Road Test Review
Since its introduction in early 2013, KTM’s 1190 Adventure has created a lot of buzz in the burgeoning adventure-touring segment. Its superbike-based, 150-horse V-twin puts it nearly on par with the power-hitting Ducati Multistrada 1200, and its light, agile chassis makes it as nimble on- and off-road as the venerable BMW R 1200 GS. Packed with standard features like electronic suspension, engine modes, traction control and lean-angle sensitive ABS, its 2014 base price of $16,499 makes it solid deal, too.
For those who prefer their adventures with a double-dose of dirt, KTM also offers the 1190 Adventure R. It swaps the standard model’s 19-inch front wheel for a 21-incher, increases front/rear suspension travel from 7.5 inches to 8.6 inches (which raises ground clearance from 8.7 to 9.8 inches) and adds tubular-steel engine guards. Not only is the suspension taller, it’s manually adjustable, allowing more precise suspension adjustments than the three damping levels (Comfort, Street, Sport) offered by the standard model’s pushbutton adjustable Electronic Damping System. To withstand the hard hits that a big dualie will take when ridden aggressively off-road, the 1190-R has beefier fork internals and a heavier-duty shock that’s fully adjustable, including high- and low-speed compression adjustment, similar to what is found on KTM’s championship-winning motocross bikes.
Instead of the standard model’s two-piece, height-adjustable seat, the 1190 Adventure R has a one-piece seat that is not adjustable but has a suede-like cover that provides more grip while seated or standing. The Adventure R also has a smaller, tinted windscreen and a special black-and-white color scheme with bright-orange engine guards. Thanks to the engine guards, larger front wheel and heavier-duty rear tire (standard fitment is specially made Continental TrailAttack 90/10 dual-sport tires), the R-model weighs 11 pounds more than the standard model, based on claimed dry weights (478 vs. 467 pounds).
After completing our test of the 1190 Adventure, we swapped it for an R-model. I was scheduled to attend AltRider’s Taste of Dakar, a mini adventure rally with a full day of riding in the mountains and desert surrounding Pahrump, Nevada, as well as a special 1-day edition of Jimmy Lewis’ Off-Road Riding School, so KTM spooned on a set of Continental TKC80 knobbies and installed optional heated grips, both of which came in handy.
The Adventure R’s larger front wheel and taller suspension raises seat height to 35.0 inches, which is 0.6-inch above the standard model’s high position. I’m 6-foot-2-inches with a 34-inch inseam, so the extra height wasn’t really a problem but it certainly necessitated care when mounting and dismounting the bike laden with a weekend’s worth of camping gear. Of our 314-mile route from Ventura, California, to Pahrump, all but the last few miles were in cold rain, which made me appreciate the heated grips (and my heated jacket liner) but miss the standard model’s larger windscreen. Nonetheless, the 1,195cc V-twin, which puts 131 horsepower and 80 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel, purrs like a kitten in 6th gear. Four riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain, Off-Road) adjust engine output, throttle response and traction control, with Rain and Off-Road lowering output to 90 horsepower and 65 lb-ft of torque. There are also two ABS modes (Road and Off-Road), or it can be turned off.
After the worst of the rains blew through on Friday night, we emerged from our tents on Saturday to find clear, blue skies and a dusting of snow on the mountains. Our group of three consisted of two friends on BMWs (one on an R 1200 GS, the other on an HP2) that they’ve been riding for years, and me on the KTM, which I had never ridden off-road. Jimmy Lewis laid out the three Taste of Dakar riding routes—easy, intermediate and expert—and based on his description, we decided to tackle the expert route. Riding an unfamiliar motorcycle on an unfamiliar, challenging route can be a recipe for trouble. But that wasn’t the case on the 1190 Adventure R. With “Off-Road” riding and ABS modes selected, I followed Paul onto the trail with Peter on my six. The rains had packed down the dust, sand and gravel but turned the clay-rich soil into a slick bog. Standing on the cleated enduro pegs, the KTM was easy to steer by shifting my weight from side to side, and even with the 6.1-gallon tank full to the brim, it felt much lighter than its 500-plus pounds. Throttle response was direct and easy to manage, clutch action was spot-on, and the brakes felt strong yet controllable (in Off-Road ABS mode, anti-lock sensitivity is reduced at the front wheel and turned off entirely at the rear, allowing brake slides).
The taller, tougher suspension is what really stands out on the 1190-R. As our confidence levels increased throughout the day, so did our pace. We wound our way up and over ridgelines in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and we rode down in and out of numerous deep ravines. The fork and shock never bottomed, and damping at both ends was well-controlled and predictable. After lunch we rode through deep sand, across a (mostly) dry lakebed and on miles and miles of rough, rocky trails, and the 1190-R didn’t miss a beat. The next day it proved to be a great bike on which to practice the off-road skills taught by Jimmy Lewis and his team.
Over the course of two days I did a lot of stand-up riding, and for someone my height, I wished for a taller handlebar—a set of bar risers would be my first upgrade. I’d also add a beefier skid plate; the standard plastic one is skimpy and leaves the exhaust headers vulnerable. Out on the trail, a rock was kicked up and punched a hole through the soft alloy clutch cover (we patched it with JB Weld), so I’d add a cover for that, too. The tire-hugging front fender proved to be vulnerable as well. When it and the front tire got loaded up with mud on that (mostly) dry lakebed, I hit the gas to free myself from a bog and the fender exploded into broken shards of plastic. Fortunately there are separate brake lines for the two front calipers, and no other damage was done.
If you don’t plan to ride off-road much, these issues may not be relevant and you’d probably be better off (and would save $300) by buying the standard 1190 Adventure, with its better wind protection and electronic suspension. But if you’re a trail junkie and you’re in the market for an open-class ADV machine, the 1190 Adventure R is ready to be ridden hard and put away wet.