First Ride: KTM 1190 Adventure review

Two-thirds of KTM's 260 technicians had a hand in the 1190 Adventure project. It's a big deal for KTM but will it be a bigger deal for the opposition?

IT'S not often you see the word ‘mayhem’ in a manufacturer’s press kit, let alone in the introduction to an adventure bike but this is KTM and those orange fellas like to do things differently.

Using the same 1195cc engine that powers the RC8R superbike, mayhem definitely sounds like it’s a mere twist of the throttle and the surrender of a skinny rear tyre away but KTM were keen to stress that even though the 1190 Adventure has the highest power to weight ratio of any bikes in this sector, outright power was never on the drawing board; more versatility was the aim and not just in the engine but across the motorcycle as a whole.

The 1190 Adventure is the replacement to the successful and cult 990 Adventure, which ceased production at the end of last year after almost 10 years. When you look at the growing list of Adventure bikes, the 990 Adventure is arguably still the best bike for the type of riding these bikes pretend they get used for: unpaved roads. So it’s ironic then that in order to sell more bikes in this class, it’s versatility not unpaved road performance that really counts.

That versatility presents itself in many ways, from the less off-road biased wheel sizes (19/17 as opposed to the 21/18 on the 990), to the 23-litre tank (19.5-litres on the 990), to the adjustable seat height and the sophisticated electronics package. The 1190 Adventure features traction control, combined ABS, power modes and optional electronically adjustable suspension, which you’d only really expect to see on a top of the range superbike.

Looks are subjective and I rarely mention them but it does appear that KTM have made an effort to make this bike whisper ‘DO YOU WANT SOME?’ and by that I mean the aggressive angular lines and the expected bright orange have been softened off somewhat. It's not quite as brash. It doesn’t look like it’s going to spit in your face.

Sat on the bike, it feels tall but not unwieldy. At 860mm, it’s no higher than the 990 but 10mm taller than the 2012 1200GS and for comparison, just 40mm taller than a CBR600RR. At 212kg wet and around 230kg fully fuelled it feels lighter than its size would lead you to believe. KTM boast it has the best power to weight ratio in its class.

The clocks are big, bold and all-digital except for an analogue rev-counter; a great combination. On the left of the rev-counter is a digital panel that gives you in-depth readouts of everything from power and damping modes, to consumption, trip, air temperature and your current position in the Dakar, probably.

You can’t fail to notice how light the clutch is. The all-new slipper clutch features a ramp-action to hold the plates in place under load, meaning lighter springs can be used which translates into a lighter lever action. Just one finger needed.

Although the motor is from the RC8, it’s undergone some serious changes both in terms of hardware and software. The 1190 Adventure’s gearbox uses different ratios to the RC8; first gear is now shorter, making clutchless low-speed control more controlled while all the ratios have been shifted away from the RC8’s 170mph top end. The pistons have been redesigned too and borrow technology used in F1, the skirts use a coating that’s designed to reduce friction and helping the engine respond quicker.

It uses Ride by Wire and not a cable throttle, so throttle inputs are measured and processed by an ECU, adding more accuracy to the calibration of fuel/air ratios. That, coupled with dual spark plugs, results in improved low-end torque, throttle response and fuel economy.

The motor is a beauty. The large 105mm piston bore and short stroke declare that this is a fast-revving engine but although it can rev, it’s not rev-happy. Load it up at 20mph in fourth gear at 2,500rpm and after a momentary strain of the power train, the rev needle heads north with steely determination.

It’s really not as savage as I thought it would be. Afterall it’s essentially an RC8 engine with more torque but the MTC traction control constantly earns its keep, keeping you safety within the limits of traction.

There are four riding modes, Sport, Street and Rain and Off-Road. The first two deliver 150bhp while the others cap power at 100bhp, the levels of traction control intervention are also adjusted. Delivery too is softened off from Sport down to Off-Road.

In the 100bhp modes, the bike can still be made to go fast but the engine never really feels like it gets going. In Sport and Street the response feels more precise but you can definitely sense the electronics keeping things sensible, even in Sport which you’d think would be lairy and indeed mayhem inducing.

Try as you might, you just won’t get the 1190 Adventure to misbehave with any riding modes switched on. Give it a handful of throttle mid-corner and the bike acknowledges your request but it will only give you what the tyre can handle. Make a point of standing the bike up halfway through a corner and you’ll get almost all of what you asked for but you do get the feeling you’re not being given everything and you’d be right: you’re not. It’s a clever system and it makes for one of the least crashable bikes I’ve ever ridden.

You can adjust riding modes on the go, but you can only switch off ABS and traction control at speeds under walking pace. I felt slightly intimidated at the thought of turning traction control off afterall 150bhp and a big trailie could make for an interesting shaped dent in a roadside boulder but losing the electronics didn’t suddenly turn the 1190 into an Adventure bike possessed. Quite the opposite.

The 1190’s chassis is firm, it’s agile, it’s precise. It features fully adjustable WP suspension front and rear and that’s the key to why a raw 150bhp felt so tractable. Our test models were equipped KTM’s Electronic Damping System. With just a few taps of the bar-mounted buttons you can adjust the preload to one of four settings at a standstill and adjust the damping to one of three settings, Sport, Street and Comfort on the go.

The damping settings should be labelled Sport-Sport, Sport-Street and Sport-Comfort. The difference between all three is very slight and Comfort, while reducing bar vibration and rear-end patter, isn’t quite the relaxing setting one would expect.

The non-EDS bikes feature 25 clicks of compression and rebound damping and I’m confident that those who like fiddling with suspension would prefer a non-EDS bike, while those who want a quick bit of adjustability will benefit from the ease of EDS. KTM missed a trick by not letting you dial your own settings into their pre-programmed modes.

At low speeds the 1190 feels nimble, the wide bars offer great control and the light clutch makes U-turns a doddle. The 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear wheel are a sensible choice and help keep the bike feeling positive on the road and they come into their element on twisty roads.

Large front wheels may be good on the dirt and may add to the adventure look but the unfortunate trade-off is a vague and wandering feeling when speeds and levels of lean increase. You just don't get that on the 1190 Adventure.

You'd be forgiven for thinking you're running 17" supermoto wheels front and rear; there's a load of feel and grip which gives you plenty of confidence. Sure, you're not going to head out to get your pegs down on a bike like this but the 1190 Adventure can hustle. If you came up behind a 5-year-old sportsbike on a twisty road, you could more than give them a run for their money and instead of the hassle of overtaking, with suspension like this, you could just ride over them! Vague is not a word the 1190 Adventure understands, it's agile and never feels like the 230kg it claims to be.

The wire-spoked wheels are a smart KTM patented design. They allow tubeless tyres and while they’re heavier than cast-aluminium wheels, they're claimed to be more stable than cross-spoke designs and unlike cast wheels, they offer the strength needed to attack unpaved roads and off-road trails.

The Continental tyres are a sensible choice too. Their relatively wide profiles (120/70 and 170/60) give the 1190 Adventure a sure-footed stance on the road. I don’t see the point in pseudo off-road tyres bikes that spend their life on the road, they’re just the worst of both worlds, so non-knobbly rubber gets the thumbs up for the type of riding most owners are going to do.

The Brembo monobloc brakes look like they’ve come straight out of a pit garage but despite their brutal look, they don’t grab and instead feel measured. With the latest Bosch ABS system in place, it’s hard to see where you’d go wrong with this setup. The brakes are combined, although you’d do well to feel any application on the rear, it’s very subtle. If you grab a handful of the front and sit back, that’s one of the few times you’ll feel the ABS kick in. While it’s setup to help you achieve the maximum braking force, it’ll also stop you going over the front of the bike. Rolling stoppies are actually hard to do because the system lets the brakes off when you’re in the process of getting the rear wheel in the air but I doubt they’re high up the average Aventure motorcycle owner’s list of requirements. If they are, you can always switch ABS off.

On twisty country lanes you could be lazy and stay in fourth all day and you’ll have a working range from 20mph to 100mph but unlike on some previous KTM models, you’ll be up for using the whole gearbox.

The gearbox on the 950 and 990 Adventure was never its strong point and this was further highlighted in the RC8. The new gearbox in the 1190 Adventure was testing in the more powerful RC8 and doesn’t just feature revised ratios, the selectors and dogs have been re-designed too. It’s not just the best gearbox I’ve found on a KTM, it’s up there with the best of any manufacturer. During our 200-mile test ride I didn’t have one issue.

At motorway speeds, the motor is way more capable than the screen. At 80mph with the screen in its lowest position, things are noisy but comfortable. Add another 10mph and you’ll manage 5 miles before you’ve had enough of the battering. The screen has 25mm of height adjustment and can be moved backward and forwards by 36mm. In its fully-up position, 90mph became comfortable but three figure speeds and I didn’t get on. While the screen doesn’t need tools to be adjusted and can be done on the go, it’s not as simple as the one-handed grip-and-slide screen on the Multistrada.

KTM promised that the new electronics and RbW throttle would deliver improved fuel economy. At 80mph in top gear for 5 miles, I averaged 61mpg. A 125-mile blast on a fairly even split of motorways, fast A-roads and twisty mountain roads resulted in an average of 45mpg. After this 125-mile blast my reserve light just came on, meaning there were 4 of the massive 23-litres remaining. There’s enough in there for a 150mile blast or 200+miles at a more sedate pace.

It’s comfortable enough to do those sorts of distances too. The seat features a new ‘3D foam’ which feels firm at first but is perfectly suited to the job. You can not only adjust the seat height by 15mm but you can also adjust the footpeg position and bring the bars back by 10mm. It’s the type of bike that would benefit from a bit of tailoring and once you’ve got it how you like it, you’d probably never change it. If I was going touring, I’d opt for a larger screen as wind blast at speed is this bike’s only foible when it comes to seeing out every last drop from the tank.

KTM have succeeded in making a more versatile Adventure, it's a class act. I was concerned that a Ride by Wire throttle would make the engine feel vague and while it’s not the raw motorcycles I thought it would be, it’s still a very fast motorcycle.

It bears the core values of a KTM: fast, agile and focused. There’s mayhem bubbling away in there but with a sophisticated electronics package it’s being kept under control and is now going about the business of being a KTM in a way that’s a lot more d—i—s—c—r—e—e—t .

And that’s not a word you can often level at a KTM.