2014 KTM 1190 Adventure | First Ride

Surprise! KTM Takes on the Multistrada

By Marc Cook, Photography by Francesc Montero

They say: “The world’s most versatile travel enduro.”
We say: “A claim that’s more than an empty boast.”

Talk about playing contrary to type. Here’s KTM, the notoriously quirky-orange purveyor of world-class dirt bikes and some of the most ardently bad-behavior machines ever made (Mr. Duke, we’re looking your way), unleashing something, well, unexpected with the 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure. Based on the history of the 950/990 Adventure bikes, which started from a wild idea of competing in the Dakar Rally in 2002, you’d expect KTM would update that platform with more modern running gear but keep the same general idea: a truly dirt-ready, big-bore ADV machine.

Uh, no. Instead, what Mattighofen trotted out for journalists on the sunny Spanish island of Tenerife is nothing less than stiff competition for one of our faves, the Ducati Multistrada. Jetlag-fueled hyperbole? Consider what you get: A rollicking 1195cc V-twin pumping out a claimed 150 horsepower (to the crank), a pair of sticky Continental Trail Attack 2 tires wrapped around 19- and 17-inch spoke wheels, and a cromoly steel-tube chassis that helps the 1190 to feel like it drops 100 of its claimed 467 pounds the instant you start rolling. (That weight is dry, projecting to 500 lbs. with the tank full.) You were thinking crash bars and a skid plate, maybe? Well, that’ll be for the dirt-directed Adventure R, which debuts a few months after the straight Adventure.

How close is the new 1190 to the Multistrada? Ducati claims the same peak power and virtually the same peak torque (92.2 lb.-ft. for the KTM, 91.8 for the Duck). The Multi is, however, lighter and more compact, with 1.2 in. less wheelbase and a claimed dry weight 44 lbs. lower. Its 17-in. cast wheels welcome sportbike-quality tires. BMW’s new wasserboxer R1200GS is 26 lbs. heavier and spots the KTM 25 bhp.

Those are just numbers. The proof is in the riding. The press launch took place on a widely varying selection of roads from our base at the Abama resort on the western shore up to the Teide National Park, whose 12,198-foot peak is the highest point in Spain. The tone of the ride started at the first roundabout, where KTM’s global PR manager, Thomas Kuttruf, pitched his 1190 over and jetted ahead of island traffic. Okay, then.

For the next half hour, we droned along TF-1, the main highway on the island’s southeastern shore. Chugging along at 75 mph, the Adventure feels almost serene, the counterbalanced engine spinning just 4000 rpm, thankfully with enough torque there to pull out and pass a dawdling Bimbo truck with ease. I’d left the adjustable windscreen—much larger than the vestigial shovel blade on the 990 Adventure—in the lowest position, and it was fine. There’s a moderate amount of wind noise, suggesting high velocity, but no turbulence at all; none of the other riders in my group, some 6-foot-plus, reported any head jangling. Engine vibration is muted, though the 75-degree spread between the cylinders imparts a slightly busy engine feel, more like an Aprilia V-twin than the loping Ducati or the droning flat-twin of the BMW.

Soon enough, Kuttruf took my group up along the eastern spine of the Tenerife volcano—last eruption, 1909—on roads that rival the best passes in mainland Europe. From second-gear switchbacks to top-of-fourth straights, the 1190 Adventure impressed me more with every mile. To start with, that engine. While it packs phenomenal midrange grunt, it also pulls strongly to the 10,250-rpm redline. Aggression fades ever so slightly within 750 rpm of maximum, but in the lower gears the Adventure will bash right into the rev limiter. The handsome dashboard includes a prominent shift light whose turn-on points can be adjusted by the rider; my bike’s was set to first show the light at 8000 rpm, and that was probably a bit premature. It wasn’t long before I could anticipate the power peak and stopped watching the tach altogether. The sound and pure randy torque made by this engine is totally world class.

KTM started the engine effort from good bones. Moving up in displacement, the Adventure gets a thoroughly refined version of the 75-degree V-twin last seen in the RC 8. Significantly revised heads with milder cams and reshaped ports help improve midrange torque, says KTM, while other improvements such as new pistons and internal tweaks help reduce friction. The company claims that the 1190 Adventure delivers a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption next to the RC 8. A new “diamond-like coating” on the finger followers helps KTM extend valve-inspection intervals; on the 1190, you check them for the first time at 18,641 miles. The dual ignition from the RC 8 remains, using two differently sized spark plugs running on independent ignition maps to optimize combustion.

While the crank and con-rods of the Adventure’s engine carry over from the RC 8, the transmission gets wider ratios and a double-action “grab and slip” clutch provides effective slipper operation and uses reverse-cut ramps to increase clamping pressure under power. The result is a smooth-operating driveline and one-finger clutch effort. Revised crankcases are lighter than the RC 8 parts; a new oil sight glass makes checking level much easier.

The big news is the adaptation of ride-by-wire fuel injection with integrated, multi-mode traction control. The system has four basic ride modes: Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road. Sport and Street bring the same peak power and throttle response, but the TC thresholds are higher on Sport. Rain and Off-Road limit max power to 100 bhp; Rain has the most aggressive TC and intentionally softer power delivery, while Off-Road enjoys its own TC logic that allows considerable wheel spin before trimming power. KTM also allows you to turn TC off completely. This TC system watches relative wheel speeds as most do, but it also adds information from a sensor pack that measures (or helps calculate) roll and yaw rates, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, and roll and pitch angles. With all this information, the system can accurately and smoothly modulate throttle reaction and ultimate thrust according to the predicted amount of traction available, while also providing protection when it actually senses wheel spin. In other words, it tries to keep you out of trouble before you get there, and will work to extract you if you’ve managed to go too far.

Heading toward the Teide park, I saw the TC warning light flicker often. That’s partly because the 170mm-wide rear Continental has a fair bit of bike and power to manage, but also because of the system’s power-moderation schemes. If you whack open the throttle while leaned over, the engine feels strong but muted. As bank angle decreases at the corner exit, you can feel more power coming on. The effect is noticeable even when you have good traction and the rear wheel is turning no faster than the front; in the most extreme cases, the engine almost seems to bog slightly before the electronics allow the throttle plates to open.

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There are many reports of accelerated engine wear or failure at low mileage on the 1190 because of leaks in the airbox allowing dust entry. Any comment KTM?
There are many reports of accelerated engine wear or failure at low mileage on the 1190 because of leaks in the airbox allowing dust entry. Any comment KTM?
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