Despite all the features and clever bits bike manufacturers seem to be able to come up with, almost all bikes can be defined by one particular trait. That may be the engine, an especially smooth gearbox or great handling. Never has this been truer than with the launch of the new KTM Adventure range, which recently took place in Cape Town, South Africa.
This is a bike that’s so well known in the adventure bike market that it almost defines the category. Along with the BMW GS this really is the defacto choice depending on if you prefer German or Austrian engineering.
The bike comes in five guises, depending on what you use it mostly for. There’s two 1090 models and three versions of the 1290 model. The 1090 in both standard and R trim tends to run out of legs fairly quickly, as the bike is so well set up it pushes you to ride faster than the engine is happy with. But the 1290 is sublime, with the rider’s limits far closer than the engines. The three versions are the R, S and T, with the R and S sporting spoked rims for off-road riding and the T more focused at long distance road riding.
By far the pick of the bunch, depending on what you plan to use it for, is the R, which is the most extreme version of the bike. Importantly, the difference between the R and T is tiny, so by buying the R you don’t really have to compromise on off-road ability.
But the blanket you can throw over all three is without a shadow of doubt, balance. Yes, the bigger engine is amazingly smooth and the suspension sublime, but the total balance of the bike is what really grabs you.
Any weight melts away from under you and you soon forget you’re riding a bike that weighs 217 kgs, which by the way is 46 kgs lighter than the rival BMW R 1200 GS. Get out onto a gravel path or hard packed sand and it handles like a motocross bike. Stand up on the pegs and suddenly you’re a Dakar rider, steering with your hips and throwing it around like it’s an extension of your body. KTM always make bikes that feel race ready and they pride themselves on that, but this really does feel like you could if you wanted to.
Of course, it’s actually built for adventures (the clue is in the name), so buyers can equip it with all the pre-requisite add-ons adventure riders seem to love so much. Panniers, crash bars and all the usual items are already available via the KTM Powerparts range.
With this new version KTM has managed to meld together stunning on-road prowess with frankly astounding off-road ability. It’s hard to find anything to pick apart. Will the TFT dash screen and software put up with serious off-roading at the dark end of an Asian gravel road? Time will tell, as there aren’t many KTM dealerships where the serious off-roaders want to explore. But KTM have probably tested it to destruction already, so it’s not something to lose sleep over.
Regardless, with the balance of a yoga master and an engine like a gas turbine, there’s a lot to love with the new KTM Adventure. Go for the 1290, throw your bags on the back and point it East. Just remember to stop when you get to the sea.