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KTM 1190 Adventure R & 1190 Adventure (2014) Review

There may be no better full-size adventure motorcycle to take deep into off-road territory than a pair of new ADV offerings – KTM 1190 Adventure and 1190 Adventure R

KTM 1190 Adventure R beauty shot in the mountains    .

Some brands are known for their shiny cruisers, others for their sexy, blood-red sportbikes. KTM’s claim to fame is a long and prosperous relation with all things dirt. Given that premise, you’d think Brand Orange would benefit from an immense genetic advantage in terms of adventure machinery but, instead, the Austrian marque was inexplicably all but absent from the class until 2003 when it released the 950 Adventure. Even then, the bike was more of an over-oversized enduro than the BMW GS-like adventure model the market was demanding. 

For 2014, however, the company is finally launching, not one, but two all-new machines that legitimately deserve the Adventure designation: the $17,999 KTM 1190 Adventure and the $18,399 1190 Adventure R. Together, they represent the most complex and ambitious undertaking yet for KTM. 

Although neither of the new 1190 Adventures are presented as exact replacements for the dirt-biased outgoing 990, the R version is the more off-road ready of the pair, while the standard 1190 is aimed at the regular adventure customer who will only occasionally venture from paved roads. Both machines share the same platform: an RC8R-derived 1195cc, six-speed V-Twin (tamed from 173 hp to a still class-leading 150) installed in an all-new, purpose-built trellis steel frame. After that, though, each model starts to go in a different direction. 

The more road-oriented KTM 1190 Adventure uses the company’s first electronically adjustable suspension. The upside-down 48 mm WP fork and WP rear shock can both be adjusted between Sport, Street and Comfort. Preload options are with or without a passenger and with or without luggage. The electronic suite doesn’t end there. There are adjustable/unswitchable ABS, adjustable/unswitchable traction control—which also acts as a wheelie-control by strictly keeping the front wheel on or close to the ground during hard acceleration—and different power modes. The numerous settings are made by navigating onboard computer menus, something greatly facilitated by the entire left LCD screen being dedicated to function setting, and from a four-button “mouse” located on the left-hand controls. 

Still, like every bike with these many electronic aids and choices to be made, the 1190 Adventure demands patience from its rider in order to understand how it all works. KTM 1190 Adventure R

KTM 1190 Adventure R on a dirt road in the wetMy personal pet peeve, which isn’t a KTM-only thing by the way, are those functions that automatically go back to their default setting after the ignition is turned off, or in certain cases even if the kill switch is pushed. I get that there are some obscure legal reasons behind those decisions, but from a riding experience point of view, it gets aggravating. KTM personnel said a special dongle does exist that addresses the issue by bypassing the “back-to-default” function. It apparently has to be purchased separately from the bike rather than be included with it, again for some obscure legal reason.                

The 1190 Adventure package goes on with a manually adjustable windscreen, a two-position, height adjustable, two-piece seat, and 17-inch rear/19-inch front wheels mounted with more street-oriented, lower profile rubber than the 18-inch rear/21-inch front equipped R version. 

The latter trades the electronically adjustable suspension of the standard 1190 for manual, fully adjustable components with 30mm more travel (220mm total) and internals designed to handle much rougher off-road conditions. The one-piece seat is fixed, as is the shorter windscreen. 

As for the electronics, they are somewhat simplified by the absence of suspension settings, but the rest is all there, albeit tweaked to suit the R’s more dirt-oriented mission. 

Still, all these choices need to be understood as they significantly affect what the bike does. The R’s five riding modes are the best example. “Sport” lets the rider use all 150 hp, allows some rear-wheel spin and permits small wheelies. 

“Street” keeps all the ponies there, but restricts wheel spin and wheelies. “Off-Road” brings power down to 100 horses, lets the rear wheel spin up to twice the speed of the front wheel and deactivates ABS at the back, allowing the rear wheel to lock and slide. 

“Rain” limits power to 100 horses and sharply restricts rear-wheel spin and wheelies. 

Finally, “Off” lets all 150 horses loose and completely deactivates ABS and traction control. Everything works as advertised, but—and this is going to sound awkward coming from someone who thinks fiddling with all these modes is somewhat annoying—there are situations where some additional adjustability would be welcome. 

For example, I really enjoyed turning everything off on the R during a pretty intense woods ride. I could drift the back end in third and fourth gear, sending extra-long roosters of dirt behind—150 hp will do that—but that meant I lost the ABS. There was no way to only engage the front-wheel ABS and keep full power. 

On the street, on the standard KTM 1190 Adventure, I would have liked to be able to keep traction control active and disengage wheelie control, but it was impossible as both functions are linked together. Stuff like that. 

KTM 1190 Adventure R riding wheel up through a fieldThe good news is, if KTM decides to offer additional adjustability in the future, a software update might be all that’s required to allow prior models to benefit from new functions. 

Finally, as far as the electronics are concerned, all 2014 1190 Adventures will be shipped with what KTM calls cornering ABS—a world first, according to the brand. It’s a next-generation ABS from Bosch that is said to allow for maximum braking force even during hard cornering. Because the test bikes I rode were 2013s (the 1190 Adventure was launched in Europe a year before arriving on the North American market), I did not get to experience how this cornering ABS worked. 

Considering how technically close they are, the KTM 1190 Adventure and its R version are surprisingly different once in the saddle. The regular 1190 is definitely the street-oriented one, with a riding position very similar to that of a sport-touring bike with the seat adjusted in the lower position. 

The true adventure posture is back with the seat set high, but there’s a certain “road” feel to the 1190 that’s very pleasant while on the pavement. The steering is precise and requires very little effort when initiating lean, while the whole bike feels narrow and light on its feet. It’s a fun, inviting machine to push around on a winding road, even a bumpy one thanks to the wonderful work of the suspension. Only a seat that starts to feel uneasy too quickly affects comfort. 

The KTM 1190 Adventure deserves better in that department. 

The 1190 Adventure R version is a bit taller, but not ridiculously so. With its proprietary suspension and bigger diameter wheels, it’s better equipped for off-road riding. But the key to the R isn’t just about its equipment; it’s also about the absence of what I like to call Indiana Jones stuff which may have looked good, but would have also made the bike too heavy. The KTM 1190 Adventure R is only equipped with what it needs to be a better off-road machine, and that’s exactly what it is. Our test bikes were shod not with the stock rubber, but rather with street-legal knobbies and in the mountains of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in damp and muddy conditions, the R was unstoppable. It’s not quite as light on its feet on the road as the standard version because of its 21-inch front wheel, but it’s still a very good road bike. For off-road minded riders, it doesn’t only represent the best of both worlds by joining the nice road qualities of the standard 1190 with the dirt capabilities of the outgoing 990 Adventure. It just might be the only possible option: right now, there is no better full-size adventure motorcycle to take deep into off-road territory.      

KTM 1190 Adventure R

KTM’s “road” journey has taken a long time to launch and has occasionally produced some awkward machines. I don’t know what changed over there in Mattighofen, but the 1190 Adventures are proof something definitely HAS changed. The streetbikes Brand Orange is now producing aren’t just better, they’re world class, as witnessed in the 1290 Super Duke R I recently rode. 

This is a sentiment shared by many motorcyclists who are voting with their wallets, doubling KTM’s market share in the big displacement adventure category in Canada and quintupling (!) in Europe, according to sources from within the company. Which can only mean we’ll be seeing much more from KTM on the road from this point forward. I say bring ’em!

by Bertrand Gahel



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