Cape Town - On paper, KTM’s adventure-touring flagship has everything going for it.
It’s the more road-focused of two sibling models, with beautifully cast 19 inch front and 17 inch rear alloy wheels, proper road tyres, seriously muscular power delivery and one of the most sophisticated suspension setups on two wheels.
It’s only six kilograms lighter than its main rival, the BMW R1200 GS, but seems far less bulky - especially from the saddle - and packs a decisive 27kW more punch. And for all that this is the road-bike version, you never lose sight of the fact that all KTMs are designed and built by off-road specialists.
It may wear its engineering on the outside, but you are never in doubt that this a tough machine built to take you there and bring you back - which, given the astonishing complexity of its gizmotronics, is reassuring to say the least.
But first, the engine. This is, of course, the latest version of KTM’s proven LC8 75-degree V-twin, based on that of the barking mad 1301cc Super Duke R, albeit in this case detuned to a marginally more sane 118kW at 8750 revs and 140Nm at 6750rpm.
And even here, the electronics intrude. On other fly-by-wire motorcycles, you dial in X amount of throttle and it gives you X amount of response. On the 1290 Super Adventure R, it consults with the ECU, the traction control and the lean angle sensor to give you what it thinks is the right response - depending of course, on which of the four drive modes and which ABS mode you have selected.
The softest drive mode is, in fact, “Off-Road” which curtails power to 74kW, while the equivalent ABS mode will allow you to lock the rear wheel at will for sideways entry into corners - and a similar traction control setting allows huge rooster-tails coming out. Some road bike.
But even set for maximum power on tar, with the traction control off, ABS on Street, preload on 'Solo Rider no luggage' and the semi-active suspension on its firmest for performance testing, the electronic accelerator smoothes out erratic throttle input for a smooth surge of power, at any revs above where the power-thudding stops at about 2200rpm, all the way through to the redline.
The Super Adventure S tops out at a conservative 247 on the digital speedometer, for a true 234km/h, just one division short of the power peak at 8750rpm, less than a third of the way down our Six-Kay Straight. I thought it was a little disappointing for a 118kW machine, but several overseas publications achieved very similar results, so it wasn’t just me.
With longer gearing, I’m sure a much higher Vmax would be within reach, but you’d lose the thundering acceleration and the almost contemptuous ease with which the KTM sliced through our performance testing. It was rock steady in a straight line, surprisingly nimble on our ride and handling test section, and swept effortlessly through the high-speed cornering section at an average of 128km/h where 120km/h is the pass mark for a sports bike.
And its long sixth gear still gives you a relaxed cruise at about 5250rpm, with 140km/h showing on the clock - a true 130 - and an astonishing 400km range possible from the 23-litre fuel tank. Even including performance testing and a few days of commuting to and from the CBD (not the Super Adventure’s intended role but one it fulfilled with aplomb) the test bike returned a creditable 5.8 litres per 100km.
And I, for one would be happy to tackle a 400km haul on KTM’s express train; the seats are deeply padded and ergonomically sound, as befits the maker that has built 16 years’ worth of Dakar Rally winners – and if the bike doesn’t fit you perfectly out of the box, there’s an impressive range of adjustments to make sure that it will.
Instrumentation consists of one straightforward colour TFT screen (second only to that of the current generation of Ducatis for clarity and sensible layout) and an initially intimidating but ultimately intuitive set of rocker switches on the left-hand switchgear – although I would always counsel pulling over to reset, rather than adjusting ‘on the fly’.
Even switching on is special: put the key fob in your pocket, get on, hit the start button and go. KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure S, partly due to its distinct road bias, is a remarkably sporty tourer with impressive road manners, class-leading performance and an electronics package that is probably more than most sports-tourer owners will ever need.
But for the select few who regard the horizon as a challenge and the road less travelled as their playground, this may just be the most competent and accomplished adventure tourer on the planet.