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ADV Bikes2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Review

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Review

 An Adventure Bike for the twisties that can still leave'em in the dust off-road.

Published on 06.13.2018

Sleek, Seductive, and Stupid fast are all options for what the “S” could stand for in the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S’s model name, but what it really stands for is Sport. With KTM not offering the Super Adventure T (touring) model anymore, the S is the only option for the more sport touring-oriented adventure riders that must have an Austrian machine. But before you bail on this test because the bike doesn’t have wire-spoked wheels or knobby tires, the Super Adventure S still has nearly 8 inches of semi-active suspension travel from its WP fork and shock and the same ridiculously powerful 1301cc v-twin that is in the R model.

We want to address the biggest question that most of you have right away. Why choose the Super Adventure S over the Super Adventure R? The answer depends on what kind of riding you do and how honest you are with yourself. A lot of riders want the off-roadiest big bike they can find with the hope/dream/plan/fantasy that they will be blasting through single track on their way around the world. And, no doubt, there are those guys and gals out there. But if you have a street bike background and/or spend more time exploring beat-up twisties and dirt roads than deep in the forest on double blacks, the S is a much better fit for you. The rest of this review will explain just why we think that.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle
It may have an ‘S’ in the name but it still feels right at home in the dirt.



One of the main features of the Super Adventure S is the TFT (thin film transistor) display as its dash, that can also be connected to your phone via the My Ride KTM app. This is a navigation app that will use the bike’s display to show you turn-by-turn directions. Using the app and accessing the navigation via the left-hand thumb buttons is pretty intuitive and easy to use. The display itself is very easy to read and it automatically and quickly adjusts to the ambient light conditions offering great visibility at all times.

Moving on to the ride modes, there are four different modes available: Sport, Street, Rain, Off-Road. The first two offer the full 160 claimed horsepower with the Sport mode offering the most aggressive power delivery. Let’s be honest, we left the bike in Sport mode a majority of the time because it is just so much fun. The latter two modes, Rain and Off-Road, cut the overall power output of the motor to 100 hp. Of these two, the Off-Road mode is more aggressive and you can have plenty of fun without the full ponies. The Rain mode is, as expected, the mellowest and puts a premium on safety with a very smooth power delivery.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

Independent of the ride mode are the four damping modes which are also adjustable on the fly – Sport, Street, Comfort, and Off-Road. Having the suspension damping modes unattached to the power modes is a nice feature. There were times where we wanted max power in some twisty back roads, but they were poorly maintained and wanted a softer suspension set up. The shock preload is also electronically adjustable and you can choose from One Rider, One Rider + Luggage, Two Riders, Two Riders + Luggage.

Overall the TFT dash is pretty easy to navigate and we like that there is a “back” button. You can choose your “favorites” to live on the dash like tire pressure, external temp, etc. One part of the dash that is a little lame is that you have to navigate multiple menus to turn on the heated grips. Many bikes have a dedicated handlebar button for that.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

There are also electronic riding aids that do a variety of things and our test unit had the Travel Pack installed, adding the HHC (Hill Hold Control), Quickshifter, and MSR (Motor Slip Regulation). HHC is nice to have it you need to stop on a hill with a passenger, but is less convenient if you try to make a 3-point turn on an incline and it causes you to wait for the brake to release. Luckily, it can be easily disabled with a few clicks on the TFT configuration screen, which is saved so you don’t have to do it every time you start the bike.

Having both the Quickshifter (no need to use the clutch to shift) and the MSR (basically an autoblip on downshifts), the 1290 Super Adventure S feels like a full on race replica. On top of those, the standard bike has lean-angle sensitive ABS that can be turned off, on, or in Off-Road mode which turns just the rear ABS off. Also, in Off-Road mode, the traction control allows for the rear wheel to spin twice as fast as the front before it engages.


2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
Ample ground clearance lets you get the 1290 leaned over pretty far before toes start to scrape.

Swinging a leg over this machine tells you it isn’t a sport tourer, it has a familiar ADV Bike geometry. But, the upright, roomy cockpit still allows the rider to lean forward and get into a good, knee-dragging position. We didn’t drag any knees, which wasn’t for lack of trying – the bike’s 8.6 inches of ground clearance just means there is a long way to go before any part of the rider or bike contacts the ground.

Speaking of turns, with the grippy road tires on the Super Adventure S’s 19/17 wheel combo, you are not giving much up to pure street machines. For a long, tall bike on the road, it is very stable and holds a line well in turns. You can adjust your line mid turn, but it likes to commit to a nice sweeping line. It feels big but not heavy when thinking about street-only machines. You can get your sport bike fix on this bike but with a comfortable upright position that lets you ride twisty roads all day. There is very little dive and squat when braking and accelerating. Just enough dive to help you tighten up your turns (decreased wheelbase).

On the street, the only time the bike feels a little unsettled was in full-panic stopping. The ABS works great, but the rear of the bike feels slightly unhinged like it wants to wiggle around a little bit. It is only unnerving the first time it happens, then you know to expect it. Braking power is excellent and one-finger stopping is no problem.


KTM Super Adventure S Adventure Motorcycle
With 160 horsepower on tap, power wheelies are effortless in 1st through 4th gear.

Fourth gear power wheelies. That’s all we have to say. Well, we have more to say than that, but without a touch of the clutch, we got the front wheel up in fourth gear with just the throttle. It loves to wheelie, which might get your license taken away if you are a hooligan at heart so be careful. The power on this bike is extremely versatile since it has plenty of grunt across the board. If you are a short shifter, the low-end torque is ready for you. If you want to hold a gear to the shift light, the top-end will be more than happy. We do have to say the meat of the power is more concentrated in the bottom-to-mid rather than at the very top of the rev range.

On dirt roads it was very helpful to have the Off-Road power mode. The power delivery is still plenty responsive to have fun, but helps with keeping traction when you turn off the traction control. Also, the drop in horsepower helps, at least mentally if anything, with not getting too out of control in case of some whisky throttle or over confident powerslides.


The WP fork and shock are performance oriented units that really keep the 1290 Super Adventure S from drifting too far into the touring category. We didn’t seek out any rock gardens or ledges with this bike mainly out of respect for KTM who made it clear they didn’t want their cast wheels to come back needing replacement. But we did ride plenty of dirt roads with rain ruts and a few super soft, sandy sections. The semi-active suspension is very capable and we didn’t come close to pushing its limit off road. It soaked up ruts and small rocks very well, but it wasn’t like a flying couch. It still retains a spunky, active, off-road feel.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

That being said, on the road we played around with the damping modes and there isn’t a massive difference between the four. The Street mode seemed to want to keep the bike as level as possible at all times, nearly eliminating fork dive. It also felt like this was the mode that the active suspension was working the most. In Sport mode, the suspension gives a little more pitching because more weight on the front helps with cornering traction. Comfort and Off-Road mode where harder to discern differences between, and neither were super cushy.


Now that the Super Adventure T is gone, the Super Adventure S is the KTM model most geared toward long-distance riding and it gobbles up highway miles without thinking twice. Though it is worth noting that the T model did have a softer seat, bigger windscreen, and larger gas tank. In sixth gear the bike rumbles along at a low, vibration free rmp. Then, when you need to merge or pass, the acceleration in top gear is incredible. The windscreen on this model is much taller than the R and directs the wind over the riders helmet. Although, the air behind the windscreen is a bit turbulent. The windscreen is adjustable but it is best to use both hands on the adjustment knobs when you are stopped since it requires a good amount of force.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

The seat is on the harder side for an adventure touring bike, yet it got mixed reviews. One tester wanted it softer with more of contour while the other (actually the shorter of the two) didn’t mind the firmer, flatter seat for all day riding. The seat to peg distance is more off-road-like which puts the knee at a less aggressive bend. Also the tall seat height allows for a rider to stretch their legs without touching the ground.


Like high-end cars these days, there is nowhere to insert a key – the key fob just has to be near the bike to start it with a push of the button. This is convenient for a rider who will only be riding one bike and can leave the fob in his/her jacket, not so much for testers who are switching bikes all the time. Also, there is a very convenient charging port where you would normally put a key. It is covered by a waterproof hatch and is always “on,” meaning the bike doesn’t have to be on or running to charge electronics (nice to have when you are camping).

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Adventure Touring Motorcycle

The handlebar has a neutral, straight bend that is more dirt bike than street bike and it can be adjusted front to back plus or minus 10 mm. The bikes stock handguards are OK for wind protection and seem beefy enough for minor tip overs. There is also a plastic skid plate to get through mild off-road situations. The foot pegs are nice and wide with rubber inserts that didn’t have to be removed to ride off road. For night time riding, the Super Adventure S has cornering lights that illuminate more of the corner the farther you lean. Lastly, the rear rack good sized with plenty of lashing points.

The Bottom Line

ktm 1290 super adventure s review

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a true adventure bike with street bike tendencies. Its incredible engine performance paired with the quickshifter and autobliping features make this bike a canyon carver’s dream. Yet when the tarmac turns to dirt and the bikes with clip-ons say, “No way, Jose!” the Super Adventure S says, “Let’s go, Bro!” You have 7.9 inches of semi-active, high-performance suspension ready for what those dirt roads and trails have in store. Plus the larger windscreen, cruise control, and heated grips make this bike a great ride for long stints on the road with varied temperature and weather conditions.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Specs

PRICE AS TESTED:$19,883.97 (heated grips:$159.99, cases:$1,199.99, travel pack:$524.99)
DESIGN:2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
BORE:108 mm
STROKE:71 mm
POWER:160 hp
TORQUE:103.3 lb-ft
STARTER:Electric starter
LUBRICATION:Forced oil lubrication with 3 oil pumps
COOLING:Liquid cooled
CLUTCH:PASC slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated
EMS:Keihin EMS with RBW and cruise control, double ignition
FRAME DESIGN:Chromium-Molybdenum steel trellis frame, powder coated
FRONT SUSPENSION:WP Semi-active suspension USD Ø 48 mm, 7.9 inches of travel
REAR SUSPENSION:WP Semi-active suspension monoshock, 7.9 inches of travel
ABS:Bosch 9ME combined ABS (incl. cornering ABS and offroad mode, disengageable)
CHAIN:X-Ring 5/8 x 5/16″
WET WEIGHT:524 lbs
FUEL CAPACITY:6.1 gallons
WHEELS:19/17 inches cast

Photos Nick Livingston, Spencer Hill & 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. 

Author: Sean Klinger

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7 thoughts on “2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Review

  1. So, here’s the thing. Pretty much any of these bikes will work in the dirt. The problem comes when you end up having to pick it up. You have two issues — they’re big and heavy, so one person probably isn’t going to be able to lift it, and secondly, how much bodywork will get damaged between the drop and getting back upright again, especially if you happen to dump it on a hill where the only way to recover it is to drag it around til it’s pointing downhill.

    Then there’s the issue of a LOT of people are not tall enough for these bikes. I’m pretty much fed up with the ADV bike market only making bikes for people who are 6′ or taller. Anybody who wants a lower bike is stuck in the 250 class. It’s frustrating to say the least.

    I’m sure this is a great bike for those who can afford it and who are tall enough to deal with it.

    • This bike has the same weight as my KTM 1190 Adventure R (524 lbs) which I have picked up myself a dozen times. The seat height on this bike (33.9″) is lower than mine (35″) which I don’t find to be too tall. My bike came with engine guards and I added tank guards so the bodywork is still pristine.

    • In my opinion, its not a matter of can you pick it up. Its a matter of is it financially acceptable to lay down a 20000$ bike and risk breaking critical or non critical driving components for the simple pleasure of saying “it can”. Well, if your a motorcycle “tester” or “Deep pockets Mcgee” you can afford to ride it like its stolen.

    • I’m glad someone actually makes bikes for people over 6′. At 6′ 7″ I can pass on just about any bike outside the ADV class. Thank goodness this exists!


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