2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Review | Living with a Radar-Assisted Missile

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S review 2023

With its radar-assisted cruise control and LC8 V-Twin, we test the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S. It’s an absolute missile!

VISORDOWN’S Alex did the double this winter, completing tests on both of the KTM 1290 Super Adventure machines. His ‘1290 double’ saw him riding both KTM 1290 Super Adventure S and rally-ready Super Adventure R versions, both models handily fitted with that luscious LC8 V-Twin, plus this S model with the radar-assisted cruise control.

Serving as an update to Toad's launch ride review, it was my turn in the saddle for a 'living with' review of the 1290 Super Adventure S.

After seriously enjoying a couple of weeks with the off-road biased brother, the 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, it was time to try out the road-focused ‘S’ model - complete with 2021 updates to the 1301cc LC8 V-twin motor, new semi-active electronic suspension, a wealth of tweaks and changes, and of course the radar-assist cruise control.

If you’re an adventure touring fan, this LC8 V-twin may just be singing the perfect melody to turn your head - and with all of the 2021 updates to sharpen its abilities, this was an outstanding few weeks with an orange beast.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Price & Availability

Initially released in 2021, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S was initially priced in at £14,999 - though a recent 2023 announcement has superseded this edition with a further few updates and a price bump to £16,699. That’s not to say this 2021 model year is now irrelevant, as dealerships may be looking to flog these ‘older’ models with much of the same gadgetry for a bargain basement price. 

Colour options are a spectacular KTM-staple orange, or a discreet black/grey with orange highlights. As you can see in the photos I had the orange edition in for testing, and I genuinely think it’s a great-looking bike. 

Some comments on social media mentioned the ugly faceplate, though I think that’s entirely subjective - as I don’t think it’s too bad! Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Engine

If you haven’t ridden with the 1301cc LC8 V-Twin yet, you simply have to try it out. It’s an outrageous bit of kit, with an immense amount of torque all over the rev range, and at any speed. Get it into the sportiest rider mode with full access to the 160 bhp and 138Nm (101lb-ft) of torque on offer, and you’ll be hurtling towards the horizon before you know it. 

For 2021, the LC8 has been reworked to shed 1.6kg thanks to thinner engine cases, new pistons and a new oil circuit, updates to the PANKL Quickshifter+ gear mechanism, and exhaust upgrades to round off a host of mechanical tweaks and changes.

Two radiators will guide warm air away from the rider's legs (working in conjunction with adjusted bodywork), standard 9300 mile/15,000 km service intervals apply, and it comes equipped with five rider modes covering Rain, Street, Sport, Offroad, and the optional Rally which costs another couple of hundred quid. 

The quickshifter+ works nicely up & down over the 6 gears, though I found the positioning of the lever requiring a really positive kick up/down to fully engage the next gear - this could be down to the peg position, which keeps your boots tucked beneath you. The PASC slip & assist clutch did work very nicely, too, with a surprisingly light clutch feel.

Factor in the immense suite of electronic aids (lean-sensitive traction control with wheel slip and pitch angle controllers, Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control with cornering ABS & off-road ABS, plus Motor Slip Regulation) and you’re staring a seriously electronic transformer in the face, egging you on to make the most of the motor depending on how you want to ride.

I had an incredible amount of fun with this bike, and it’s just as good for touring miles two-up with luggage as it is for getting a bit silly on the local backroads. Simply put, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a very versatile option for the adventure tourer who wants a bit of action as well.

Ride to Motorcycle Live - Taste of Touring

With the bike delivered down to me, after a few local spins, my full ‘debut tour’ was penned in as Motorcycle Live 2022 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham - giving me circa 300 miles to get to grips with how the Super Adventure S would fair in its natural habitat; the motorway.

Primarily I was looking to suss out the radar-assist adaptive cruise control, and having used it before on a few other models, it was time to see how the Austrians think it should be done.

Assisted cruise is a contentious topic, but I think it’s a hugely useful tool. We all know about the cars that can’t quite figure out what speed they want to go on faster stretches of road, and that’s where this system comes in to assist you keeping a consistent pace with little to no hassle. Hugely beneficial to make some of those tiring long distance slogs a little less fatiguing.

It works well as an assistance tool, but I’d certainly recommend not placing your entire ride in its hands. When setting the follow distance setting from very close to very far (and anywhere in between) I found it to be very accurate, and it’ll smoothly slow and speed you up to the vehicle in front. It’ll track bikes too, and around bends it will smartly keep an eye on the vehicle ahead in your lane around a slight bend. Engineering wizardry at its finest.

Going past slowing vehicles in other lanes doesn’t seem to confuse it too much, nor does riding in seriously adverse weather - which I was ‘blessed with’ on the way there and back from Birmingham. Nothing could seemingly shake the radar’s lock, and when the weather was awful I happily set follow distance to ‘long’, and kept a stern eye on what was ahead (when I could see past the adjustable screen that seemed to hold a layer of water, and thus difficult to see through despite doing well to remove most buffeting when sat upright), 

It’s key to stay focused here, as it’s worrying how easy adaptive cruise accompanies your ride to remove some of the tiring elements of the process. You’re almost lulled into a false sense of security, so it’s vital you stay switched on and not get complacent with any sudden developments around you - naturally. You can also set it to ‘comfort’ or ‘sport’ (or off, where it’s a normal cruise control) where it’ll adjust your acceleration and deceleration accordingly. But why you’d want to ‘sportily’ match the speed of the car ‘very close’ in front is peculiar, if not just to feel the cruise control work faster.

Outside of that, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S  is superb for touring - if you can get on it. Seat height is an adjustable 849-869mm (with lower seats in the accessories catalogue), it’s a fairly weighty 220 kg dry, and it’s a tall beast. For a 6’3” rider it’s perfect. For anyone shorter than 6’, you’ll need to make sure your feet can touch the ground.

The large 23-litre tank will happily return 200 miles between fill-ups, and I tended to float around the 50-53 mpg mark depending on how much of the LC8 I wanted to engage.

I’d certainly take this bike on a European tour. Though you absolutely have to add heated grips - an odd thing to not have as standard when there is radar-cruise - instead it’s a £180 add-on.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Frame, Suspension, Brakes

With a chassis overhaul for 2021, the KTM engineers have tweaked weight distribution with a shorter chassis, new subframe & longer swingarm. Cornering feels sharp and consistent, thanks in part to moving the steering head back by 15 mm and re-locating the front section of the engine.

It’s a powder-coated Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, with an aluminium swinging arm, and is paired with the superb WP Apex semi-active suspension. It also has the trick ‘Suspension Pro’ package, meaning you can dive into the settings to tweak individual damping for the fork and the shock, plus automatic preload adjustment and an on/off-road Anti Dive settings.

Suspension travel is 200mm & 220mm front/rear, and I found the 48mm forks giving the front end a remarkably composed character when moving. It really can be sharp into corners, giving you the perfect feedback mid-corner for an ‘on rails’ feel which you’d never expect for such a large machine. 

Braking power is in the hands of Brembo, with 4-piston radially mounted front calipers on twin 320mm discs up front, and 2-piston fixed caliper on the rear 300mm disc. Impressive on the brakes, and paired to the suspension setup and anti-dive settings, you have complete faith in the performance.

I’d say the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S is a complete package here, and again, for a fairly hefty bike it seems to outperform riding performance of other comparable tourers in all departments - if you can get on the thing!

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Tech features

KTM is known to provide a tasty tech offering, and it’s no different here. A wealth of rider modes, rider assists and other electronic trickery (smartphone pairing for one) are all tucked away in the new flashy 7” TFT display, which can be set to automatically switch between night & day modes depending on the ambient lighting.

Reliability rumours may lurk in the background, but from a first-ride perspective, the 1290 is a superbly well-built and well-specced machine. 

As mentioned already, you have the semi-active suspension, 6-axis IMU with lean-angle sensitive traction control and Bosch cornering ABS, motor slip control, and adaptive cruise. It really does have it all, though this does mean you have the potential to fiddle away with rider settings via the lovely new switchgear for far too long. Or not long enough, if that’s what you’re into.

Smartphone integration is possible, though it does mean that classic 15 minutes spent wondering why it won’t just connect instantly - and though there is a little compartment for gadgets up front (with USB within), my iPhone 12 pro max didn’t fit in there, and it’s not lockable. So I tended to just chuck the keyless ignition key and a Mars bar in there while out for a ride.

Whether you’re in the camp of ‘there’s too much tech getting in the way’ or ‘give me all the electronic assists’, KTM tend to be at the forefront of the rider tech debate - with the option to ‘unlock’ features at any stage of ownership - including the optional Suspension Pro, Rally Pack & Tech Pack.

On one hand, it’s good to have bonus functionality not rammed down your throat, ready to activate if you decide you want it. But the other side is getting your head around how a bike is shipped with functions locked behind a paywall, and not just given to you for free. Naturally, you can chuck on all manner of accessories & touring additions to make this a venerable do-it-all all-rounder.

Nonetheless, the electronic suite here as standard is superb, really adding to the ride. There are plenty of options for accessories, too - so you can spec up your dream touring machine if you want more.

What we like & dislike about the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S

What We Like

  • Outstanding LC8 V-twin motor
  • Rider tech galore
  • Genuine all-round tourer

What We Dislike

  • Give me heated grips as standard!
  • Very tall, could be troublesome for shorter riders
  • Rumours of iffy reliability may cloud a purchase decision - needs a long-term test!

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Verdict

Adventure bikes are best when they can do it all, especially for taller riders. Where you may be after a long-distance tourer that can also let its hair down, this could be well worth a look. 

Overall, the engine is an absolute joy to work with. The ride feel is outstanding, the tech is next-level, and it certainly has that attitude that is oh-so-common with KTM machinery. 
Though perhaps plagued with rumours of faults over long-term ownership, with all of the electronic bits that could go wrong on top, you may want to ensure you keep on top of the routine maintenance and keep it in tip-top shape. 

But either way, for around £14,999 this is a stunning option for a taller adventure rider. Style, attitude, ability - I’d say this has it all. It ended as one of my stand-out motorcycles for 2022, and I’d certainly recommend anyone to try it out - if you can get on the saddle!

Big thanks to KTM, head to their website for more information (and to see if you think it’s worth paying £1,500 more for the 2023 model, or this 2021 edition). As of writing, KTM is offering an additional year of warranty (taking the tally to 3 years) for new 2023 financed models purchased new.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Video Review