Our first ride on KTM’s new 1290 Super Adventure (Rider, May 2015) was on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, a remote volcanic paradise that’s just the kind of exotic place you might want to go on this luxury travel enduro. Our Senior Editor’s report on the bike was quite thorough, but we wondered how it would fare in the stateside world of traffic, long Interstate hauls and the daily commute, not to mention head-to-head with its chief rival, the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure.
“You can never have too much gas unless you’re on fire” goes the old pilots’ saying, and it applies equally well to adventure-touring bikes. Though it shares many features with its 1190 Adventure sibling (Rider, April 2014), at the core of the 1290 Super Adventure’s mission is its larger 7.9-gallon fuel tank, an extra 1.8 gallons of premium that boosts its range to well over 300 miles if you can tame your right wrist. We found that pretty tough though, because the bike’s larger 1,301cc LC8 engine is constantly tempting you to see what she’ll do. The liquid-cooled 75-degree V-twin shares cylinders, con rods and pistons with the wicked 1290 Super Duke R, though it has special DOHC, dual-plug cylinder heads and cams for more torque and a 2-kilogram heavier crank for better midrange rideability. On the Jett Tuning dyno, the Super ADV made 136 horsepower at 9,300 rpm and 86.1 lb-ft of torque at 6,900 at the rear wheel, a peak improvement of just 4.6 horsepower and 5.7 lb-ft of torque over the 1190. But lower in the 1290’s powerband, the torque increase climbs to 8-10 lb-ft, and the torque spread is broader overall. At 598 pounds wet, it weighs 46 pounds more than the 1190—11 pounds of which are gasoline—yet the 1290 still delivers an even more visceral burst of claw-at-the-sky power on command, and feels slightly tamer cruising around town or on the highway. An overdrive sixth gear also brings the rpm at 60 mph down by 200, to 3,500. The LC8 engine is known for being kind of raw and frisky, like an unbroken thoroughbred, yet this version feels smooth and calm by comparison when you’re just running it down the road—as it should.
While the Super Adventure’s GVWR is up by 43 pounds to 1,014, thanks to the larger tank, standard 42- and 31-liter touring cases and other additional features, its load capacity is actually down slightly, to 416 pounds vs. 419 on the 1190. Another exclusive feature to the 1290 Super Adventure is WP semi-active suspension, the technical details of which are covered in our earlier story. On our U.S. test bike, we found this to be one of the best improvements over the 1190, as it constantly adjusts the damping force to the riding conditions—to prevent fork dive under braking, for example—and offers a much more comfort-oriented spread of suspension compliance. While the damping is still suitably firm on the Sport setting, it’s softer and more reasonable for the average rider set to Street or Comfort than the resolutely stiff 1190, and in Off-Road mode the suspension responds instantly to every dip, rut and bump. We weren’t as enamored of the hydraulic steering stabilizer, which KTM has installed in case the powerful bike’s front-end gets light under acceleration. It’s non-adjustable and a little too stiff, which makes the steering wander at low speeds and feel a bit vague on the highway.
Two other complaints we had about the 1190 have been largely resolved on the 1290 Super Adventure. Better heat management keeps your legs from roasting in traffic, and the new 3D-foam seats are firm but ergonomically shaped for more comfort on Interstate drones. I found the rider’s seat good for about three hours, at which time I’m generally ready for a break anyway. Three levels of seat heating also warm your buns quite effectively, and the wide tank and adjustable windscreen provide good wind protection, though we found looking through the windscreen’s upper vent flutes distracting at times.
A first in my experience, the Super Adventure’s cruise control actually displays the speed to which you’re setting it on the VDO LCD instrument panel. It’s precise and smooth, and works in fourth, fifth or sixth gear from 25 mph on up. We also had a chance to try the features that are benefits of the lean-angle and pitch sensors that are part of the bike’s Motorcycle Stability Control (covered in previous 1190 and 1290 road tests). The LED cornering lights are impressive, lighting up the inside of turns with three levels of intensity that increase the farther you lean the bike over. And the optional Hill Hold Control performed flawlessly on the steepest hill we could find, automatically applying the rear brake until the rider was ready to start out (or up, really). This may seem frilly, but it genuinely helps on hills in traffic, especially when you’ve got a passenger and full load on-board.
With the 1290 Super Adventure, KTM has added a big, luxurious travel enduro to its lineup that’s still capable of dirt road forays in careful hands. Riders who eat more dirt should stay with the 1190, but if you want tons of range, comfort and power, the 1290 Adventure is definitely Super.
To learn more about this motorcycle and see full specs, see our comparison between the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and the 2015 BMW R 1200 GS HERE.