2014 KTM 1190 Adventure | First Ride

Surprise! KTM Takes on the Multistrada

By Marc Cook, Photography by Francesc Montero

Over the 250 miles of riding, I tried all the modes, including Rain and Off-Road. Rain still has good throttle response, and the drop in power isn’t as pronounced as I’d feared; Off-Road allows substantial wheel spin. Of the two remaining, Sport is the most fun. Street’s TC intervention is a bit too aggressive, with too-gentle power application when overall traction is good. Sport gives you a bit more rope and feels more seamless. The final mode, Off, is good for laughs, but there’s no denying the emotional benefit of a well-developed safety blanket.

In the normal scheme of things, big Adventure bikes need a lot of suspension travel. The 1190’s axles stroke just 7.5 in. each, virtually the same as the new GS’s and about three quarters of an inch more than the Multistrada’s. KTM follows the new European paradigm with an optional Electronic Damping System. Much like the basic BMW types, KTM’s EDS allows you to select four levels of rear-spring preload and three levels of damping adjustments. The system controls both compression and rebound damping at both ends. A couple of clever ideas here: First, when you select the Sport engine-mapping mode, the EDS will also switch over to Sport, though you can then separate the two and ride in Sport ride mode with Street suspension mode if you want. Second, the damping settings are different for Comfort, Street, and Sport modes according to the amount of preload selected. And also like the BMW system, the Adventure’s damping schedule can be changed on the fly, but the spring preload can only be adjusted with the bike running but not in motion.

In most settings, the 1190’s WP-built suspension feels firm but responsive. My test bikes—a gray one the first day, orange the next—came set up on Street damping and Solo rear preload, and there the bikes were plush enough to handle some of the weather-ravaged roads leading up to the Teide. (One, in particular, seemed to have been repaired by tossing sacks of concrete, tarmac, or perhaps week-old paella out the window and hoping the following cars would finish the work.) After some trial and error, I found the Two-Up load mode gave the best steering response—quick and low-effort but also very stable—and when combined with the Sport damping schedule resulted in a bike that stays level even when ridden hard. If you’re not smooth with front-brake application—like the time I pulled out to pass only to discover a group of 15 quads coming the opposite direction and used the Bosch ABS to its fullest—the bike can feel a little pitchy, but overall the keel feels pretty even. We’re only having this discussion about twisty-road aggression because the Adventure encourages it. The styling may say ADV, but the way the Adventure steers (beautifully, accurately), turns in on the brakes (like it was made to), and drives back out (with the tire squirming) says sportbike.

To fill out the list of safety features, the 1190 gets the 9ME Combined-ABS module from Bosch, a lightweight system that provides a measure of front-to-rear brake linking. Moreover, KTM includes an Off-Road mode for the ABS that allows full rear-wheel locking, eliminates the front-to-rear combining, and raises the intervention threshold for the front wheel. Hardcore off-road riders will probably still want to disengage ABS completely, which is possible, but for those just venturing onto gravel trails, the Off-Road mode might be just the ticket.

The one braking quirk all of us at the launch noted is that the front brake lever comes back toward the bar after prolonged, hard use. One road leading down off the volcano had quarter-mile straights followed by slow turns, about a hundred of them is what I recall; by the bottom of the hill, the front lever had come back a good 10mm. Both bikes I rode recovered fully after the system cooled. Otherwise, the brakes are terrific, with just the right amount of linking to stabilize the chassis.

KTM had no off-pavement plans for this press launch, which is a shame. The 1190 Adventure seems like it would do well on graded roads and gravel paths. In fact, KTM chose the wheel sizes to give owners a choice of intermediate (50/50) or hard-core (mainly dirt) tires. The 120/70-19 front and 170/60-17 rear sizes are the same as the new BMW, and like the Beemer, don’t need to carry tubes. The spoke wheels have a seal against the spoke nipples to prevent air escaping. Special mention goes to the Continental Trail Attack 2 K tires, specially made for this application. They provided amazing grip on both cold and hot roads, good bump compliance, and excellent steering manners. It’s hard to know how long they’ll last, but after two days of thrashing, they didn’t look abused. And, believe me, we all tried. Partial proof comes from the recorded fuel economy on the dash: I got the average down below 30 mpg on the second day. Good thing the Adventure has a 6.1-gallon tank; for comparison, the new GS and the Multi both carry 5.3 gals.

Apart from the brake-lever issue mentioned above, I found just a couple of places where the KTM doesn’t just wow you. A minor complaint is heat radiated from the rear cylinder’s uninsulated exhaust pipe. And then there’s the seat, which seems firm enough and well shaped, but the “3D” foam packs down over the course of a day, leaving you perched uncomfortably on the unyielding seat pan. I suspect KTM really wanted a low seat height for the specifications page and reducing seat foam is one way to get it, but this is too great a price to pay. The rest of the ergonomic picture is delightful, and includes reversible handlebar pillars that make a 10mm change in reach plus similarly adjustable footpeg brackets that move the claw-style (with rubber inserts) pegs to move up 10mm and back 10mm from the standard placement.

Later this year, KTM will introduce the 1190 Adventure R, a more off-road-oriented version with a smaller fairing, 21/18-in. tire sizes (like the 990 Adventure), slightly more trail, and a few other updates to make it a better half-road/half-dirt machine.

For now, we’ll eagerly anticipate the arrival of the basic Adventure on our shores in October. Prices should be set by June. Currently, the 1190 Adventure sells for 13,990 Euro, and the U.S. arm of the company hopes to keep the price close to the current 990 Adventure, which is just under $15,000. Ducati’s base Multistrada runs $16,995 with manually adjustable suspension, and the entry-level BMW R1200GS will likely start some small distance north of that. It’s possible that the KTM 1190 Adventure will arrive as one of the most potent new big-inch ADVs and one of the segment’s best values as well.

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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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