Hazyview, Mpumalanga – As the SUV market has boomed, so has that for big, comfortable adventure tourers.
While the majority, like their four-wheeled counterparts, will never go further off the tar than the gravel drive at the country club, market forces have driven manufacturers to create the most capable dual-purpose machines yet seen.
And this one, rather surprisingly, is one of them. Like a rebellious teenager growing up, KTM’s wild-child 1290 Super Duke R has morphed into one of the most civilised long-haulers out there.
The Super Duke’s 1301cc LC8 75-degree V-twin has been detuned from 132 to 118kW, while losing only 4Nm in torque, from 144 to 140. It’s spread over an even wider, smoother power band, thanks to new ride-by-wire software and 52mm Keihin throttle bodies in place of the motard’s 56mm intakes, with more than 108Nm available anywhere between 2500rpm and the red line.
The result is a superbly versatile prime mover. Its response is as gentle as a teddy bear in Rain mode, digitally precise in Off-Road, superbly muscular in Street and razor-sharp, albeit a little too intense for all-day use on roads you don’t know, in Sport mode.
In Street and Sport modes the power comes in really strong from 6500rpm, accompanied by a significant level of vibration and a flat, angry intake roar typical of narrow-angle V-twins - strong enough to have the back wheel stepping out or even spinning were it not for the standard (switchable) traction control.
The six-speed gearbox is as crisp as breaking glass – perhaps a little too much so on the example I rode, but the launch bikes were barely run in, and this particular one may have been a little tight, as none of the other riders made any similar comment.
However, what makes this 1290 really special in adventure-touring terms is its semi-active suspension, which uses accelerometers on the front and rear bodywork as well as stroke sensors to continuously re-tune the damping rates in real time, not only for varying road conditions and speeds but also to adapt to what the bike is doing, stiffening the rear during acceleration and preventing excessive nose-dive under hard braking.
That saved my butt as least once during the recent South African media launch in Mpumalanga, as I approached a bumpy downhill corner on Robber’s Pass too fast and had to grab a handful of Brembo’s best. Most other bikes would have spat me off; the Super Adventure just shook its head gently as if saying to itself “Amateur…!” and held its line as if on the proverbial rails.
The electronically controlled suspension also allows four modes; Off-Road makes the most of the dampers’ 200mm of travel at each end, Comfort is plush to the point of decadence, Street is initially supple but firms up as stroke amplitude and acceleration increase, and Sport is exactly that - sporty.
It’s too firm, in fact, for long-haul road use, giving a harsh, somewhat choppy ride and prone to occasional misbehaviour on patched, ill-maintained back roads.
The instrument pod and switchgear are common to the rest of the Adventure range as well as the Super Duke R - although the menu on the left offers a lot more options to scroll through. More electrickery includes cruise control and ‘leaning’ ABS, but the screen adjustment is manual.
Just unlock, rotate a knob and lock up again; it can be done on the fly at low speeds but it’s safer to stop and do a proper job. I must admit I didn’t even try; I just left the screen in its lowest position throughout the launch ride and it did an excellent job of keeping the pressure of the slipstream off me while delivering fresh air to my helmet’s intakes.
FOCUSING ON THE RIDE
Rider’s seat height is adjustable from 860 to 875mm, both seats are heated and the handlebars can be tweaked to custom-fit the bike to any body with legs long enough to clear the grab rail; sling your boot high, wide and handsome, cowboy - the penalty for laziness is a nasty crack on the kneecap.
New on KTM Adventure-series bikes for this year is ‘orthopaedic foam’ seat padding, as used by long-term care facilities. It feels initially quite firm, but the slight pressure on your bum-bones never translates into that burning ‘time to take a break’ feeling.
It says much for the ergonomics of KTM’s new long-haul flagship that nobody even mentioned comfort. We just got on and rode, close to 300km practically without a break, focused entirely on the road and the ride - which is, in a sense, a safety factor in itself.
The 1290 is a tall, heavy bike - 229kg without fuel, according to KTM, which translates to more than a quarter of a ton with its 30-litre tank full - but, thanks to superb frame geometry, wide ‘bars and state-of-the-art running gear, it engenders enormous rider confidence.
It’s almost uncannily stable at anything above walking pace, steers with precision belying its size and tolerates ham-fisted rider input with equanimity, while that big-hearted 1301cc V-twin encourages you to keep it in the sweet spot between 4000 and 6000rpm and see what’s on the other side of the horizon.
At R219 999, it is KTM’s most expensive road bike; it is also, by far, the Austrian maker’s most capable adventure tourer. It is quite clearly a road bike built by an off-road company, which may be part of the reason it sets new standards for dynamic performance among the heavy beetle-crusher brigade.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure
Engine: 1301cc liquid-cooled 75-degree V-twin.
Bore x stroke: 108 x 71mm.
Compression ratio: 13.1:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 118kW at 8750rpm.
Torque: 140Nm at 6750rpm.
Induction: Digital electronic fuel-injection with two 52mm Keihin throttle bodies.
Ignition: Digital electronic with dual spark plugs per cylinder.
Clutch: Hydraulically-actuated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by chain.
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted WP semi-active multi-mode cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Gas-charged WP semi-active multi-mode monoshock.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm discs with Brembo four-piston radial-mount monobloc callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 267mm disc with Brembo twin-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 19 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 170/60 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 860/875mm.
Dry weight: 229kg.
Fuel tank: 30 litres.
Price: R219 999.