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ADV NewsKTM 1290 Super Adventure R Long-Term Test

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Long-Term Test

Exploring the limits of KTM's heavyweight long-range enduro.

Published on 07.03.2023
2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Whelp, I’m on my side. I’m likely the first to ever attempt this stretch of technical singletrack on an adventure bike. Subsequent attempts would show it’s totally doable though, and prove an important point — the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is both a massive, and massively capable machine.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Buried deep within this spaceship of a motorcycle are elements derived from both a Dakar- and Pike’s Peak-winning heritage, surrounded by the most current creature comforts. For 2021 (2022 in the US), KTM introduced a wide array of updates which enhanced the bike’s raw off-road prowess, as well as the technical wizardry on the orange brand’s flagship machine.

First Look

Since its introduction in 2015, KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure line has experienced significant refinements both aesthetically and internally. In its present form, with the off-road focused ‘R’ model,  you get a 1,301cc 75-degree V-twin LC8 engine producing 160 horsepower and 101.8 ft-lbs of torque. The 6-speed manual transmission has been redesigned for smoother shifting, and is connected to a hydraulically actuated PASC slipper clutch propelling a bike with a claimed dry weight of 487.2 lbs. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Adding fuel to the 1290 SAR’s 6.1-gallon tank will of course increase the overall heft, but it’s important to consider that while the dry weight for 2022 is over 30 pounds heavier than KTM’s discontinued 1090 Adventure R model, riding them back-to-back you’d never suspect there was much difference between the two. Much of this lighter feel can be attributed to a revised fuel tank that positions the fuel lower on the bike for a lower center of gravity, as well chassis updates that include a shortened frame and lengthened swingarm that position the rider more over the front wheel for better control.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

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Another interesting comparison is that while the 9.5 inches of ground clearance is 0.3 inches lower than that of its slightly smaller 1090 Adventure R sibling, the 1290 SAR boasts the same 8.7” of suspension travel for both wheels. The 18”/21” spoked wheel set riding on these long legs includes Bridgestone Battlax AX-41 Adventurecross tires as standard equipment from the factory. This review happened to coincide with a tire test of the Metzeler Karoo 4, so the factory Bridgestones were swapped out after a time — the subject of a future writeup.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review
2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Off-road features such as hand guards, crash bars, and an aluminum skidplate are all standard, as well as a fully-adjustable WP XPLOR suspension with 48mm split cartridge forks and a PDS rear shock — both reworked for the 2022 model to further enhance handling.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Travel-oriented amenities, include a rear rack, glove box integrated into the fuel tank, hand-crank adjustable windscreen, 12-volt power port, cruise control, and more. Plus it has performance equipment like a slipper clutch, optional quickshifter, steering damper, and powerful radially mounted four-piston Brembo calipers up front.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Climbing aboard the 2022 model, some of the recent upgrades are immediately apparent, such as the easier reach to the ground due to a seat height lowered by 0.4” to 34.6”, and a lighter feel from the redesigned ‘lower CG’ fuel tank. Up front, a new 7” color-TFT display is controlled by a set of refined thumb switches. Perhaps one of the more significant changes is where the front of the motorcycle itself now is — the redesigned frame and swingarm puts the rider closer to the front of the motorcycle and offers hints of a “dirt bike” feel to this heavyweight-class adventure bike.

The Electronics

Before grabbing the clutch and toeing the shifter, some menus should be explored to set the bike up for the ride intended. Familiar ride modes of sport, street, rain, and offroad can be found. The new 7-inch TFT display is quite crisp to read in any light and while it is not a touch-screen, navigating the menus is fairly intuitive using the left-side switch cluster. This usability is a very welcome characteristic, especially when thinking back on navigating the black-on-gray text displays from earlier 1190 and 1090 Adventure models that resembled a 1990’s LCD video game screen.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

A fifth optional ride mode, rally, offers the same ability as the other ride modes to have ABS in either road or off-road settings, and turn traction control either on or off. When traction control is on, however, rally mode provides nine levels of “slip” — dictating the amount of control over the rear wheel spin allowed. This is the same feature introduced in the 790R, now implemented in a much larger and more powerful package.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

If the bike is turned off at any point during a ride the ABS setting is retained, but the traction control is reset to “on”. While navigating the menus to deactivate traction control when necessary is a straightforward process, it can become tiresome on an all-day off-road ride needing to pause for some button pushing at every stop/start on the trail. Avoiding this menu dance is easy, by simply shutting the bike down with either the kill switch or just stalling it, and leaving the power on to save the settings.

It’s important to note that traction control is the only key setting that is reset if the bike is powered off. Along with ABS, throttle response selections are maintained during power cycles. When in Rally mode, nine levels of rear wheel slip are available and the selection is stored until changed by the rider, or a different ride mode is chosen.

Aside from ride modes and various screens displaying tire pressure, temperatures, times, odometers, and all the other expected information, the TFT can transform itself into a basic multimedia platform via Bluetooth with the KTM Connect app. Once paired to the bike, this app allows navigation with turn-by-turn directions displayed both on the phone screen and the bike’s TFT.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

When paired to a Bluetooth headset, the left hand switch cluster transforms into a playlist controller and is displayed on the bike’s TFT showing the multimedia options. Outgoing calls can’t be placed through the app, however incoming calls will ring through the headset and display a caller ID on the bike’s display with options to answer and end through the right and left buttons on the switch cluster. After nearly a year of testing covering thousands of miles of city driving, super slab droning, and technical offroad bits, navigation between these screens became almost second nature.

On-Road Performance

For my overall height (5’11”) and proportions, the KTM 1290 SAR is an extremely good fit. At a stop, I can get both feet solidly down on the ground and nearly flat foot it. More important is how the bike feels when rolling, and it’s an all-day cruiser with a good long-range saddle. The redesigned chassis can noticeably decrease arm fatigue during long days in the saddle by reducing reach to the bars, and engine heat is kept to a minimum in traffic by a redesigned airflow pattern. A fairly-intuitive switch cluster, vivid TFT, and well-placed cruise control buttons were important parts of creating a welcoming environment during long days aboard the redesigned saddle.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Turn-by-turn directions and audio options displayed on the TFT with use of the KTM Connect app enhance this welcoming environment. Setting up the app and connecting to the bike are fairly straightforward procedures, although there were a few hiccups for a few different reasons. When searching for information on-line about the app, much of it is about “KTM My Ride” — the previous, now discontinued version of the app. When I first downloaded KTM Connect a few months ago, it was an $8.99 app. Several updates have been made over the past many weeks, and now the app is free with in-app purchases available. For the purposes of this test, the “basic” version was used, which provides the turn-by-turn directions, call answering functions and control over music using the left-side switch cluster. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

When the journey veered from highway cruising to canyon carving, the 1290’s more aggressive nature starts to become apparent. Switching between ride modes, the precise changes in the fly-by-wire throttle feel are readily apparent. As monstrous as this LC8 powerplant is, it is also surprisingly forgiving as the computer tames things in rain or off-road mode. I found “sport” mode to be my go-to favorite virtually all the time, however unleashing the bike entirely in this setting is best left to the experts. Consider, this is the same powerplant that once set the world’s record for the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb, detuned and redesigned in an “adventure” trim package.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Switching between several different bikes over the course of this test resulted in the brakes of the 1290 Super Adventure R being among those things which stood out. High-performance Brembos with 320mm and 267mm rotors front and rear provided that welcome precise feel, almost to an extreme. A snappy throttle combined with pinpoint braking can require serious attention when riding the 1290 SAR at a more spirited pace. The amount of assistance provided by the traction control and ABS becomes more obvious once those systems are deactivated and you can feel what it’s like to control a motorcycle of this performance level on your own.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

By almost no standard would the 1290 Super Adventure R be considered a “beginner’s” motorcycle, however the ease of handling provided by both the software and redesigned physical structure makes the machine friendlier than one might expect. 5’ 6” and 107 pounds don’t immediately sound like the stats of a heavyweight-class adventure bike rider, but a portion of this evaluation involved a friend coming straight from riding a Honda 250 Rally as her primary bike, and climbing aboard the 1290 SAR for some testing both on and off-road.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Among the feedback provided was how the bike had less of a top-heavy feel compared to other adventure bikes in the liter class, making it comparably easy to heft off the side stand. This characteristic is likely due to the redesigned fuel tank, and the slightly lower saddle also allowed the bike to be moved around in parking situations in an unexpectedly easy way for someone who you might not expect to be rolling around on a 1300cc machine. Pulling the weight of the bike vertically onto its center stand proved to be too much however for a small-statured rider. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

From the pilot’s perspective, having a passenger on the back of the 1290 SAR seems to affect the on-road handling very little, and passenger comments indicated a good amount of thought was put into considering comfort for a rider on the back, especially considering the performance focus of this machine. A grippy saddle helps the passenger to stay seated where they want, without sliding under hard braking or acceleration, and the rear grab handles are welcome additions for both moving the bike around as a pilot, or holding on to while riding as a passenger. The Super Adventure works well for 2-up touring, but seems to inspire a coin toss for who gets to pilot the thing.

Off-Road Performance 

While the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is part of KTM’s “street” line of bikes, it seems just as much at home in the dirt as it is on the tarmac. Adventure bikes are a weird do-all animal in the neither here-nor-there netherworld between road and off-road environments. KTM has taken significant steps to bridge the gap between this ever-widening gulf — this is the largest adventure bike in KTM’s lineup, yet it’s more dirt-worthy than many smaller adventure bikes from competing brands.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Comparing off-road characteristics of the 1290 Super Adventure R to its predecessors reveals more of the design improvements this latest bike has. It’s difficult to choose a primary improvement, but first in mind would perhaps be the suspension. On some of the larger trail hits I did find the limits of the travel, but in a very even way. Some bikes I’ve ridden tend to bottom the rear on a regular basis, while others have spindly fork internals. Even when jumping the 1290 to a flat landing beyond what might be considered reasonable for an adventure bike, the balanced suspension made for easy takeoffs and smoother landings. Apart from big hits, trails felt smoother through stutter bumps, rocky sections, and over small whoops, and made navigating the large machine through technical tight trails or fast smooth dirt roads a bit easier and more comfortable.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Customizable rally mode settings are all but necessary when riding the 1290 SAR in the dirt. Unleashing a world-record-setting street bike power plant in the dirt is a silly thing for the vast majority of motorcyclists to do, and the 1290’s computer seems to know this. The latest model benefits from the same “slip control” adjustments first introduced in the 790 Adventure R. Nine levels of control allow the user to fine tune how aggressive they want the bike to allow them to ride. Clicking through the options actually displays an image of the bike on the TFT “backing in” more deeply as you approach level 1, and reigning in rear wheel slip almost entirely once you reach level 9. Whether on tight trails or wider gravel roads, the traction control system provided confidence and was quickly forgotten as it operated behind the scenes to render the bike into a fun and manageable, even if extremely large trail weapon. Getting accustomed to the huge power is necessary if one wants to get the front wheel off the ground. With traction control deactivated, it’s extremely easy to spin the rear tire in the dirt, and even on pavement a few wheelie attempts led to long black streaks without even realizing it at first.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Outside of the most technically demanding sections of trail, I almost never felt the need to deactivate traction control completely. When in Rally mode, leaving MTC on and setting the slip control to level 1 allows the bike to be ridden almost as if MTC is entirely off, with a hint of computer assistance should the rear wheel get squirrely. Another bonus of this configuration is that these settings are retained even when the bike is powered off, which avoids the menu dance of deactivating MTC entirely.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

As far as braking, the big 320mm rotors with radially mounted four-piston caliper Brembos up front offered precise modulation and plenty of braking force in the dirt. While I still hold some reservations about ABS systems that are not able to be fully deactivated off-road, the advances in performance these systems have seen over the years is nothing short of amazing. The 1290 SAR benefits from the latest in ABS technology, and always maintains a degree of control over the front wheel. In “offroad” mode, ABS is fully defeated to the rear wheel, and whatever amount of computer influence is designed into the system for the front wheel seems to be unnoticeable nearly all the time. The system is not foolproof, but I only experienced some front wheel drama in one or two of the most extreme situations on the trail. Even in those situations when I felt the ABS system robbing me of braking when I thought I needed it, the computer seemed to quickly do some calculation between what my finger was doing on the lever and what the front wheel was doing, and relinquish control over the tread just in time. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested
2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Tighter and more technical trails were the perfect environment to feel the effect of the redesigned chassis and swingarm. Standing up, and getting over the bars a bit provides a clear view of the terrain, and the feel of an oversized dirt bike comfortably sliding around behind you. It was odd sometimes when it came time to get down in the saddle and get a leg out for a turn, and the huge tank/fairing setup would reveal itself and remind you you’re riding a liter-plus class adventure bike in the dirt. As the intro hinted at, there were a couple tip over moments when the going got really gnarly. These slow-speed rollovers revealed a bike that handles “dirt naps” quite well. Ideally placed crash bars and durable plastic body work were always waiting in the wings in case rider talent ran dry.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Fortunately, the smallish windscreen did not affect trail impressions to a large degree. Easily adjustable with three-point wheels on either side, the screen moves almost entirely out of the way in the low setting, and offers a surprising amount of wind protection on the road or fast dirt roads. At my height of 5’ 11”, you can both hear and feel the change in buffeting characteristics as the little screen clicks through its adjustment settings.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R tested

Another standout impression for me during this long-term test — one that was unexpected — was how well the 1290 SAR did in tight and technical trails. A dry weight of 487 pounds is an impressively small number for a bike of this size, but on a tight trail it’s still 487 pounds plus fuel and luggage. How the 1290 carries this weight is key, and changing direction on windy single track was a surprising experience with every turn. I was expecting that delayed feel some larger adventure bikes can have when you need to throw the front end around quickly. It’s part of what you simply accept riding these huge machines in the dirt, but by placing the rider closer to the front of the bike, you feel more connected to what the steering head is doing, rather than thinking about the weight of everything connected to it. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long-term review

After more than 3,500 miles of testing, average fuel economy for general commuting was around 43 mpg. On a mixed-terrain ride, including miles of technical trails, numerous photo passes on the rev limiter, tight mountain roads, and Southern California super slab, the 1290 SAR’s fuel consumption only increased slightly to 39.2 mpg. Providing nearly 240 miles of range over even a very difficult riding day means the 1290 Super Adventure R offers a lot of adventure per tank.

The Bottom Line 

Dropping $20k on a motorcycle is not a light decision for most anyone. There’s a lot to consider, and most of it comes down to the individual. What type of rider are you? What bike(s) have you owned before? What type of riding do you see in your future? Adventure bikes check a wider variety of boxes than most motorcycles do, with their ability to drift between the on and off-road realms. The 1290 Adventure R lives up to KTM’s “Ready to Race” slogan and pushes this bike’s ability to farther extremes at both the paved and unpaved ends of the riding spectrum. But perhaps more surprising and a bit unexpected is how a bike so well suited for 2-up long-range travel with full luggage is also so adept in more technical off-road sections.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long-term review

In terms of versatility, there’s a lot more motorcycle in the 1290 SAR than previous LC8 models, but not a lot more weight. Experienced riders will likely enjoy all the racing heritage weaved into the Super Adventure. The redesigned chassis and suspension tuning in this latest iteration stand out in aggressive off-road riding, and 160 horsepower on the road can get as much adrenaline pumping as you want while navigating the ride modes in the electronics package. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long-term review

In many ways, the 1290 SAR is in a class of its own off-road among liter-plus class adventure bikes. That said, each bike in the heavyweight arena seems to have its own set of things which make it unique. The legendary BMW R1250GS has a torque profile from its boxer powerplant that’s beyond anything else available. Honda’s Africa Twin has a navigation package that could impress an airline pilot. Harley-Davidson offers a unique feel and impressive performance for a newcomer to the segment in the Pan America. The Ducati Multistrada V4’s razor-precise street handling and class-leading horsepower give it sport bike prowess in the twisties. What none of these other brands have is KTM’s racing résumé in both road and rally. This high level of racing heritage allows most any rider with a modicum of skill to push their own limits. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long-term review

It sometimes felt like there’s a mix of super-modern and refined motorcycle design, and raw enduro tech in the 1290 Super Adventure R. Almost like a nod to dirt bikes and rally bikes of old, you will occasionally have to check the torque of bolts such as the rear subframe, front fairing, and side stand as these have a tendency to loosen up as the going gets rough. Luckily though, maintenance is not dirtbike-like with scheduled oil changes every 9,300 miles (15,000 Km) and valve checks every 18,600 miles (30,000 km)

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long-term review

It’s also worth noting there were some challenges getting the KTM Connect app set up, but enhancements coming in the 2023 model to the TFT, Turn-by-Turn navigation, and call answering may sort that out. The fuel tank glove box is a nice feature for those who want to keep their phone charged and limit distractions on the road, but it’s either too small or a tight fit for many plus-sized phones. One welcome addition we’d like to see in the future would be a dedicated position to mount a GPS above the TFT display like that found on the 390 and 890 Adventure. And while the new thumb switch cluster has a nice feel, it also gave vague feedback through a gloved hand making it difficult to tell if you’d turned the turn signals off. 

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R long-term review

While the 1290 Super Adventure R is a lot of machine to handle, it is also a machine that can handle a lot. Whether chasing down sport bikes on a twisty mountain road, or blazing trails with dirt bikes on a tight desert trail, the 1290 SAR is a capable giant that will let you test your abilities in a wide variety of terrain. For those times when you might not want to push the limits, it’s perfectly suited for a grocery run, even though you might be dreaming of standing on a podium someplace, while dodging Priuses in a parking lot.

2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Specs

ENGINE TYPE:2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75° LC8
DISPLACEMENT:1301 cc
POWER:160 hp (118 kW) @ 9,000 rpm
TORQUE:101.8 ft-lbs (138 Nm) @ 6,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:6-speed
COOLING:Liquid cooled
STARTER:Electric starter
BORE X STROKE:108  X 71 mm
CLUTCH:PASC (TM) slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated
CO2 EMISSIONS:134 g/km
EMS:Keihin EMS with RBW and cruise control, double ignition
FUEL CONSUMPTION:5.7 l/100 km (41.3 mpg)
LUBRICATION:Forced oil lubrication with 3 oil pumps
TANK CAPACITY (APPROX.):23 l (6.1 US Gallons)
ABS:Bosch 10.3ME Combined-ABS (incl. Cornering-ABS and offroad mode)
FRONT BRAKE DISC DIAMETER:320 mm
REAR BRAKE DISC DIAMETER:267 mm
CHAIN:525 X-Ring
DRY WEIGHT:221 kg (487.2 lbs)
FRAME DESIGN:Chrome-moly tubular space frame, powder-coated
GROUND CLEARANCE:242 mm (9.5 in.)
WHEELBASE:1578 mm (62.1 in.)
SEAT HEIGHT:880 mm (34.6 in.)
STEERING HEAD ANGLE:25.3°
SUSPENSION TRAVEL (FRONT):220 mm (8.7 in.)
SUSPENSION TRAVEL (REAR):220 mm (8.7 in.)

Gear We Used

• Helmet: Arai XD-4 Vision   
• Jacket: REV’IT! Defender 3 GTX 
• Pants: REV’IT! Sand 4 H2O 
• Boots: REV’IT! Expedition GTX  
• Gloves: REV’IT! Dominator 3 GTX   
• Goggles: 100% Strata 2

Photos by Ely Woody & Jon Beck

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.

Author: Jon Beck
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Randy
Randy
July 3, 2023 7:42 pm

I recently sold the 2018 version of this bike, replaced it with a 2023 890 Adventure. If I were younger, stronger or taller, I would’ve kept the 1290 to be honest, the motor is incredible. But it is over-the-top. Nobody need this much horsepower, although it is an amazing amount of fun. The 890 is great, easier to ride, easier to move around, and since I usually ride alone, I can pick it up without help.

Eric Altman
Eric Altman
July 10, 2023 12:35 pm

Excellent review! Thank you!

Aleksey
Aleksey
October 17, 2023 5:37 pm

Great review! Many useful information. And where is promised Metzeler Karoo 4 test?

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