2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R First Ride Review

KTM aims to clobber the ADV competition with its new 1090 Adventure R.

KTM says: “The purest travel enduro available.” Motorcyclist says: “Put aside the price and it crushes everything in its path.”

Ari Henning reviews the 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R motorcycle
Lighter, cheaper, and with better suspension, the new 1090 Adventure R is ready to explore the world or just the trails in your backyard. I was introduced to some awesome new Jeep trails during the bike’s press launch and found some exciting all-dirt routes into a few of my favorite SoCal destinations. Isn’t that what ADVing is all about?Photo: Adam Booth

Dedicated enduro riders scoff at the idea of taking a 500-pound bike off road, and that's fine. If you're accustomed to a 450cc single then today's behemoth ADV motorcycles are absurd, but so is the idea of riding a 450 halfway across the country to spend a week exploring trails in Colorado. Melding touring comfort with genuine off-road capabilities is what today's XL adventure bikes are all about (in theory, anyway), and nobody takes the off-road part of the equation more seriously than KTM.

The 1190 Adventure R, the bike that this new 1090 Adventure R replaces, was already head and shoulders above the rest of the ADV herd in terms of how hard you could push it off road, as we discovered in our Down and Dirty test that included the BMW R1200GS Adventure, Triumph Explorer XC, and Yamaha Super Ténéré ES. Lighter (by about 60 pounds), more powerful, and with better suspension and handling than its counterparts, the 1190 R was simply more suited to the dirt than anything else in the class.

2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R dash and gauge
This is the same dash and switchgear that the 1190 appeared with in 2013. It’s comprehensive but the menu system is clunky until you get used to it. Ride modes include Off Road, Road, Sport, and Rain. ABS modes include Road and Off Road. The ECU will reset to Road unless you have the accessory dongle (about $115) installed. Then your settings can be saved.Photo: Adam Booth
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R engine

Photo: Adam Booth

It’s odd to see an engine get smaller, but that’s exactly what KTM did with the 1090. This new engine shed 145cc and 14 pounds compared to the 1190 engine. One part actually got heavier: the crankshaft. KTM added weight their to help tune the throttle response. It’s perfect, as far as we’re concerned, and a claimed 125 hp is still enough to lift the front wheel any time you want.Photo: Adam Booth

This 1090 furthers that aptitude with a retuned engine, upgraded suspension, and less weight. Riding the bike during two days of mostly off-road exploration in Southern California proved that this new 1090 is indeed more capable. The upgraded suspension—with stiffer fork springs and a new PDS shock—is the best in the category and totally at home on rough terrain. The new engine is smaller (more on that later) but the character and power delivery are more user friendly than the brutal behavior of the 1190 mill. Plus, 125 or so horsepower is still plenty. The 1090 is also lighter than the 1190 by a claimed 22 pounds—with 14 of those pounds coming off reciprocating and rotating parts in the engine—which leads to even better handling.

Finally, this new machine is $2,600 less expensive than the 1190. At $14,699 the 1090 R is actually at the more affordable end of the spectrum, undercut only by the $13,300 Honda Africa Twin. I rode Zack's long-term AT to and from the 1090 press event in Murrieta (and also all around South Africa during the bike's introduction, and there's really no comparison. The 1090 has a leg up everywhere except wind protection and on-road suspension compliance.

Part of the reason the 1090 is lighter and less expensive than the outgoing 1190 is because it has less stuff. There’s no center stand (look for a big rock or a stump if you get a flat on the trail) and simpler ABS and TC systems than on the 1190 or the new 1290, which means fewer onboard computers. The 1090 still has multiple ride modes (including a very functional Off Road mode) and ABS settings, but those systems aren’t lean-angle informed as on the other bikes. And if you’re looking for a slick TFT dash, cruise control, or all-LED headlights as on the 1290s, you won’t find them here, sorry.

The Off-Road ABS setting is pure genius. It allows you to lock the rear wheel but maintains lenient anti-lock function up front. It’s a lifesaver when you’re riding a big bike like this—especially on off-camber downhill dirt roads! Even better than the off-road ABS is the new suspension setup. It’s stiff—borderline harsh on the street on stock settings—but off road it begs to be beaten and does a better job of not bottoming than anything this side of the electronically enabled suspenders on BMW’s R1200GS Adventure. The chassis feels responsive and balanced and handling is direct and stable. Between the lower curb weight and dialed-in chassis, you won’t find a more composed bike off road.

2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R off-road slide
The 1090’s excellent Off Road ride mode caps power at 100 hp and softens throttle response while allowing considerable rear-wheel spin. Switching ABS to Off Road allows you to lock the rear tire but prevents lockup of the front wheel. Power is so tractable, however, that TC off and full power was my preferred setup.Photo: Adam Booth
Ari Henning takes the 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R motorcycle into the water
Obligatory splashy water shot. California has been doused with heavy rain a few times in the last month or two, so many of our creeks are actually flowing and the wildflowers are unreal. All that rain also meant plenty of ruts. Thankfully, the 1090’s chassis is agile enough to avoid most obstacles and stout enough to bash into the stuff you can’t avoid.Photo: Adam Booth

Now about that engine. The new mill is 1,050cc compared to the 1190's 1,195cc by way of a 2mm smaller bore and 6mm shorter stroke. It has the same cylinder dimensions as the 1050 "A2" bike that KTM sold in Europe, but this motor is in a much higher state of tune and cranks out a claimed 125 hp and 80 lb.-ft. of torque. When I asked KTM why they downsized, they stated a desire to change the engine character as well as a need to design a motor to Euro-4 specs instead of compromising the existing 1190 engine to meet the new regulations. I imagine the marketing department had something to do with it, too. After all, having an 1190 and a 1290 in the lineup is slicing things pretty thin. As it stands, the 1290 Super Adventure R is KTM's flagship model, while the 1090 Adventure R is intended to appeal more to the hardcore off-road demographic.

The character of this 1090 motor is indeed quite different. It’s smoother down low and quite a bit more tractable. The 1190 hit hard when you cracked the throttle open, which made the 100-hp Off Road ride mode a necessity on loose terrain. With the 1090 I queued up full power and turned TC off altogether since the engine is so easy to manage. This motor is smoother at higher revs, too. At 70 mph in top gear (turning just 4,000 rpm), the bike quite literally throws off no vibration. You can barely tell it’s running until you roll the throttle open for a pass and that big twin shudders and growls and launches you forward. The 1090’s seat is excellent and the riding position is off-road aggressive but plenty comfortable. The only drawback is lackluster wind protection from the stubby (but easily adjustable) windscreen.

2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R motorcycle review, static side photo
The new 1090 rolls on 18/21-inch wheels shod with Continental’s legendary KTC 80 knobbies. They have been and continue to be our favorite tires for dual-sport riding. Engine guards come standard on the R, but that beefy bash plate and those awesome “Rally” footpegs are both accessory Power Parts.Photo: Adam Booth
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R motorcycle camp out
The two-day press launch included camping (and skeet shooting, and an amazing barbeque) on a private ranch near Warner Springs. Kicking back around the campfire was a great way to wrap up a fantastic day of riding, most of which was off-road on Jeep trails I didn’t know existed.Photo: Adam Booth

When I romped the 1290 Super Adventure R in Peru I barely got to ride on pavement, but we had ample opportunity to weave down fast back roads on the 1090. And what a road bike it is. Even on the stock Continental TKC 80 knobbies, the bike dives into corners and feels surefooted. For as good as the TKCs are off road, they sure are stellar on the street. They have been and continue to be our favorite dual-sport tires for these big bikes.

With all this praise for the new 1090 it seems high time for some complaints. I’ve got a few, but they hardly seem worth mentioning. For one the 35-inch seat height is a bit of a challenge (I’m 5-foot-10), and on more than one occasion I found myself teetering on my tiptoes at stops. The 1290 has the same seat height, but since I rode that bike almost exclusively in deep sand in Peru the tires were always partially submerged in the desert, essentially lowering the seat height a few inches. Finally, the return spring on the ride-by-wire throttle is a bit stiff, and several of us had fatigued wrists by the end of the second day of riding.

I suppose the 1090's price could be a point of contention, but if your intention for your ADV is to really go off road, there's no better bike to buy.


KTM’s juggernaut 1190, with a smaller, retuned engine, less weight, and even better suspension.
PRICE $14,699
ENGINE 1050cc liquid-cooled 75° V-twin
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 125.0 hp @ 8500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 80.4 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION WP 48mm fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 8.7 in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION WP shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 8.7 in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 267mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 26.0°/4.8 in.
WHEELBASE 62.2 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 35.0 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 472 lb. dry
AVAILABLE Spring 2017
CONTACT ktmusa.com
An ADV bike with more off-road DNA than anything else on the market.