Bikes 12 May 2017

Review: 2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S tests the 2017 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S.

Words: Sam Maclachlan

Sportsbikes are dead, right? And bikes like the KTM Super Adventure S are part of the reason why. Useable on bumpy roads, back roads and smooth roads, the KTM is tech-laden with gear that makes your ride better. It’s comfortable, eats big kilometres while you’re swaddled in comfort and still fires you out of corners on a wave of torque that cracks your face in a grin every time. Sportsbikes have no chance.

Similar to the R version, but with more road-friendly 19-inch (front) and 17-inch (rear) wheels, extra electrickery, including tyre pressure monitoring, a taller screen and WP semi-active suspension, the 1290 S is off-road capable, but even better than the R model on the road. So much so, it’s tempting to imagine a S model with all its extras, but fitted with R-spec wheels for serious adventure touring.

The semi-active suspension and rider modes, for instance, adds a new layer of adaptability to the KTM – it all works! In full road-carving mode (Sport), the bike is firm enough to get serious with in twisty bitumen and quickly tuneable as you add pre-load to the rear with luggage and pillion settings. You can end up with a seriously attack-mode machine with some playing, just like you can on a full-fruit BMW 1200 GS (though it’s worth noting the KTM has this gear as standard) and steaming uphill on bumpy bitumen is actually fun. It wouldn’t be on a sportsbike.

Image: Jeff Crow.

It’s hard to nail down exactly how effective the semi-active suspension is in a short ride, such as we had, but I do know the bike remained rock-solid over all the surfaces we hit, even when we took to the dirt roads on the big girl. Settled is a good word to describe how this bike behaves on the bitumen, sitting deep into its tyres through turns and the brakes respond phenomenally well for a bike that feels so big. The claimed dry weight is only 215 kilograms and that feels about right, but it is a big bike to sit on, so it’s surprising how lithe it feels.

You are sitting high on the S, but it doesn’t feel monstrous as you tip it in and, being fine-tuneable as it is, I felt really comfortable on it immediately. It was getting late as we took to the S version on the Aussie launch, but with the superb headlights, excellent dynamics and wind-shielding comfort, life behind the bars was still sweet!

Image: Greg Smith (iKapture).

There’s a lot to look at when you are road-side, waiting for mates to catch up on whatever they are riding. That thick mid-line between the headlights is actually a clever heatsink to manage the LED’s fury, the Brembo brake package is top-end, aided as it is by cornering ABS, and the adjustable foot-pegs are good to play with to find you’re ‘just right’ ride position. If you like smartphones, you’ll like the KTM as there’s similar levels of nerdy fun to be had with it, but the KTM is much more fun!

As the sun headed south, I found myself rolling the adjustable windshield as high as it could go, which isn’t quite high enough in my opinion, but it can be done on the fly. Snuggling out of the wind is easy on this unit, but I can’t understand why something built to travel far and wide doesn’t have heated grips as standard. A small whinge, but a valid one, as heated grips can make cold weather bearable – I’d happily trade the cruise control for something that will allow me to still be able to feel my fingers in heavy rain and frigid cold.

Still, in 10-degree weather, the bike is still comfortable and that engine is one thing that keeps you warm. It’s so good. Yes, there’s a 160hp top-end to keep your sportsbike riding mates at bay, but it’s the ride-ability of the thing that is its best feature. KTM reckons 108nm of torque is sitting there from 2500rpm and, as torque equals acceleration, this bike punches hard out of corners, even in the wrong gear.

Image: Jeff Crow.

As good as this engine is off-road, it really shines on the solid stuff, particularly paired with the well-sorted riding modes. Shifting between them is simple via the bar-mounted switch and the excellent dash – which looks a lot like that smartphone – though I spent most of my time in Sport. It’s a rocket-ship between the corners and the electronic rider aides let you ride without noticeable intervention.

I’m a massive fan of the brakes, as big bikes can’t always handle big handfuls of savage braking with a Brembo package, but the semi-active suspension certainly seems to help prevent he fork from diving too harshly, allowing the front to stay high and deal with the cornering forces, rather than run out of puff just copping it from the brakes. Being able to just tread down into the right gear, via the auto-blipper, without touching the clutch makes corner entry almost as much fun as corner exit. Almost.

Image: Greg Smith (iKapture).

Driving hard out of bumpy uphill corner shouldn’t be as much fun as it is, but as the semi-active suspension deals with the bumps, the monster torque thrusts you uphill and the quick-shifter snaps another gear, it’s hard to imagine anything else doing as good a job.

In my opinion, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is the pick of the 2017 Adventure KTMs, fitting its design brief the best and really lacking nothing. Well, except heated grips and a slightly bigger screen. It’s a weapon on the back roads, has an engine built for comfort, speed and yet still with a long-legged gait, is super-comfortable and an electronics package full of stuff that works to make you ride better.

$23,955 means the S is a lot of bike for the money, you’d just need to add heated grips from the PowerParts catalogue, plus luggage if you are a serious distance tourer, and don’t be put off by the looks – it hammers corner to corner. Tossing up which sportsbike to buy? Ride this first. See for complete tech info.

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: 860mm
Wheelbase: 1560mm
Weight: 215kg (dry)
Fuel capacity: 23L
Colours: Orange/black
Price: $23,995 plus ORC
Warranty: Two-year, unlimited kilometres
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