2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R review

Oct 07, 2017

The parts I broke during my time riding the KTM 1090 Adventure R reads like a grocery list for the KTM parts catalog. Two clutch levers, two brake pedals, a high beam switch, a brake lever, the left hand guard, an exhaust hanger, a turn signal lens, and numerous gashes on the crash bars are a testament to how I tested this bike.

When Chris Fillmore from KTM approached me a few months ago about reviewing their new 2017 1090 Adventure R, I immediately expressed my interest in the opportunity. I replied with a few choice photos of dual-sport events I tackled on my Tiger 800 XCx earlier in the summer and told him I was excited to test the 1090 in similar conditions. Referring to one particular photo of the Tiger clawing its way through muddy water up to its tank, Chris was originally skeptical of my plan. He noted that I couldn’t “destroy the bike.”

My reply was something along the lines of “Define, destroy.”

KTM 1090 Adventure R Spurgeon Dunbar
Try as I might, the 1090 Adventure R handled whatever abuse I could dish out and never quit on me. Photo by Ryan Wheatley.

Knowing KTM's pedigree for off-road riding, I expected this bike to handle all of the abuse I was ready to dish out. At a minimum, I expected it to at least match the prowess of my modified Tiger 800 XCx off-road. In the end, Chris agreed to send me a 1090 Adventure R and gave me to two months to figure out exactly how much abuse this bike could handle.

The bike

For 2017, KTM eliminated their 1190 Adventure R and replaced it with two new models. The 1290 Super Adventure R snags the flagship spot in their off-road biased adventure line while the 1090 Adventure R is designed for riders looking for a bit more elemental experience.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Dash
Unlike the shnazzy TFT dash on the new 1290 Super Adventure R, the 1090 retains the same unit found on the outgoing 1190. It is hard to read in anything short of ideal conditions. RevZilla photo.

The 1090 didn’t get the fancy TFT dash, electronic cruise control, or cornering ABS of its larger sibling. Nor does it receive a center stand or standard electrical outlets. It’s also about 35 horsepower shy of the 1290’s whopping claimed 160 horsepower. Rather, the 1090 is a stripped-down, purpose-built machine for riders looking to spend a good chunk of their time off-road. In stock trim, with fuel, the 1090 Adventure R comes in at 508 pounds, nearly 25 pounds less than the 1290. As I tested it, with inner tubes and a skid plate installed, it was just over 530 pounds.

The 1090 features the 1190’s engine cases and valves while sharing its camshaft and timing with that of the 1050 Adventure that was previously unavailable in the United States. It gets a new crank and flywheel, which KTM claims will deliver better low-end torque. While I was impressed with how far you can lug this bike down low before it stalls, it still makes the majority of its power in the top half of the engine's rev range. Its 80 foot-pounds of peak torque hit around 6,500 rpm. According to the manual, valve clearance checks aren’t required until 18,600 miles, which is quite impressive.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
In order to really test the new KTM 1090 Adventure R, I left my Tiger 800 XCx in the garage for a few months while putting the 1090 through its paces at events like the Michaux Dual Sport ride. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Controlling that power are the same four rider modes carried over from the 1190’s electronics package. Sport and Street mode provide full horsepower to the rider with Sport delivering the most aggressive throttle response. Off-Road mode cuts power to 100 ponies, softens the throttle, and allows the rear wheel to spin at twice the rate of the front wheel before traction control kicks in. Rain mode cuts power as well, but offers up the most sensitive TC setting, which engages at the mere hint of wheel slip.

Traction control can also be disabled, as can the ABS system. In addition to completely turning off ABS, you can set it to off-road mode, which allows ABS to remain active at those Brembo calipers at the front wheel. Brake feel is solid and there is good feedback at the lever. I liked the placement and feel at the rear brake pedal as well, but the mounting design places stress on the internal bearing. This means if you accidentally hit something and bend the lever, you have to be really careful when bending it back, I'd recommend taking it off the bike to do so. Ask me how I know.

The chassis is unchanged over the 1190 Adventure R and is the same as on the 1290 Super Adventure R. But the new bikes get an updated suspension that is easily the shining star of the new 1090.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Spurgeon Dunbar
Testing the 1090's new suspension at the Touratech Rally's grass track. Photo by Carlos Barrios.

The front 48 mm fork utilizes longer, stiffer, 6.5 newton-millimeter springs compared to the 5.5 newton-millimeter springs found on the 1190. The amount of fork oil was also increased and the valving was stiffened. It is completely adjustable for preload as well as compression and rebound damping.

The new PDS shock offers riders the same level of adjustability at the back end but with a split between high- and low-speed compression damping. PDS stands for Progressive Damping System, which allows for a softer initial set up that gets progressively stiffer through the stroke to keep from bottoming out on large hits. It’s also directly mounted to the swing arm, which means that for those of you regularly riding off-road, there is less maintenance to perform as there are no pivots and bearings to attend to.

Testing the KTM 1090 Adventure R on-road

I picked up our press bike at Solid Performance, our local KTM shop. In addition to selling the bikes, SP does a lot of repair and modification work. For example, they just developed a suspension mod to lower the 1090 Adventure and 1290 Super Adventure Rs by two inches. This is an important advancement for shorter riders who might be intimidated by the 35-inch seat height. And if you don't live near Philadelphia, not to worry. They are working on making this a drop-in kit that you can order from them and have installed at your local shop.

Even at 6 feet, 3 inches, I was initially surprised by how tall this bike is. It’s like sitting on a giant dirt bike. Riding home on some of the winding back roads on the way to my house I was immediately impressed with how sporty the bike felt. It handled aggressive street riding much better than I expected. In the Sport setting, the throttle response was crisp and the power felt noticeably present. I wouldn’t detect its missing power until I rode it side-by-side with the 1190 Adventure R.

Pulling onto the highway, I effortlessly shifted the 1090 through all six gears, aided by the hydraulically actuated PASC slipper clutch. The smooth transmission only requires a light touch at the shift lever, while still offering the rider positive feedback that the shift has been completed. The only negative I noticed was that the indicator on the dash for gear selection would sometimes go blank instead of reading neutral or first. I learned to slowly release the clutch and check for engagement if this happened.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review Spurgeon Dunbar
While I initially missed having electronic cruise control, the 1090's on-road performance was so good I soon forgot all about it. RevZilla photo.

On longer treks, I found myself missing the electronic cruise control that I had grown accustomed to on my Tiger, but the 1090 felt more stable at highway speeds. The wind protection was completely adequate for my needs, however, if you favor a large windshield, you’ll probably be planning to modify the stock set up.

The one thing you’re not really going to be able to modify is the immense amount of heat coming off of this engine. It’s one of the hotter bikes I have ever ridden and that’s something you’re just going to have to get used to, as there is no one solution for this problem.

Fuel consumption was pretty good, as I was averaging about 37 mpg in mixed-use situations. I could ride about 50 miles on the highway from Philly over to the Jersey Pine Barrens, ride about 100 miles off-road, and just about make it back before having to stop for gas with around 200 miles on the clock.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
Continental TwinDuro TKC 80 tires are the stock rubber for the new 1090 Aventure R. RevZilla photo.

The Continental Twin Duro TKC 80 tires definitely favor the dirt, but compared to some more aggressive tires I’ve tried, they behave OK on the street. If you are planning on spending the majority of your time on asphalt, you’ll probably want to swap them out for something a bit more street-focused. In that case, the good news is they shouldn’t take too long to wear out. But if you’re like me, you’re probably stoked that KTM gave the 1090 grippy off-road shoes, as you’re probably planning on getting her dirty.

Testing the KTM 1090 Adventure R off-road

I had a lot of fun with this bike off-road, using it in place of my Tiger for nearly two months. The first weekend I had it, I met up with my friend Mani, who rides a 1190 Adventure R, and we spent the day in the Pine Barrens riding the bikes side-by-side. Then came the weekend of the Touratech Rally East and the Michaux Dual Sport Ride out in central Pennsylvania.

KTM 1090 Adventure R vs 1190 Adventure R
It wasn't until I rode the 1090 side-by-side with an 1190 that I noticed its missing power. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

On my first ride with Mani, I was immediately struck by how balanced the 1090 felt off-road. We swapped bikes about halfway through the day and while the 1190’s extra power was noticeable, I was happy to swap back to the 1090. Discussing our thoughts over lunch, we both agreed that in spite of the fact that the two bikes share the same chassis, the 1090 feels tighter and more compact.

The ergonomics of the 1090 allowed me room to move around freely and leverage my weight against the weight of the bike. Because the rear wheel can only handle so much torque before breaking traction off-road, the 1190’s raw power didn’t offer much of an advantage in the sand.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
The terrain in central Pennsylvania was wet and muddy with very little traction. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The terrain in central Pennsylvania for the Touratech Rally and the Michaux is completely different from the Pine Barrens. There are rocky trails and steep inclines and declines. It rained most of the weekend and with the rain came mud. Mud that covered rocks and roots, thus limiting traction to the point of being non-existent. The skid plate got a workout over the larger rocks and ruts, but I really like its design. If you look at the bike from the side, you’ll notice how the plate offers a greater amount of ground clearance at the front than the rear. It made it really easy to slide over larger obstacles.

The TKC 80s are a good 50/50 tire but I found myself longing for a set of Mitas E-09s in the really slick stuff. I also got really good at changing flats on the 1090. The bike is delivered stock with a tubeless set up but I would recommend adding tubes if you’re planning on riding off-road and airing down.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
In addition to breaking off two clutch levers, I also lost a brake lever, which I temporarily replaced with this tiny Vise-Grip. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The hand guards offer nothing more than light roost protection and I snapped my clutch lever off in a particularly soupy mud pit. Making it out of the woods without a clutch was challenging, to say the least. But I got a bump from Mr. Steven Kamrad and was able to limp the bike 40 miles or so back to camp for repairs.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
Carlos noticed the fuel hose sitting against the exhaust header before it caused any real problems. Photo by Carlos Barrios.

While replacing the clutch lever, my buddy Carlos pointed out that the fuel hose connecting the front of the tanks was sitting against the exhaust header. The shielding had pushed out of the way and the hose had started to melt. A few zip ties later and a potential fire hazard was avoided.

I had a chance to ride with Mike Lafferty and swap bikes with him to try out his race-prepped 1090. I was surprised by how close to stock the bike was. His main changes were to the suspension and wheels. He favors a really firm front end for racing so the suspension was noticeably stiffer. His wheels were off of a 690 Enduro and he was running bib mousses in place of tubes. He also had a custom seat that sat even taller and bars that were lower than stock. He says it gives him more of an enduro racing stance. I say it makes a tall bike even taller.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
Note Mike's homemade exhaust hanger designed using pieces of an old broken hand guard. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

He was also running an Akrapovic exhaust off of a 1290 Super Duke R, a tip he learned from fellow KTM rider, Quinn Cody. I like this setup for two reasons. First, it dropped about 25 pounds off the bike as the stock exhaust is huge and weighs a ton. Secondly, I have large feet and found that my foot was getting trapped by the passenger pegs and my heels hit the exhaust. KTM gets a thumbs up for making the rear passenger pegs extremely easy to remove, as it made the bike so much more manageable to ride with large motocross boots. His exhaust swap was the second half of that fix.  

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
The bearing on the left was destroyed while trying to bend the brake lever back into place. The nice thing is you can bend the pedal back into place off the bike and replace that bearing for a fraction of what the entire lever costs. Photo by Steve Kamrad.

The Michaux Dual Sport ride was the day after the Touratech rally and about two hours to the south. We worked into the night making repairs. Early in the day, I snapped the internal bearing on the rear brake pedal when I smashed it into a boulder on a particularly rutted section of single track. Luckily, Lafferty had a spare, which he was kind enough to offer up.

KTM 1090 Adventure R
Navigating through the second option at the Michaux Dual Sport ride. Photo by Steve Kamrad.

The Michaux is designed for small dual-sport bikes about half the size of the KTM. Thus it was a good test to prove how far you can push these big bikes off-road. It was a rough one, with some of the tightest single-track and roughest terrain I’ve yet to ride on a big bike. You can’t go as fast as the smaller bikes, but you can still have a lot of fun working your way through the tighter terrain. Plus, there was a “Make your own sundae” ice cream bar at the end of the day. Need I say more?

The competition

If you’re looking at the KTM 1090 Adventure R, then chances are you’re also looking at BMW’s F 800 GS, Triumph’s Tiger 800 XCx, and Honda’s Africa Twin. At $14,699, the 1090 is nearly $1,000 more than any of those bikes. So what do you get for that money?

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
It cost just over $1,000 to modify the suspension on my Triumph Tiger 800 XCx. That alone brings its price much closer in line with the KTM 1090 Adventure R sitting next to it in this photo. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

In addition to about 35 additional horsepower, you get the best out-of-the-box suspension of the bunch. I have ridden all of those bikes and had more fun with this KTM, in stock form, than any of the competition.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
What the KTM lacks in creature comforts it more than makes up for in off-road prowess. Photo by Carlos Barrios.

The KTM doesn’t have the creature comforts of the Tiger, with things like electronic cruise control and lower seat height for shorter riders, or the Africa Twin’s optional DCT system or its sexy new red, white, and blue color with gold rims. For those who don’t want to fuss with tweaking the rear shock, the F 800 GS has an optional electronic shock adjustment (ESA). There are arguments for each of these machines, but for those looking to ride an adventure bike off-road, the new 1090 Adventure R is simply the best platform from which to start.

Modifications

I say “best platform” because regardless of which adventure bike you choose, you’ll inevitably make changes to better suit your style of riding. For me, that means making the bike work better off-road.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
Testing the limits of the 1090's ground clearance and the durability of the skid plate. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The skid plate is not stock but it is a must if you’re riding off-road. So far, I really like the one that KTM offers. I would grab a set of the accessory foot pegs and the ABS dongle from KTM’s catalog, as well. The wider, longer pegs add a ton of grip and leverage over the stock options and the ABS dongle allows changes made to the ABS or traction control to remain “sticky.” To my knowledge, KTM is the only OEM offering this option. This is a big deal as I can turn off traction control and ABS and they stay off, even after I turn the key.

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
Steve and I opted to lead our group down some trails that weren't part of the original Touratech route. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

The stock hand guards have to go. In the video review, I said I would probably replace them with Barkbusters as they've worked well on my Tiger. However, I have since learned that they don't have a model for the 1090 that threads into the handlebar ends. Instead, they have a universal option with an expandable gusset. Mani suggested I take a look at Ultimate Handguards from Highway Dirt Bikes. Their design screws into the end of the bar and mounts to a new handlebar top clamp that is included. They also have optional mirrors that mount inside the hand guard plastics. Just to be safe, I would recommend grabbing a few spare levers, shifters, and pedals for the tool kit if you’re planning on tackling any big events.

There was an issue with the 1190 where dust was getting past the air filter. KTM claims to have addressed that, but personally I would still modify the intake filter to be safe. Any time you’re riding off-road it’s important to beef up filtration, as a street setup isn’t designed to handle all of the dust and sand you can encounter during regular off-road use. I like what Rottweiler is doing and would look into one of their performance intakes with a pre-filter. 

KTM 1090 Adventure R Review Spurgeon Dunbar Snap Jack
As the 1090 doesn't come stock with a center stand, I got really good at fixing flats on the side of the trail using a Snap Jack. Photo by Ryan Wheatley.

I originally was going to knock KTM for not including a center stand on the 1090, but then I bought a Snap Jack. This little guy made trail side repairs and chain cleaning a breeze and weighs considerably less than a center stand. I have heard of problems with the side stand location being an issue, as it’s mounted to the engine case. I know that Black Dog makes a relocation kit, but I would be interested to hear if anyone out there has had a problem with this. So far, I haven’t had any issues.

While I would plan to modify the exhaust at some point with the “Lafferty/Cody” Akrapovic trick, I don’t think I’d drop the coin on that right away. I would probably stick with the basics and just head out and ride the bike until something broke, giving me an excuse to alter it further.

Conclusion

If you follow my exploits on Common Tread, you know I treat adventure bikes like they are big dirt bikes. Whether it’s my personal Tiger 800 XCx or some other bike I am getting to play with, my passion lies in exploring the paths less traveled.

KTM 1090 Adventure R
KTM's 1090 Adventure R is easily the best stock option in its class for riding off-road. Photo by Ryan Schultz.

When KTM announced it would be releasing two bikes to replace the 1190 Adventure R, I immediately gravitated toward the smaller, stripped-down 1090, and was excited to secure one for a long-term loaner. In addition to the events I mentioned earlier, I rode nearly another 900 miles, all off-road with the 1090. This bike always left me with a smile on my face and I found myself organizing riding events with my friends just for an excuse to put additional miles on it. Try as I might (and the crash bars have the scars to prove it), I couldn't destroy this bike, much to Fillmore's relief. 

When I rode the Africa Twin in Moab, there were a lot of questions from readers asking if I wished I had waited to purchase the Honda over my Triumph. While the Africa Twin was good, it wasn’t good enough to make me change my mind about my Tiger. I can’t say the same thing about the KTM 1090 Adventure R.