R-rated Adventure: Costa rides the KTM 1190 Adventure R

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Words: Costa Mouzouris   Photos: Simon Cudby
Words: Costa Mouzouris Photos: Simon Cudby

What’s new

KTM can be credited for introducing serious off-road capability in the adventure-touring segment. BMW may have introduced the increasingly popular category in the 1980s with the first of the GS models, but KTM really ramped up the performance of the big-bore machines for the serious off-road traveller in 2004 with the introduction of its 950 Adventure.

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That bike had the firm’s first twin-cylinder engine, a 942 cc, 75-degree liquid-cooled V-twin that made 102 hp. It also featured long-travel, fully adjustable off-road suspension, provided by WP, a subsidiary of the Austrian company (which, I am told, also developed the suspension for BMW’s electronically adjustable suspension).

That engine grew in displacement to 999 cc in 2006, and in its current form it powers the 990 Adventure to the tune of 118 hp. In 2008 KTM introduced its first supersport machine, the RC8, and it had an all-new V-twin displacing 1,195 cc. It uses twin-sparkplug heads, has an oil tank integrated into the crankcases, and produces 173 horsepower.

It is a detuned, 150-hp version of this engine that powers the new 2014 1190 Adventure and Adventure R, the latter of which I was recently invited to ride in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The 1190 is an all-new machine that will supplant the current 990 Adventure, but the two machines are worlds apart.

The KTM 1190 Adventure R uses a retuned version of the RC8 superbike's motor.
The KTM 1190 Adventure R uses a retuned version of the RC8 superbike’s motor.

Preceding my test ride of the Adventure R, I also got a chance to spend a weekend aboard a 990 Adventure Baja, as well as the 1190 Adventure, the R’s street-oriented brother. I rode those two machines during the recent Orange Crush event in Quebec, so comparisons between the three bikes will be mostly centred on their off-road performance.

The week before he rode this 1190 Adventure R, Costa rode the Orange Crush event on a 990 Adventure Baja. He says there's a big difference.
The week before he rode this 1190 Adventure R, Costa rode the Orange Crush event on a 990 Adventure Baja. He says there’s a big difference.

The R differs from the 1190 Adventure mostly because of its off-road orientation. The Adventure R rolls on a 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel, whereas the Adventure has a less dirt aggressive 19-inch front and 17-inch rear. Suspension is 30 mm taller and features manual adjustments for preload, and compression and rebound damping, whereas the Adventure’s suspension is electrically adjustable. Pricing for the 1190 Adventures has not yet been released, but will be in about a week or so.

The Ride

Although we were not given any details of the day’s route, which departed from Steamboat Springs, one indication that a good portion of it was to be off pavement was that our KTM hosts had replaced the OEM-standard Continental TrailAttack 2 tires with more aggressive Conti TKC 80 dual-sport rubber.

The test bike came equipped with TKC-80s, instead of the stock Trail Attack tires.
The test bike came equipped with TKC-80s, instead of the stock Trail Attack tires.

The first thing I noticed when climbing aboard the Adventure R was how compact it felt. Don’t get me wrong; by dirt bike standards it’s plus-sized, but it’s not traillie-gargantuan like the R1200GS Adventure, and its seat height is 15 mm lower (@ 890mm) and less top-heavy than the outgoing 990.

Once aboard the bike, the levers, bars and footpegs are adjustable to a rider's preferences.
Once aboard the bike, the levers, bars and footpegs are adjustable to a rider’s preferences.

I set the bike to my liking by adjusting the handlebar (it is a tapered design that is adjustable 10 mm fore and aft by flipping the handlebar risers) and the clutch and brake levers for height and reach. Footpegs have adjustable mounts too, providing 15 mm of up and down and fore and aft movement, though I left them in the default, higher position. The one-piece seat is not adjustable, unlike the 1190 Adventure’s two-piece seat whose forward section can be set to two positions.

I backed out the compression and rebound damping front and rear, as we were set to hit the dirt within a few miles of our departure point. On the Adventure, buttons on the left-hand switch assembly do this electrically, while the R uses a more conventional system of knobs and screws.

Ergonomics are trail-bike like, with a neutral, upright riding position, though I would have liked an additional 25 mm of handlebar height when standing on the footpegs, something easily remedied with aftermarket riser extensions. The small windscreen is adjustable, and it can be done on-the-fly by loosening two levers and pulling it up or pushing it down.

For years KTM had designed seats for “performance riding”, which when translated means they’re designed to enable standing on the footpegs for advanced off-roading, while providing the support of a two-by-four like seat when ’resting’. The new Adventure R’s seat is narrow at the front to enable standing up, but it is actually wide and supportive at the rear for the stretches of paved road between the trails. It was only after a day in the saddle that my backside began feeling a tingle of fatigue.

Imagine that, a KTM with a proper seat.

There are all sorts of electronic aids to help you keep the shiny side up. ABS (including an off-road mode) helps you brake, and there are engine management modes to help you control that 150-hp V-twin.
There are all sorts of electronic aids to help you keep the shiny side up. ABS (including an off-road mode) helps you brake, and there are engine management modes to help you control that 150-hp V-twin.

Both new 1190 Adventure models are laden with technology, which includes adjustable traction control, adjustable linked ABS (more on both later) and four selectable ride modes (Sport, Street, Off Road and Rain). All of these techno-gizmos are adjustable via four switches in the left-hand switch assembly and an LCD monitor to the left of the large, analogue tachometer.

Off-road ABS even lets you lock up the rear wheel, but the system re-sets itself when you turn the bike off, which creates a bit of hassle.
Off-road ABS even lets you lock up the rear wheel, but the system re-sets itself when you turn the bike off, which creates a bit of hassle.

Sport mode provides aggressive mapping and wakes up all of the 150 available horsepower, while providing minimal traction control intervention; Street mode tames those 150 ponies by subduing throttle response and allowing for less rear-wheel slippage; Off Road modes puts 50 of those horses to sleep and allows for rear-wheel-roosting wheel spin; Rain mode provides the same 100 hp as Off Road mode but with no wheel spin capability.

ABS is adjusted separately from the ride modes and you can select from Street (default) or Off Road modes. Off Road mode separates front and rear brake operation (it uncouples the linked braking system), it raises the threshold of ABS intervention at the front wheel, and allows full lockup of the rear wheel (now that’s clever). You can also turn the ABS and traction control off.

Menu selection is very intuitive, and ride modes are retained when the ignition is turned off. For safety reasons, however (and to appease KTM’s legal department), ABS reverts to its default setting every time the ignition switch is turned on, as will traction control if it is turned off. This was somewhat of an annoyance, as you would always be several button-pushes away from riding away after shutting the bike down in the trails.

Costa's not taking a break from the seat; unlike most KTMs, he says the 1190 Adventure R has a comfortable saddle.
Costa’s not taking a break from the seat; unlike most KTMs, he says the 1190 Adventure R has a comfortable saddle.

To prevent this from happening I got into the habit of switching the bike off with the kill switch and leaving the ignition on every time we stopped for photos (and there were many stops). KTM, perhaps foreseeing this, has programmed the headlight to turn off a few seconds after the engine is shut off to prevent the battery from running down. I had no problems, despite doing this all day long. You can also buy an optional dongle (no Canadian price yet, $109 U.S.) that plugs into a terminal under the seat and keeps all of the settings in memory.

The front suspension is adjustable with a set of a system of knobs and screws, unlike the standard street-oriented Adventure.
The front suspension is adjustable with a set of a system of knobs and screws, unlike the standard street-oriented Adventure.

We hit wet gravel roads about 20 minutes into our ride (it had rained all day the day before), and I immediately noted that the 1190 was much more stable in a straight line than the 990 Adventure I’d ridden the preceding weekend. Where the 990 would wiggle its front end in a very dirt-bike-like manner, the 1190 tracked straight and true in a very confidence-inspiring manner (both machines were on TKC 80 tires).

It's not a true enduro machine, but for a big trailbike, the 1190 Adventure R is a fun machine on tough trails.
It’s not a true enduro machine, but for a big trailbike, the 1190 Adventure R is a fun machine on tough trails.

Our speeds off pavement were initially subdued, as we had many photo stops with short distances between. Once we were done faking it for the camera, however, we wicked it up and took a tight, winding trail that was at times rocky, at times muddy, and often rutted, tree-rooted and pockmarked – in other words, an absolute blast.

At speeds just short of an enduro pace, the big Adventure handled with poise and ease. It was very easy to steer the bike around obstacles, and although it does not steer as sharply as an enduro machine, when I did ride over the occasional boulder unintentionally, the KTM soaked it up without complaining in the least.

In fact, the 1190 R‘s suspension is nothing short of magnificent. It is compliant and soaks up bumps, rocks, ruts — you name it — effortlessly. It is plusher than on the 990, so it probably won’t handle a racing pace as well, but it will appeal to a broader range of riders and makes the machine way more forgiving. The bike never bottomed out — at least not hard enough to take notice — and it is this control that contributes to the 1190’s great off-road capability. Feet-up on the pegs at speed and it felt more like a dirt bike than an open-class adventure machine, though it is wider between the knees.

There are limitations, of course, and slowing it down on slippery stuff takes a bit of time. The machine does weigh a claimed 217 kg (478 lb) without fuel. That’s 10 kilos more than the 990, and although it masks that weight well when moving, it’s still there.

In the dirt, Costa tried both Street and Off Road riding modes; he stuck with Off Road, for its smoother power delivery.
In the dirt, Costa tried both Street and Off Road riding modes; he stuck with Off Road, for its smoother power delivery.

I used both Street and Off Road modes in the trails, but eventually settled on Off Road mode as its smoother power delivery was more easily manageable and less fatiguing in the tighter stuff.

Traction control wasn't desirable in the dirt; ride-by-wire means the system didn't result in jerky power delivery, but it sapped power when needed at times.
Traction control wasn’t desirable in the dirt; ride-by-wire means the system didn’t result in jerky power delivery, but it sapped power when needed at times.

I did switch off the traction control, however, for although it performed well on hard-packed surfaces and allowed for a reasonable amount of wheel spin, when things got really slick or loose it had a detrimental effect on handling.

The 1190 uses ride-by-wire throttle control, so you really don’t feel it when the TC intervenes; there’s no misfiring or fluttering of the engine, it just doesn’t pick up revs when the rear wheel begins to slip a lot. This caused the front end to push through turns and made steep climbs very challenging. No such silliness however with the TC in the off position.

ABS remained in Off Road mode, and I saw no reason to switch it off as it performed flawlessly on loose and rough terrain.

Conclusion

I used to own a 690 Enduro, and that bike was exceptionally competent both on the road and off. The 1190 Adventure R feels like a bigger version of that bike. In trails it doesn’t feel like a typical adventure touring machine but rather more like a big dual sport.

I certainly prefer it to the non-R Adventure, which is a better choice if most of your riding is done on pavement or gravel roads. It’s more refined and forgiving than the 990 Adventure, and combines GS-like stability — and very importantly, nearly as much comfort — but with 990-like off-road worthiness.

While the KTM isn't going to dethrone BMW's R1200GS as the world's most popular big-bore adventure tourer, it presents an option for riders who want more performance in the dirt.
While the KTM isn’t going to dethrone BMW’s R1200GS as the world’s most popular big-bore adventure tourer, it presents an option for riders who want more performance in the dirt.

No bike will dethrone the GS as king of adventure tourers, but that’s because most adventure touring riders spend most of their time on pavement. If you like to rough it up regularly, however, the 1190 Adventure R is now at the top of the list for serious excursions into the wilderness.


GALLERY

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SPECIFICATIONS

Bike  2014 KTM 1190 Adventure R
MSRP  TBA
Displacement  1195 cc
Engine type  Liquid-cooled V-twin
Power (crank)*  150 hp @ 9500 rpm
Torque*  92 ft-lb at 7500 rpm
Tank Capacity  26.5 litres
Carburetion  EFI
Final drive  Chain
Tires, front  90/90 V21
Tires, rear  150/70 ZR 18
Brakes, front  Twin 320 mm disc, with four-piston radial calipers
Brakes, rear  Single 267 mm disc, twin-piston caliper
Seat height  890 mm
Wheelbase  1580 mm, +/- 10 mm
Wet weight*  n/a
Colours  White, orange
Warranty  n/a
* claimed  

6 COMMENTS

  1. Now – make similar bike with 690 engine, >20L tank, bags and i will buy it – as long as less than 12k.
    Sold. Do you hear me (us) KTM?

  2. Nice to see KTM moving away from the angular styling. I guess I’m fortunate to have 2 good dealers in close proximity though I don’t see any reason to trade in my 990 SMT as yet. I am considering adding a 690 exc as I miss off road exploring and the general silliness of play riding in the dirt. Though Costa says it’s competent off road I think I’d rather something smaller, less shinny and with fewer breakable bits.

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