KTM 1290 Super Adventure R lives up to the promise

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KTM are claiming their new 1290 Super Adventure R is the most extreme adventure bike ever made – and after a full day’s riding in the blistering heat of Peru – I’m inclined to agree. But you don’t have to be a multiple Dakar winner to venture off-road and take on a true adventure on the 160bhp KTM, the cutting-edge rider aids can turn this off-road animal into a gentle giant, or allow it to display barely-contained aggression – all dependant on your skill level.


  • Big off-road stance with 18inch rear and 21inch front rims
  • Fully-adjustable conventional WP suspension
  • Brembo brakes and cornering ABS with off-road mode
  • Lean sensitive traction control with off-road modes
  • New 6.5inch multi-function dash

The new R shares much of its metal with the more road-friendly 1290 Super Adventure S which was launched just a few weeks ago, using the Super Duke derived 1302cc 160bhp engine. The new off-road biased R model uses the same 6’5 full colour TFT dash as the S model, with new switchgear – which even illuminates at night. It also uses the new distinctive LED headlight with integrated cornering lights built in. The cornering lights are linked to the Bosch Internal Measurement Unit (IMU), which communicates with the MSC (traction control) and cornering ABS. The R has the same rider modes, (Sport, Street, Rain, Off-road) and rider aids as the S, too. They also share the USB storage compartment at the front, keyless ignition and tyre pressure monitors – but that’s where the similarities end.


Rather than the S model’s semi-active WP suspension, the R model uses fully adjustable conventional WP suspension with 220mm of travel at both ends, giving 250mm of ground clearance. The fork is a 48mm WP unit with an increased spring rate and the rear is a WP PDS item – directly linked to the swingarm with no linkage. The wheels were also developed for off-road terrain. The laced rims are 21inch on the front and 18inch on the rear, catering for the most hardcore of off-road tyre options. In the UK the new R will roll out of showrooms on Conti TrailAttack2 tyres, but for off-road riding we used Conti TKC80s.   

The new manually-adjustable screen is smaller on the R version, allowing the rider to easily move over the front, while the seat is a one-piece item and not adjustable, crash bars are standard and – being the R version – the trellis frame is orange.

Spec it up

KTM took the opportunity to fit some additional power parts to our test bikes. The Akrapovic exhaust costs £835.32; the ‘Rally Package’ £426.36 – which includes rally pegs, bash plate, and radiator guard; we also had filters on the air intakes to stop sand and dust, £24.30; the ‘Travel Pack’, £584.40, which consists of – Motor Slip Regulator, Hill Hold Control, KTM My Ride (Bluetooth connectivity) and a bi-directional quickshifter.

Dust devil

After 200km riding through Peru, with temperatures getting close to 40 degrees C, I’m amazed how easy to ride KTM have made this physically imposing, 160bhp, 217kg adventure bike. If you dream of whirlwind adventures into the desert, but worry that you don’t have the skill, or there isn’t the bike for you – this is it.

After leaving the hotel we were treated to just a few miles of tarmac roads before hitting the dust trails. As the front wheel sniffed the dirt I flicked from Street mode to Off-road, which is made simple thanks to the new switchgear and easy to navigate dash. Comparing the new layout and dash to the old 1190 clumsy switchgear is like comparting an old Nokia to a new iPhone – it’s a big step in the right direction for KTM. The Off-road mode limits power to 100bhp, and changes the engine character and throttle response. While it calms down the power it still allows some slippage from the rear, the traction control MSC has a dedicated off-road mode which is automatically activated in Off-road mode. In this mode ABS is still active on the front, but the front brake no longer affects the rear, and ABS is deactivated from the rear. It sounds complicated, but all you have to do is press a button on the move, and you’re ready for the next change in terrain.

As a relative amateur off-road rider the specific off-road rider modes, TC and ABS are a godsend, they give you so much confidence and amplify your skill levels. If the bike is upright the rear will spin relatively freely, but as soon as you turn and add any lean the MSC recognises the lean and reduces the slide and wheelspin. If you’re at 100% throttle in soft sand you can feel the intervention, but otherwise it’s seamlessly enabling you to have fun, in turn boosting your confidence. The same can be said for the off-road ABS, I was amazed what I was getting away with when braking hard off-road.

Making you better

The more you trust and rely on the excellent off-road rider aids the more your confidence increases, the more your speed increases. It’s like having a riding coach in your bike, and you can even personalise the settings to how you want them. If you’re brave enough you can go for 160bhp, no rider aids off-road – and all this can be done while riding.

Throughout the day I was constantly being amazed by how good the R was off-road, and how well the bike coped with the abuse off-road. On fast dusty sections at over 75mph it felt stable, enough for me to enjoy the views of the desert. I should have been holding on for dear life but the R always felt assured and planted.

And it’s the same story on the road. Sit back, manually adjust the screen slightly higher, flick on the cruise control, tab back into Street mode and enjoy the world passing you by. You could tour down to south Spain fully loaded with panniers and the wife on the back with ease. Then while she sits next to the pool you can go for a ride – either flick into Sports mode and chase down sportsbikes while dancing on the quickshifter, or head into the dirt. Then the next day you can sit by the pool, and hand the keyless fob to the wife to have a go.

MCN Verdict

It lives up to the promise, and makes your adventure dreams a real-life possibility, even for relative novices – while pros can ride it hard with no rider aids and the full 160bhp. It’s so versatile. A true global Adventure bike, which will not only just get you there no matter what the terrain, it will do it in safety with a smile on your face. 

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Tech Specs

Price £14,499 (as tested £16,370)

Engine: 1301cc (108x71mm) liquid-cooled, V-twin.

Power (claimed) 160bhp @ 8750rpm

Torque (claimed) 103lbft @ 6750rpm

Frame: Steel trellis

Seat Height: 890mm

Suspension front 48mm WP fully adjustable, rear WP single shock fully adjustable.

Brakes front 2 x 320mm discs with four-piston Brembo radial calipers, rear 267mm disc with two-piston Brembo caliper

Weight 217kg (dry)

Tank capacity 23 litres

Colours: Orange, Black

Available Now


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Images: Marco Campelli / Sebas Romero / KTM

Adam Child

By Adam Child

Former MCN Road Tester with 15 years road testing experience on all kinds of bikes