2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S First Ride Review

As we both braced for impact over what some (my wife) would consider too much speed for entering a parking lot over a large gutter, we were both pleasantly surprised by the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S’s semi-active WP fork and shock’s handling of the bumpy business in real time. When we both jumped off of the big orange behemoth we looked at each other, slightly taken aback at how well the suspension absorbed the bump.

In fact, she told me she liked the suspension on the 1290 S better than Honda’s new Gold Wing Tour after we spent a day riding the Wing through twisty roads near Ojai, CA. I absolutely agree, the KTM’s suspenders are that good. In fact, the entire 1290 S is an absolutely phenomenal motorcycle to ride. It was a sad day when the big black and orange van came to take the 1290 SA S away from me. The only reason it might not be for everyone? It’s a big’n.


The 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a mouthful, but when looking at the list of features it seems befitting. The motorcycle is so tech-heavy and feature-rich, I guess they had to make the name that long.

The 1290 Super Adventure S uses a WP 48mm semi-active fork and semi-active shock to handle the bumps, and let me tell you, it’s well-sprung. The damping can be adjusted via the stunning 6.5-inch full-color TFT television screen where riders can choose between one of four options: Sport, Street, Comfort, or Off-road. I preferred to keep the damping in Sport unless I was spending long stints on the freeway where Street was the preferred setting. Comfort wasn’t bad either, yet I found the bike pogo-ing back and forth on an especially wavy freeway on-ramp which caused me to ditch the setting for the remainder of my time with the bike.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

Styling is subjective, but I’ve found the looks of the 1290 SA S to be polarizing around the local bike nights. I, for one, love that split-faced front end.

Keep in mind, while you can adjust the damping to your preferred setting, the semi-active technology will still adapt the damping rates in real-time according to the surface you’re riding over. Besides the aforementioned bouncy freeway excursion, I noticed no other irregularities with the suspension. Quite the opposite actually, I found it to be one of the best I’ve ever had the chance to use on a street bike.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The 6.5-inch TFT display used on KTM’s Super Adventure is perfectly intuitive to navigate and visually crisp.

The semi-active linkless rear shock also allows for rider adjustment in the way of preload via the TFT display and directional pad on the left control. Again four (settings) is the magic number: Solo, Solo with luggage, Two-up, Two-up with luggage. Being that I am not very tall, I could easily tell the difference between the solo and the two-up setting in terms of ride height. When sitting on the motorcycle you can feel the rear suspension raise as preload is added. A solution for the vertically impaired? Both of you get on the motorcycle and then adjust the preload. It helps a little bit.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

WP provides the 1290 S’s semi-active suspension front and rear.

Whenever I find myself daydreaming about this motorcycle I think about the suspension. I was recently asked how it compared to the new Ducati Multistrada 1260’s DSS that we tested last December. I like my settings stiffer, and the KTM seems to be fairly sporty or stiff throughout all the settings. The Ducati may give a wider range between very stiff and sporty, to quite plush yet compliant. The Multi also offers adjustment in each setting, for example, setting the suspension to Sport also allows five adjustments from hardest to softest. Both motorcycle’s suspensions are very good with perhaps a slight nod going to the Ducati for the extra adjustability.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The KTM Super Adventure’s 1301cc, 75-degree V-Twin sets the bar for smooth fueling and power delivery for big sporting Twins.

Another compelling, or perhaps propelling, feature of the 1290 S, is the 1301cc, 75-degree V-Twin engine. The LC8 engine uses dual-plug ignition, ride-by-wire fueling, and a slipper clutch to keep the big engine from putting a sudden stop to the rear tire. The 1290 SA S’s engine uses the same basic structure as the Super Duke R however, performance-enhancing mods have been made to the sportier Super Duke R’s beating heart.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

KTM rates the 1290 S’s performance numbers at 160 hp and 103.3 lb-ft of torque. Manufacturer performance numbers are usually rated at the crankshaft without considering approximately 12% loss through the drivetrain which allows for higher numbers to be claimed on spec charts. We were surprised however, when our dyno run produced 126.9 hp at 9,400 rpm and 81.4 lb-ft of torque at 6,900 rpm which equates to a 21% decrease in both horsepower and torque from KTM’s claimed specs. That being said, despite feeling somewhat soft in its initial power delivery even in sport mode, the engine still feels plenty burly, it just makes you work for it a bit more than the sportier Super Duke R’s track mode.

The softness in throttle response doesn’t last long as the revs climb and, for what is essentially a tall sport touring motorcycle, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you want to adjust power output, you again get your choice of four ride modes: Sport, Street, Rain, Off-road.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The 1290 S comes complete with a center stand and integrated luggage mounts (for KTM panniers).

Our test bike was equipped with KTM’s Travel Pack which enables via software, Hill Hold Control, Motor Slip Regulation, and Quickshifter +. Hill Hold Control holds the motorcycle for five seconds when stopped on inclines when actuating the brake and releases automatically when taking off or after your five seconds is up (be prepared). Motor Slip Regulation works similar to a slipper clutch which is standard on the 1290 S, however the MSR provides additional assistance if it identifies an impending difference between front and rear wheel speed when decelerating on surfaces with limited grip. Quickshifter + works on up and downshifts however, during my time on the KTM I had a few sloppy upshifts even while high in the rev-range when trying to use the Quickshifter +.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The windscreen can now be raised and lowered single-handedly whilst riding.

The 1290 Super Adventure S also offers Bluetooth connectivity with your phone which will allow you to see incoming calls and audio displays on the TFT dash. Adjacent to the TFT screen is a waterproof compartment outfitted with a USB charger for your phone. The KTM MY RIDE smartphone app allows for further integration with turn-by-turn navigation being shown on the motorcycle’s display. The app was not available at the time of testing, and I was unable to connect my phone to the motorcycle after numerous attempts. I wasn’t all that worried about it, though it should probably work if KTM says it’s an option.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The LED headlight is supplemented by a daytime running light which outlines the headlight housing and integrated cornering lights which work off of lean angle.

Standard features for the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S include Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) incorporating combined ABS (C-ABS) and multi-mode traction control (MTC), both of which are lean sensitive and modulated by a 9ME Bosch unit in conjunction with the selected ride mode. Braking components themselves consist of dual 320mm front rotors with 4-piston Brembo calipers up front while the 2-piston Brembo unit grabs the 287mm rotor in the rear.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The seat seemed to tiptoe the line between firm yet supportive and firm but uncomfortable.

Although KTM says the 1290 Super Adventure S is the street going sibling to the R model, it still has an Off-road riding mode and switchable Off-road ABS system which allows for the rear wheel to lock while the front ABS remains on. Also keeping with the Adventure namesake, is the Off-road traction control which allows the rear wheel to spin up to two times as fast as the front for controlled drifts. Too cool for rider aids? It’s all switchable to Off. The S offers less ground clearance and travel than the R yet still more than most sporty tourers with 8.7-inches of light under its plastic skidplate and 7.9-inches of suspension travel front and rear.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

Of course, the pavement is where the 1290 S shines and its 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels shod in sticky Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires make flipping the Adventure S all too easy. Its 61.4-inch wheelbase, 6.1-gallon gas tank high off the ground, and 536-pound measured wet weight might make you think the 1290 S wouldn’t be up for the hustle. You’d be wrong. She’s a hustler and seems to become more adept the faster you push it while being infinitely stable.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

The 2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a lot of motorcycle. A lot of features, a lot of name, and a lot of fun. At $17,999 it certainly isn’t a pittance, but in today’s world of ever-rising prices, soaring cubic centimeters, and tech-laden motorcycles, the 1290 SA S stands out as a good deal for a great bike.

(motorcycle.com, https://goo.gl/qdVyxj)