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New BMW R1200GS vs KTM 1190 Adventure: the debate

Published: 05 March 2013

Updated: 20 November 2014

Fresh from their respective launches, MCN’s testers of the new BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure sat down to debate which made the biggest splash.

What surprised you?
Adam Child:
How good it looked. It was never a good-looking bike.
Michael Guy: Adventure bikes never are.
AC: But now it is.  They’ve hidden the water-cooling really well and the huge header pipes are gone. And from the moment you pull out of the car park you can feel this is a much more lively, fun bike than before.
MG: The surprise was that you can’t even compare the old Adventure and the new. It’s got 50bhp more and it feels like it. And I couldn’t believe how quick-steering it was. On the road it felt like a Multistrada, but bigger and more comfortable.
AC: Isn’t it snatchy though with that much power?
MG: No. The electronics are really impressive, it’s all about low-down power and they’ve sorted out the fuelling. They knew they had to fix that problem.

How much better is it as road bike?
It’s night and day. I was following the guy from KTM – he can ride a bit, shall we say – up a mountain road and there were several times I had to pull my knee in. I didn’t have sliders on but it felt so natural to be riding that hard.
AC: I was in two-piece leathers on the GS and it took me by surprise when I got the point I was touching my knee down without hanging off or anything. It feels like it’s got a 17in front wheel like a sportsbike. I had to check when I got off. Even on real fast roads with bumps mid-corner the suspension doesn’t start to heave and wobble like the old bike. It’s proper.
MG: The electronics are impressive on the KTM, probably not as good as the GS but you’ve just got to look where they’ve come from. The 990 had virtually nothing electronically, just crude ABS. Now it’s got riding modes, tyre pressure monitoring, electronic preload… It’s the most versatile bike I’ve ever ridden
AC: Yeah but BMW’s moved the game on again – like with two endure modes, one that works for novices like me and one that even the pros can benefit from, like Slick mode on the S1000RR.

Isn’t the GS owner going to rue the Adventure’s 150bhp?
I never felt like I wanted more power. If you’re going over 110-120mph when you might need it you’re on the wrong type of bike. The extra power the new bike’s got is just what it needed, to fill in that slight gap where you’re two-up, fully loaded, riding uphill and wanting to overtake.
MG: But it’s always nice to have extra power in reserve, and this bike’s got a better power-to-weight ratio than a Multistrada. It’s always a good time to overtake.
The KTM used to be the hardcore boss off-road. Now it’s a sporty motorbike that can happen to do anything.

What’s going to stop the bike you rode poaching sales from its rival?
KTM-man is still going to find the fun factor of the GS lacking; the boxer twin is never going to rev like a KTM.
MG: And 20kg of shaft-drive isn’t going to thrill him either. As for the GS-rider, I think KTM have made massive strides in his direction with the new Adventure, if they can get them them to try it, and if the 150bhp doesn’t frighten them off!

Is either bike more accessible to sub-6-footers?
The Adventure is light, 230kg full-fuelled, it’s not as tall as it was. I’m 5’ 10” and I could touch the floor both sides on the standard suspension setting, and it can go lower than that.
AC: They’ve slimmed the BMW seat down at the front. I’m 5’ 7” and for the first time I could get both feet down enough to push the GS backwards while sat on it.

Have either of bikes changed their character?
The KTM is a complete revolution compared to the previous model. 
AC: The BMW’s an evolution but it’s lopped a good chunk of years off its age.
MG: If the new Adventure was a bloke it’d be a bit older than the 990 – in its late-30s, up for a triathlon but not completely obsessed by it.
AC: The new GS is a fit 40-something rather than a fit 50-something bike now. You won’t see a GS rider and assume he’s hit the retirement button early whereas the KTM rider’s having all the fun.

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