could switch the ride mode to Touring on the fly which would give softer damping, but also have a mellower power delivery.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

On dirt roads, the KTM’s extra travel and overall stiffer set up performed better at faster speeds. The Ducati works fine and is well balanced and behaved off-road, but if you try to pick up the pace too much, the lack of ground clearance is the main limiting factor.

Highway Comfort

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

Picking a winner in the highway department will most likely come down to a rider’s height. Again, our Ducati test bike came with the seat in the lower of two positions and it wasn’t until we were riding and wanted to raise it up did we realize that we didn’t have the riser inserts to do so. Obviously, if you buy the bike, those will come with it. Nonetheless, when cruising on the highway going from fill-up to fill-up, the deeper knee bend can become tiresome but the Ducati’s seat has a great shape and feel for long-haul riding. The KTM’s seat is harder and flatter which can bug your bum, but you can stretch your legs easier and they are bent at a less acute angle.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S comparo

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S comparo

Both motors hum along at a low, non-vibrating rpm in 6th gear with more than enough power to make quick passes and merges. Cruise control is more predictable on the Multistrada since one click of the plus or minus buttons translated to one more or less mile per hour. On the KTM, if you wanted to adjust your speed, there was a lag between pressing the button and change in engine output that was sometimes more exaggerated than we expected.

Wind protection is also better on the Multistrada 1260 S with the easy to adjust windscreen offering a clean pocket of air for the rider and the handguards block a lot of wind as well. The KTM’s windshield is harder to adjust while riding and while it directs the brunt of the wind over the riders helmet, the rider bubble is more turbulent.

Extras

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

Keys? Who needs ‘em? Well, that is a little exaggerated but both machines have key fobs and start with a push (or twist) of a button when the fob is in range. With the KTM, if you start the bike at home and leave the key fob hanging in the garage, the Super Adventure will run normally until you shut it off. Then you are out of luck since the bike won’t start again without the fob nearby. The Ducati does the same thing, but the Italian engineers thought of this scenario and you can start the bike with a four digit PIN, which we think is an awesome feature. But, you still need the key to get into the gas tank on the Multi, and you don’t on the KTM if the ignition is on.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review
Handlebar controls on the Ducati and KTM allow you to adjust both power output and delivery, as well as the suspension settings.

Luggage wise, they both have racks but the KTM has larger rack with more mounting points for straps while the Ducati’s rear section is more of a passenger grab area. Charging electronic devices with each bike is possible but slightly differently. The KTM has a standard 12-volt car charger outlet in the front part of the frame where you would normally put the ignition key. It has a cover and is always “on” meaning the bike can be off and you can still use the charger. The Multi has two chargers – A standard 12-volt car charger under the passenger seat and a Powerlet charger up front on the inside of the fairing, which needs an adapter to use with the more common car-style charger. Also, the outlets aren’t “on” unless the ignition is on.

Ducati Multistrada 1260 S vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review

If we were going to pick a winner in the TFT display category, we’d go with the KTM, simply because there is a “back” button on the handlebar. Both bike’s displays are crystal clear, colorful, and easy to read day or night. But the added speed that we could navigate the KTM’s menus was appreciated. Both bikes have Bluetooth integration that allows the TFT dashboard to manage the connection between the rider’s smartphone and headset, with the ability to see SMS alerts, answer calls and play music all with the handlebar controls. The KTM takes it even further with turn-by-turn directions on the dashboard when integrated with the KTM My Ride app.

Both have cornering lights but the KTM’s was much more useful. But, both bikes also had quickshifters and Ducati gets the nod here with clean and quick shifts no matter the rpm or which gear we were in. The Super Adventures quickshifter was sometimes notchy and not as smooth.

The Botton Line

Both of these machines are perfect for the sport-touring-leaning ADV rider that wants a comfortable ride for longer distances and values adrenaline-pumping street performance. And as you might have guessed, the KTM is a better performer in the dirt and the Ducati handles the best on asphalt. But what you might have not expected is just how sporty the 1290 Super Adventure S is and, vice versa, how well the Multistrada 1260 S handles the dirt at a responsible pace. Each time we switched bikes we thought, “Yeah, I like this one better” but then switching again gave us the same feeling. Neither bike has any glaring missteps or issues and for the knee-dragging crowd who also wants to explore plenty of dirt roads, both motorcycles check all the right boxes. It will just come down to whether you are in the mood for Italian or Austrian fare.

Specs Comparison

 Adventure Bike Models  HP  Torque
(lb.-ft.)
Wet Weight
(lbs.)
Suspension Travel
(Fr./Rr.)
Seat Height
(in.)
Fuel Capacity
(Gallons)
Price USD
 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S 160 103.3 524 7.9/7.9 33.9 6.1 $19,884*
 Ducati Multistrada 1260 S 158 95.5 518 6.7/6.7 32.5/33.3 5.3 $22,395*
* Price as tested.

Photos by Spencer Hill and Sean Klinger

Author: Sean Klinger

With his sights set on doing what he loved for a living, Sean left college with a BA in Journalism and dirt bike in his truck. After five years at a dirt-only motorcycle magazine shooting, testing, writing, editing, and a little off-road racing, he has switched gears to bigger bikes and longer adventures. He’ll probably get lost a few times but he’ll always have fun doing it. Two wheels and adventure is all he needs. 

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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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