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KTM 1090 ADVENTURE R | Bike Tests | Latest Tests | Top Sellers in Australia

KTM has a reputation for pushing the off-road end of the adventure bike spectrum. Actually, the Austrian brand doesn’t mind fairly busting through such barriers and roaring their ADV machines deep into dirtbike world. Just look at the antics hero Kiwi off-road rider Chris Birch gets up to aboard KTM’s range of 1090 R and 1290 R adventure bikes… the guy’s a big-bore adventure bike riding freak, and KTM’s booming V-twins go with him every step of the way.

From the immortal 640 Adventure thumper, through to the ground-shaking 950 Super Enduro and a raft of 950, 990 and 1190 Adventure variants, KTM has a thoroughly dirt-worthy adventure bike pedigree that now rests in the hands of this 1090 Adventure R and its big brother 1290 Adventure S and R models.

Given the 1290 Adventure R was a starter in last year’s AMCN multi-bike adventure ride, the 1090 Adventure R was the clear choice to represent the orange army in this year’s jaunt.

Now, 151cc might not sound like much, but the 1090 (1050cc) and 1290 (1301cc) Katos are quite different beasts, with quite different levels of performance and pricing, the 1290 R actually hitting the showroom floor with a $6000 premium over the 1090 R. That’s a lot of double-shot soy lattes in any ADV rider’s language.

I scored the 1090 R first up for the stint down the coast to the rocky cliffs of Jerrawangala and, having ridden a 1290 R late last year, I noted this bike didn’t feel as strong in its outright power delivery. Mind you, with a healthy 92kW (123hp) on tap, the 1090 R is still a plenty strong and smooth performer – and, as is typical of KTM’s big V-twins, it thrives on revs and delivers a juicy exhaust note.

Clean throttle response, light clutch action and a sweet-shifting gearbox make the 1090 R an easy ride on the road, with an upright seating position giving you good vision over the tin-tops. The screen, which is compact and obviously skewed toward off-road use, could be more protective for longer touring sessions, while the lack of heated grips was duly noted by all of us when the weather turned cold and wet.

With four ride modes – Sport, Road, Rain and Off-Road, as well as the ability to select off-road traction control and off-road ABS – the 1090 R’s Bosch traction control system has the bases covered for electronic assistance when you want it, and when you don’t. Allowing the rider to lock the rear wheel, off-road ABS performance is good, and in the dirt is significantly better than the more basic and far more intrusive systems fitted to both the Suzuki and SWM, which it must be said are built to much tighter budgets.

With a 21-inch front wheel, an 18-inch rear and Continental Twinduro TKC80 knobbies as standard, there’s no questioning the 1090 R’s off-road adventure riding intentions. The other three 1000cc-plus bikes here all featured more tarmac-inspired 19-inch front wheels, which certainly help their handling manners when pushing hard on sealed, windy back roads.

Once you hit the dirt, the KTM’s 21-incher pays big dividends, offering easier and more confident line selection across crappy ground and picking your way between obstacles. This feature alone goes such a long way to giving the 1090 R the most dirtbike-like feel of the four big-bore bikes in this year’s pack.

Suspension chores are handled by KTM’s trademark WP components, with a 48mm USD fork and PDS rear end, delivering 220mm of travel each end and plenty of adjustment. Overall suspension action is confidence-inspiring, both on the tar and on the dirt, with the big-bore machine’s off-road manners especially impressive.

The 1090 R felt more rideable in technical off-road conditions than I remembered the 1290 R being – the bigger bike felt taller and more top-heavy and took more effort to manoeuvre – while the 1090 R was also more at home in these conditions than the bigger and more bulky BMW, Ducati and Triumph machines on this ride.

My motorcycle riding background is way more dirtbike-oriented than most of the other riders on this trip, and the big dirtbike-like feel and performance of the 1090 R readily found a home with me, as someone who likes his adventure riding to be dominated by the dirt.

Priced at $19,995 plus ORC, the 1090 R scores serious points in the value for money stakes.

The Austrian weapon is considerably less expensive than the other three 1000cc-plus bikes, though it must be noted it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. The BMW, Ducati and Triumph all have semi-active suspension, TFT dashes and a longer list of standard equipment. But that kind of price difference would go a long way to outfitting the KTM with a raft of personally set-up bolt-ons and still have a bit of money left in the bank.

I might be tempted to tackle Her Royal Highness, the Minister for War and Finance, and join the Orange Army.


The KTM felt the most dirtbike-like of the multi-cylinder bikes and, at a nick under $20K, the 1090 R is very keenly priced compared to the other 1000cc-plus bikes on test.


The engine didn’t punch as hard as the larger capacity BMW and Ducati on the tarmac, but held its own on the dirt. No heated grips is an oversight, and a larger screen would be good.

Fun Fact

It’s called the orange army for good reason: a whopping 240 KTM owners signed up for the recent 2018 KTM Adventure Rally: Outback Run.