2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure First Ride Review

KTM’s 1190 Adventure was a revelation for the Austrian marque. After our first ride, we proclaimed it the best street bike ever produced by KTM. Then we rode the 1290 Super Duke – a motorcycle that was so over the top yet so rideable that we then declared there is nothing better than the big Duke in the Orange Brigade. Now wrap your head around this – take the Adventure’s epic chassis and comfort, drop in the Duke’s neutron-bomb engine, add even more tech and comfort and turn it up to 11. It’s a recipe for the new king of KTM street machines and possibly the ruler of all sporty adventure-touring motorcycles. The 2015 1290 KTM Super Adventure is KTM’s most ambitious motorcycle yet.

My introductory description of the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is ridiculously over simplified. The list of new technology and rider-friendly features is staggering. Most impressive is how it all works in concert, giving supreme control over what would be an unruly beast of a motorcycle without electronic help.

The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure’s engine uses pistons, cylinders and connecting rods from the Super Duke.

Beast is a fitting description for the 1290 Super Adventure’s 1301cc 75-degree V-Twin, but the engine can also be a real teddy bear when needed. The cylinders, pistons and connecting rods are taken from the 1290 Super Duke LC8 engine. A new crankshaft adds more rotating mass (4.4 pounds in total) to the flywheel and rotor. Combined with an anti-backlash gear on the primary drive gear, the crankshaft changes reduce vibration and increase torque character. Additionally, new cylinder heads source flow-optimized ports and mellower camshaft profiles that favor torque more than horsepower. While the Super Duke blasts out 180 hp, the Adventure lays out 160 but has a maximum torque output of 103.2 lb-ft that never drops below 77.4 after 2500rpm. That’s a dozen more lb-ft than the 1190 Adventure.

KTM’s traction control system is one of the best.

Tempering the power is a host of electronic rider aids that can transform the Super Adventure from a total pussycat to a rip-snorting gorilla that will make short work of any piece of asphalt you unleash it on. Sport, Street, Rain and Off-Road ride modes tailor engine power, as well as the MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) and ABS settings to the chosen riding style. Sport gives the most power with minimal intervention from the MTC, allowing for some squirm from the rear tire and controlled front wheel lift. It’s amazing how quickly you can crack the throttle in a corner and everything just works out.

The only indication the system is at work is a flashing TC light when you really twist the right grip while leaned over or accelerating on dirty pavement. For a power mad hooner Sport is where it’s at. Street mellows the character and keeps the front tire planted, but in most situations it’s just as quick, especially on tight, twisting mountain roads. Rain drops the horsepower to 100 and is also a useful tool for urban work. We never saw any dirt during the international press launch at the Canary Islands, so the off-road riding mode was never used but it will allow for some rear wheel spin. The MTC can also be turned off, but why would you? For wheelies, of course! And controlling the Super Adventure’s engine power is easy, even without KTM’s watchful TC eye, thanks to the massive torque that gives the throttle a direct and connected feel with the rear tire.

In Street Mode the 1290 Super Adventure’s pose is less aggressive than sport but still potent.

When it comes time to slow the 1290’s claimed 549-pound curb weight, radially-mounted Brembo four-piston calipers squeeze dual 320mm front discs while a Brembo twin-piston caliper pinches the 267mm rear disc. Feel and power is as expected from any Brembo-equipped KTM, excellent. Combine that solid performance with KTM’s Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC), which uses lean-sensitive C-ABS, and you have a braking system that is unparalleled. I counter-intuitively spiked the front brake lever just to test the system and it works as advertised. I’m still here and there is not a crumpled ball that used to be a Super Adventure in a ditch somewhere in the mountains of Gran Canaria.

On the brakes, the anti-dive and C-ABS make for a stable and controlled 1290 Super Adventure.

The linked ABS system does apply a bit of rear pressure when the front brake is applied, but the effect isn’t pronounced. For a bit of fun and rear wheel skidding into the corners, I switched the ABS mode to off-road setting, which allows for rear wheel lock up and some slip to the front tire. A stab at the rear pedal along with downshifting several gears, lets the rear end step out nicely. And once it’s out there KTM’s optional Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) slightly opens the throttle to keep the rear wheel from locking and works well with the standard slipper clutch for sublime control.

Radial mount Brembos offer excellent stopping power on the 2015 KTM Super Adventure.

The last bit of brake system wizardry is an optional Hill Hold Control (HHC) that keeps the 1290 from accidentally rolling backwards on an incline. When the motorcycle is stopped on a slope and the rider releases the brakes the HHC automatically keeps the brakes applied for five seconds or until there is forward motion. I gave it a go on varying angles and each time it held the Super Adventure without issue, and when the HSS does release after the five-second limit it is gradual and not abrupt. I can see this feature being very useful with a passenger and fully loaded luggage.

WP Semi-Active Suspension uses electromagnetic valves to adjust settings in real time on the 1290 Super Adventure.

While the braking and traction control tech is impressive, the WP Semi-Active Suspension is the real star of the show. The Suspension Control Unit (SCU) measures front and rear suspension stroke and acceleration via sensors and takes data such as lean angle and brake pressure and from the Vehicle CAN Bus to continually adjust the suspension in real time. Electromagnetic valves in the right fork leg and rear shock adjust compression and rebound damping to react to road conditions almost instantly. An anti-dive function controls ride attitude pitch on the brakes as well. Four suspension modes are selectable from left handlebar switch controlling the ever growing and multipage menu on the left LCD screen on the dash. Comfort, Sport, Street and Off-road modes give the rider a choice of the stiffness and behavior of the WP Semi-Active Suspension. Comfort is perfect for pounding out the miles or for a relaxed pace. Sport is taut, giving sharp handling and the setting allows some front-end dive on the brakes for more weight transfer to the front tire. Street mode has the most anti-dive and feels less focused than Sport, but is still sporty enough to set it and forget it for the day. Just as with the riding mode, we did not test the Off-road option in the suspension menu. Preload is adjustable electronically with four settings for rider, rider with luggage, two-up and two-up with luggage.

Multiple sensors on the 1290 Super Adventure relay information to the suspension control unit.

With the MTC, C-ABS, semi-active suspension and MSR all working together, the Super Adventure’s performance capabilities are well above the expectations of an adventure-touring motorcycle. KTM is the Sport Motorcycle Company and the Austrians let it shine through on the 1290 Super Adventure.

So the performance is there, but that’s only part of the Super Adventure’s story. This is a touring motorcycle after all, and KTM made sure raise the bar from the 1190 Adventure. In our recent comparison between the 1190 Adventure R and the BMW R1200GS Adventure, the KTM was trumped by rider comforts of the BMW. But with the Super Adventure the rider is not left wanting. No longer is motorcycle travel on a KTM a bare-bones existence.

Protection from the elements on the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is excellent.

A new seat foam and shape gives more comfort for the rider and passenger. After two days in the saddle my tailbone has no complaints, which I could not say for the 1190’s perch. Rider seat height is adjustable by just over a half inch for a low setting of 33.9 inches. Cold weather comfort increases with heating elements in both rider and passenger seats, with separate control for each. The rider’s seat is activated through a separate page on the LCD menu screen that also contains the power settings for the heated grips, while the passenger controls the warmth via a knob next to the right grab handle.

The left switch housing controls the Ride Modes, Semi-Active Suspension settings, ABS Modes and heat settings on the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure.

Warm weather comfort also improves with a new heat shield on the rear header pipe, new radiator exhaust ducting directing the heated air around the rider’s knees and a small panel under the rider’s seat to keep the engine heat from cooking the inner thigh.

Wind protection is much improved with a large windscreen that is adjustable while on the fly. However, the optimal height when moving above 60 mph placed the screen’s top edge cutting right across my site line. It’s a fair trade for calm air, and my sightline adjusted after a short time. Lower body protection is excellent thanks to the wider tank area and hands are shielded from the elements with standard handguards. And speaking of that larger tank, it has grown to eight gallons – an increase of two gallons from the 1190. That should be good for nearly 300 miles, depending on how much you enjoy the torque and horsepower of the 1301cc LC8.

The touring capability of the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is impressive.

And for those 300-mile stints on the highway KTM includes cruise control on the Super Adventure. The system activates via a button placed near the top of a fairly large switch housing, which is an uncomfortable stretch to reach. Selecting and adjusting your speed is much easier with a rocker switch at the bottom of the housing. The system works well and is very smooth with no surge or jerkiness when maintaining the set speed. Brake input, rolling the throttle forward, pulling in the clutch and MTC activation will deactivate the system and the transition is not too abrupt. Cruise cannot be used below 25 mph or in the first three gears.

The 1290 Super Adventure’s Cornering LEDs add illumination as the motorcycle leans.

Lighting on the 1290 Super Adventure includes automatic daytime running lights that switch to the low beam when the sun sets. LED cornering lights, housed in the shrouds, are a novel addition to the 1290. Three separate LED segments light up depending on the lean angle. The first and lowest comes on at 10 degrees, the second and middle at 20 degrees and finally at 30 degrees the top LED illuminates. We only rode in the daylight so the effectiveness cannot be assessed at this time.

In the US market the 1290 comes standard with aluminum-clad plastic panniers with a combined storage capacity of 73 liters. At $20,499 minus the yet to be announce pricing for the HSS and MSR, the Super Adventure is competitively priced and is set to grab more sales from its rivals. Come to think of it, with the impressive blend of performance and comfort, there may not actually be a true rival for the 1290 Super Adventure.

The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure will cost  20 449 in the U.S. The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventures Cornering LEDs activate according to lean angle. Extra heat shielding and ducting keeps the rider cool on hot days on the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure.
The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is capable of shredding twisting mountain roads at sportbike speeds. The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is fitted with 73-liter panniers standard in the U.S. market. KTM didnt trade sporting performance for touring comfort on the 1290 Super Adventure; it has both.
With the ride mode and suspension settings on Sport  the 1290 Super Adventure is a blast in the corners. The 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is outfitted for Adventure Touring comfort with a larger windscreen  heated seats and cruise control. On the brakes  the anti-dive and C-ABS make for a stable and controlled 1290 Super Adventure.


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