KTM 1290 Super Adventure S road test and video review

2021 Super Adventure S review Visordown

The 2021 edition of KTM’s popular 1290 Super Adventure S includes a revised chassis, updated engine, and improved electronics

INTRODUCED in 2015, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure has been a go-to machine for those looking for banzai performance, and long-range ability, all wrapped up in a typically KTM looking package.

Now in its sixth year of production, the big adventure bike has gone through its most transformative change to date, gaining a new suite of electronics, a heavily updated engine, and more. It’s also the first of the Austrian brand’s bike to include what seems to be the latest battleground for manufacturers, radar-guided cruise control.

Update January 2023: For our most recent 'living with' review, check out Alex's road test of the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S.

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S price and colours

The new Super Adventure S starts at £14,999, significantly undercutting the Italian and German competition for a similarly specced machine. As always though, there are swathes of powerparts and electronics packs a rider can opt for that can be loaded at the dealership. The bike is available in just two colour schemes, traditional KTM orange, as ridden here, and black.

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Engine

The updated Euro5 mill of the 2021 Super Adventure S boasts the same power and torque as before, meaning you have an ample 160hp and 103lb-ft on offer. More is always nice, but you’re rarely going to be unleashing the full amount on UK roads, and I for one never felt that the bike was lacking in grunt or top-end power.

That’s not to say that advances haven’t been made though. The new engine is 1.6kg lighter than before, with thinner cases, a new oil delivery system and exhaust helping to shed the pounds. There was also a noticeable increase in refinement from the new V-twin. It’s not something that KTM alluded to in the press release for the new model, but the engine of the bike felt much more polished, with noticeably less noise from the valvetrain and a much easier-going nature at low speeds.

The previous generation had that unmistakable V-twin chug to it, something that was exaggerated when riding around town. It’s not totally gone and can be felt if you really take the piss with gear changes, but all in all, a big improvement.

Another improvement for this year was the updated PANKL gearbox, allowing me to shift cleaning using the quickshifter. It’s not that the old gearbox was terrible, just markedly more notchy, and often requiring a firm stamp on the lever to get it into gear.

KTM has put some serious work into making the act of riding the new bike more pleasurable and easier. To help this, the new bike features twin radiators that sit on each side of the engine. Not only does each rad’ cool one of the engine’s mammoth barrels, but the hot air is also whisked away from the rider by new vents on either side of the fairing. It’s not something you immediately notice while riding, but when I thought back, I did remain cool during our fairly long afternoon ride into the depths of the east of England.

Suspension, handling, and brakes

The electronic suspension of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S has always been a big selling point of the bike, and for 2021 the 48mm forks and rear shock have been given updated software. There are the same presets as before, Comfort, Street, Sport, and Off-road, as well as a new setting called Auto. Admittedly, with a fairly pacey road ride on the cards, I was spending most of my time in the sport mode, although I did force myself to try out Comfort and Auto too.

On the fast and undulating back roads out of KTM’s Silverstone HQ, the sport mode seems to have calmed the KTM, but only a bit. The previous version of WP’s semi-active suspension could be felt doing its thing beneath you, especially when ridden hard. The updated system on the 2021 Super Adventure S is much more intuitive. I couldn’t ‘feel’ it through the seat of my pants now, and it just seemed super stable, like a calming hand on my shoulder letting me know that no matter how late I braked or hard I got on the power, the bike had got it all under control. It still felt quick and more flickable than any bike this size should, but like the engine, I mention above, KTM seems to have dialled out some of the lunacy and dialled in some refinement.

Heading out onto the A34, I flicked the suspension into its comfort mode and was immediately greeted by a plush and ever so slightly wallowing set up. It wasn’t awful, and for someone touring two-up with luggage, for instance, it might help to alleviate some of the complaints from the back seat driver, for me though, it was just a touch too soft.

The best bet for mixed road riding is to slot it into the Auto mode. Here the bike will calculate the best setup based on the way you are riding. If you’re hard on the gas and flinging the thing at the scenery, the suspension will comply with a supportive setting that allows you to extract the most out of the bike. And when you start to back off and take things easy, it’ll soften it all up and soak up some of the hits. It’s a neat feature, and one that I could actually see myself using if I owned one.

Braking is provided by Brembo and as you’d expect the brakes are extremely strong with a solid lever feel. There is a trick 6-axis IMU tucked in the bowels of the bike, calculating the braking force required for the given speed and lean angle of the bike. There are also two levels of cornering ABS, for both on and off-road riding. On the fairly fresh but sunny day spent on the bike, I’ve got to admit that I rarely felt the system intervening, with only a short off-road section at the end of the day really calling it into action.

And while we are talking of handling, a big round of applause should be given to the tyres on the Super Adventure S. They are made by Mitas, a company which is famous for being fairly unknown in the motorcycle world, save for maybe with off-road types. I have to say though, the Terra Force-R hoops are actually very good. We didn’t get the chance to try them in the rain, but the dry grip was excellent, and they turn nicely too.


Aside from the new radiator set up making the bike more pleasurable on long, hot rides. KTM has also chucked a load of development budget at the ergonomics of the machine. The previous Super Adventure was a precarious thing for a short arse like me to ride, and it seems that the design team has listened to my moans. For this year they have trimmed down the seat making it slightly more contoured than before. It’s not immediately noticeable when you sit on it, but I did feel more secure while paddling the thing around between photo stops. The seat on the new bike is also adjustable, from 849mm to 869mm

Up top, the 2021 bike has a revised fuel tank, that sees the unit split into three sections: one on top in the conventional place, and two smaller tanks on each side – a la 890 Adventure. The side-mounted tanks aren’t quite as bulbous and noticeable as on its smaller sibling, although they do take enough fuel to mean the convention fuel tank that sits between your knees has shrunk significantly.

After a full and frantic day in the saddle, I felt pretty good, although I did notice that the seat became uncomfortable after a couple of hours. The riding position is fine, and, as most of you will know, I find most bike seats a tad on the hard side anyway. But don’t worry if that sounds like you, KTM has around nine different seat options for the bike, with choices of heated thrown in too.


As with any KTM, the new 1290 Super Adventure is pushing the boundaries of technology on two wheels. The new 7” TFT is a smorgasbord of adjustability and gadgets – although remember that some of these will come as standard, and some will need turning on by a dealer.

As standard, the bike comes with lean-sensitive traction control, which for this year features two sensors, one to measure wheel slip and one to measure pitch angle. It’s something you hope never to feel working on a normal ride, although the extra thorough approach from the orange team will no doubt win over the pub-stat warriors out there.

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S standard equipment

  • Lean sensitive traction control
  • Cornering ABS
  • Off-road ABS
  • Cruise control
  • Riding modes Street/Sport/Rain
  • Race on
  • ATiR
  • TPMS
  • KTM MyRide

Further than that, KTM also offers a Rally Pack, a Suspension Pro pack, and the Tech Pack, which brings those other two optional packs together plus Motor Slip Regulation, Hill Hold Control, Quickshifter +, and an adaptive brake light.

Adaptive Cruise Control

I’ve never been a massive fan of the idea of adaptive cruise control on a bike. It seems like a lazy waste of a system that is just another step taken away from the mind of the rider. And as KTM UK’s PR representative ran through the pre-ride briefing and explained how the system worked, I still wasn’t won over.

The premise is simple, set the cruise control as you would normally, select how closely you want to follow and away you go. The bike will do the thinking for you, accelerating and braking as needed.

I’m not saying I’m totally won over, or that I think that systems like this on a bike are a good thing, but it is a very clever system, and it works phenomenally well.

I set the system to what can best be described as the ‘Audi’ following distance. With the image on the TFT denoting a following distance that was so close to the car in front, the driver should have been able to smell the Chicken Tikka baguette I had for lunch. It wasn’t actually all that close, a little over a second and a half perhaps, but still enough that I need to pay attention and make sure nobody stole my gap. And on a few occasions when cars did indeed nip into my breathing space, the adaptive cruise would slow the bike down and maintain the same gap as before behind the new target vehicle. Once the road had cleared again, the bike will pull back up to the cruising speed I had set the system for before the four-wheeled rubbish got in my way.

It’s a neat system, and, while I wouldn’t use it all the time while riding on motorways, it was handy to be able to rely on it on the fairly congested A34. And it didn’t mean I’d switched off either, quite the opposite. I actually found that instead of monitoring the distance to the car ahead all the time, I was now acutely aware of everything else that was going on beside and behind me.

A very neat trick of the system is that when you flick on your indicator to pull out, the ECU dials in a few hundred RPM to help get you past the vehicle. It’s not some dizzying rush of acceleration, just a gentle nudge in the back to help you slide around Doris in her Daewoo.

Again, very trick, and I like it and would probably use it if I had one.

Three things will like about the 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S:

  • The engine is easily the most refined of the bunch
  • Electronic suspension is now intuitive not intrusive
  • Handling dynamics that shouldn’t happen on anything this big

Three things we didn’t like:

  • The seat still feels too hard for me
  • Some handlebar controls are fiddly to use
  • Still get a lot of turbulence at motorway speeds

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Verdict

KTM’s latest generation 1290 Super Adventure S has come out swinging in the battle for ADV bike superiority. It’s lighter than before, more advanced than before, and I think it might just be the most fun to ride. I said on the day of the ride, that it genuinely feels like about five bikes rolled into one. And I still believe that. And we aren’t talking multifaceted like a sports bike for green laning, or a tourer for track days, with the adjustability through the engine and suspension electronics, and with the new chassis providing poise and balance like never before on the model, it really does feel like nothing can get it in its way.

Add that the increased refinement of the model, slightly improved comfort, and the fact that it undercuts the rest of the top-flight adventure bikes by a considerable margin, it’s kinda looking like KTM might be onto a winner with this one.

For more information, head to: www.ktm.com

Images and video: Too Fast Media