KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S (2021 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Powerful and torquey LC8 V-twin engine
  • Cutting-edge tech including radar cruise control
  • Latest WP electronic suspension

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 3.3 out of 5 (3.3/5)
Annual servicing cost: £250
Power: 160 bhp
Seat height: Tall (33.4 in / 849 mm)
Weight: High (540 lbs / 245 kg)

Prices

New £14,999
Used £12,500 - £15,000

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

KTM have taken an angle grinder to their 1290 Super Adventure S (the more off-road focused ‘R’ is coming soon) and hacked away at the previous model, resulting in a 2021 machine that is very different.

The only things that remain the same are the wheels, brakes and a handful of screws. Among other chassis mods the revised frame is shorter so the centre of gravity is lower. The effect is noticeable stability and effortless use.

Ergonomics honed around the three-part 23-litre tank deepens the connection with the road. It may not look it - being somewhat bulbous at the front - but the KTM is an engineering feat of balance and is reassuringly composed.

KTM have thrown a lot of thoughtful details at the Super Adventure. The seat can be switched between two heights, the screen raised and lowered with two lateral wheels, the air filter is a cinch to access and the storage top box won’t fit a large smartphone but is an apt home for the new remote, secure key system.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S wet sand

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
5 out of 5 (5/5)

Europe’s largest manufacturer are also masters of deception. A naked bike like the KTM 1290 Super Duke R is marketed as the ‘Beast’ but can be as docile as a kitten.

The 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is a hulk of an adventure/tourer but glided and swept around rain-sodden roads on its launch in Fuerteventura like one of the smaller, nimble Dukes the firm is rightly so proud of. The torquey twin has a stack of enticing technical features to-boot.

WP’s latest suspension tech on KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Additional words by Jordan Gibbons

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S chassis exposed

The Super Adventure S has WP’s latest semi-active forks, which, thanks to a new brain, are claimed to offer better response to inputs. That means they are quicker at making changes to the damping.

One of their most interesting bits of tech is an anti-dive function (that can be turned off, if desired). The idea is that when you apply the brakes, the computer senses this and is able to resist the dive. But how does it do it – and why?

First up, some basic physics. When you apply the brakes, the bike continues trying to go forwards. As this happens weight transfers towards the front wheel, which is the part of the bike trying to slow down.

This increase in weight at the front-end causes the forks to compress. In some ways this is a good thing: the extra weight on the front wheel increases traction, so you can continue braking harder and slow down faster.

It has some disadvantages too: the rear wheel goes light and under very extreme weight transfer the fork’s suspension travel can be reduced considerably. This means that should you encounter a bump while the forks are compressed, they’re less able to deal with it, which could end in a calamity.

To help solve this, engineers have come up with all sorts of anti-dive solutions over the years but if you’ve had a bad experience in the past don’t let it put you off this new system that is worlds apart.

WP electronic suspension detail

All anti-dive functions work on helping the forks resist the forces that make them want to compress. Forks already have compression damping, which works by restricting the flow of oil from one chamber to another, helping to slow the speed that the forks compress.

In early anti-dive systems engineers rigged up extra hydraulics, so that when the brake was applied pressure from extra oil at the bottom of the fork stopped the forks compressing. This brought with it other issues – under hard braking the compression damping could get so high that the forks locked solid.

In KTM’s semi-active system, when the computer senses the front brake being applied, it can quickly close magnetic valves in the fork, restricting the flow of oil, and thus resisting the dive.

Not only does this system mean the fork can increase compression damping quickly and accurately, it also means that if the fork senses a bump the damping can be reduced by the computer without upsetting the front wheel. Nifty eh?

Engine

Next up: Reliability
5 out of 5 (5/5)

The LC8 motor has propelled the Super Duke for a number of years and KTM claim it carries the best power-to-weight ratio on the market.

Now Euro5 ready and still boasting floods of torque, KTM Head of Product Management, Adriaan Sinke was not exaggerating when he stated: "It’s a super-exciting engine: it pulls you out of every corner."

Each cylinder now has its own radiator and air ducts that fan some of the oppressive engine heat out and away from the rider, although it was hard to tell through the wet and wind on the island.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S off road

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Despite being a new model, the 1290 Super Adventure will have a lot to prove on the reliability front. MCN owners’ reviews of other 1290 models reveal a few grumbles and our on KTM 1290 Super Duke GT long-term test bike has been back to KTM a number of times with various faults.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure S counts on a thrilling heart – thanks to the Super Duke-derived firepower - and playful versatility in its soul. The standard model is competitively priced at a pound shy of £15,000 but many true adventurers will be tempted by the various add-ons and the Quickshifter+ already starts to push up the numbers.

It’ll cost marginally more than a stock GS, Triumph and Honda but less than a Ducati Multistrada V4. However, the 1290 Super Adventure S already boasts tech features that other bikes either don’t have or works out at better value when you start to upgrade the Italian or Germany machinery to match.

KTM have undoubtedly taken a significant stride in this competitive section of the market and will certainly give the Ducati Multistrada V4 and the omnipresent BMW R1250GS, to name but two of the leading choices, a run for their (not inconsiderable) money.

We've also seen spyshots suggesting that there's an updated Triumph Tiger 1200 model on the way, which will be another option to consider when it arrives.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S vs BMW R1250GS TE

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S vs BMW R1250GS TE

Considering KTM’s off-road dominance, it is a bit of surprise that ever since they entered the big adventure market in 2003 with the 950 Adventure they have been soundly thumped by BMW.

After all, BMW’s only real claim to fame with knobbly tyres is a scant few Dakar victories – which pales into insignificance compared to KTM’s record. But, of course, this also tells you a lot about just how much ‘adventuring’ most owners actually go in for.

Now it seems KTM have taken notice as the new 1290 is noticeably more road-focused than ever before, a fact highlighted by its decidedly road-patterned Mitas Terra Force-R tyres which contrast with the semi-knobbly Michelin Anakees the GS is wearing.

In a fairly substantial update for 2021, KTM’s adventurer has new ergonomics, a sportier chassis, bigger dash, revised engine, uprated semi-active WP suspension and even some new gadgetry in the shape of radar-assisted cruise control – all features that are aimed at making it more appealing to tarmac riders as if you are a fan of the rough stuff, the full-on big enduro R model is aimed at you.

So, have BMW done enough to keep the R1250GS TE on top, as it only gets a new ‘Eco’ fuel mode and angle-sensitive ABS and TC as standard new for 2021? We took both machines for a lap of the UK’s toughest road test route, the MCN250 to find out.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S vs BMW R1250GS TE on UK roads

Straight away the KTM feels far sportier than the BMW. Where the GS has wide bars, the KTM’s are noticeably narrower and the S’s seat has less padding, while the chassis is slimmer and feels more sporty.

Taking to the road on a GS is like being reacquainted with an old friend. If you have ever ridden one you know what to expect and once you get over the initial oddity of the front-end’s lack of dive, which only takes a few miles, everything else just slips into place.

The switchgear is intuitive, the motor easy-going yet full of drive when requested, the seating position comfortable and the dash nice and clear. If you want to just get on with the job in hand, which could be anything from a quick back road blast to a tour of Europe (when allowed), the GS is ready to rock.

When I read the spec list of the 1290 Super Adventure S I really thought that it would run the R1250GS TE very close and possibly even beat it. Semi-active suspension, a great engine boasting more refinement, radar cruise control that the GS lacks and even more road-targeted tyres – but the reality is that the GS remains one step ahead.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S on UK roads

KTMs always have a certain attitude to them – and that is reflected in the S. KTM bill it as ‘the ultimate high-performance adventure bike’ but I question if this market actually exists as if I wanted a performance-orientated tall bar bike I’d look towards the likes of the BMW S1000XR, Ducati Multistrada V4 or even the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT or Yamaha MT-10.

And anyway, while performance is all well and good, what adventurers want is ease and the ability to cover miles in comfort, which the KTM frustratingly lacks.

A stiff chassis, fairly wild motor and uncompromising seat mean that you don’t want to spend too long on the S, and while the WP suspension’s tech is impressive, dash stunning and the radar cruise control very good, that’s no use if you have to stop every 150 miles to ward off aches and pains.

I know it is dull to hear but there is basically nothing I can find fault with on the GS bar the fact that in the spec tested it is a fair bit more costly than the KTM.

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

KTM have thrown their full technical might at the 1290 Super Adventure S. They are not the first to throw Adaptive Cruise Control on an adventure bike but the Austrian’s have made a strong push at what is a complex piece of kit.

Bolstered by a front sensor through the reformed LED headlight the application is more than just a gimmick. "We often talk about what our bikes are capable of through a mountain range… but we have to remember that first riders actually have to reach the mountain," says Sinke of the Bosch device that makes the KTM even easier to pilot.

It takes a short while to put trust in the system and let it engage the ABS to control your speed and distances but after a while you only need to worry about being in the right gear. It’s frighteningly simple and will change the way a lot of people ride.

Like many other models collaborating with electronics specialists Bosch, the bike uses a 6-axis sensor to inform Motorcycle Stability Control, traction control, Motor Slip Regulation, Cornering and Offroad ABS, a totally revised WP Semi-active Suspension system and the first Adaptive Cruise Control to grace a standard Adventure bike.

The optional extras come in the form of ‘Suspension Pro’ (£244.25) for individual damping for the forks and auto modes for preload and damping, a ‘Rally Pack’ (£174.24) for adjustable throttle response and Rally riding mode for extra off-road oomph. 

The ‘Tech Pack’ brings the full monty, including the near-essential Quickshifter+ (priced separately at (£349.28) that KTM still won’t attach to their stock model bikes. 

KTM 1290 Super Adventure S headlight

The adjustable 7” TFT with new diagram menu system is reactive, resistant and offers tablet-level clarity and the smallish storage box in front of the triple clamp won’t fit the larger iPhones but will hold the sturdy and nicely designed key. KTM’s ‘Race On’ means an Anti Relay Attack set-up for extra safety. It includes a ten-minute activation/ignition window and five minutes when the bike is stopped on the ride. Props also for the lateral screen wheels.

KTM’s PowerParts and PowerWear offer a litany of extras specifically produced for the Super Adventure S. An Akrapovic slip-on, luggage and the choice for a further eleven forms of seat are among the highlights.

You can take the Super Adventure S down a particular direction if you spec your desired bike wisely. The hard Touratech panniers and top box shown here (£1432) for example would, make big trips a breeze.

Specs

Engine size 1290cc
Engine type LC8 liquid-cooled V-twin
Frame type Trellis steel frame
Fuel capacity 23 litres
Seat height 849mm
Bike weight 245kg
Front suspension 48mm WP APEX fork with 200mm of travel, anti-dive option
Rear suspension Semi-Active WP APEX shock, 200mm of travel, various options
Front brake Brembo four-piston, radially mounted calliper, 320mm disc
Rear brake Brembo two-piston, fixed calliper, 267mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 19
Rear tyre size 170/60 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 49.6 mpg
Annual road tax £101
Annual service cost £250
New price £14,999
Used price £12,500 - £15,000
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 160 bhp
Max torque 102 ft-lb
Top speed -
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range 250 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure was first launched in 2015 based on the engine from the Super Duke R. It was updated in 2017 and split into two models, the S with a road bias and the R with more aggressive off road capability.

The Super Adventure replaced the KTM 1190 Adventure as the large-capacity globetrotter in KTM's range.

Other versions

2021 KTM Super Adventure R expected later in the year.

MCN Long term test reports

MCN Fleet: KTM 1290 Adventure S – Arrival imminent!

MCN Fleet: KTM 1290 Adventure S – Arrival imminent!

To say I’m excited about the impending arrival of my longterm KTM 1290 Adventure S is an understatement. Having got up close and personal with the model at the MCN London show in February, I was seriously impressed with the look feel and the plethora of features it boasts. I’m not an overly big fan

Read the latest report

Owners' reviews for the KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S (2021 - on)

3 owners have reviewed their KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S (2021 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S (2021 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 3.7 out of 5 (3.7/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.3 out of 5 (4.3/5)
Engine: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Reliability & build quality: 3.3 out of 5 (3.3/5)
Value vs rivals: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Equipment: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £250
1 out of 5 The most fragile bike ive ever owned
09 May 2022 by Keep taking money

Year: 2021

When its working its great but at 18k the engine and switch gear issues are unacceptable. The KTM service centres are not a patch on my local BMW and Honda ones.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Bang on the ride quality was great and it handled really well. My wife loved the bike when it was not broken

Engine 3 out of 5

Performance 10 out of 10 pure beast great 2 up. I dislike the fact it has blown the front head gasket tho

Reliability & build quality 1 out of 5

Quality and reliability must be a joke to KTM. My 6 months of ownership have been rough. Both wingmirrors replaced. The right hand switch gear failed resulting me not being able to use any of the dash leaving my heated seat and grips on full along with it being stuck in rain mode for 3 weeks. The passenger heated seat switch failed. Now onto the engine, oil leak No.1 was apparently my oil cooler (the whole unit was replaced), oil leak No. 2 and coolant leak was the front cylinder gasket which still isn't fixed. The bike has been into KTM now for a total of 5 weeks and counting with no end in sight for the head gasket fix. As a mechanic by trade I can honestly say I've never come across a more unreliable vehicle in my life.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

Haven't managed to get it to the service point yet but at this rate it wont need one because they will have probably built me a new bike from the ground up bolt by bolt the thing will be new again. It was getting about 51mpg on the motorway to and from work with around 35/36 mpg riding for fun over the weekend

Equipment 5 out of 5

Mine has everything you could wish for. The power parts heated seats are a must for the price

Buying experience: Mega discounts available a bit too much to be fair the trade price is shocking on a 18k bike 6 months in and its literally 9k 10k at a push

5 out of 5 Astonishing, Versatile and a LOT of Fun
19 July 2021 by Sam Vincent

Year: 2021

Annual servicing cost: £250

So far, this thing has been astonishing! It's scary fast, nimble, agile, balanced and has enough tech that you won't ever get bored of it! I also think it looks awesome although I know looks can be divisive!

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Brakes and general performance with the semi-active suspension have been awesome. Brakes are Brembo so that speaks for itself.Suspension is plush, handles bumps very well. Throwing into corners, it sticks wherever you put it and does not move. It took my a while to dial in what I wanted on the motorway from it. I find the comfort setting a tad too soft and bouncey, but street mode with the preload around 50% works for me. Being able to pump the preload up to canter you forward a bit more is also great for the sportier ridesSeat comfort is questionable. It's fine on day to day riding and blasts when you're moving around but I did find myself with a slightly numb cheek after 1.5hours on the motorway. That's easily solved with KTM's ergo seat selection but It would have been nice to have an ergo seat from factory, and spec a harder rally style seat if you so wished! The bike has an incredible level of versatility - sitting on the motorway for an hour with adaptive cruise control, and in relative comfort. Then jumping on a B-road an riding it like an over-sized supermoto.. it really belittles it's weight and leaves sportier bikes wondering what just happened. Lower down the traction control level in Rally mode and you'll find it wheelies a lot and the back steps out.Wind protection overall is great, but the screen leaves somewhat to desire. I'm a mere 5ft9 and I found my head getting buffeted around a lot. Added a clip on screen from Puig and it's now that famous 'Bubble of calm'. Rarely close my visor now!

Engine 5 out of 5

Astonishing... Power everywhere, torque in abundance, and sounds great even with that euro 5 monstrosity bolted to the end of the exhaust. Waiting for Arrow to release their new can!The LC8 engine refined substantially from the previous model. Nothing else needs to be said.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Quality is faultless so far - everything looks and feels well built/put together. Although I'd say a GS has nicer feeling switchgearReliability so far has been faultless for me.. no black-screens, no keyless ignition problems, no preload adjuster problems yet etc. It did have a recall this weekend just gone which was a small plastic component near the exhaust which apparently had had a case of getting too hot and melting. That's been replaced with an aluminium one for free of course. It's a brand new model, so I'd expect at least a few recalls, and can't blame KTM for that as both my previous Yamaha, and friend's Triumphs' have had them too, on far more worrying components!

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Can't say too much for this as I'm only 800 miles into ownership. First service was £96 at 620 miles which I thought was reasonable enough. I believe the first main service is around 250-300 but at 9.2k mile service intervals, I'd say most would only be paying for an annual service.Running costs - consumption has been pretty decent so far. Averaging around 48mpg (UK Mpg) riding on back lanes - and riding like a bit of an idiot. That power is addictive! On a longer trip, I managed 57mpg, which is great for such a powerful bike. Must be aided by the over-drive 6th gear. So the 23 litre tank would give me a theoretical range of knocking on 300 miles.

Equipment 5 out of 5

I've got the tech-pack, and heated grips on mine.Heated grips are great, loads of heat but haven't tested a lot as its been pretty warm recently. Tech-pack is awesome. Highlights being the suspension pro with the adjustable preload.. basically giving you adjustable ride height which works a treat for me. The rally mode also makes it so much fun to ride. Wheelies, power slides and all sorts but still saving you in the corners if you need it. The new quickshifter is buttery smooth on the way up when you're on the power. Blipper can be a little hit&miss but you just need to push down with enough force to make it slip into gear. Adaptive cruise is a game changer for the longer journey's... just takes the extra stress off you... although I know it's a contentious point for most bikers, after a 7 hour ride up to Scotland, I know who would be in a better shape. You can also change gear while in cruise control which is so good... clutch and/or quickshifter. Pull the clutch in for a few seconds and it will disengage it.

Buying experience: Bought from The KTM Centre in Hemel Hempstead - they are a great bunch.Still waiting for my crash bars though but think that's because the bike is so new... cant get accessories anywhere!

5 out of 5 A great sports bike for the adventure rider
16 July 2021 by Eric Marsh

Version: Black

Year: 2021

This motorcycle offers an excellent compromise between sport riding and touring, with a bias towards sport. I live in Spain and we have many, many twisting rounds over and around mountains. The 1290 has a light feel to it but also offers long suspension travel for modest off pavement riding and highway comfort.I like the bike's light feel and power. This is a great bike for sports riders who don't want to be tucked up into a cramped position.On the down side sometimes it gives me rear suspension ride height faults when I start the engine and the engine makes an annoying ticking sound. The seats come up short after a long ride. I also think it could stand some taller gearing.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

I have no complaints about the ride, especially in comfort mode. But the seats are lacking for long rides. I have Ergo seats on order but they have not arrived yet.

Engine 4 out of 5

All in all the power is good for what the bike is. It comes on in a rush at about 6500 rpm and I've had the bike pull third gear wheelies in passing situations. Since wheelie and traction control limits power delivery anyway I think they could have taken away a couple teeth from the rear sprocket. The only thing I don't like is that the engine has an annoying ticking noise at low speeds that almost sounds like piston slap.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

I've only had mine for 3k km so the only problem has been the previously mentioned ride height fault on startup. KTM have a reputation for spotty reliability so I am going to purchase an extended warranty just to be safe.

Value vs rivals 3 out of 5

I have only had the bike in for it's post break-in service. That cost about 160 €.

Equipment 5 out of 5

I ordered the tech pack. I think that my favorite feature is the adaptive cruise control. The tires seem to be fine and inspire confidence.

Buying experience: I speak very little Spanish so I simply told them what I wanted and paid a deposit. The down side is that it took more than a month for the bike to be delivered. Accessories have been slow arriving and I'm still waiting for my Ergo seats.

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