FIRST RIDE: KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R
BY: CHAD DE ALVA
It’s funny how perspective changes things. The first time you throw a leg over the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R (SAR), the little voice in your head starts reminding you of a few key things: You now have a 160-horsepower rocket ship masquerading as an adventure bike between your legs; This isn’t your bike, so you can’t drop it; It would be great not to die today; But also, have you seen what Chris Birch can do on one of these?
Fast forward a couple of hours and that little voice in your head has completely changed its perspective – thanks in no small part to the fact that the last couple of hours have been some of the most grin-inducing time spent on an adventure bike – ever. The internal commentary has shifted tone from don’t screw up and don’t die, to encouraging just a little bit of pushing it. Okay. Maybe more than a little. After all, why wouldn’t you try and ride KTM’s most powerful, heaviest, and most-everything-est, adventure bike like it’s a big dirt bike?
The KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is all new for the 2021 or 2022 model year, depending on where in the world you’re reading this. In the US, we’ve waited so long to get this bike, that we’ve picked up a whole model year. But that’s not important – what is important is how much has changed on this new generation of 1290, and what the cumulative effect of those changes are when you ride the bike.
Sitting down on the seat for the first time, the 34.6-inch seat height is lower than what you might expect, but this bike excels at defying expectations. The fuel tank is a saddle style tank like what’s found on the 890R, meaning the tank carries fuel down low on the sides of the bike, which keeps fuel weight as low as possible. Not only does this make the bike feel lighter than you would expect, the tank isn’t in your way when standing or getting your weight forward. It’s also no longer something you have to remove to service the air filter. That’s now as easy as removing only a few screws that secure the new weather sealed compartment located in front of the fuel filler.
This smaller and lighter than you might expect theme continues forward into the cockpit where the bars are quite accessible thanks to an updated frame that’s lost 22 pounds and had its geometry revised. The steering head has been moved back 15mm for better maneuverability, and conversely the swingarm has been extended by 15mm to improve traction and tracking. 1290 is a big number for a bike, but sitting or standing in the cockpit, things feel comfortable and controllable for my 6-foot, 1-inch frame. The bike doesn’t feel anywhere near as big as other bikes in its class, and that helps the rider build confidence quickly. The SAR weighs in ready to ride just shy of 550 pounds, but the revisions to the chassis make the bike feel incredibly light on its feet.
The heart of the 1290 is KTM’s legendary LC8 75-degree V-twin motor, and this 1,301 cc mill is the reason the word super is part of the bike’s name. For the new Super Adventure R, the motor has lost 3.5 pounds, and thanks to some fancy internal changes, it has less parasitic loss and is able to meet Euro 5 Compliance standards while cranking out a claimed 160 hp and 105 ft-pounds of torque. Crack the fly-by-wire throttle on the 1290 and you’re greeted with a forceful torque hit that launches you into a world of power that builds all the way to the 10,500 rpm redline. The way that this bike makes power is super addicting – but I’ll stop using the word super now.
Controlling this motor may sound like a handful, but thanks to KTM’s electronics package and a wonderful clutch, putting the power down can be done with everything from trials bike precision to maximum warp levels of performance. Standard ride modes are Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road. The optional Tech Pack ($749.99) adds Rally Mode, Hill Hold Control, and Quickshifter +. Our 1290 SAR borrowed from a long time friend of Upshift didn’t have the Tech Pack, but if it works anything like the Tech Pack on the 890R, it’s worth every penny. Rally Mode is the star of the show here, with adjustable throttle response and nine levels of traction control intervention that range from max intervention at level 9, to non-existent at level 1. This lets you dial in TC intervention to do everything from tire slaying power slides to easily propelling the bike up loose and slippery climbs. The other modes perform as you would expect. Sport gives you all the power, and more aggressive throttle where Street mode retains peak power but brings the throttle response back on to the 1 to 10 scale. Rain mode softens things up for riding in the wet, and Off-Road lets you roost away on the dirt, and with Off-Road ABS (which turns off rear wheel ABS) the bike is a giggle in the dirt.
Thanks to a gorgeous 7-inch TFT display and a great compliment of switch gear, navigating through all of these settings is a breeze. Mode changes are accompanied by visual representations of what you’re changing, and the menus are well thought out. There are switches that are user assignable, meaning changing ride modes or ABS modes (and many other features) are as easy to access as a flick of a switch. When properly set up, there’s no need to stop and scroll to adjust your settings – a few quick clicks lets you transition from paved road apex hunting to dirt drifting in seconds.
Suspension on the SAR is outstanding. Whether you’re carving canyons or blasting dirt tracks, the suspension instills confidence and handles anything mere mortals can ride through with ease. The suspension has been extensively tuned with the help of KTM fun-seeker and moto legend Quinn Cody, and they’ve really nailed the setup on this bike. On road, the bike soaks up imperfections with ease, and weight transfer is handled quite well by the 220mm of front and rear fully adjustable WP Xplor suspension. Yet off-road is where the suspension really shines.
You wouldn’t be wrong to think that a 500-plus pound bike would be a handful off-road, and that it would be easy to outride the stock suspension, but that’s not the case here. The SAR’s suspension devours ruts, rocks, and roots while simultaneously instilling confidence in the rider. As soon as you come to terms with the SAR’s capability, you start seeking out the fun lines and obstacles to hit, because this bike absolutely loves to play off-road. Make no mistake about it, you will definitely use all of the suspension travel if you’re pushing it off road. Yet even when you do, the bike still stays composed and confident, and there something that will never get old about riding these bikes like they are big dirt bikes.
From jumping stumps and practicing cornering drills like weaving through the rocks on the steering stops at slow speed, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is an absolute riot off-road. Yes, this is a 160-hp monster, but it’s deceptively capable so you can put down precisely the right amount of power to execute a full lock turn when your path is blocked by snow, or to roll on the roost when drifting a corner. If there is a big adventure bike that dominates in the dirt, it’s the SAR.
Yet all dirt roads must come to an end, and when it’s time to ride on road, the SAR is quite enjoyable. The stock Bridgestone Battlax AX41 tires do quite well for 40/60 tires, and coupled with the bike’s impressive electronic aids, it is deceptively good on road. Doing dumb things like making sure the ABS works, or seeing how quickly you can get the traction control light to come on while leaned over mid corner, shows just how seamless and effective modern rider aids are. On road is where I found myself tinkering with the adjustable height windscreen that could do a better job providing wind protection at speed; our example did rattle a bit. The S model of the Super Adventure can be spec’d with adaptive cruise control, which would be an option I would definitely choose if it was available on the R model. The bike has everything else, so why not?
I have to admit that prior to riding the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, I had kind of written off liter-plus adventure bikes, because mid-size bikes like the 890R are just so damn good. Yet, the 1290 SAR has completely won me over. This bike does mellow and controlled so well that you’re not afraid to play in the rocks or work at slow speeds, and when it’s time to crack that throttle, boy howdy you better be ready because this thing is Tesla Plaid level quick. It’s comfortable and capable and the kind of bike that you just want to take everywhere, making this bike so much fun to ride. For more information go to www.ktm.com.