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AMCN Adventure Bike test – KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R | BIKE TESTS

Steve Martin gets to ride the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

A WRY SMILE appeared on my face when I received the key to the KTM. In fact I almost felt guilty – having briefly ridden the bike a couple of months before I already knew how good it was.

Its off-road toughness makes it the daddy of adventure beasts. Just looking at the bike makes you salivate as its ‘come get me’ nature is boldly displayed for all to see, and its race-oriented appearance and pedigree is not hidden but celebrated. If you want to feel like you’ve just completed and won a leg of the Dakar Rally, this
is the bike to be on.

KTM hopes this new uprated 1290 R will pry away more of the pie BMW has enjoyed for a long time, and it hopes to win those customers over with one special ingredient: excitement. The 1290 R is the type of bike that makes you want to twist that throttle to the stop and get the rear wheel tearing away, whatever surface you are on. It can wheelie off into the distance from virtually any speed and the aggressive looks are backed up with an excellent handling and electronics package.

It was the most off-road-focused big-bore bike we had on the ride and its WP suspension does a great job of absorbing bumps and rocks – up to a point. It’s still very heavy and that weight plays a big part in how you must manoeuvre it, like any of the big adventure bikes. It’s a matter of riding to the point of not bottoming out the suspension when flying down unknown tracks with big holes and ruts.

But it’s easy to pick a line on the 1290 R, and it hides its weight well. You can change trajectory at the last minute if need be, or use the power to jump off whatever obstacle is in your path. The KTM let me challenge myself and goaded me to try stuff that normally I wouldn’t look at twice. And with its standard TKC 80 tyres we generally got through.

It’s not all orange roses though, as its off-road focus detracted from its on-road handling. The 21-inch front wheel with its aggressive knobby made me wary on the tarmac, especially when I was trying to stay with my riding buddies with more road-oriented rubber. Fixing the problem is a question of tyre choice, and anybody can consider what mix they want at new hoop time.

It was cold on the way up from Melbourne and that reminded me the big KTM doesn’t come standard with heated grips. On a bike like this, it should be mandatory. Not a big issue to fix as you can buy aftermarket items, it just would have been nice to be able to flick them on.

Overall though, for the riding we were doing around the property at Stump Hill I feel I had the best bike. It made a statement with the ponies and pedigree to back it up. If I owned one I would fit some heated grips and probably put up with the on-road performance the standard tyres provide, because off road, this bike is just such a thrill.

I liked

The way the KTM made me feel when in its proper environment: off road. Its competition heritage shone through and once I started I didn’t want to stop, especially through the rocky creek crossings where its geometry made me feel (and look) like a guru.

Not so keen on

It’s got a lot of power but boy, does it like to rev! The engine feels a lot like a racer in its power delivery, and while that’s very exciting, I miss the loping adventure-riding feeling. And though the WP suspension has been upgraded, I feel the front fork is a bit soft in standard form.

If I had my time again

I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe just two! I would have rung KTM and got some heated grips fitted. And I would have asked for a lower seat, too. The seat height is quite tall and it can be difficult to touch the ground at times, but the Super Adventure R’s balance is so good that I got by.

By Steve Martin