First Ride: KTM 1190 Adventure Superbike at Heart
KTM’s Adventure goes mainstream and joins the luxury travel brigade, with more displacement, power and features.
Tenerife, Canary Islands—KTM has a problem: It’s called the 1190 Adventure. As the Austrian company forges ahead to become a complete player with a comprehensive model range, it continues diving into the streetbike pool with Adventures, Dukes, SM-Ts and RC8s. And now, with its brand-new 2014 (in the U.S.) 1190 Adventure, KTM is making a huge, cannonball-style splash in the pool of high-performance streetbikes. Never before has the company had a bike so mainstream, so capable of going head-to-head with all of the players in the adventure-touring market. But since it’s not competing strictly for the hardcore off-road buyer, the 1190 Adventure represents a bit of a problem in that, as KTM continues to grow, some of its motocross- and off-road oriented dealers will have to step it up and come to grips with the company’s increasingly complex (albeit more balanced) model range.
Taking a step back: The 2003 950 Adventure, Austria’s answer to BMW’s big-bore GS series, started KTM’s push to become something other than a dirtbike-focused company. Like its Bavarian competition, the 950 was inspired by long-distance off-road-racing machines, namely the LC8 950R that Fabrizio Meoni rode to victory in the 2002 Dakar Rally. And for the past decade, KTM has kept the V-Twin 950/990 range focused on its core, dirt-oriented customer.
But the 1190 Adventure, as mentioned, is changing that. At first glimpse, it reveals a major shift in KTM’s approach to the popular adventure-touring category. Redesigned from the ground up, the 1190 is aimed squarely at BMW’s new water-pumper, the R1200GS, as well as the market-share-hungry Triumph Tiger Explorer, Ducati Multistrada 1200 and Yamaha Super Ténéré.
In years past, KTM had foregone electronic rider aids (except ABS), luxury features and anything else that may have compromised off-road exploration. With the 1190, however, the company has added a comprehensive electronics suite, including available electronically adjustable WP suspension, to compete on level terms with more tarmac-oriented ADVs.
Skeptical? We were, too. But KTM says the 2014 R model (the first 1190 to arrive in the U.S. this summer) promises to retain much of the attitude that adventure riders have come to love off-highway while embracing new technologies.
Powerwise, KTM has stuffed a tweaked version of the RC8 R superbike’s 1195cc, 75-degree V-Twin into the Adventure’s chrome-moly steel trellis frame. Compared with the previous 999cc V-Twin, bore has grown from 101.0 to 105.0mm, and stroke has increased from 62.4 to 69.0mm. A twin-sparkplug (different-size plugs) cylinder-head design works with forged aluminum pistons to help create an exciting, efficient package. The last RC8 R we tested produced 151.5 horsepower and 85.1 ft.-lb. of peak torque at the rear wheel. Can you say monster roost?!
At the press introduction of the standard Adventure (the R model will be launched in a few months) on Tenerife, I didn’t get to experience any off-road riding, but I can confirm that KTM isn’t pulling our leg with its horsepower claims. Over two days of riding amongst the lava fields on the mountainous southern half of the island, I was blown away by the performance of the 1190. Before making the trip, I had hoped the new KTM would be capable of going head-to-head with the new BMW GS, but after riding the bike, I’m convinced it’s actually more closely matched in sporting performance to Ducati’s Multistrada.
Tenerife’s roads resemble a fantasy supermoto course. In carousels, hairpins, fast 90s and everything in between, the 1190 tackled the serpentine asphalt with a level of aggression that would have been impossible on the previous bike. I’ve never experienced another ADV-oriented machine that lofts its front wheel into crossed-up wheelies when accelerating hard out of corners in second and third gears like the 1190 Adventure does. This bike really does have the heart of a superbike. If that sounds like a bit much for adventure riding, electronics play a key role as a safety net.
The new ride-by-wire ECU has four riding modes: Sport, Street, Off-road and Rain. These are complemented by Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC), with Sport, Street, Off-road and Off. The Bosch controller features two yaw sensors and three accelerometers to optimize TC depending on the bike’s lean angle and other info fed to the ECU. Among all these options, there’s an ideal setting for almost any riding condition. On my ride, I cycled through every possible combination I could try, and I found the KTM’s left-handlebar-mounted mode selector to be extremely easy and logical to use. Fuel delivery in every mode was well mapped, while power delivery was always smooth and progressive. The flexibility of the engine means that you have multiple gear options for a good drive: Scream it for real excitement or carry a gear or two taller and chug out riding that fat V-Twin torque curve. Revs can be dropped all the way down between 2500 to 3000 rpm in fifth or sixth gear and the engine will still pull cleanly if the throttle is snapped open.
Switching among the TC settings gives riders of various skill levels many options. Shutting the system off entirely proved how effective and necessary TC is, as getting the rear wheel to snap sideways while exiting corners was quite easy without intervention. In Sport mode, the system would allow the bike to spin the rear tire a bit and carry low power wheelies but would never allow the front end to be lofted abruptly. For that, you have to shut the TC off completely, which proved to be lots of fun. Street mode provided good drive without the hectic heroics, while Rain proved to be quite nice in urban traffic. We’ll have to sample all of the off-road features when we get a bike in our hands later this summer.
Like the riding and TC modes, the braking system’s characteristics can be changed to suit your needs. Bosch/Brembo Combined-ABS has three settings: Street, Off-road and Off. Off-road allows the rider to lock the rear brake for controlled slides while allowing more slip up front than the Street ABS setting, while Off gives the rider full control of both front and rear binders. The system is linked front to rear but not the other way around. Braking performance was excellent and consistent, despite front lever travel that varied a bit in hard riding and got closer to the bar during hard use. But there never was actual brake fade. Aided by the slipper clutch, corner entries proved smooth and controlled.
The final significant electronic system is the optional Electronic Damping System (EDS) that allows the 48mm WP fork and monoshock suspension settings to be changed via the LCD menus. Four rear preload settings can be selected: Solo, Solo with Luggage, Two-up and Two-up with Luggage. Similarly, three damping selections can be chosen: Comfort, Street and Sport. Although there are obvious differences in feel among all these settings, the suspension never felt too harsh, even when I chose Sport and Two-up with Luggage. Conversely, the 1190 never felt under-sprung when I chose full soft.
One of the key differences between the R and the more street-oriented standard 1190 are their wheels and tires. While the R retains the classic off-road 21-inch-front/18-in.-rear combination (and revised front-end geometry), the standard model, which I rode, has 19-in.-front and 17-in.-rear wire-spoke, tubeless wheels. Grip from the Continental TrailAttack 2 tires, in 120/70 and 170/60 sizes, was very good, especially given their blocky dual-sport tread pattern.
Despite the tall, commanding riding position and long-travel suspension, I occasional forgot that I was riding an ADV bike. At times, I would have sworn that I was on a 990 Supermoto with a seriously massaged engine. Front-end feel and grip far exceed what I expected of the 1190’s 19-in. front wheel/tire combination. Turn-in felt crisp, while the WP suspension kept the bike from wallowing mid-corner. With its stability-enhancing 61.4 in. wheelbase, the Adventure felt planted in sweepers, giving the rider lots of confidence. All helped, of course, by the 1190’s 507-pound fully fueled weight, which is light for its category.
As you can see, the performance of this new KTM is pretty incredible. In everyday use and in touring capabilities, the 1190 is a far better motorcycle than the 990 it replaces. Protection provided by the adjustable windscreen was good, with virtually no helmet buffeting (an even taller option is available). The riding position also can be altered, via a top triple-clamp that allows the handlebar to be set in two positions. The pegs are adjustable, too, while seat height can be raised 0.60 in.
One of my few complaints has to do with the seat. In an effort to set it at a reasonable 33.8-in. height on the standard model, it seems that KTM has skimped on seat foam. After just a few hours in the saddle, my gluteus really started to ache, a real disappointment when contrasted to the excellent seat on the KTM 990 Adventure Baja we recently tested.
Another cool feature on the 1190 Adventure is the array of LED running lights surrounding the headlight. The headlight’s low beam illuminates automatically when it senses that ambient light levels have dropped. I noticed the headlight kick on when I passed through a few tunnels. I’m not sure if the automatic function will be available on U.S. models.
Like the rest of the players in the ADV market, KTM offers an extensive line of accessories. These include: aluminum top-load touring cases, various soft luggage, GPS mounts, auxiliary lamps, skidplates, heated grips, crash bars, tall windscreen, optional seat (with more foam, please) and an Akrapovic exhaust silencer.
U.S. pricing has not been set, but KTM officials are hoping the standard 1190 model (which may come equipped with some of the European options as standard) will likely be less than $17,000.
Without doubt, KTM has made a huge leap forward with the 1190 Adventure. This bike isn’t going after a small niche market; it’s a full-frontal attack on the big players in the popular adventure-touring segment. And this weapon looks like it will succeed.