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Common Tread

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S first ride review

Jul 20, 2018

Take a look at KTM’s website and you’ll notice that the new 1290 Super Adventure S is located on the “Travel” tab of their page, not the “Sport Tourer” tab. This leads one to believe it is serving as the replacement for the 2017 1290 Super Adventure T, a one-year-only model here in the United States. But I would argue it could actually be considered a replacement for the 1290 Super Duke GT, a bike that as of 2018, KTM is no longer importing into America.

The sport-touring segment, after all, has changed drastically in the past 10 years. Despite efforts by Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, and BMW to revive the traditional sport-tourer with bikes like the SuperSport, Interceptor, Ninja 1000, and R 1200 RS, most manufacturers are seeing success with larger, naked, more upright machines. And for good reason. They’re comfortable, sporty, and can be packed to the gills. Even Lemmy has come around to the functionality (and fun) of these motorcycles. Hence, the introduction of the new 1290 Super Adventure S seems to make a lot of sense. But how does it actually measure up?

The bike

Built on the same platform as the 1290 Super Adventure R, the new S model shares a lot of the same DNA as its older sibling with a few key differences.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
I spent my time with the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S using it as my everyday commuter, navigating Philadelphia, and escaping the city limits once the weekend rolled around. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

Riders who are familiar with the SAR will note no changes to the tuning of the 1,301 cc, 75-degree V-twin powerplant. The engine delivers the same 160 horsepower at 8,750 rpm and 103 foot-pounds of neck-snapping torque at 6,750 rpm. You’ll also note the same electronics suite helping riders to control all of this power.

That means four rider modes (Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road) that regulate varying stages of Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) and three modes of KTM’s Combine Anti-Lock Braking System (C-ABS), all of which take lean angle into account. Designed by Bosch, Motorcycle Stability Control works in conjunction with C-ABS to regulate brake modulation, all of which can be shut off if you want to take over complete control of the bike’s systems. There are also cornering lights and electronic cruise control that works as well, if not better, than any car I’ve ever ridden in.

The biggest problem I had with the electronics was with KTM’s “Race On” system. This new system eliminates the use of a keyed ignition, favoring instead a transponder that just has to be on your person. The issue I had was the bike being able to pick up the transponder’s signal. I had to hold it next to the TFT dash in order for it to fire up. I have a feeling this was due to a dying battery in the key fob, but it was enough to get me thinking about the real-world implications if the transponder’s battery were to die completely in the middle of nowhere.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
The TFT dash is intuitive and allows for complete control over the entire bike. RevZilla photo.

The TFT dash is another carryover from the 1290 Super Adventure R and I think it has found its perfect home in this bike. I didn’t really understand the need for this technology in a bike like the “R,” which is designed for off-road abuse and possible destruction (in a recent off-road endurance challenge, someone ran over the front of my 1090, destroying my windshield and narrowly missing my dash). A traditional dash is much more affordable to replace if need be. But in the road-going SAS, this technology is a welcome addition, allowing me to control all aspects of the motorcycle, from the heated grips to the suspension settings.

That being said, this bike is pre-wired for heated grips and heated seats, but they’re not included. I wish the control for the heated grips were separate from TFT dash. A simple button on the dash would be much more convenient, but I will say this system keeps the controls free of clutter.

If that’s not enough for you technophiles, you can download the KTM My Ride App and control your phone via the motorcycle’s controls and get turn-by-turn navigation. Still not enough? Opt for the Travel Pack. This option adds a quickshifter (both up and down), a Hill Hold Control (HHC), and Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) which works as an auto-blipper to aid the slipper clutch during aggressive downshifts.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
Note electronics entering the top of the fork tubes. RevZilla photo.

The suspension is one of the main areas of difference between the “R” and the “S.” Whereas the “R” model utilizes a manually adjustable WP suspension, the “S” model receives a semi-active electronic WP fork upfront and linkless monoshock in the rear. Settings are simplified with four options for preload (single, single with luggage, passenger, and passenger with luggage) and four options for damping (sport, street, comfort, and off-road).

Once you make your selections, the suspension does the rest. This system actively adjusts damping settings based on your selection. Using electronics to take the guesswork out of suspension tuning makes it easy, but more than easy, this suspension actually works. It is one of the best motorcycle suspensions I’ve ever used. Unlike other electronic suspensions, where you might need to select higher preload settings than expected to get it right, this system is damn near perfect for this 215-pound rider.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
While I am taller than most, I had a very easy time flat footing this bike. It should be rather approachable for most riders. Photo by Brett Walling.

It also has less travel, which means less trail and a shorter wheelbase and accounts for a slightly sportier ride than the “R” and a lower seat height. Where the sky-high 35-inch seat height of the “R” is intimidating for some riders, the “S” has a saddle that is adjustable between 33.9 and 34.4 inches. While that might not sound like much, It feels noticeably shorter… said the six-foot, three-inch guy testing the bike. My dad, who is five inches shorter than I am and refuses to ride my tall 1090, felt this bike was much more manageable.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
The different wheels worn by the Super Adventure S over the "R" is a dead giveaway as to which model you're staring at. RevZilla photo.

Another major difference, and a contributing factor to the lower seat height and variances to the geometry, is the wheel and tire sizes. Unlike the “R,” which is running a pair of Continental TKC80s on spoked wheels (90/90-21 and 150/70-18, front and rear respectively), the “S” wears Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires, 120/70-19 at the front and 170/60-17 at the rear, on cast wheels. There is also a tire pressure monitoring system that alerted me to a flat front tire on my inaugural ride on our 1290 Super Adventure S, while I was riding it back to Philly from Mike Lafferty’s place in southern New Jersey.

Riding the Super Adventure S

For this initial review, I used the Super Adventure S as my everyday mount. I used it to combat city traffic and parking when grabbing dinner with friends, it became my daily commuter from Manayunk to South Philly, my escape vehicle to winding country roads, and my highway rocketship to visit family an hour or so down the road.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
My daily commuter from Manayunk to RevZilla's headquarters in South Philadelphia. Photo by Brett Walling.

Playing with the suspension settings, I was blown away with how appropriate the damping setting naming conventions played out. In the city. “Comfort” absorbed the bombed-out potholes of Philadelphia with ease. “Street” was the perfect combination of comfort and performance for commuting and riding down the highway. And “Sport” introduced enough damping to offer up razor-sharp handling without becoming overly harsh.

The engine is retuned for less top-end horsepower when compared to the Super Duke R or Super Duke GT. Based on my experience with the SDR last summer, sixth gear was almost unusable, bogging down unless you were going 90 mph. By comparison, the SAS seemed much more rational for real-life, daily riding. That’s not to say this bike was underpowered by any stretch of the imagination.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
This is easily one of the fastest bikes in its class. Photo by Brett Walling.

On a ride up to Lemmy Mountain to have dinner with the Big Guy and Mrs. Lemmy, I was on a stretch of very familiar curvy road when I decided to pass a car in a short, downhill straightaway. Without downshifting, I rolled the throttle on in third gear. To say the bike snapped to attention is an understatement. It stood straight up, wheelying past a 10-year-old Corolla like it was standing still. As traction control was fully engaged, I don’t know who was more surprised, the driver of the Toyota or me. I waved my apologies for what was surely perceived hooliganism and continued on my way, grinning like a mischievous child.

It bears mention that no one needs this kind of power on a motorcycle, but damn if it’s not fun. That being said, if it sounds like overkill for folks transitioning into a larger bike from something less powerful, keep in mind that you can always run the bike in “Off-road” or “Rain” mode and power output will be limited to 100 ponies.

Regardless of the riding mode, this engine produces a decent amount of heat which is most noticeable around the rider’s lower right leg and foot. I have the same problem with my 1090, but it feels like the 1290 might even be a bit hotter. The heat didn’t really bother me while riding the bike initially, but became more noticeable as outdoor temperatures heated up.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
Aside from the windshield, the Super Adventure S was a rocket ship making highway commutes a blast. Photo by Brett Walling.

Ripping home on the highway, the biggest problem I found with the bike was the windshield. I am not normally one to ding a bike for wind protection because I am a minimalist who prefers a screen just big enough to alleviate the pressure from my chest. However, whether I put the windshield in the lowest setting or the highest setting, I was getting beat up by all of the buffeting. I stopped short of just removing it completely, but if I get the opportunity for a longer multi-day trip with this bike, this would be the first thing I’d be looking to modify.

Aside from a screen, heated grips, and some hard luggage, I’d be hard pressed to find too much that this bike needs added to it. I mean, the quickshifter would be great, but it isn’t needed. As I have no intention of taking this bike “off-road” on anything more aggressive than a fire road, I’d leave the hard-core protection mods for the 1090 Adventure R or 1290 Super Adventure R.

Competition

KTM serves up a healthy dose of its own competition for this bike. For riders who possibly want to explore more dirt-oriented adventures, I would recommend considering the 1290 Super Adventure R. It is still fun on the street but is much more capable off-road. As both bikes carry the same MSRP of $17,999, it’s really up to you to decide what type of adventure you are looking to have.

1290 Super Adventure S
When you consider what KTM has packed into the 1290 Super Adventure S, they're really giving their competition a run for their money. Photo by Brett Walling.

Ducati offers the Multistrada 1260 for $18,695, but you have to step up to the “S” to get features like the Ducati’s Skyhook Suspension, TFT dash, and cornering lights. The “S” model also adds the quickshifter but the price gets bumped to $20,995. The Duc is slightly down on power, but the difference is so marginal you’d probably never notice.

Triumph just revamped the Tiger 1200 line and the XRx for $18,750 is the closest match to the the 1290 SAS. They share a lot of similar features but the Triumph has a shaft drive, which has a certain appeal for some. The Tiger, however, is down on power and torque.

BMW is the obvious name that comes to mind when one thinks of competition for KTM. The S 1000 XR has an attractive MSRP of $16,695, until you start sorting through the additional “packages” you’ll need to buy in order to similarly outfit it to the 1290 SAS specs. The other problem I have with the S 1000 XR is the vibration from the engine. It’s bad enough to be a dealbreaker for me, personally. That being said, the engine heat radiating off of the right side of the KTM is enough to keep other riders off of the SAS, so to each their own.

Lemmy and I will both agree that the base BMW R 1200 GS is a fantastic sport-touring machine in its own right, but it’s underpowered and undergunned from an accessory standpoint if you were to purchase one at its base MSRP of $16,895. By the time you outfit the BMW with similar accessories, you’ll be nearing the $20K mark while still being down on power. But the big Boxer Adventurer has some of the most diehard fans in the industry. Pulling BMW customers away from the GS is one of the biggest hurdles KTM currently faces.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
I returned from a camping trip with Lemmy to find that our showroom staff had decided to show off the 1290 Super Adventure S in our Philadelphia boutique. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

There are also the more affordable Japanese options, such as the Yamaha Ténéré ES at $16,199 and the Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT at $12,999. But with these models you’re sacrificing a lot of the bells and whistles that really set the other European models apart. Based on Lemmy's first ride review, I think the biggest contender among the Japanese models in the coming year will be the Yamaha Tracer GT with an MSRP of $12,999.   

Conclusion

So just a quick glance at that list of competitors should give you an an indication of how competitive this market segment has become. Adventure bikes that are more or less designed strictly for the pavement have become the modern choice for sport-touring. They’re big, comfortable, and fast, and on top of all of that they’re usually the flagship model for their respective manufacturer, which means they are the first to get all of the latest and greatest technology.

KTM has been pushing their street lineup hard, and for good reason. They already own the dirt world, so the time has come to take control of the street. But people forget that KTM has been manufacturing street bikes for almost 25 years. They first released the goofy-looking Duke 620 back in 1994, and they have come a long way in that time. Hell, they’ve come a long way in the past five years.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S
The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is sure to attract some attention. Photo by Brett Walling.

When I was living in Nashville, I got to spend some time riding the 990 SMT, a model I really liked at the time. The 990s were torquey, brutish bikes in their day, if not a little rough around the edges. But they developed a small, but loyal, crew of fans. If the 990s were brutes, these new 1290 bikes are absolute powerhouses, but in a much more refined package that makes them easier to ride, maintain, and live with than ever before.

I think KTM’s most difficult challenge is going to be winning over the BMW diehards. However, if KTM continues to manufacturer bikes with this 1290’s level of performance and technological refinement, they’re going to be hard to ignore. Especially if they continue to undercut the competition on price.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Specs

Price $17,999
Engine Type Four-stroke, V 75-degree V-twin
Displacement 1,301 cc
Bore/Stroke 108/71 mm
Power 118 kW (160 horsepower) @ 8,750 rpm*
Torque 140 Nm (103 foot/pounds) @ 6,750 rpm*
Compression ratio  13.1:1
Transmission 6 gears
Fuel system Keihin EFI (throttle body 52 mm)
Clutch PASC slipper clutch, hydraulically operated
Traction control MTC (4-Mode, disengageable)
Front Suspension WP Semi-active Suspension USD Ø 48 mm
Rear Suspension WP Semi-active Suspension Monoshock
Suspension travel front/rear  200/200 mm (7.87/7.87 inches)
Front Brake 2 x Brembo four-piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm
Rear Brake Brembo two-piston, fixed caliper, brake disc Ø 267 mm
Wheels front/rear Cast aluminium wheels 3.50 x 19 inches; 5.00 x 17 inches
Tires front/rear 120/70 ZR 19; 170/60 ZR 17
Trail 120 mm / 4.72 inches
Steering Head Angle 26 degrees
Wheel base 1560 ± 15 mm / 61.4 ± 0.6 inches
Ground clearance 220 mm / 8.7 inches
Seat height 860 and 875 mm / 33.9 and 34.4 inches
Tank capacity 23 liters / 6.1 gallons
Weight (ready to ride) 222 kg / 489.4 pounds*

*as claimed by the manufacturer