It has been almost a year since we reported from the European launch of the KTM 1190 Adventure. You can take a look back at that report for a summary of the technical features of the bike, and our first impressions. Now that we have had a chance to ride a production version here in the United States, Gabe and friends provide their thoughts below.
Gabe Ets-Hokin: 44 years old (feels 4.4), Shirt Size: Extra Medium, Favorite Von Trapp: Georg
Sixteen thousand, five hundred dollars is big money for…well, anything, if you’re me. But some things are just expensive. There are no free lunches, or, in this case, even half-price lunches. But that $16,499 may actually seem cheap if you believe it takes the place of two or three motorcycles, saving you money on insurance, maintenance, registration, garage space, and the mental anguish that’s inevitable if your garage is packed with European exotica.
Yes, the 1190 Adventure is three, three, three bikes in one. Or more. Check it out: it’s got a 150-horsepower V-Twin from KTM’s RC8 superbike, and it has radial tires and super-duper brakes, so it’s an open-class sportbike, right? But wait, there’s more: it also has a very good adjustable windscreen, built-in hardbag mounts and a big 6-gallon tank, so it must be a sport-tourer, no? But hey! It’s got long-travel suspension, off-road styling and a 19-inch front wheel, so it’s an off-roader too, no? Now how much would you pay?
Okay, maybe it’s just two bikes in one—it does weigh in at 520 pounds gassed up, so it’s probably not as much fun offroad as a smaller machine (see sidebar), but it is an outstanding sport-touring and backroads fun-bike. In fact, reading online and print reviews of this thing makes me think KTM’s PR department is paying off magazine editors by the carloads—the fawning over the bike is a little embarrassing, guys.
But it is a very good motorcycle. What makes it so good? Maybe it’s that delicious motor, which lesser publications have measured at almost 130 hp and 80-plus ft.-lbs. of torque. It’s sort of lumpy and mildly buzzy, like a well-balanced Single, fitting KTM’s character. It’s also fluidly responsive in most gears and has that American V-8 do-no-wrong character. I also liked the slipper clutch, which made gear changes so easy it was like somebody else was shifting. The other guys played with different riding modes, but I just left it in Sport—it’s the most fun. But even in ‘Rain’ mode, where it’s limited to 100 hp, it’s still plenty fast for most street-legal applications.
Or is it the suspension and brakes that make it so good? Well, the suspenders are really excellent, as I’ve expected from a company that isn’t lying when it claims “Ready to Race” and also owns its own suspension company. Not only is that electronically adjustable shock and fork plush, controlled and responsive, it’s really easy to figure out how to use, even when you’re moving and can’t access the owner’s manual, which is the thickness of a James Clavell novel. The radial-mount brakes are great—powerful but not oversensitive—and the ABS is smooth and transparent.
So is it the comfort, convenience and safety features that make the 1190 so memorable? They are manifold. The trip computer is info-packed (and programmable so your favorite info all appears on the same screen), giving you an optimistic range-to-empty estimate as well as outside temp, time, date, average speed and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t have time to fiddle with. There’s also an adjustable seat, handguards, tire-pressure monitor, centerstand, tubeless spoked wheels, traction control and on the 2014 USA version, magical-seeming bank-angle-sensitive ABS software that I should have reminded Surj didn’t exist on the 2013 Euro model we tested, but which he swears up and down he noticed anyway. Oh, and you get all that stuff at the base price, without having to figure out which $2500 “package” you have to explain to your spouse you need after already spending enough money to remodel three kitchens. It’s such a solid deal I feel guilty complaining about the lack of heated grips but seriously, where are the heated grips? (answer—they are optional)
Anyway, you probably are catching my tiresomely belabored point—the KTM is good not because it’s the fastest ADV—the Ducati Multistrada is—or the best looking, or best off-road. It’s a remarkably refined, developed and user-friendly product, the best I’ve experienced from umlaut-land. Good job KTM.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike Magazine, and a frequent freelance contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com.
Surj Gish: 40 years old, shirt size: Muy Grande, Favorite Von Trapp: Selena (obscure lesser-known one, but I was totally into her before anybody)
It took me a couple days to really fall in love with the KTM 1190 Adventure—surprising because all I’d been hearing about this bike was how it was mind-blowingly awesome and the best all-rounder ever. Ever. All-rounders are my thing, so I was a little confused that I didn’t lose my mind over it immediately.
I picked up the bike from Gabe, along with a warning: “Be careful, you’re going to want one!” I rode it back to my house, thinking how it seemed like a perfectly good bike, but a little underwhelming considering it puts out 150 horsepower. The sound of the stock exhaust is also not very exciting; in fact, my wife said, “It doesn’t sound like anything.” Hmph.
Back in the garage, I spent some time getting to know the bike and realized it was in “street” mode, which mellows out the power delivery some. I went through the menus, put it in “sport” mode, with ABS and traction control on, and set the electronically controlled suspension to “one dude and a suitcase,” which I figured was about equal to me and the junk in my trunk—easy peasy. I’ve since heard a few complaints about the menus being “hard to navigate,” but let me say this: anyone who has a hard time with these menus probably shouldn’t be riding a motorcycle, or even using a fork and spoon at the same time.
In the morning, I rode into San Francisco via the Bay Bridge, my default real-world test: some lane splitting, some freeway, some funky surfaces along the way. The bike was again flawless, but no angels came out of the sky to proclaim, “Glory unto the KTM, for it is the greatest bike of all time!” I did notice that I was catching myself at what some (the fuzz) might call unnecessarily high speeds a little more quickly than usual. I also really liked the adjustable windscreen, which although not particularly big, did an excellent job of smoothing out the airflow and eliminating buffeting.
I know you’re probably thinking, “What’s wrong with this jerk? He’s so bored with this incredible motorcycle!” I’m with you! I was starting to wonder if there was something was wrong with me, so I called up one of my buddies and informed him that we needed to head out for the day so I could really ride the 1190. We rode for a while, and when we stopped, I confused us both by talking in circles about how I kept waiting for the bike to do something amazing to blow my mind with buckets of awesomeness, but it kept just being totally transparent and eminently rideable. What the hell—shouldn’t 150 horsepower of V-Twin feel more like fire-breathing madness than surgical precision? Where are the uncontrollable power wheelies and constantly smoking rear tire?
After a bit more yapping from me, we hit the road again and all the sudden, the big KTM and I clicked. Here’s how: I kept catching myself whacking the throttle open while exiting corners in an idiotic attempt to find the insane acceleration that I just knew must be hiding in there somewhere. So I put it in “rain” mode. Yep—I detuned it.
This adjustment allowed me to smooth out and find the sweet spot for cornering, and suddenly, I left my buddy behind. Not just a little ways back—I completely lost him. In an instant, the KTM was straight-up glorious. Even better: now that I had made a love connection with the bike, I pulled over, switched it back to sport mode and tore off, fully engaged with the machine and practically giggling inside my helmet.
Here’s what it comes down to: the 1190’s fueling and power delivery are so buttery smooth that it sometimes doesn’t even feel like it’s doing much, when in fact it’s really moving. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to realize how great it is. The electronics are incredibly refined—I rode it on some messy, gravel strewn goat trails and couldn’t get it to miss a beat.
I know it’s easy to dismiss breathless proclamations of “game changer!” and “best ever” because so often, such bikes just aren’t anything other than another competent bike. But this is different. KTM calls the 1190 “the world’s safest motorcycle” which sounds boring and lame, but not only is it safe, it’s also a hell of a good time to ride. Since it’s an adventure tourer, it’s also ready to roll out pretty much anywhere tomorrow morning, whether you’re headed to the office or to Alaska. It really is the perfect all-rounder.
Alan Lapp: 50 years old (feels 80), Shirt size: XXL, Favorite Von Trapp: Rupert
When Gabe dropped off the big orange KTM 1190 Adventure, my excitement was palpable. I am one of the KTM faithful: I own an ’08 690 Enduro and an ’06 300XCW. I have wanted a 950 Adventure since they came out in 2003. However, a career in graphic design is a sentence of monkish privation for most, so I have never owned one. For long rides, I also have a V-Strom1000.
It’s important to mention the big Suzuki, because the big KTM is everything I wish the Suzuki could be. Powerful? Check. Quality, long-travel suspension? Check. Really strong brakes? Check. Comfy for long rides? Check. Luggage available? Check.
In short, the 1190 is awesome. The riding posture felt immediately familiar and comfortable. The bike is much slimmer between your knees than the V-Strom, and despite weighing 40 pounds more, the KTM feels significantly lighter, presumably due to a lower center of gravity. I was so surprised by the weight that I had to verify it from multiple sources: I simply didn’t believe it possible (not sure the 40 pound figure is correct as manufacturer claims are confusing … dry weight might be similar between the two – ed.).
On the road, the manually adjustable windscreen and comfy seat work well, inviting extended highway miles. The motor is velvety smooth, and extraordinarily civilized. It’s got the most obsequious electronics package of any I’ve ridden. Like the best servants on Downton Abbey, it operates unseen in the background with a gentle guiding hand towards the gentlemanly path for the best possible outcome. In fact, during the first 20 miles with the bike, I wondered if it had traction control at all. Twist the throttle to the stop, and it blasts forward with no drama whatsoever. You will only notice it when you deliberately try to misbehave.
Whether this skillful intervention is desirable or not is a question of your mission as a rider. If I had this technology in the early ’90s when I was roadracing, and the ability to maintain traction at nearly all times, I would have ruled my class! Heck, even if I had just the confidence-inspiring ride quality available from the on-the-fly electronically adjustable damping, I’d have kicked ass. The range of adjustment is amazing: touring plush to sportbike taut at the click of a button.
However, as a scofflaw citizen, I also like to do other stuff—wheelies and stoppies and spinning up the rear coming out of corners. Not because it’s fast—but because it’s fun. The electronics isolate the rider from these fun things, which should be trivially easy to do on a bike with 148 hp.
As bikes become more and more complex, I’d like to suggest to manufacturers everywhere that test bikes should really come with a written “quick-start guide” to bring testers up to speed on tinkering with the electronics.
I did grasp the menu structure (it reminds me of my camera, actually). I could change a number of settings to cause the bike to trust my riding skills more, but sadly, there is no “OFF” for the traction control. Irritatingly, none of the settings remain changed after you cycle the power with the key. If I pay more than $16,000 for a bike, is it too much to ask for it to remember how I like to ride? If my 690 is any indication, you’ll have to look to the aftermarket for this service.
I understand that manufacturers are, by nature, conservative. I also perceive that we consumers have put them in a bind: we vocally desire, and vote with our wallets for faster, more capable machines. However, just because we can purchase a ridiculously fast bike doesn’t mean that everyone who can afford one is actually skilled enough to operate it. So manufacturers put in these nanny devices, which, in liberal fashion, protect us from ourselves. This is the irony: the 1190 is so very capable, but we are so very protected from using it to its full potential.
Bob Stokstad: three score and 13. Shirt size: 17.5″ collar, 37″ sleeve, “tall” size (i.e., long waist). Favorite Von Trapp singer: Julie Andrews (heartthrob)
On photo shoots, I’m often asked if I’d like to try out the bike we’re photographing. “Nah, thanks anyways” is my regular response. I wouldn’t want to risk scratching an expensive piece of hardware.
With the KTM 1190 Adventure it was different. The predecessor of this model was one of the bikes I looked at ten years ago when I ultimately decided on a Triumph Tiger. It was time to take the risk and take this bike for a ride.
This ride was really quick, in the sense of short: down Redwood Road beginning at Skyline, all the way to the golf course and back. It’s a wonderful, curvy trip on a bike, so good that many years ago the police posted the best parts at 25 mph.
The KTM was ergonomically perfectly suited for me, very close in set up to my Tiger. So I was comfortable from the start. Because the suspension had been set on “comfy” it felt a little slushy in curves where the suspension was compressed. Just as with my own bike, I kept pointing my toes up because it felt like they were about to scrape on the asphalt.
Vibration: there’s a big difference between a Big Twin and the triple-powered Tiger. But it wasn’t an unpleasant difference. The KTM just tells you that you’re sitting on top of two very big pistons.
Handling: it’s confidence inspiring. In spite of the soft suspension setting, the KTM hugged the road and begged me to go faster. I was able to control myself, though with difficulty.
Power, torque, and acceleration: I couldn’t believe it! Twisting the throttle even a little produces a pull that shows these1195cc have been tuned for performance. Turning around at the golf course and starting back on that straight section I lost control (self-control, that is) and yanked the throttle open in first gear, upshifting whenever a red light flashed on the instrument panel. The big KTM took off like a scalded cat. I don’t know what gear I was in when I backed off, but the old juices were flowing like they hadn’t in a long time.
Of course, it’s not just horsepower or torque that determines acceleration – weight matters. The 1190 Adventure’s specs are 148 horsepower and 466 pounds (dry!—ed.). Perhaps 148 horsepower is enough that you don’t need to know anything else. But read on.
The KTM with a full tank of gas weighs about 520 lbs. Put me on it and that 148 horsepower is pulling 740 lbs.
My wife’s Prius, a small car known for good gas mileage, rather than excitement when the light turns green, weighs 3325 pounds with a full tank and me behind the wheel.
Do the math. To get the same high from her Prius as I got from the KTM 1190 Adventure, I’ve got to put 665 horsepower under the hood! I can’t guess what that alteration would cost. And who in their right mind would ever do it? But I can have the KTM fun machine for (only) $16,499.
My Tiger is almost 10 years old. So far, I’ve bought a new bike every 10 years whether I needed one or not. The fourth one could well be a KTM Adventure and I’d love to write an article explaining why.
Huge thanks to Tom and everybody else at Moore and Sons Motorcycles in Santa Cruz.