Bikes 5 May 2017

Review: 2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R test rides the 2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R.

Words: Sam Maclachlan

Little ol’ us, Australia (and our Kiwi bros), make up KTM’s third biggest market world-wide – we don’t have a huge-bike riding population, but those that do ride bikes clearly assimilate with the Orange brand. This machine is another reason why.

KTMs are rorty things – I know, I own a KTM 1290 Super Duke R – so where other brands are looking for gentile propulsion through the countryside on their flagship Adventure bikes, KTM is offering a 160hp V-twin that extracts the Hyde from your Jekyll. KTM’s ‘Ready to Race’ mantra still manages to somehow apply to its road-going big girl Adventure Bike range, beginning with the 1290 Super Adventure R.

From what was an all-to-short ride during the Aussie launch of the entire Adventure range, the full impact of that 160hp (claimed) engine, dry 217kg weight (again, claimed) and a new electronics and suspension package was pretty obvious. Shifting something this big along tight, at times rocky 4WD trails is easier than it has ever been these days, and the KTM does it well.

Image: Greg Smith (iKapture).

It has to – competition is fierce up here in top end Adventure bike land. The new BMW R 1200 GS Rallye is a jewel of a thing, for instance, so KTM’s biggest Adventure bike needs to be like-wise.

Good engines are easy these days – magical electronics allowing us to tame that much grunt off-road are refined to a point where it seems natural to be sliding a big girl through a corner that used to be the domain of an enduro bike. Speaking of enduro bikes, KTM’s 2017 enduros have the most amazing standard suspension I have ridden on and the 1290 R shares the same idea.

The result of borrowing the bottoming resistance technology the enduros use, which improves the progressive travel of the 48mm USD WP fork and PDS WP shock, makes for a much better ride over the small bumps that litter an off-road trail. The effect isn’t as ‘magic carpet’ as the enduro bikes, there’s a lot more weight to deal with, but square-edged bumps and landing erosion jumps is a much more comfortable place to be.

Part of the improved suspension performance is the wheel package. A bona fide 21-in spoked front hoop is proper dirt bike-spec, making for stability over loose terrain – and we certainly found some of that on the ride! Sand, mud, clicky sandstone slabs and even well-watered loam were dispensed with stability and a nimbleness a bike this size simply shouldn’t have.

Image: Greg Smith (iKapture).

The bike carries itself off-road very, very well. Our bikes were loaded with Continental TKC 80 knobbies, and third gear drifts between the trees were as easy as it gets. We did do bitumen kilometres on this bike, too, and even with a little vibration from the dirt-focussed rubber, the bike still sat on the road well and – given any off-road Adventure generally needs bitumen miles done to start it – this is a good thing.

The seat is all-day comfortable, the bike is roomy for big blokes and ladies and the included extras such as hand guards and small adjustable screen made a noticeable difference to comfort levels on the cold Blue Mountains commute to the soft stuff. We could have done with heated grips though – I’d trade the standard cruise control for optional heated grips any day.

The 1290 R handles the bitumen well, too, with the long travel (220mm each end) well managed by the damping and spring rates and honestly, on bumpy back roads, I’d rather be on this than a sportsbike for corner hustling. Potholes? Who cares, this thing just mows them down – stable, yet light steering. Or lofts the wheel over them with a snap of throttle…

Image: Greg Smith (iKapture).

The engine is amazing. The four Ride Modes help you get out of Silly mode on the road – the full-biscuit 160hp (claimed ) output – slow the throttle response and take some of the fright out of the ride. The engine is tamed by electronics rider aides of course, but the KTM is one bike you can just leave the traction control on for off-road.

You can still slide, drift and wheel-spin, the bike is very clever at working out when enough is enough and gently retarding throttle to keep you two wheels-down. Adventure bikes can well and truly bite, the one-two-three motion of throwing a rider over the bars after just a little too much opposite lock – the TC on the KTM does an excellent job of reducing a rider’s risk here.

I couldn’t help but notice that Romaniacs multiple winner, KTM racer and all-round legend Chris Birch appeared to have his TC off, given how much of the side of the bike I could see when he drifted around me at once stage…

Being a KTM, it’s no surprise the engine and suspension are built to handle a hard time, but another aspect to KTM’s culture is a million well-thought-out bits and pieces designed to make life easier for the rider. This bike isn’t built by a marketing department, its built for riding and riding loose.

Image: Greg Smith (iKapture).

The new dash, for instance makes selecting modes easy, and is easy to read – it’s even tilt adjustable. I moved mine numerous times to account for the angle of the sun making it hard to read at times of the day. One quick tilt and it’s good to read again!

Other neat touches are the illuminated switches – we were late into home and being able to navigate the menu on a bike we weren’t totally au fait with yet was refreshing. There are power sockets to power GPS devices, a slot to stick your phone into and charge on the run (it’s dust and waterproof, too), while adding in KTM’s My Ride option lets you Bluetooth in and listen to music as you go. My favourite option is the Tyre Pressure Monitoring System – it’s at times hard to feel a low-pressure in a tyre off-road – a blinking dash should help there!

If you love taking comfort off-road, don’t want to be hampered by half-arsed suspension, have a technology obsession and don’t mind being the loudest person in the room, then the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is the bike for you. It’s a lot of bike for $25,995 plus ORC and an admirable flagship for the KTM Adventure range. See for more or our previous Bike post for a complete tech rundown.

Vital specifications

Engine type: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, 75-degree, V-twin
Capacity: 1301cc
Bore/stroke: 108 x 71mm
Transmission: Six-speed
Power: 118kW
Torque: N/A
Seat height: 890mm
Wheelbase: 1580mm
Weight: 217kg (dry)
Fuel capacity: 23L
Colours: Orange/white/black
Price: $25,995 plus ORC
Warranty: Two-year, unlimited kilometres
More details: