Ride Review: KTM 1290 Super Adventure

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Despite its huge dimensions, not to mention a 30 liter fuel tank, the 2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure never looks big or bulky. In fact, it is only when you mount the hard luggage that you can tell this bike can really cover long distances.

Apart from a dorky little exposed wire from the heated grips near the throttle, the fit and finish is very high-end, especially the integrated curved lighting in the tank — it is quite a sight. The standard pannier racks look great too, but that means you are stuck with the OEM luggage options which – on the 1190 anyway – were not that great.

At first glance the Super Adventure doesn’t have the massive personality and stance of its German rival, the BMW R1200GS Adventure, but that is in part due to the white color scheme and the absence of the typical beak as a front mudguard.

KTM is going about things differently, and that is something that appeals to many riders…including us.



A modern ‘travel enduro’ should be fully loaded and the 1290 Super Adventure delivers in spades: traction control, riding modes, semi-active suspension, ABS, tire pressure monitoring, cruise control, case racks, “cornering lights” (they switch-on in corners, and cannot be used as high beams), bar heaters, 12-volt connections — all of this is included in the $20,499 asking price.

Electronic Hill Hold control (easy starting on a hill) and MSR (electronic traction control while downshifting) are optional, which is a bit odd because these features are nothing more than a simple software update/re-flash at the dealer.




The ultra-complicated windscreen protects you quite efficiently, but creates some turbulence around your helmet at higher speeds. It is not easy to see through the screen, so you better set it up so you can see above it.

Positioning the screen is easy enough at standstill though, but the mechanism proves to be a bit of a struggle at speed as the adjuster wheel becomes harder to turn, especially with your (busy) right hand. At very high speed the screen provokes some vibrations in the bars.

The seat is very comfy for rider and pillion, and ergonomics seem to be spot on for both.



We know the dashboard from other modern KTMs, so it is easy to understand, intuitive to set up, but not very readable in bright sunlight.

KTM chose to uncouple the riding modes and the suspension settings, which gives you ample options to tune the bike to your riding style, but this also means that you have to change both systems each time you change terrain. This becomes quite complex when you add turning on and off the ABS and MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control).


The much-hyped MSC is the highlight of the 1290 by the way, as the special “cornering ABS” adds yet another layer of safety — although we didn’t push the limits deliberately to test this feature.

The main traction control system is the most fun piece, as you can accelerate out of corners so early and confidently because the system feels and communicates the amount of grip so perfectly.

Only on full tilt did we feel the rear tire step out once or twice, but that was at a very illegal tempo combined with a very hamfisted use of the throttle.

The electronics package on the KTM 1290 Super Adventure (MSC + active suspension) makes you feel almost invulnerable and hyper-confident, without even knowing the systems are there.



The huge v-twin has a broad and strong powerband, but from 6,000 rpm onwards the real muscle shows. Above this threshold the vibrations in the footpegs disappear as well, which only encourages you to twist the throttle further.

Setting the cruise control is very similar to the car systems and is dead easy, and the different riding modes simply do what they say: the SPORT mode is a touch sensitive when you open the throttle, and STREET seems to be the right choice for almost any occasion.


The gearbox is good but not great: we found a false neutral here and there and shifting was not as smooth as on other bikes these days.

The extra 106cc capacity of the engine (compared to the 1190) is not really noticeable. Even on the KTM 1190 Adventure, the traction control has to work overtime to keep the power under control, and on the 1290 the system just cuts off power a little more.

The borrowed Super Duke lump still is an amazing engine though, with an absurd amount of power and torque, and a lot of feel in controlling it.



The KTM 1290 Super Adventure picks a fight with the almighty BMW R1200GS Adventure, one of the best selling motorbikes in this part of the world. The biggest difference is that KTM chose to give its top model the strongest engine, while BMW uses the same underwhelming block for the whole GS range.

1301cc’s might seem over the top, but KTM delivers yet another brilliantly powerful and complete machine that excels because of its fantastic MSC and semi-active suspension. Both systems are wonderfully effective, and yet strangely absent in use.

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure is the choice for all adventurous riders and travellers or people that want to think they are anyway. It looks rugged, it provides an exciting ride, it is very complete, and even though it is (wonderfully) overpowered, it is still very useable through a genius electronics package.















Photos: KTM

A special “dankuwel” to our friends at for sharing this article with us, and big thank you as well to Jan DeMan, who translated Iwan’s work from Dutch into English for our readers.