2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R: A Serious Dual Sport

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Adam Booth

It’s the most off-road-capable model bearing the Adventure name. The 1190 is no longer, having been replaced by the 1290 Super Adventure R with an increase in displacement. Visually, the Super looks similar to the 1190. The lighter, more agile 1090 Adventure R is more enduro than travel yet still puts out 125 hp. Packed with all the fancy electronics that make a good rider out of the average, especially on the loose stuff, it costs less than $ 15,000.

At the end of March, I tested the 1090 Adventure R near KTM USA’s headquarter in Southern California. Two days of riding on equal parts paved and unpaved roads, and camping under the stars on an unusually brisk 32-degree night in the desert, serves as the basis of my evaluation. Rocky paths and sandy washes were all the rage, and it highlighted the motorcycle’s superb mastery of dirt.

A 1090, 1190, and 1290? Close in size and a little confusing? I thought so. Let’s break it down. The 1190 R (’13-’16) featured a 1,195cc engine with a dry weight of about 463 pounds. The 1290 Super Adventure R (not to be mistaken for the 1290 Super Adventure T, the mack-daddy travel enduro) uses a 1,301cc engine and tips the scale at 478 pounds dry. The brand-new 1090 Adventure R relies on the smallest iteration of the 75-degree V-twin at 1,050cc, and weighs less than 456 pounds. So as for the current model lineup, the 1090 R is 22 pounds lighter than the next model up, the 1290 Super Adventure R. That’s almost five-percent weight savings, most notably accomplished by omitting a centerstand. It feels much lighter when riding off the pavement, though.

Powertrain and Performance

KTM, an Austrian manufacturer, has to comply with Euro 4 emission standards. The legislation addresses how clean exhaust gasses have to be. That leaves manufacturers with the task of developing the most efficient engines yet. While in the past some manufacturers have relied on after-the-fact solutions to pass emissions tests, KTM’s LC8 V-twin was developed with Euro 4 already in mind. A cleaner, better-burning engine that still has plenty of punch and character is a beautiful thing. Improved fuel economy (a 200-plus-mile range) and the 10,000-mile service intervals are also welcome benefits. Two differently sized spark plugs per cylinder fire at different times for better combustion efficiency. This also creates more torque in low revs, which is just what a dual-sport rider needs. Second gear got me through most technical sections. Only rarely did I click down into first. Most of the time I was humming along in third gear. The slipper clutch requires minimal lever pull effort. Six gears are well spaced out. Final drive is by chain, which adds to the snappiness, but so do the pistons. The forged pistons lean on a design from Formula 1. They’re short and lightweight, producing a low reciprocating mass that gives the engine a very lively feeling.

The ride-by-wire throttle brings on power smooth and predictably. Four ride modes are Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road. Sport and Street have access to the full 125 hp while Sport mode has less intervention by traction control and rear-wheel ABS. Street is all about safety and full control. Rain and Off-Road get a restricted 100 hp. Rain obviously has the most intervention by ABS and traction control. Off-Road allows double the rear wheel speed slippage and enough rear wheel freedom to back it into corners. Both the lean-sensitive ABS and traction control can be turned off completely, although I don’t see the need unless you’re a professional rider. These electronics work so remarkably well that they’ve saved my bacon more than once. Test bikes were outfitted with the off-road dongle that keeps your traction control and ABS off (in case you choose to ride without) between turning off the ignition and switching it back on. It’s a nifty gadget for about $ 100. 

Chassis

One of the biggest improvements over the outgoing model is in the suspension. KTM’s research on their customers’ needs revealed that a large proportion use their machines as intended: for venturing off-road. A new R&D center in California was the result, with suspension improvement as the first order of business. High-quality WP components give the 1090 R a planted feeling on the trail and on the road. Most noteworthy are the 220mm of travel on both ends and the upgrade to a progressive monoshock absorber in the rear to avoid bottoming out. During the test ride it proved to be a good setup when bouncing over rocks, through ruts, on very uneven pavement, up sandy banks, and landing one very memorable jump over a whoop. 

Further underlining that this is a dual sport first, the bike comes with Continental TKC 80 tires, the brand’s most off-road-focused offering. I was mightily impressed by the TKC 80s. The tires provided excellent grip even during spirited riding through tight and open corners on pavement. I was following Chris Fillmore, KTM’s factory AMA Superbike racer, after all.

The classic KTM steel trellis frame, powerful brakes, and the diecast swingarm add to the fun handling characteristics. It’s plenty rigid for a true “ready to race” experience. 

Extras

I didn’t sit much while testing this machine, but when I did the seat left an impression. Usually it’s a part that doesn’t get much love from manufacturers. The 1090 R’s is quite comfortable. Handguards and crash bars come with. The menu settings are the same as the other Adventures, but while “Heated Grips” remains in the menu, the 1090 R doesn’t come equipped with that option. Luggage mounting racks are ready for KTM’s side cases.

The oversized footpegs can be adjusted to one of two positions that are 10 millimeters apart. Automatic turn signal canceling is always appreciated, although I still push the cancel button religiously. For anti-theft, the RFID tags inside the key are required to enable the ignition, starter motor, and fuel pump circuits. The skid plate is optional, which, in my opinion, should come standard on a high-quality dual-purpose motorcycle.

Flo’s Lowdown

Travel enduros seem to be getting smaller, proving that bigger is not always better. The 1090 Adventure R is perfect for the serious dual-sport rider who doesn’t just choose to continue when the pavement ends, but actively seeks out challenging dirt roads. The powerful engine, crisp handling, and quality parts check all the boxes before strapping your tent on the back and heading out for an adventure.