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  • December 28, 2014
  • Dirck Edge
  • Dirck Edge and Chris Rubino
  • 84 Comments

MD Bike of the Year: KTM 1190 Adventure

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It isn’t always easy to decide which bike stands out from the crowd of new models introduced during the year that has just passed. For us, it was the Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom last year. This year, we have to give the nod to a stunning new adventure tourer.

If you don’t realize by now that the adventure touring category is one of the most popular in the world of motorcycling, you have not been paying attention. This category has been popular in Europe for quite some time, and arguably began with the popularity of BMW’s big boxer twin GS.

The reason these bikes are popular has nothing to do with their off-road capabilities, in our opinion. Sure, some of these machines are quite capable off-road in the right hands, but,  adventurer tourers are primarily purchased for their on-road prowess.

So what is that? These bikes don’t pretend to lean you into the wind like a sportbike.  Indeed, they are frequently more comfortable than a dedicated sport tourer, with bolt upright ergonomics that typically include generous leg room. With a 19″ front wheel (most models), they also roll over road imperfections more easily. Quite often, adventure tourers are lighter than sport tourers, as well. For a variety of reasons, adventure tourers are frequently great fun to ride. The big KTM checks all these boxes.

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Manufacturers have flocked to this category, and the KTM 1190 Adventure introduced for the 2014 model year finds the Austrian brand pushing the performance limits. Starting with a superbike-based, large displacement v-twin, KTM somehow managed to combine a friendly, tractable low-end with a huge mid-range and pulling power up top. This motor may be easy to use, but it is fast as hell! We shocked more than one sportbike rider leaving a stop light after receiving a disapproving gaze (we could hear him thinking something like “What is that frumpy looking, giant dirt bike next to me?”). Of course, we had to show said sportbike rider what the big v-twin could deliver!

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The 1190 Adventure is extremely comfortable for both short and long trips, and handles superbly in a straight line, just as it does through the twisties. Remarkably, KTM really dialed in the electronically adjustable suspension during the first year of this model, and all of its high tech features were both easy to use and practical.

We won’t bore you with more details, because we have already written extensively about our testing of this model, beginning at the press launch, and continuing through three separate stories regarding our long-term test unit (part 1, part 2 and part 3).

So the 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure is the MD Bike of the Year.

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84 Comments

  1. Asphanaut says:

    Great pick

  2. sliphorn says:

    Hmmm. Not very many comments for bike of the year. Methinks it doesn’t tug at heartstrings strongly enough.

  3. todder says:

    Everytime I sit on one in a KTM dealer, my 6’3″ body seems to fit well. Even with all the new exciting affordable choices that have just came out. Of course I always harp on cruise control and at least the super adventure will have it.

    • Gary says:

      That super adventure looks like a mighty compelling package. Pricey, but it could end up being the best sport touring platform ever built.

  4. Gary says:

    Good choice.

  5. razz says:

    A fantastic bike to be sure, but there is always something. One thing the GS and STen have on this one, given similar size, is heat management (motor placement). My local dealer is very open about this issue, and here in CA in summer (yes, I lane split when possible) if the going gets slow it is no fun whatsoever to be roasted. If I become convinced this has been addressed (the new heat shields do not seem to do the job) I will buy one.

  6. jim says:

    I would look so ruggedly handsome standing next to this at the local Starbucks.

    • Grover says:

      Would you not feel the same standing outside the local Tastee Freeze? :). I suppose Tastee Freeze does not have the abundance of pseudo-intellectuals that Starbucks has and therefore lack the ability to distinguish the difference between posers and actual he-men ready to embark on their next global adventure ride. The “Tastee” crowd would probably appreciate the finer points of a Vespa than a $20,000 ADV.

      • HS1-RD-CX100-VFR says:

        From my experience in college-town America, it is the pseudo-intellectuals that buy the most Vespas.

        • Gordon Haight says:

          Perhaps Vespa could make an ADV model with 21/17 wheels, 37 in. seat height, 7 gallon tank and blocky looking panniers. It just might win next year’s BOTY! .

          • HS1-RD-CX100-VFR says:

            Everything else would be okay, but bolting blocky panniers on a Vespa would cause an irreparable rift in the space-time continuum.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      “I would look so ruggedly handsome standing next to this at the local Starbucks.”

      Or like one bad mofo tearing up some unpaved mountain pass. That is, if you are a bad mofo. Otherwise, you might want to stick with Starbucks.

  7. Alberta Bootlicker says:

    I would love to own one of those, however I have an issue. The North American dealer network for KTM is very thin. To me the intent of a big bore adventure bike is to head out for a week on a 5000 km ride. Imagine breaking down 800km from a dealership when you were under warranty (easy to do in Canada). Talk about being screwed.

    That is exactly why I own a Super Tenere. Sure it lacks the power and excitement of the KTM, however it handles great, has a 6 gallon tank, fantastic after market support and you will find just about every town of 20,000 people or more has some sort of a Yamaha dealership. On top of that any Jap dealership could service it.

    Add to that Yamaha reliability and low sticker price and it was a no brainer……..But heck that KTM looks like one hell of a motorcycle.

    • todd says:

      I have a Yamaha dealership two miles from my house. I’ve been able to put well over 30,000 miles on my old Seca without breaking down and needing to go to the dealership. Besides, this is the modern age, everything is on the Internet and available over night if you need.
      Maybe things are different in Canada?

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “this is the modern age, everything is on the Internet and available over night if you need.”

        sure, but he said the dreaded “W” word… warranty.

    • mkviz says:

      Then get a harley if you are so worried about dealer network

    • Gary says:

      Do what most BMW riders do … learn how to maintain and fix your own bike. Renewables like chains, brake pads and filters are either universal or available through mail order.

  8. Norm G. says:

    re: “If you don’t realize by now that the adventure touring category is one of the most popular in the world of motorcycling, you have not been paying attention…”

    …to ANYTHING.

    not even to the design trend of “Crossovers” that have swept car world the past decade. can’t throw a rock without hittin’ a soccer mom.

    • Dave says:

      How is popularity defined in this case? Units sold? Dollars sold? Models available? Articles written?

      There are many choices but that’s true of exotic sports cars too.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        “There are many choices but that’s true of exotic sports cars too.”

        Yes, but there wouldn’t be many choices of exotic sports cars if they had to live off of the same profit margins as adventure bikes.

    • Alberta Bootlicker says:

      Agreed, the fact that ALL of the manufacturers are making these motorcycles, and in some cases are basing multiple versions on the basic platform, says all.

      To be frank if I am going to head out on a 5000km ride I prefer my Super Tenere over my K1300S. Why? Because I have discovered, like many others obviously have, that versatility rules.

  9. Adrian says:

    It’s interesting hearing the Tall Guy and Not so Tall Guy comments. I’m 6’1″ and about… um, 250? So I was far more comfortable on my old Transalp than even most standards like the Bandit that followed it.

    That said, many “ADV” bikes today still have a very tight seat to peg ratio and my crappy old knees tell me about it every time I sit on one. Versys, Tiger second and third generations, GS800, and wee-stroms all have peg placement that belay their tall seat heights.

    The Triumph 800’s, GS1200’s,Super Tenere’ and the new/old KLR650 are the real champs for leg room, though it looks like they’ll get some competition from the Versys lineup and Yamaha’s new FJ9 this year. It just about makes me yearn for that old Transalp until I remember how bad the seat was, how much it vibrated at 75mph, how weak the brakes were…ad nauseum.

    I don’t know that I’ll ever drop much over 10k on any bike, but you have to love the package that KTM put together here. Comfort, style (arguably), power, and cool electronics to keep me out of the ditch!

  10. Patrick McDonald says:

    I have a V-Strom (too heavy for real off roading) and a KTM 640 Adventure (not really the tool to go long distances on the road). I was not impressed with the idea of the 1190 Adventure. Too big, too heavy for off road and I don’t really need 150 HP.
    Then I went to the KTM demo rides. I liked it. 150 HP is fun. It isn’t as heavy as I expected or at least doesn’t feel that way. I may think seriously about one of these. Especially as I can now criticize the 1290 as too big, too heavy, too much HP.

  11. rauol says:

    I liked the handling and braking of the 1190 but it needed a tune because it was anemic until mid range. Slightly shorter gearing would do the trick

  12. Tommy D says:

    Local dealer had one as a demo. I had to see what the fuss was about this bike. The bike shocked me at how much of a hooligan it can be. The front tire is filled with helium. Comfortable and stable on the highway in gusty cross winds. Really neutral handling in corners with no tendency to fall or stand up mid corner. Yep a great big cuddly play toy. I think it’s still a cartoon of a motorcycle. I’m headed to the other end of the spectrum. Sign me up for the new Duc’ Scrambler. Small, light, simple and I think a great looking bike.

  13. Sean says:

    Att least KTM adventure bikes can actually do a little off roading. The others are ugly for no reason at all.

  14. John says:

    If only there were an affordable 390 version. As well as a 600cc twin version.

  15. skybullet says:

    There are a couple of fixes for seat height. Slide the fork tubes up in the triple trees and inch or so. Get a lower rear shock spring (and get it just right for your weight too). Most seats can be modified to get a little lower (and to fit your butt better). A R1200GS riding buddy added lift soles to his boots. Or… as previously suggested, to get lower, wait for the new 1290 SMT or pick up a 990 SMT and you may love it as much as I do mine.

    • Mark says:

      Lower rear shock spring? on a llnk-less bike you must disassemble the shock and replace the an inexpensive “bumber” with a different size. Main cost is labor and shipping. The spring remains the same.

  16. HS1-RD-CX100-VFR says:

    It’s pretty obvious that there is a pent-up demand for bikes that offer the on-road attributes of ADV bikes without the compromises that come with giving them a semblance of off-road capabilities. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t an appropriate choice for bike of the year, though. You can only judge a motorcycle against what else is being produced. Maybe the upcoming KTM 1290SMT will break into this white-space.

  17. Bart says:

    I have to agree with Dirk’s choice on this, especially after having the opportunity to wring one out myself, follow a couple of them through the woods, gravel, mud, snow and rain. Amazing improvement over my 950A, which remains one of my best bikes/most fun rides ever. These big KTMs are like sex: the best you’ve had is the best you’ll ever know.

  18. Alex says:

    Pound for pound, small and lightweight bikes offer a lot of fun. The 300cc street bikes appeal to me for their price tag’s cheaper thrill. But then… I hear the exhaust note. Big singles sound okay—braaap!, but a twin should thunder, an in-line four should howl nastily, and let’s not forget the ripping sound from a triple, as though the fabric of space and time were being torn asunder. I’d imagine the 1190 Adventure produces a lovely auditory experience with the help of an aftermarket can.

  19. George Catt says:

    (On a side note, very disappointed in the Honda X-bikes, 500 and 700, having 17″ front wheels. They should both have 19s.)

    • John says:

      True. I look at them as possible commuter options but they don’t look like anything I’d take down an arroyo or up into the mountains. At least, not for actual fun.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “they don’t look like anything I’d take down an arroyo or up into the mountains. At least, not for actual fun.”

        ahhh go for it. I think you’ll find it getting real fun, REAL QUICK. much of it unexpectedly so. lol

  20. Vrooom says:

    When KTM convinces me they’ve built a bike that will go 100K miles without a problem I’ll be their customer again. Have had engine bearing problems on a few of them over the years. They’re light, have very little flywheel affect (which makes ’em rev quick, but can leave you short on a steep dirt hill), and not that bad to work on, but I haven’t had a street legal one take me 50,000 miles without a serious motor problem yet. My last one was a 950, so maybe that’s improved?

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “When KTM convinces me they’ve built a bike that will go 100K miles without a problem I’ll be their customer again.”

      (translation) I have zero intentions of spending money on any bike regardless of which manufacturers name is on the side.

  21. Jamo says:

    It looks just like my 2005 Tiger. That one was very, very quick and practical. I should never have sold it.

    I’m not sure what’s new here.

  22. Grover says:

    “What is that frumpy looking, giant dirt bike next to me?” Well put. I think that a lot of riders believe that style has something to do with there choice of bike and this thing is plain UGLY! Oh I know, it appeals to those “rough and tumble” adventure types, but really now, do you think it could ever pass the Peter Egan garage test? Not in a billion years.

    • Starmag says:

      You have a right to your opinion about ugly, but to me this is probably the most attractive ADV ( I know that’s not saying much…). No beak! I’m sure it’s a great bike and Dirck is justified in choosing it.

      You are actually wrong about Peter Egan. I just bought his latest book “Leanings 3” and it seems he owned a KTM 950 that one of his friends wadded up and he then bought another.

    • Mark says:

      My 2007 scorched yeller Tiger passes the PE test. I literally go out to the garage daily just to look at it. (and it comes fairly close to the KTM on performance (after some mods), sans the dirt part.
      Rode the KTM and it truly wonderful for the type of riding I do out west, (fast, long, terrible pavement) but my Tiger still does a great job. Just love that triple!

  23. Tommy See says:

    Deserving for sure! Congratulations KTM you know how to build a true Adventure..

  24. GP says:

    I agree with mickey – these high powered adventure bikes sure are appealing, but most of them are so tall that many of us under 6′ have a difficult time mounting and handling them while stopped, or having passengers mount/dismount. Sure, when moving, all of that goes away, but the ride has to start/stop sometime.

    • VLJ says:

      Excellent point, regarding the issue of passengers mounting/dismounting such a tall bike, especially when the luggage is attached. I would add one other point: parking. Unless one finds a slight downhill grade on which to back the bike into, backing such a tall bike out of a parking spot is basically impossible from the saddle. It rather sucks to have to stand beside your regal steed and walk it out. For those short of inseam, the same holds true for many heavy bikes.

      Sure, shorter people have no problem riding MX bikes with 38″ seat heights (kickstarting them without a milk crate or something to stand on is often another matter, particularly for noobs), but motocrossers rarely have to deal with passengers, luggage, or parking their massively tall, heavy rides at Alice’s Restaurant, never mind the nightmarishly hilly streets of San Francisco.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        MX bikes also sag a lot when mounted and have very narrow seats, so ultimately the rider is dealing with a machine with a reach to the ground not all that much higher than an adventure bike while only needing to manage a fraction of the weight.

    • mkviz says:

      You’re not confident enough. Im 5’5″ and can ride this, a KLR, and a DRZ400 quite fine. Not sure what the issue is here

      • VLJ says:

        Nonsense. This has to do with basic physics, not confidence. Like we said, we can ride the things just fine. We’re not talking about riding. We’re talking about loading and unloading passengers, parking, coming to a stop on uneven surfaces, paddling about in tight quarters, etc.

  25. Man of the Year says:

    Where is the explanation of why this was chosen as the “Bike of the Year” ?

    • ko0616 says:

      Might want to go read the reviews referenced in the last paragraph here.

    • Grover says:

      Because it’s a fast, ugly, do everything bike. You can fly down the interstate, take it down a fire road (avoid sand) or commute to work on it everyday. It like owning a Swiss knife, except you can’t put it in your pocket.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Where is the explanation of why this was chosen as the “Bike of the Year” ?”

      the man “bubba scrubbed” 500 lbs.

  26. pete Rasmussen says:

    Can’t wait for the 390cc version!

  27. Provologna says:

    Ever since I sat on KTM’s 950 Adventure circa 2004, I felt like it was a match made in heaven. I have possibly never been as comfortable on a bike before or since (34.5″ inseam).

    Two things scared me off: spotty reliability reports and on the first demo ride mentioned above, the 950 stalled at a traffic stop for absolutely no known reason, and for a brief period would not restart.

    From that test ride though, I can easily imagine how and why the latest incarnation earned this accolade.

  28. Alex says:

    Every bike is an adventure bike! Yeah, I’m sure this one is a great bike to ride. You’re perched comfortably atop a lot of horsepower. Nice. I’m plenty happy to have tried the adventure bike trend myself via a BMW F800GS. My riding consists of a short commute to work and an hour or two on the weekend for blasting around—not enough time to travel hours in one direction to legally ride offroad. Now I’m like, “why did I get this bike?”. Regardless, I do enjoying sitting up high for the extra visibility during commuting, both for seeing and for being seen by others. This, and a few other factors, kind of make it a MILF of bikes for me, you know what I mean? Not hot, but can be a pleasurable ride nonetheless.

    • George Catt says:

      Fully agree, Alex. And, ya don’t need a dirt bike to ride dirt. My ol’ ST1100 have been places most of these “Adventure” bikes will never see.

      Also agree with those mentioning “too tall”. Most regular bikes never scrape their pan, any of these Adv bikes could be lowered 2 or 3 inches without giving upany utility. I’m 5’10 and 32″ in seam so can ride any of these but I’d rather be more comfortable.

      • Stuki Moi says:

        The 1190 ADV will drag the centerstand, then pegs and toes, while riding well within traction limits of OEM tires. And still doesn’t have “that” much legroom. New tires are so sticky that if you want plenty of legroom with neutral and rear set pegs and a big engine, you’re largely stuck with a tall seat. BMW went waay out of their way narrowing the peg placement on the latest GS for that reason. The latest VStrom is also a bit narrower between the ankles than the 1190 judging by my heel-of-the-boots feel.

        If tires get much stickier, forward controls will be the only way to have a comfortable kneebend on any bike able to make full use of their stickiness. Maybe Harley was just far out ahead of their time as a performance bike manufaturer 🙂

  29. mickey says:

    Wish I were in the 6′ and taller category instead of a munchkin like 5’6″ so I could experience some of these great bikes. Really appealing platform.
    Congrats on a great bike KTM.

    • Cyclemotorist says:

      That works the other way, too, Mickey. There are many excellent bikes that are just too small for the big guys.

    • Curly says:

      The tall seat height issue is really amusing to me. It’s as though no one under 6’2″ would be allowed to ride a motocross bike. A typical MX bike these days has a 38″ seat height and somehow some very short guys do very well on them. Those bikes don’t even have sidestands that let you mount by stepping up on the left hand peg. At 34″ the KTM is like a low rider to an MX bike. Yes it’s tall but not so tall that you can’t just put your right foot down at the stop light. The benefit of the tall seat is that oh so nice leg comfort and being able to see what’s going on around you. Two feet flat on the ground is comforting to newbs but not necessary.

      • Rokster says:

        Amen. And this is certainly not the bike for a new rider anyway.

      • John says:

        Sure, it’s doable. But I don’t find them as fun or flickable or reassuring as a lower bike. ALL bikes should be designed to the size of the rider, not make the rider conform.

      • mickey says:

        A 38 inch seat height to a guy with a 28 inch inseam is the equivalent of a 44″ seat height to a guy with a 34″ inseam. Even 6’2 guys would complain if the seat height were 44″… think about it.

        • Dave says:

          It’s a tall bike, but if the seat height were low, the compromise would lead to it no longer being what it is.

          • mickey says:

            Dave don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the seat height of the bike, I am lamenting the lack of length in my legs. Love the bike, hate being a munchkin.

      • Norm G. says:

        re: “It’s as though no one under 6’2″ would be allowed to ride a motocross bike.”

        (true story)

        at the court house in Lilliput, there’s an old law still on the books dating back to the late 1800’s. it’s not enforced any more, but man was so uncivilized then. nothing like today though. lol

    • todd says:

      It’s really not that big of a deal. I’ve ridden plenty of other, smaller, lesser performing bikes that were much more enjoyable. Have you ever ridden a YSR50? You can’t get much smaller than that and it’s much more fun to ride. Ditto a Trail 90 if you’re more into adventure bikes.