Road Test Review
As liter-class adventure-touring bikes have been getting more and more street oriented, the KTM 990 Adventure clung to its Dakar racing roots right through 2012. While makeovers for 2007 and 2009 brought more displacement and a few nods to on-road comfort, the Austrian Abenteuer still kept its funky rally racer bodywork, 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels, split fuel tanks and skyscraper seat height. Plenty have been sold to tall, gritty sorts who avoid the pavement on their adventures, but the average ADV rider needs a lot more street manners.
KTM finally acknowledged this not long ago, and undertook the biggest development project in the company’s history. The result is the 1190 Adventure, released for 2013 in Europe and in very limited quantities in the U.S. last summer. Now the 2014 model has arrived, and we’ve given it a good flog here at home and found it’s nothing short of a revelation.
The peaked-hat, angular styling is gone, replaced with more contemporary adventure-bike lines and curves. Seat height is adjustable to 33.8 or 34.4 inches, still high but at least in the ballpark now. The wide, tapered Renthal handlebar and cleated footpegs with rubber inserts adjust somewhat as well, and the bigger, more shapely windscreen can be raised and lowered over a 3-inch range. For better handling on-road, wheel sizes have been reduced to 19 inches front and 17 rear, and while they’re still spoked aluminum to withstand off-road abuse, the hoops have sealed rim centers so they can wear tubeless tires. The stock tires are new Continental TrailAttack 2s in wider sizes that are biased 90/10 on-/off-road and are specially designed for the 1190 Adventure’s immense new power. DOT knobby choices are also plentiful, and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is standard in the U.S.
The 998cc engine in the 990 Adventure was certainly no slouch, but with some of the competition now packing more than 120 horsepower, KTM whipped out its RC8 R superbike motor to serve as the baseline for the new 1190. Retuning the liquid-cooled, 75-degree 1,195cc DOHC V-twin to flatten out its torque curve and churn up usable grunt throughout the powerband did little to dampen the engine’s ferocious spirit. On the Jett Tuning dyno, it barked out a whopping 131.4 horsepower at 9,300 rpm, and 80.4 lb-ft of torque at 7,800. That’s significantly more horsepower than any of the competition save the Ducati Multistrada, and nearly as much torque as the Multi and BMW R 1200 GS. A balancer shaft minimizes vibration and the engine makes more than 60 lb-ft of torque from 4,500 rpm to redline at 10,000, so it pulls strongly at part-throttle without any chattering or lugging and makes the bike very easy to ride and maneuver solo or two-up. In fact, you could spend your entire ownership experience enjoying the 1190 without ever turning the throttle in anger.
When you finally pull the trigger, be ready for a shock. At 520 pounds with a full tank, the KTM’s acceleration is eyeball-flattening. While the urge builds smoothly without any abruptness, above 5,000 rpm the engine summons its superbike heritage and snarls like a demented pit bull, the front wheel gets light and the bike accelerates like a funny car. The engine is a bit noisy and buzzy at higher speeds, but to say there’s never a shortage of power is like saying a group of Apache helicopters provides adequate covering fire. Twist the handle and prepare to be awed.
Dual ignition specially designed for the 1190 is said to increase fuel economy and refine power delivery at low speeds, and a new slipper clutch eliminates rear-wheel chatter under heavy braking and reduces effort at the lever to an easily modulated, two-finger pull. Shifting the 6-speed gearbox is slick and smooth, without any snatch from the lightweight chain final drive. The engine still requires premium fuel, and our average fuel economy of 38.5 mpg wasn’t especially impressive, though the tank has been enlarged to 6.1 gallons for good range.
An all-new chrome-moly steel trellis frame carries this powerful yet versatile engine, with an aluminum subframe for the seat and a die-cast, internally latticed aluminum swingarm. WP provides the beefy 48mm male-slider fork in front and non-linked single shock in back, and in this country an Electronic Damping System (EDS) is standard. A four-button controller on the left handlebar lets you easily scroll and select from a LCD menu display of all of the 1190’s various electronic functions, including the EDS. It has four preload settings—solo, solo with luggage, two-up and two-up with luggage—and Sport, Street and Comfort damping settings. Preload can be changedat a stop with the engine running, and damping at any time. Suspension performance and damping are excellent, with good compliance in back from the Comfort setting and progressively increasing sporty firmness in Street and Sport. The fork dives a lot under braking, however, and didn’t respond well to small repetitive bumps. The rear shock spring also sags too much when the bike is loaded to capacity (full tank and 451 pounds of riders and gear).
KTM could have delivered the 1190 Adventure with just those ergonomic, chassis and engine enhancements and we’d have been thoroughly impressed, but they’re only the beginning. This is the era of electronic assistance, and the 1190 bristles with all of the latest. The spinal cord of the bike’s nervous system is its ride-by-wire system, which connects your right wrist to the 52mm throttle bodies with wires and servos instead of cables and enables all of its other systems such as the power modes, multi-stage traction-control and ABS—everything except cruise control.
In a first for motorcycles—at least publicly—the 2014 1190 also gets Motorcycle Stability Control, or MSC, essentially ABS that works while leaned over in corners. Traction control that functions while leaned over has been around for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to make those same sensors work in reverse, while braking. In fact, according to KTM, the hardware needed by the MSC is on the 2013 model, too—an ECU software update is all that’s required to enable it.
The Brembo brakes on the 1190 are some of the finest we’ve sampled, with twin 320mm floating discs in front grabbed by radial-mount opposed 4-piston calipers actuated by a radial-pump lever. A fixed 267mm disc with 2-piston caliper stops the back smartly. The brakes are linked front-to-rear to ensure some stopping force is always applied in back. Feel at the lever and pedal is terrific, the ABS functions almost transparently when engaged, and yes, the MSC seems like nothing short of a miracle. As rather unwilling crash-test dummies, we didn’t push the system anywhere near its potential limits, but when rounding a corner at a brisk pace, leaned well over, an intentional over-application of the brakes causes them to cycle—rapidly release and reapply—and you simply continue on around. It’s nothing short of amazing and a big safety bonus. Now that MSC is here, how long will it be before it works full-time, not just under braking?
The same LCD menu and buttons allow you to quickly turn the traction control and ABS off, put the ABS in off-road mode (less front intervention and none in back), and select one of the four power/traction control modes. Sport provides maximum power and throttle response with reduced traction control for, ahem, “controlled sliding.” Street also allows full power, but with smoother power delivery and more TC intervention. Rain drops the horsepower to a max of 90 at the rear wheel, torque to 65 lb-ft, slows acceleration and maximizes TC intervention; and Off-Road uses the same lower power settings and shuts off the TC. The changes to the TC happen automatically and can’t be set manually—it can only be turned fully on or off by the rider.
Suffice it to say that all of this “assistance” works extremely well (can’t speak for the controlled sliding, though), and switching among the various settings and richly detailed trip-computer screens quickly becomes second nature. We still prefer individual on-off buttons for ABS and TC, but at least KTM has provided a way to manually control them. The bike also works incredibly well on-road just left in its default modes—I rode it for days without changing a thing. The new chassis and wheels give it quick, precise handling, the firm seat is a good compromise for off-road and long-distance riding, and the rider’s seating position is natural and comfortable. My wife felt the passenger pillion should be sloped forward more, and the grab rails farther apart, but the footpegs are well placed for her. Standing-up off-road the bike feels lighter than its 520 pounds (without luggage) and well balanced. Wind protection from the screen and hand guards is very good, and though some heat from the all-stainless exhaust reaches your legs, it’s only noticeable at stops on hot days.
The austere approach of the former models is history, too. The 1190 has adjustable brake and clutch levers, a power socket and small pocket in the fairing, a centerstand and loads of useful options like heated grips, a taller windscreen, top cases and off-road performance goodies. An LED daytime running light surrounds the stacked headlights, and the bike comes with nicely integrated mounts for KTM’s Touring or Aluminum cases. We tried the enormous Touring cases and loved the capacity (the left will hold a full-face helmet with room to spare), but found they required two hands to close, and that they’re heavy at 16 pounds apiece. That’s a consideration when you start adding up the weight of riders, accessories and gear and subtracting it from the load capacity.
Keeping in mind that the 1190’s lighter weight is largely due to the chain final drive, which unlike a shaft requires regular maintenance and replacement, the main gripe about the bike for some riders will probably be the seat height. Though suspension travel is down from 8.3 to 7.5 inches, at 5 feet, 10 inches tall I’m on the balls of my feet at stops, even in the lowest seat and spring preload settings. Crank the shock up to the Two-Up with Luggage setting, and when my co-pilot gets off, the seat springs up until I’m just on tiptoes. Lowering the EDS preload setting before the passenger dismounts is an option, but it takes a full 12 seconds.
That tallness complaint is common among ADV bikes, yet they are nevertheless becoming our favorites for their versatility. It will take a comparison test to see how the KTM 1190 Adventure fares in this capable group, but it’s clearly a serious contender.