By Simon Hargreaves
LARGE-CAPACITY adventure bikes have drifted from their original concept as genuine dual-purpose machines to become tarmac colossi, loaded with performance, technology, luxury, convenience and luggage, striding magnificently across continents on a tankful. They’re exceptional road bikes. But most owners no longer contemplate going off-piste because, unless you’re a handy enduro rider, the image dissolves on contact with reality. Compromised wheel sizes, weight balance and engine character catches up and... down we go.
But KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure R might be about to change all that. It’s the ‘off-road’ version of the recently launched 1290 Super Adventure S. And it’s making a claim to be a genuinely handy off-road tool as well as ticking all the road boxes.
The 1290 S and R have much in common: the same Euro 4-updated 1301cc 75° V-twin making 160hp at 8,750rpm and a thumping 103lbft at 6,750rpm. Both bikes also boast the latest engine management with a smörgåsbord of engine modes, lean-angle sensitive traction control options, multiple cornering ABS modes, cornering headlights and cruise control. The 1290 S and R also share the same steel tube frame, ally swing-arm, 23-litre tank, styling – and an incredible 6.5-inch dash, made from toughened glass and with an adjustable viewing angle. It looks like an iPad has landed where your crap old plastic grey dots used to be, and makes you wonder why we all put up with such appallingly lazy, cheap product design for so long.
The differences that make the 1290 R more useful off-road are:
• 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wire-spoked tubeless ally rims instead of cast 19in/18in wheels (for more impact strength and better steering and stability in the dirt)
• a flat, one-piece seat instead of a two-piece (for fore and aft rider weight transfer)
• engine bars (crash protection)
• a shorter, adjustable screen (less to smash your head into off-road)
• long-travel, conventional WP suspension (dedicated off-road set-up rather than the S model’s semi-active road-based settings)
The R is also few kilos heavier than the S, at 217kg dry/240kg wet, and £200 more expensive, at £14,499.
So does it work? To demonstrate how well the 1290 R’s off-road set-up can boost the confidence of a fairly novice off-road rider, KTM have flown a fairly novice off-road Visordown tester to Peru, to ride it in the desert.
The South American country hosted the Dakar rally in 2013, and is well-equipped with the boundless, sun-baked, sandy horizons many adventure bike customers dream of. And within a few miles of rocky trails, it’s clear the 1290 R is in a different league of off-road ability than its road-biased, 19-inch front-wheel rivals. It’s already accomplished something they can’t, by flooding a nervous off-roader with trust, confidence and happiness.
I’ve tested the 1290 R’s rivals off-road, and had ‘oh-shit’ moments on most of them – when ambition overtakes ability and road-based compromises become a hindrance. The result can be confidence destroyed, fun over, this is pointless, can we go home now please?
But the KTM’s 21-inch front felt instinctively stable and predictable, even to a goon rider.