KTM 1290 Super Adventure R (2021) review | Living with a green lane machine

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R review

Adventures abound for the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, as we go green lane riding on the Rally mode V-Twin.

Bolstered with a range of updates in 2021 to seriously upgrade an already venerable adventure motorcycle, the 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R was in our muddy grasps for a couple of weeks - and we have some green lanes and byways scouted out & planned in, ready to explore. Or rather, ‘Ready to Race’.

You get the feeling that KTM has really chucked everything at the 1290 Super Adventure R, hoping to appeal to the seasoned off-road rider just as much as the road tourer with a penchant for the ‘quicker route home’ otherwise known as ‘across a farmer’s field’.

This off-road enabled adventurer is powered by the 1301cc LC8 V-twin, seen across the rest of the Austrian firm's current 1290 range - and this latest generation has seen updates to its electronics suite, reworked its top-notch WP Xplor suspension, features a new 23L three-part fuel tank to optimise weight distribution, plus includes engine tweaks, geometry changes, and a reconstructed subframe - and that’s just scratching the surface.

I had the Super Adventure R in for a couple of weeks, and as I’m located somewhere out in the Norfolk/Suffolk area, there are plenty of byways & green lanes to traverse in that time… as well as acres of Thetford forest to explore. In short, I was in for a good time.

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Price & Availability

Available now at your nearest KTM dealer, the 2021 model year KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is priced up at £16,649.

It’s available in one colour option - a mix of white, blue & signature KTM orange. Style is naturally subjective, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best-looking adventurer out there - the stormtrooper white just doesn’t do it for me, though it’s an endearing style. I’m torn. Luckily style has no influence on performance.

As for some of the off-road inspired rivals, automatic considerations are the Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports (£14,749), BMW R 1250 GS Adventure (£15,650), the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 (£15,595), Ducati Multistrada V4 (£15,495), and Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT (£12,499).

Even consider the new all-electric Zero DSR/X (£24,150) as a hopeful contemporary to this KTM - though I’d hazard a guess that 90% of riders will spend more time on asphalt than on the trails. Outside of the Zero, this KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is up there as the priciest, though the BMW and Ducati can definitely be specced up to astronomical figures.

If after customisation, you’ll be glad to hear official KTM accessories are in abundance. Should you wish to add further onto the price tag for bits like heated grips (shame they’re not fitted as standard), a taller screen, panniers and luggage… the list goes on.

LC8 V-Twin Engine

It was my first time experiencing the 1290 platform from KTM, and I was picking up the Super Adventure R from KTM HQ that had just been shod with fresh Bridgestone Battlax AX41 tubeless hoops. For a 2-hour damp ride home on a new-to-me machine with knobblies, I was sure to take it nice and steady whilst scrubbing in the first 100 miles. 

Well, that was the plan, anyway. The first sight of a twist B-road had me twisting the wrist and instantly detouring, eagerly pushing the LC8 as much as I dared - and despite the adjacent fields being much more the style for the tool at hand, the paved roads were absolutely eaten up.

Housed as a stressed member in the chassis, this 1301cc LC8 V-Twin is a serious bit of kit. Quoted with 160 bhp at 9000 bhp and 138 Nm of torque at 6500 rpm, KTM calls the motor ‘Earth-twisting’ despite a tiny drop in torque, and peak power achievable later in the revs than before for Euro 5 reasons. 

I agree with the marketing blurb, it does feel ‘Earth-twisting’. If you’re not steady on this, your licence may end up on the sidelines for a bit. It’s just that keen to be opened up, practically pulling you down the road by your bootstraps with that characteristic V-twin torque that feels instantly at the ready.

Whatever style of adventure you’re after, the capability of this engine makes it abundantly clear to see why KTM opt for the 75º 4-valve DOHC V-twin, now 1.6 kg lighter, to flagship its adventure range. You’ll also find this same motor on the road-focused 1290 Super Adventure S (we’ll have an individual review coming in the near future), and the 1290 Super Duke model, and it’s clear to see why.

Spooling up fast, power to the rear wheel is delivered with ride-by-wire, a slip assist clutch, and a chain drive. Even if peak torque is found at 6500 revs, the delivery feels consistent, direct, and smooth from low down. Nearing redline at 8500~ revs has you absolutely rocking, and it’ll find power even if cruising at low revs in 5th gear. 

That PASC slip-assist clutch keeps the ride smooth and under control, maintaining a fluid and direct response on the road. A twin-radiator setup keeps everything cool, even directing some ventilation to your legs. How kind!

You’re granted 5 rider modes (Rain, Street, Sport, Off-Road, Rally) with a noticeable variation of riding experience via throttle maps & power delivery, electronic assists, and riding aids.

On those electronic assists, you have the full suite with a new Bosch 6-axis lean angle sensor, including lean-angle sensitive traction control, slip regulation & stability control, cornering ABS, tyre pressure monitoring, cruise control, and off-road specific assists (ABS, traction, slip control).

Naturally, sport mode gives you full power with limited intervention, whilst road mode supplies full power with a slightly more relaxed ride with a degree of electronic assistance. Rally mode is a ‘super off-road’ mode that provides the option to switch off the rear ABS, and swap throttle mode, and slip assist on the fly with the cruise control switches. 

It’s a top electronics package, stepping in to help when needed, yet tweakable to find your perfect medium. More on the off-road acumen later.

Plenty of work has been done to appease the Euro 5 gods, who seem to insist on moving goalposts on emissions regularly. By utilising a twin ignition system and introducing the overdrive 6th gear, KTM hopes the fuel consumption and noise emissions stay low. Happily, the sound that emanates from within is still akin to a bark and growl at speed, it’s still a pleasure in an increasingly quietened two-wheeled world.

There are 6 gears to play with, plus PASC slipper assist clutch and KTM’s new quickshifter+, though 6th gear works as an overdrive to keep revs, vibrations, and fuel consumption low on long-distance motorway tours with cruise control on.

Gearing (unsurprisingly) feels a tad short compared to inline-4 alternatives, particularly in the first two gears, with the rpm indicator rapidly eating up its allocated screen space on the 7” TFT when you’re fully pinned and asking the questions - which the KTM has all the answers.

Brakes & Suspension

KTM-owned WP provides the suspension here, and I have to say the WP Xplor setup is up there as one of the best offerings around, coming into its own when taken off the beaten path. Fully adjustable with rebound and compression in the big 48mm forks, and the rear-shock with rebound, compression and preload adjustment (and external handwheel), you can set it up perfectly for the road/trail ahead with a comfortable 220 mm travel, plenty for expeditions off-road. 

Turning in feels sharp, and the 1290 Super Adventure R is keen to hold its line through successive corners with the suspension setup hard at work. Whether confronted with a pothole or a drop into the abyss on a trail (which is often akin to riding some UK roads), I had every confidence that the ride would remain composed.

Handling is also said to be sharpened by KTM engineers analysing, optimising & trimming every inch of the geometry for 2021 - the steering head has been moved back by 15mm, the swingarm is slightly longer, and the front section of the engine has been relocated.

Regarding braking performance, radially mounted 4-pot Brembo calipers grip twin 320mm discs up front, with a single 267mm disc at the rear. Two-channel Bosch 9M+ ABS (switchable) is a delight to work with, and to sum it all up, the brakes are practically as good as it gets, plied with Cornering ABS and off-road ABS modes.

Initial application of the levers and braking power can feel a tad soft until a firm squeeze is applied, but no complaints when it comes to stopping the 221 kg dry-weight bulk. Regardless of dry, wet, or rough terrain.

There’s naturally a bit of dive under heavy braking with so much travel in the forks, but it handles impeccably overall.

Green Lanes & Adventure Riding

This is the interesting bit, and exactly what we wanted the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R in for. Blessed with bountiful byways and green lanes in the local area, the R was absolutely up to the task. 

I’ve had a touch of adventure training with Yamaha & Harley-Davidson at their respective off-road schools in Wales, so was keen to put some of my ‘skill’ to the test in the familiar surroundings of Thetford forest, specifically locating the Peddars Way trail which is beckoned as a 46-mile trail from Thetford to the North Norfolk coast of Hunstanton. I only sampled some of this route, deciding to also tackle the oft-ridden Harling Drove trail. Plenty of varied terrain to navigate, slate, gravel, sand, and mud. Good fun, and highly recommended by the locals.

Rocking up to the head of a trail, the programmable C1 & C2 switches came in handy, set to flick off the rear ABS, and flick into my selected my ride-mode (naturally to Off-Road or Rally) in seconds. Scanning ahead, or with knowledge of the route, you can pick your throttle option and decide how much rear slip you’ll want to allow 1-9, and adjust as needed on the fly.

Initially, I had thoughts of the LC8 power delivery being too abrupt on loose surfaces, and the gearing being too short for 1st and 2nd, but I was happily wrong. With the right rider modes in place, everything comes neatly together to allow you full focus on the trail ahead. Plus, if glancing down quickly, that huge 7” TFT display is clearly visible, Rally mode giving an alternative simplified layout.

Standing up on the pegs is comfortable with bear trap pegs (with removable rubber inserts) and a raised, wide bar complete with standard-fit hand-guards ensures good coverage from encroaching trees and bushes. Pegs, levers and the bar can all be adjusted to suit your dimensions, so there is plenty of room to be found. You have a slight forward lean to your perch, the slimmed tank allowing decent grip between your legs as you navigate rougher terrain - those 23-litres held in a new three-part tank, with two pods held low left & right to keep the centre of gravity low.

You may run into trouble as a shorter rider, mind - at over 220kg (dry), and with an 880mm saddle, it’s certainly a tall and heavy machine. Fortunately, I’m a taller rider (6’3”), but dabbing a foot in the sand feels like an almighty task at times.

All-in, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is a seriously adept off-road motorcycle straight out of the crate. In the right hands, this thing would quite easily tackle any challenge you chuck at it - with all of the power in the right place, the WP Xplor suspension is happy to work seriously hard without ever feeling like it’s about to buck you off (or compress fully and bottom out). Getting the back end out is addictive, and it feels like a perfect platform to perfect your craft.

I can seriously recommend checking out the byways and fire lanes in Thetford Forest, especially if you have an enduro or adventure bike to play around on - there is plenty to explore, with varying degrees of terrain to navigate.

Touring Ability & Electronic Gadgetry

Modern adventure bikes seem to be the current flock of conquer-all machinery, so it’s vital for the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R to tick the touring boxes. Kitted out for long days in the tall 880mm saddle (noted as lower for this generation) for you and a pillion, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is a dream. 

The range is listed at 5.7 litres per 100 km from the 23-litre tank, providing a quoted 240 miles per fill-up - but that absolutely depends on your riding style. I found it closer to 200 miles before thinking of a trip to the petrol station. The fuel gauge provides an estimated range but was weirdly never seen to go above 180~ miles.

You’re tucked away nicely behind most of the bodywork panels, but may find the short one-hand-adjust screen not quite doing enough to deflect all of the wind over your lid - lucky for me KTM had pre-installed the windshield spoiler (+£107) which did the job, though a larger touring screen is £10 more at £117. Also on the accessory catalogue are the heated grips - an odd omission from the standard model instead copped for £180.

One key note is the headlight at night. It’s LED lit, but the cut-off is like a playing card across the faceplate - there is no spread or bleed of light at all in dipped beam. You’ll need to adjust the level of the light with the hand dial under the binnacle to your preload and weight.

Despite multiple attempts, I couldn’t get the KTM app to connect to the dash for phone integration, but in theory, it connects with Bluetooth to allow turn-by-turn navigation, phone calls and music. Not a huge loss if you’re on a bike to ride a bike, mind.

I’m a big fan of the KTM switchgear (which is backlit!) and TFT display, it’s intuitive and easy to read. There’s a little storage compartment up top where you can keep trinkets, with a USB socket within - though I couldn’t fit my phone in there and shut the lid (also not lockable, so don’t leave anything inside)!

I’m not often a fan of keyless ignitions, it seems a tad pointless with a few perks, but the KTM executes this well - with a full anti-relay attack security system chucked in. The key was always located by the bike with no hitches, and a long press of the lock button secures the steering lock when stopped. 

A slight niggle was the hill-hold brake, which seemed to only stay active for a handful of seconds when on the road, but permanently on when parked up on a slight hill - so moving the bike out of a spot means flicking into neutral before the electronics will allow you to take the bike away. 

But the overall approach from KTM here is positive, everything feels solidly built and thought about intently, and certainly keeps a premium feel on the otherwise pricey machine. Which, in a day and age where everything is going up in price & multi-bike households are seemingly in decline, is a very important trait. If searching for an adventurer who can happily go off the beaten track, you could be looking at a serious contender - a nice 15,000 km (~9320 mile) service interval, too.

Despite running the Bridgestone Battlax AX41 tubeless hoops on the large 21” front and 18” rear, its road manners were surprisingly polite for such a beast, with good cornering grip.
An obvious alternative will be the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S, with its radar-assist cruise control and electronic suspension… but I wouldn’t fancy taking that down a green lane.

What we like & dislike | 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R


  • A serious off-roader with a top engine.
  • Full electronics suite makes it all sweet.
  • Versatile and a true do-it-all motorcycle.


  • Want heated grips as standard.
  • Perhaps a tad large for the shorter population.
  • Standard screen is too short for touring.

2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Verdict

Two weeks with the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R wasn’t enough time. If you’re looking for a do-it-all adventurer that is just as happy on the road as off it, this is a serious consideration from the Austrian firm. 

With a seriously tasty LC8 V-twin at your disposal, thrills are guaranteed - and it’s all tied in beautifully by a state-of-the-art electronics suite that makes it all too easy. My time spent in the saddle was just as much on green lanes and byways, as it was cruising on dual carriageways on the hunt for more. 

It’s when taking the 1290 Super Adventure R off-road is when it all starts to really click, and regardless of your skill level, huge plaudits go to the top-notch WP Xplor suspension setup. Dialled in to your weight, it’s quite possibly one of the best setups currently on the market - soaking up the terrain and never feeling like it’ll buck you out or bottom out.

Just as composed on the road, the KTM really feels like it can confidently hold its head above the sea of adventure bikes as a real trailblazer. Whilst the purchase price does reflect this, the 2021 edition has a multitude of updates and tweaks to refine an already appealing package - and crucial for an adventure bike, it excels at doing it all. 

Almost every rider has that dangerous little ‘idiot switch’ inside their head that can be scratched by a quick brap down a country lane, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is certainly one to scratch that itch - starting as soon as you fire up the V-twin.

Thanks to KTM for gracing us with 2 weeks with the 1290 Super Adventure R, head to their website for more specs and info.

Next up, we’ll have the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S in to see if the package is better in a road-focused form… stay tuned.