2015 KTM 1290: Super Adventure Long Distance Touring with Oomph

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: KTM

Yes, it’s a KTM. No, it’s not an off-road motorcycle. Since the rise in popularity of large displacement dual sport bikes, many riders automatically assume that an upright seating position equals dirt riding, especially with these three letters on the tank. Not so. Even though “Adventure” is in the name, this motorcycle would more aptly fall in the luxury sport-touring category, or more specifically, travel enduro (a term that hasn’t quite caught on in the States). Sure one can ride gravel roads with the Super Adventure, as with any motorcycle, but let’s not kid ourselves. This is a street bike.

The Mattighofen manufacturer is building upon its success with the 1190 Adventure, which has won over journalists and consumers around the world, a rare feat to accomplish. KTM took the chassis of the 1190 and stuck their most potent engine in it, the 1301cc twin from the 1290 Super Duke R (albeit tuned down some), and called it the 1290 Super Adventure. Makes sense right? The result is a long distance tourer with all of the creature comforts you’d expect, plus the performance of the biggest hooligan bike on the market. Sounds fun. Let’s dig deeper.

Powertrain and Performance

The big travel enduro creates a lot of torque starting in the low rpms. The 160 hp is massive and the 103 lb-ft of torque is impressive, but the 80 lb-ft available at 2,500 rpm is the most notable. This kind of power reduces downshifting, which will make many touring riders happy. During testing we found that third gear (!) works best in tight switchbacks, underlining the Super Adventure’s torque.

The 1301cc engine takes the cylinders, pistons, and con-rods from the Super Duke, but it gets new cylinder heads and crankshaft. The V-twin’s four-valve-per-cylinder design combines a twin plug ignition and a low-friction valve train with cams from each cylinder’s twin OHC. The result is a smoother throttle response and more efficient combustion.

Just like the 1190, the 1290 employs state-of-the-art ride-by-wire for different riding modes: sport (full access to power and late traction control intervention), street (also full power at 160 hp but with earlier intervention), rain (reduced to 100 hp and traction control reacts smoothly to a slipping front or rear tire), off-road (100 hp and 100 percent rear tire slippage), and off (full power and none of the electronic safety features).

Chassis and Handling

As a premium brand, KTM uses high-end components like WP for the suspension, Brembo for brakes, and Bosch for sensors.

The WP suspension is semi-active, allowing it to continuously adapt the damping rates to the road surface and riding style. It does so by measuring inputs from stroke sensors (front and rear) and accelerometers. Four damping modes (soft, street, sport, and off-road) are available, letting the pilot fine tune the suspension separately from the riding modes. This makes a huge impact on long days in the saddle and really changes the touring experience. A split fork design is used on the front, meaning the right-hand side is the actuator side for damping control, and the left-hand side is the sensor side for spring control. Another WP component is the steering damper, hindering kick-back at the handlebar.

The lightweight, tubular frame only weighs 21.6 pounds, yet offers excellent stability with just enough flex (which isn’t very much). Due to the design, should the frame ever break at a particular spot, components can be replaced, whereas most motorcycles would require a whole new frame. A 19-inch, spoked front wheel and 17-inch rear connect the Super Adventure to the road. The 1190’s handling impressed us, and the 1290 is no different. The maneuvering precision with this machine is the icing on the cake. Touring has never been this spirited.

Ergonomics and Features

One of the first arguments against KTM (and other European brands) is the tall seat height. Although the shape of the seat has just as much to do with safely operating a motorcycle as the actual seat height, the Super Adventure’s adjustable seat is still more suitable for taller riders from 33.9 to 34.4 inches. The best way to find out if it will work for you is a trip to a local dealer. Besides the adjustable seat, the 1290 also lets the rider choose between two footrest and two handlebar positions.

Other touring comforts include heated grips, heated rider and passenger seats, and an adjustable windshield, which worked very well to direct the air over the helmet. Another feature touring riders will enjoy is the cruise control.

A first for KTM are the integrated corning LEDs. Three stacked LEDs illuminate based on the lean angle. At 10 degrees the lowest one lights up, at 20 degrees the bottom two come on, and at 30 degrees or more all three beam the way.

Another first is the Hill Hold Control. As the name implies, this feature prevents the motorcycle from unintentionally rolling back for five seconds during take offs on an incline.

Flo’s Lowdown

KTM calls the 1290 Super Adventure its flagship model. It has a potent engine, the most comfortable ergos, and all of the electronic safety features. During testing we rode spirited all day, yet never at the expense of comfort or safety. The ABS and traction control intervened when necessary (e.g., purposely braking late and hard into a corner and throttling out hard). The 160 hp is probably overkill, but it sure is fun to ride … a lot of fun.

Temperatures were in the 60s and 70s during testing, and we noticed no excessive heat on the seat or on the legs. The KTM feels solid in slow speed maneuvering and at 120 mph on the interstate (without side bags).

At an MSRP of ,499, including three hard cases in the U.S., the Super Adventure is competitively positioned against the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure ($ 18,340) and Ducati Multistrada 1200 S ($ 19,695).