Ha ha ha ha ha.
That may not be the most intellectually robust or indeed journalistically responsible way to begin a bike review, but it is perhaps the most succinct. How else to encapsulate the experience that is a KTM 1190 Adventure? But don’t worry, this isn’t a sales brochure, so I’m happy to say the seat is terrible and no matter what position I set the screen in, it was always a terribly noisy thing to sit behind.
First I’ll set the scene and the caveats: I only managed to ride 1,000 miles in the time available, so that’s not ideal for a truly comprehensive review, and I haven’t had the opportunity to try, or try riding with, the factory optional luggage. But the terrain I experienced was varied, and so was the weather as 250 of those miles were completed among very wet Austrian Alps on a second, identical machine.
The chassis is sublime, but most of the uncontrollable laughter is caused by the 110 kW/150hp LC8 V-twin engine with double ignition, the latest Keihin fuel injection and Keihin motor management, together producing a whopping 125Nm of torque. The ride-by-wire throttle is immediate and sensitive (but not as bad on a bumpy road as the 1200 Triumph) and the fuelling just mentioned is fine above 2,750 rpm, but even then it can occasionally be snatchy if you are trickling along in a speed restricted area and try to hold a steady throttle.
But what grunt when you do roll that right wrist! The big twin pulls constantly and eagerly from 2,500 all the way up until the big red light on the dash flashes to say ‘feed me gears’. There isn’t a marked red line on the tacho, but maximum power is developed at 9,500 and that’s when the light flashes, but you may find yourself playing around the gutsy power surge at 6,000 rpm.
Rather disturbingly, the flashing dashboard happens when the scenery is a blur and the front end is invariably light. Initially I thought the red light may perhaps be something to helpfully tell me that my front wheel was in the air, but it seems there’s another light specifically for that – the orange traction control signal. I can’t work out why a light needs to flash to say that some built-in electrickery is doing the job it was built to do.
Flicking up through the 6-speed ‘box is a silky-smooth experience and coming back down, including selecting either first gear – which is much lower than on the similarly engined RC8 superbike to enable trickling through difficult terrain – or neutral at a junction, was perfect every time.
This may be due to the finger-light clutch technology which incorporates an ‘intelligent’ slipper system. In essence it senses excessive torque either from the engine under acceleration or from the rear wheel on rapid deceleration, and alters the pressure on the clutch plates. When accelerating this means clutch slip is avoided, and on a closed throttle having gone down a couple of gears on that crackin’ Alpine descent, it ensures the rear wheel doesn’t ‘hop’.
But back to the powerhouse itself. The 75° V twin is an incredibly light, sophisticated, 8 valve, twin cam unit and a huge development from the earlier Adventure models. What’s remarkable is that KTM engineers have managed to extract so much power and yet made an engine which is markedly more economical than predecessors. With mixed, laughter-filled riding, and a few high speed night-time motorway odysseys, I managed 47.8mpg overall. According to the onboard average speed measurement, one trip to Kent was completed at 77mph and yet the big twin was only sipping a gallon every 52.3 miles, so a constant throttle can clearly make a difference to the range afforded by the useful 23 litre tank.
The thing about all that torque so easily to hand, is that with a flick of a switch (well a bit of onboard menu scrolling – more on that later) the power curve can be transformed into one of two shapes, within four categories.
Two of these, ‘Street’ and ‘Sport’, unleash the full 150bhp but combine with the traction control system to enable different levels of slippage: only ‘Sport’ enabling powerslides and easy wheelies if they’re skills you believe you possess.
‘Rain’ and ‘Off-road’ limit things to 100bhp and similarly restrict/enable rear wheel sliding. The traction system isn’t some crude throttle shutting exercise though, so it really is rather nice to use and inobtrusive, which is lovely for a touring machine.
Interestingly, although there’s a 33% power drop, I found the ‘Rain’ mode to be incredibly useful for covering ground swiftly as it was so smooth. Full power may make you scream ‘fuck me!’ as you are addictively jettisoned out of a corner, but it then means you have to get on to the brakes for the next unknown. In ‘Rain’ I felt much more grown-up and rode smoothly, just as the IAM taught me, actually averaging higher speeds.
Before I leave the heart of the machine it’s worth noting that the KTM people have extended service intervals to 15,000kms, or almost 10,000 miles which should certainly be confidence-inspiring for long distance overlanders. They haven’t fitted a shaft though, just a big hefty chain, but they do want to make sure you don’t ignore the maintenance basics: There’s a huge, oblong sight glass set into the wonderfully cast engine cases to check your oil level, but there’s also an oil temperature sensor and level warning light should you really be incapable of bending over and doing your bit.
So if you are a little stiff, general ergonomics may matter to you even more than most, so you’ll be pleased to note that footrests, (fat) handlebar, seat and windscreen are all adjustable. Factory settings – as I collected the bike from KTM – suited me (5’11” and 12 stone) perfectly whether sitting or standing on the footpegs, which have terrifically convenient removable rubbers. The peg to seat distance is comfortably relaxed, with a nice ‘open’ knee and my hands fell easily onto the fat ‘bars with their standard issue handguards and clean, simple switchgear.
Seating position 860-875mm gives a commanding view of the road and is a great place to tour from. Visibility is excellent which is safe, relaxing and satisfying; or would be if the seat was a bit more comfortable. I really started to struggle after 100 miles.
Strangely, I don’t feel I want to lay any of the blame for this on the gruff, vibey motor, which almost feels as though it has an engineered roughness to add character.
Styling and bodywork
As personal as the ergonomics, I have to say that this 1190 simply looks great. It’s all big torso and shoulders with a slim waist, celebrating the big tank and yet designing it to blend wonderfully within the chiselled fresh, modern lines. Whether silver/grey or orange, this butch stance is undiminished and you can’t help yourself but look back, again and again, as you walk away having parked it. Yes, it will make you look good and stroke your ego. Every fixture and beautifully machined fitting oozes thought, adds to the overall style, and just screams engineering excellence.
Handling and Ride
My time with this bike was split between an incredibly dry UK and a soaking wet Germany and yet there was no time it didn’t feel surefooted and stable. Shod with Continental Trail Attack tyres – 120/70-19 front; 170/60-17 rear tubeless on airtight, beautiful, ‘Saxess’ spoked black rims – it always felt stable even on overbanding and crossing white lines. But the whole chassis combines to create this planted, trustworthy feeling; from the lightweight, extremely rigid Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated in black, to the sublime WP suspension offering 190mm of travel at both ends. I adore the way the bike turns in and answers commands that I seem to have only thought about. Wet or dry, the confidence it instils is pleasing, refreshing even.
The electronically selectable suspension settings are an option, but I’m glad I was able to experience it, because I was surprised. Having read the press-pack blurb and other reviews I thought that the comfort setting would indeed be a soft, plush, air-cushion ride. It’s supple, certainly, but I suppose I was a fool to think that a factory such as KTM, with such an admirable competition history, would create a bike with the remit to glide like a Goldwing. Rather I found that a lithe, taut, responsive street bike simply became a little loose and almost felt as though it wished to shake its head a little. Thankfully, the settings can be changed on the move in a few seconds with a closed throttle. Convenience itself.
The Brembo brakes are another delight and the combined Bosch ABS system is a massive advance on earlier systems. Like the traction control it even acknowledges lean angle and adjusts how it functions to suit. Its engagement varies with the performance mapping system selected, and if you are going to be taking this bike off-road, or just using the gravel surface on so many of the world’s great routes, the great news is that when using the ‘Off-road’ setting, the ABS doesn’t operate on the rear wheel.
If you have one of the 2013 model 1190s the great news is that the newest ABS system configuration is an uploadable upgrade, but I wasn’t able to ascertain how much it costs.
Electrics and Lighting
Apparently the engine mapping settings can be retained and remembered on start up, but I was completely incapable of making that happen, much as I tried. The computer readout on the dash, operated from the left-hand switchgear, is certainly clear and uncluttered. The menu system was more straightforward than anything I‘ve used before and certainly better than the system on the Multistrada, but I still couldn’t find the bit that said ‘use this setting tomorrow’ or words to that effect. The system also seemed to over-ride some of my more random combination choices, for example ‘comfort’ suspension and ‘sport’ power setting, or I was incapable of fully operating the system.
Some of the onboard functions were very useful – twin trip meters for example – but do we really need to know the air temperature, average speed or journey times? Really? What happened to maths and anyway, on a big trip, you get there when you get there and it’s not the arriving that matters! Maybe it’s all about bragging rights down the pub, but yes, I know I referred average speed above…
It is possible to decide on your ‘favourite’ information and have those readouts available as one display.
The ‘fuel range’ prediction function was simply laughable though. Upon filling the tank, the computer said the range was 300 miles; a theoretical 59mpg. That’s fine and perhaps if the engine’s torque didn’t goad me so, it would have been possible, but it fluctuated wildly and would drop in tens until, having sat on 100 miles for ages, simply read a big fat zero, leaving me sweating. At 235kgs with fluids, this may be the lightest of the big Adventure Beasts, but I still didn’t want to prove my machismo by pushing to the nearest fuel station.
The lights are excellent and the LED daytime running lights are useful, especially if you want to ape an Audi. They also define the very distinctive front end.
LEDs are used for the indicators and taillight as well, which is something really useful for an overland trip, drawing very little current and not leaving you invisible in an instant when a filament fails.
The heated grips, combined with the hand-guards, are effective and certainly seem robust and to save you getting your nice warm hands cold or dirty, there’s even the option of an on-board tyre pressure measurement system (TPMS).
Real World Use
This is undoubtedly one heck of a machine and if it’s to be your daily rider it’ll do absolutely everything competently and keep a smile on your face. It’s relatively lightweight, but certainly feels it on the move and is inordinately flickable through traffic. The seating position is lovely and commands a great view of everything that’s going on. The mirrors are good, and one was always in focus. Never two, as the vibrations varied with the rev range. It’ll comfortably do over 200 miles on a tank, but your bum probably won’t. Thankfully, whenever you get where you’re going, or if you want to brim the tank, you’ll be able able to park the 1190 securely as it has a centre stand! Oh joy of joys.
As stated, I never got to use the factory luggage, and although once the boxes are removed the fitting mechanism is neatly unobtrusive, the serious overlander will probably already have established a relationship with some kind of specific luggage system, whether hard or soft.
It’s a great tarmac tourer/scratcher and that KTM off-road heritage means it will handle as much dirt as you’re likely to encounter, with its 220mm standard ground clearance.
There’s always the ‘R’ model if you’d like bigger wheels, taller suspension, different graphics and would like to spend an extra £600. But with that same V-twin engine, the hilarity will never end.