Cape Town - It’s difficult to know where in the pantheon of dual-purpose bikes the KTM 1090 Adventure fits in, until you’ve lived with it for a while. Then you find out it fits in everywhere.
On paper it’s an anomaly; at 1050cc and 226 kilograms it's too big for a midweight, such has the BMW F800 and Triumph 800 Tiger, but it’s not up to competing with the 1200cc big guns of the class - and in any case, KTM has its own super-duty beetlecrusher in the 1290 Adventure S.
The 1090 has an updated version of KTM’s long-running LC8 75-degree V-twin, tuned for 92kW at 8500 revs and 109Nm at 6500rpm, with new twin-spark heads, 52mm throttle bodies, a slipper clutch and a conventional six-speed gearbox - the latter a little notchy but commendably precise in action, as befits a motorcycle made by a company specialising in off-road machines.
Vibration is omnipresent, as it always is with narrow-angle V-twins, but it never becomes a problem and, once the big-piston power thudding goes away, between 2500 and 3000rpm, it pulls like a locomotive, the engine note becoming steadily raspier, to way beyond the power peak.
Four ride modes - selectable from the left-side switchgear by using four buttons so intuitively laid out that you can do it without looking the second time you ride the bike - adjust both throttle response from the ride-by-wire twistgrip and the nanny level of the traction control for Sport, Street, Rain or Off-Road riding - or you can disable the traction control in any mode for huge roosters in the dirt.
The ABS can also be set, using the same buttons, to Street (both wheels), Off-Road (front wheel only) or Off (on your head be it, and you probably will be on your head if you get silly with this bike - it’s no pussycat).
The 1090 Adventure is set up mostly for tar (there is also an off-road biased Adventure R version with spoked wheels and a 21 inch front tyre) but we were still surprised at just how sporty this adventure tourer is when you push its buttons.
It slashed through the ride and handling section of our test route at 126km/h where 120 is the pass mark for sports bikes, without the faintest suggestion of a weave, turning in like a squirrel after a falling acorn despite its great height, and hitting the apex of each corner with surgical precision.
But when we stopped at the start of the bumpy test section and reset everything to Off-Road mode (the bumpy test section is tarred, but it’s worse than most gravel roads) it sailed through without pattering or losing its composure. And through all of this we never varied the suspension from the factory’s median settings - it simply wasn’t necessary.