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  • October 18, 2018
  • Dirck Edge
  • Chris Rubino and Dirck Edge
  • 70 Comments

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S: MD Ride Review


We get to test some pretty amazing motorcycles these days here at MD. How much horsepower do you want? The market is full of motorcycles that can satisfy even the most committed adrenaline junkies. Want a bike that handles well? Modern chassis, suspension and tire technology allow a good rider to exceed cornering speeds and forces dictated by the law and common sense. Comfort is your thing? This is an era where upright, comfortable ergonomics are not only common, but receiving of significant R&D efforts from major manufacturers.

But what about a bike that combines all of these things? That remains relatively rare. We got our hands on one a few weeks ago … the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S. With a 1,301cc , 75° v-twin engine making a claimed 160 horsepower and 103 foot/pounds of torque, together with a bolt upright seating position that surpasses the comfort of some dedicated tourers, the basic ingredients are present for something special.

The new Super Adventure S includes WP semi-active suspension components (including a massive 48mm upside-down fork) controllable in the minutest detail by the rider from handlebar switches, superbike-caliber, radial mounted, four-piston Brembo brake calipers squeezing two 320mm front discs, and, according to KTM, “the most advanced electronics in the world of motorcycling.” What does this phrase mean?

According to KTM, the “most advanced electronics” includes the Super Adventure S package of selectable riding modes (Sport, Street, Offroad and Rain), Motorcycle Stability Control (multi-mode, lean angle-sensitive ABS and traction control) and WP semi-active suspension with four damping settings (Sport, Street, Comfort and Offroad) and push button- adjustable rear preload.  With the brains and sophistication of Bosch helping out, KTM has been developing, and using these types of electronic aids as long as anyone.

Tires are tubeless Pirelli Scorpion Trail II sized 120/70-19 front and 170/60-17 rear mounted on cast aluminum wheels. Despite the 19″ front, this is primarily a street bike with relatively modest off-road capability compared to some other KTM adventure bikes. Those tires support a relatively big machine weighing roughly 535 pounds with the generous 6.1 gallon fuel tank topped off (we averaged just under 40 mpg – for a range of well over 200 miles). Seat height is adjustable between two positions, including 33.9 and 34.4 inches. The windscreen is manually adjustable (without tools, easily at a stop light) over a 2″ range. Hand guards and heated grips are featured.

The 1290 Super Adventure S also allows clutchless shifts (both up and down), auto-cancelling turn signals, a key-less system for ignition and fuel cap (just keep your fob close) and a USB charging port.

The KTM “My Ride” bluetooth system, together with a smartphone app, offers control of phone calls, music and navigation while riding. All of this information shows up on the beautiful, bright and high-contrast TFT display, where you can also intuitively scroll through all of the electronic aid options.


Whew! … I hate describing all of this electronic crap on these new bikes! At the same time, over time, we have come to appreciate their usefulness. Do you remember when you told yourself that YOU, Mr. Experienced, Skilled Rider, could out-brake an ABS system? Well, now, we have a 160 horsepower adventure bike that you can practically throw on its ear in a corner and power out on that relatively tiny rear contact patch with more than 100 pounds/feet of torque … and I thank KTM for that Bosch wizardry that prevents me from high-siding my tired, old body into oblivion. This stuff works on this bike seemlessly, and we couldn’t enjoy this kind of power, and handling, with the same level of confidence without it.

Of all the wonderful things about this bike (read on), the v-twin engine is the star. A smaller, less powerful version was found in MD’s Bike of the Year back in 2014, the KTM 1190 Adventure. As you might expect, we fell in love with our BOTY that year, and the new 1290 Super Adventure S surpasses that bike in several ways.

Now displacing 1,301cc, this big, comfy bike provides acceleration (particularly in Sport mode) akin to the amazing 1290 Super Duke R we tested when it was introduced back in 2014. One reason why this bike feels so quick is the fact that the power is available at streetable rpm levels. The torque delivered by the Super Adventure S at 4,000 rpm is likely higher than the peak torque found on the fastest motorcycle you have ever ridden … think about that for a minute. Torque peaks at a relatively low 6,750 rpm, while you will hit that 160 horsepower peak at less than 9 K. By contrast, superbikes are hardly awake at these rpm levels.

Despite the dual-sport rubber, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S grips like glue on dry tarmac (the only venue for our testing). Most 19″ front tires are 110 mm wide, but this bike has one of the newer 120 mm tires for higher grip levels on the street. We had no trouble keeping up with, and even outperforming dedicated sport machinery on twisty roads aboard this bike (rider skill level variances notwithstanding).

All the while, the big KTM cossets you with a generous, relatively stretched out rider triangle. The seat is quite firm, but we found it comfortable on longer rides where the extra support is appreciated.  The seat shape allows the rider to move around a bit … also a contributor to comfort.

This is a tall bike, even with the shorter of the two seat heights selected, and our 5’11” test rider was tip-toeing at stops. Some shorter riders may simply find the bike too tall, while taller riders will appreciate the added leg room.

We kept the suspension dialed to Sport or Street, finding the Comfort setting a bit too soft and sloppy for even moderately aggressive riding. Nevertheless, we found the supension excellent overall, and the setting changes selected by the rider at the handlebar make a real, discernible difference. Within any particular setting (Sport, for example) you can change the rear ride height and the overall damping characteristics. Moreover, KTM’s menu system makes this easy and intuitive … without reading the owner’s manual (who likes to do that?).

Clutchless shifts work pretty well with the KTM Quickshifter System, but we didn’t use it as much as we should have, perhaps, due to decades of muscle memory requiring us to flex the left hand while riding. That beautiful TFT instrument display is state-of-the-art and makes traditional displays look dull and hard to read.

The brakes, clutch and transmission performed their job at a level consistent with the rest of this remarkable machine. The brakes are extremely powerful with good feel and modulation. Our only complaint would be excessive engine heat felt on the legs during stop-and-go riding, which is something potentially more problematic in hotter climates.

The 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a remarkable motorcycle and a worthy successor to MD’s 2014 BOTY, the 1190 Adventure. It is not an inexpensive bike to buy at an U.S. MSRP starting at $17,999, but, in our opinion, it is a bargain compared to any competition that offers this level of comfort and sophistication (the competition, in general, doesn’t offer this level of power and handling performance). We can’t comment on long-term reliability, but we understand that KTM has been making significant strides in that area, and its current production models are generally well-sorted for the long haul.  For full details and specifications, including available color schemes, visit KTM’s web site.


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70 Comments

  1. Pacer says:

    Decent video. A good rider showing what the bike is capable of.

    https://youtu.be/rUeqSG_3Y0o

  2. bill in ca says:

    KTMs have great suspension and I really like the bike except for the ant-head front. I could overlook that, but I have a real aversion to excessive engine heat. Here in CA that is a deal breaker too much of the time. Until they fix that I am going with the Tracer 900 GT. Not quite the chops of the KTM, but way more reliable and the kick stand won’t fail (don’t know about this one but the others – not so good). I would consider an after-market heat shield if it really worked, but reports are mixed at best.

  3. Lothar says:

    i refuse to pay more for a motorcycle which costs more than the house I grew up in.

    • WSHart says:

      Well stated. There’s just not the physical content in these bikes to even come close to justifying their cost when compared to cars that cost the same or less and I am including economy of scale in my guestimation.

      In a related aside on stupid manufacturers who don’t listen to their customer base I can honestly say that I STILL have yet to see a new Goldwing on the highways of the western United States. When the previous version GL1800 debuted they were everywhere. Stupid Honda. Real stupid. Back to the KTM…

      It (the KTM) as a lot to offer (including a decent sized fuel tank!) but is so damn FUGLY that I refuse to buy one. If sharp, angular insectoid looks are to be the face of KTM then they aren’t going to get many adult buyers (you know…the ones who can afford this bike).

      I suspect the designer of their lineup must be named Dorian Gray.

      • guu says:

        Take a look at a rear shock from this KTM and one from a car that costs 17,900 dollars (or even 179,000) and you’ll see one place that a lot of the cost went into. If you can’t enjoy the difference there are a lot of very cheap bikes to choose from.

    • Rhinestone Kawboy says:

      Yep, Ironhead, that must be the… um… inspiration for that god awful headlight contraption.

  4. fred says:

    “Modern chassis, suspension and tire technology allow a good rider to exceed cornering speeds and forces dictated by the law and common sense.” Umm, old, tired bikes will exceed legal cornering speeds everywhere I’ve ever lived.

    The modern stuff counts more when you want to double (or more) the legal cornering speeds. Since I’m old and slow, double is almost always fast enough for me.

  5. Artem says:

    “Depeche Mode”. On their Paris-Dakar bikes.
    That was realy dangerous strike.

  6. Rhinestone Kawboy says:

    KTM sure has some weird styling. That has got to be the dumbest looking cyborg headlight/windscreen combination I ever seen. UG—-Ly!

    • WSHart says:

      I agree. There’s no real reason to make a bike this fugly. Looks like a cylon from the original Battlestar Gallactica had angry intercourse with a retarded dung beetle.

      Call it “insectoid”. An otherwise nice bike made undesirable by hideous looks. The face of any vehicle should not look like an ass.

    • Tom R says:

      I think that it looks like a wildebeast.

      • Rhinestone Kawboy says:

        From the side, it looks ok, but looking at it head on- not so much. That headlight alone is enough to turn me off on this bike. Pety, I know, but to each his/her own.

  7. motowarrior says:

    Well, we have proven that too much is never enough. I wonder where we go from here. We keep adding horsepower, so we have to develop more technology to control it. This is an amazing machine, but is it a good thing?

  8. Dave says:

    “The torque delivered by the Super Adventure S at 4,000 rpm is likely higher than the peak torque found on the fastest motorcycle you have ever ridden … think about that for a minute.”

    Whoa..

    • Neal says:

      Torque is depends mostly on displacement. A Harley has more torque at 2k rpm than the peak torque of the fastest motorcycle you’ve ridden.

      • Pacer says:

        But the Harley is done by 5k.

      • Dave says:

        Probably, but the HD’s torque falls hard after it peaks 2.5k rpm. It’s achieved the impossible combination of massive torque and the need to shift gears constantly.

        • TimC says:

          “It’s achieved the impossible combination of massive torque and the need to shift gears constantly.”

          COTD

        • Anonymous says:

          “the need to shift gears constantly”
          What?

          • todd says:

            Most Harley guys are already into fifth gear by the time they hit 40mph. I think I’m still in second at around 40 so I have much more acceleration available because of the lower gearing and higher rpm.

            I have ridden big, low revving twins and the narrow power band sucks.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I think the point is that the bike is making considerable horsepower at 4K rpms, and since the torque production never really falls off, it only get meaner from there… Unlike the Harley whose power curve falls off a cliff around 4K rpms.

    • Pacer says:

      No replacement for displacement! Except maybe variable valve timing. It will be interesting to watch that tech evolve.

      • Dave says:

        And turbochargers. Both technologies have already evolved quite nicely in the car industry.

        • JB says:

          I’m thinking in addition to VVT, electric turbos will be a thing on bikes. In combination with maybe upgrading the electrical systems like some cars are to 48v. That way, we can keep the screaming high end, and boost the low/mid-range enough to not have to sacrifice the top by “tuning for torque”.

    • todd says:

      It doesn’t hold a candle to the 150 ft-lb of torque you can pedal to the crank of your bicycle. Why does everyone always think torque is some kind of power?

      • Pacer says:

        Now do it 4000 times a minute.

      • JC says:

        Torque is a measurement of work. It is literally a kind of power. Horsepower, on the other hand, is a mathematical solution based on torque and RPM.

        • todd says:

          Incorrect. Torque is a force – or effort. Horsepower is a measurement of work – or how much you got done. Some people and bikes can get just as much work done without putting in much effort.

          • mechanicus says:

            Wrong. Force is linear. Torque is rotational; i.e. torque is force times a moment arm. For example twisting a 1 ft wrench with 1 lb of force = T = 1 lbf X 1 ft = 1 ft-lbf

            Horsepower is Torque X RPM divided by a factor. For example, for torque in ft-lbf and rotation in revs/min, HP = T X RPM / 5252

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “Wrong. Force is linear. Torque is rotational; i.e. torque is force times a moment arm.”

            All you’ve demonstrated is that torque is a rotational force, which is still a force… Not work, not power. The fact that you can apply torque to something and create no motion at all is the most basic evidence of this.

            Apply torque to a wheel axle to create motion, and you have accomplished work. The rate at which that work was accomplished is power.

            I think a lot of confusion stems from the units used. In the US, the lb-ft is a UoM of work. The pound-force-feet (what typically gets shortened to ft-lb or lb-ft) is used for torque. They are not the same.

  9. motorhead says:

    Named the 1290, while the actual displacement is 1301cc? I’m not afraid to have the unlucky number 13 on my bike. KTM could have called this the 1320, and leave all those 1250, 1260, 1290 bikes far behind.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What are the service intervals and costs? What is the mpg? Those items are a very important part of real world ownership and should be addressed in even a cursory article such as this. Thanks!

  11. Rapier says:

    It’s a mistake to review these big adventure/touring bikes without sidecases. They make almost no sense without them. I know reviewers are at the mercy of the manufacturers, to some extent, but at least beg and cajole to try and get them equipped with them, and bitch about it if they won’t give you one. Especially if they are not even taken off road.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      What about the review changes with side cases? Just curious. Concerned about how much will fit in them?

      Two of the last three adventure bikes I’ve owned I’ve opted not to buy side cases. I have them for the current bike. The cases are still in the original boxes, never opened. Thought I would use them, but I always find myself just packing a dry bag and strapping it on the back. Occasionally, I’ll put the top case on if I need something a little more secure. The pannier racks are mounted, though, as they are pretty handy when trying to drag the bike back up a cliff or out of a creek.

      • Bob K says:

        I do a lot of errands on my way home. I take my lunch kit to work but on the way home, I need the cases for groceries, Home Depot stuff, pet store stuff…. Carried a 50 lb bag of dog food to work on Monday laid across the back of both cases. The ability to do this means I don’t ever “have” to take the SUV. I can ride everyday, no matter what I need to do. I’ve carried some rather large and strange stuff on my bikes over the years. Not sure if it was a matter of pride or ego. 😀

      • Bob K says:

        But as for what changes? Nothing about the bike itself other than how wide does it get overall, are they leak-proof, are they durable, does it make the bike squat too much when loaded up, does your passengers legs and feet interfere with the cases? Do they have rivits which tear up your clothes or let water through inside the case? My Stelvio’s cases from Trax had this problem.

        • Dave says:

          Do people really ride long distances as passengers on bikes like this? It has a nicer looking passenger seat than any bike I’ve owned and I still couldn’t imagine asking an adult to ride there for much more than an hour or two.

          • TF says:

            Did a 4500 mile trip (two-up) on my 1090R. A little less than a year later we did a 3900 mile trip. We have the same two piece seat on the bike. It’s a very comfortable bike and was chosen for that reason. I have a friend with the 1290S and it is primarily a two-up bike as well.

            KTM has about three options for side and top cases for the bike. I bought the Givi/KTM versions and they work great. I use them all the time. Besides the usual clothing and camping gear, we have hauled everything imaginable in them including fire wood, beer, and a rotisserie cooked chicken.

    • Selecter says:

      I can’t agree. I’d wager a vast majority of ADV riders will not buy the OEM bags. They will either use less expensive soft dry bags, or heavier, more expensive gigantic aluminum specialized “ADV luggage” instead. I went a different way with mine, and bought more sport-touring style Givi bags instead, since Yamaha’s bags are junk.

      I want to read about the motorcycle, not the crap that you attach to it after the fact.

      If the bike is sold with luggage as standard, then it’s pertinent to test the bike as sold, and reviewing the bike with and without the luggage is warranted. If not, then nope… don’t bother. It’s simply not relevant since the OEM accessory isn’t what a buyer is liable to go for.

    • Pacer says:

      There is a “T” (tour) version as well. I think these bikes are like UJMs on steroids. A great place to plant your butt for an afternoon. Id rather ride this, or other bikes in the class, than a cruiser.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The last two bikes have been multiugly and superugly. I’m sure they are techno marvels, but damn!

    • Blackcayman says:

      I Agree.

      I find this less objectionable than the Mulit-Duc or Super Duke GT.

      Height wise I’d be tip-toeing so…that sucks

  13. Skybullet says:

    My current rider is a 2016 1290 Super Duke GT. Previous bikes KTM 990 SMT, BMW F800GS, Aprillia Caponord, BMW R1100GS, Honda VFR 800 and others just for perspective. If you haven’t ridden a big bore KTM (and most of you haven’t) you can’t appreciate the strong, wide, linear torque, smooth shifting and suspension that is easily dialed to just right. If the price gives you nosebleed, check out any 2012 or later, they are sooo sweet.

    • sbashir says:

      I have the 2015 KTM 1190 Adventure R and it wheelies if you twist the throttle too much. Sport mode is intoxicating. It rides like a sport bike and is wonderful off-road too. One bike that can do it all. If I put all the Mosko Moto soft luggage and KTM top case and tank bag on it, I can live in luxury in the middle of nowhere for a week.

    • Bob K says:

      Regarding nosebleed on the price…it’s a steal compared to the big GS and many other street oriented bikes. And you get a whole lot more for the money. 2 of my friends bought 1 each of the 1290 super adv past spring for $15,500 + TTL. Dealer wanted to clear the floor for ’18 models. Even after adding luggage and a real skid plate, they were about $5k less than a GS Adv.

  14. Bummed says:

    I would love to and have the means to purchase this awesome machine and the time to ride it anywhere. But if your 5′-11 tester was tippy-toeing, this bike is completely out of reach for a 5′-7, 30″ inseam, height challenged rider like me. How many of these ADV touring bikes actually get ridden off-road? I take my cruiser on lots of gravel, backroad construction zones and the occasional cowpath and it’s 3″ of suspension travel and 5″ of ground clearance is never a problem. Why can’t these bikes that tease with their power, technology, long distance gas capacity and ergonomics be given a reasonable 29-30″ seat height and 5″ of suspension, so average people can look forward to owning and riding them comfortably and safely? Come on guys, give us shorter folks a break!

    • Reginald Van Blunt says:

      I must agree with Bummed, with a more strategic outlook. At 6’3 most of my life, Colin Chapman sizing of vehicles has denied me access to most. Even regular sized folks could benefit from PROPER ergonomic design. There is no excuse for the over sizing or under sizing of a vehicle which inherently is self adjustable by virtue of seating and foot peg mutual interaction, if the damn seat was FLAT and the pegs were not under ones ass. Suspension does not have to be Motocross tall to explore the desert either, and especially on a dual purpose machine. Look at the 60’s Brit bikes. Every body fit a 66 Triumph Bonneville. Humans can adapt to a flat seat and mid placed pegs, and then everybody except the trendy stylists in design will get to ride the machine they fancy. Geeze Louise. Where is the common sense?

      • PatrickD says:

        If it’s too tall, then try the 1290 Superduke GT.
        Plenty of options out there. It’s the 6’4″+ people who weren’t catered for for the longest time. And there are more of them every year.
        Average sized and tall people fit this well. Short people won’t.

      • sbashir says:

        KTM’s adventure bikes are descendants of their Dakar racing bikes like the 950. Long suspension is needed when you jump into a ditch or go over a log. These are not your ordinary “scramblers” that pretend to go off-road. These are genuine dirt bikes. My 1190 R is 35″ tall and my 500 EXC is 38″ tall. Once you are on the bike and riding, the height doesn’t matter. It is only a problem for newbies. These bikes are not for everyone.

      • guu says:

        You can mount the pegs almost anywhere if you are designing the bike to be ridden sitting down. If your target rider is ever going to ride standing up, you have to have the pegs where they are on an 1290 (or any other bike designed to be ridden off the road).

        That being said the factories can do a better job as far as adjustable ergos. KTM does a better job than most.

        • Reginald Van Blunt says:

          If you need to be on the pegs a lot of the time, you are on a dirt bike in the dirt going lucky split. These 500+ pound adventure monsters are not dirt specific. Any other than pure dirt ( excluding cruisers ) need only to properly adjust or replace the handle bars for occasional standing. It is the proximity of the bars to the pegs that make the deal for occasional upsey daisy survival motoring in the rough. For 30+ years I ran a 350 pound striped Honda CL-450 in the open desert on about 3-1/2 inch travel suspenders, FAST with MS aluminum bars, often on the pegs, no problem. Back end swam left and right a lot though.

          • Bob K says:

            While not dirt specific, these new behemoths are actually great at going everywhere on everything. I’ve taken heavier behemoths to some really remote places on this continent. And because of the overall physical dimensions, like seat to pegs to bars, standing up meant only being a couple inches off the seat. So when tired, sitting down was not that much different, making off-roading still pretty easy for a full day.

          • guu says:

            Have you actually ridden one of these bikes? They certainly are just as dirt specific as the CL450 was in its day and MUCH more capable.

            All adventure bikes have easily replaceable bars. The issue with the pegs if weight distribution. You can’t just slap the mass of the rider anywhere and keep the handling.

            The designers do actually think about these things and state-of-the-art is not where if was when the CL450 was new. Things have actually improved in 50 years. Check it out.

          • Reginald Van Blunt says:

            guu missed the point. I was not comparing a CL-450 to an over sized adventure bike. We were addressing unnecessary size, including mass, and foot peg placement. Even a GS-1150 has more mass and power than traction in loose dirt, and that bike was a lot less than the newer ones, and yes I have ridden them.

          • guu says:

            You are missing the point. Compare CL450 to a “real” dirt bike of its day. It was much more powerful, much heavier, had (even) worse suspension, not quite state-of-the-art eros and so forth. Does that sound familiar? You still had fun I assume and presumedly enjoyed some of the advantages it had over a real dirt bike?

            And further proving my point you made it more dirt-specific for some reason. The same reason rides are doing the same now?

    • Peter Harris says:

      30″ inseam with thick boots – you’re probably alright. These are massive bikes generally – big tank etc..

      If you like ktm, want this monster HP, and a shorter bike, the 1290 duke would fit the bill.

    • KenLee says:

      It’s easier and cheaper to lower tall bike, than raise a small one up. Use dedicated dogbones set, slide fork tubes inside the triple clamps and you gain an inch, or so. If it’s still not enough, you can modify seat foam. It’s getting more dificult, if you cornering very sharp- then you might need to move footpegs up to restore original clearence.

      • dogdog says:

        KTMs don’t have a linkage suspension, so no “dogbones”
        You can get it lowered via a Hyperpro progressive spring, and a lower seat. I have a 1190 S model, 29″ inseam and the only time it bothers me is when I carry a passenger. Just plan accordingly for parking!
        PS- these bikes are AMAZING! Superbike handling and power, or close to it, I can do 600 mile days, and handle a good amount of dirt road work too.

    • ilikefood says:

      There are already plenty of bikes that work well for short people. Like all cruisers, all sportbikes, all sport-tourers, and all standards. Having a low seat and low center of gravity is (oddly) a selling point for most motorcycles. There are actually very few bikes that have enough leg room and work well for tall people. Keep the seats of ADV bikes tall, so us tall folks don’t have to fold into a pretzel to ride. If ADV bikes don’t fit you, there are tons and tons of other motorcycles to choose from for short people.