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.

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.

KTM replaces the dirt-biased 990 Adventure with a more powerful, more sophisticated ADV machine.

Aprilia Caponord, BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada, Moto Guzzi Stelvio, Triumph Tiger Explorer, Yamaha Super Tenere

Engine typel-c 75-deg. V-twin
Valve trainDOHC, 8v
Bore x stroke105.0 x 69.0mm
Fuel systemEFI, ride by wire
ClutchWet, multi-plate, slipper
Claimed horsepower150.0 bhp @ 9500 rpm
Claimed torque92.2 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm
FrameSteel-tube trellis
Front suspensionWP 48mm fork adjustable for rebound damping
Rear suspensionWP shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brakeDual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brakeBrembo two-piston caliper, 268mm disc with ABS
Front tire120/70ZR-19 Continental Trail Attack 2
Rear tire170/60ZR-17 Continental Trail Attack 2
Rake/trail26 degrees/4.72 in.
Seat height33.9 – 34.5 in.
Wheelbase61.4 in.
Fuel capacity6.1 gal.
Claimed dry weight467 lbs.
ContactKTM USA,
38429 Innovation Ct.,
Murrieta, CA 92563,

VERDICT 4.5 out of 5 stars
Your basic reversal of expectations: KTM builds a street-beast Ducati killer.

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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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