Ride Impression: KTM 1190 Adventure Vs. 1190 Adventure R

Photos: KTM
Twisting the throttle of KTM’s new 1190 Adventure at its Steamboat Springs unveiling, I’m launched forward with the ferocity of a 150hp sport bike, re-moulded and sculpted into a bike as light and nimble as any 800cc-class adventurer from BMW or Triumph. That the factory demo rides are limited to the Colorado Rockies’ paved twisties is a joyful solace to those like myself who had hoped to take the 1190 off-road.

As an owner of KTM’s 690 Enduro R and 690 SMC, and frequent 990 Adventure borrower, the new bike boasts a much broader spread of power. On both the 690s and 990s, you’re shifting often to stay in the power band. Not so with the 1190, the 1195 cc engine derived from the RC8 super-sport revs to a much higher 12,000 rpm before bumping into the rev limiter.

North of 6,000 rpm the throttle response is extremely direct producing an instant rush of adrenaline-inducing power. It’s raw, visceral and aggressive, a true KTM.  South of 6000rpm, you could convince yourself that this new KTM is akin to more docile offerings like the BMW R1200GS or Triumph 1200 Explorer.  What the fly-by-wire throttle does is tame the lurching KTM-feel of past generations, where the bike is always on edge, and let you have the choice, ballistic hooliganism or smooth touring refinement.  Across the board then, the 1190 is much less jerky and produces less vibration, even at high RPM.

Both 1190 and 1190 R share nice finishing details; an adjustable height windscreen, full-size cigarette socket, folding shift lever, adjustable clutch and front brake levers, and a nifty little stash box in the dash.  Then there’s the size; the 1190 feels much more compact, sporty and nimble than the competing BMW R1200GS and Triumph Explorer models. The 1190 weighs in at a claimed 217 kg (478 lb) without fuel, but it masks the extra 10 kilos (22lbs) gained over the 990 phenomenally, the shorter standard model nearly convincing me it was an 800… until you watch the speedo go stratospheric.

The new trip computer with four buttons integrated into the lefthand switchgear is awesome. Tons of information is displayed right at your fingertips, including bonuses like a voltage meter and outside temperature gauge, while making adjusting the ABS, traction control, and suspension settings easy. You can even customize which bits of information are shown in the “Favorites” screen.

Unfortunately, you can’t turn off ABS while riding like on the new 2013 BMW R1200GS.  The 1190’s ABS menus are, however, far more user friendly than those of the Triumph Explorer or Tiger 800, which always make me feel like I’m entering the cheat code for 30 extra lives in Nintendo’s Contra video game (up up, down down, left right, left right, B A, Select, Start…).

One of the most intriguing features is KTM’s new ABS technology. KTM claims that the 1190 Adventure is the first motorcycle to offer an “Offroad ABS” mode, which lets you lock up the rear wheel while retaining ABS on the front. A great idea for maintaining the ability to intentionally skid the rear while preventing the front end from washing out – a consistent problem associated with the mass of big-adventure bikes overpowering front braking traction.  The linked braking system also decouples front and rear braking for off-road, which is a major advancement over similar systems from other brands.

Comparing the 1190 and 1190 R versions, you quickly realize that the “R” is not a direct upgrade over the standard; the bikes are built for two distinctly different purposes.  The standard version has a more street-oriented 19” front/17” rear tire combination, two-piece height adjustable seat, shorter suspension, taller windscreen for touring, electronically adjustable suspension, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Crashbars are optional.

The “R” version has more dirt-oriented 21” front/18” rear wheels, one-piece low seat, taller suspension, shorter windscreen for dirt riding, and a more aggressive manually adjustable suspension. The “R” I rode seemed to lack a tire pressure monitor, although I got conflicting answers on whether this is missing from all “R” bikes when I asked KTM staff. The R’s longer travel suspension also lacks the “standard” bike’s electronic adjustability, a curious point leading one to wonder if KTM suspects the system may cause issues in aggressive adventure situations – Ed.  Crashbars, however, are included.

The two-piece seat on the standard version has similar stand-over heights and footpeg-to-seat distances as the 2012 R1200GS. As a 6’2” guy with a 34” inseam, I strongly preferred the “high” seat position for riding comfort and still easily flat-footed the motorcycle. It was comfy, and at least for me, had perfect ergonomics.

The one-piece seat on the “R” version has a taller stand-over height than the two-piece seat in the “high” position, making it difficult for me to swing my leg over. Even with my 34” inseam, I couldn’t quite flat-foot the bike. It felt like the tallest bike I’ve ever hopped on, with the exception of the 690 Enduro R. Strangely, once riding, this one-piece seat feels more cramped, as the footpeg-to-seat distance is the same as that of the two-piece seat in the “low” position. The footpegs do have 15 mm of up and down and front to back adjustment via the mounts, but I’m dubious that’s enough.

The result of the tall suspension and one-piece seat on the “R” is a bike that only the tallest riders will feel comfortable standing over, yet those same riders may well feel cramped when seated. The thin padding on the one-piece seat also packed down to the seat pan by the end of the 20-minute ride, which doesn’t bode well for long distance comfort. In true KTM fashion, the R’s seat will only be comfortable when you’re standing on the pegs.

Also consistent with the brand’s previous big-bike outings, heat management remains an issue. While the weather was a pleasant 69F (20.5C), a significant amount of heat came through the seat, especially on the flatter one-piece “R” seat. My left butt cheek was well done rump roast after only 20 minutes, and several other test riders mentioned the same phenomenon. While KTM is proud that they offer an optional electrically heated seat, integrated heat shielding might be a better sell.

In addition, the large right-side exhaust makes usage of hard luggage problematic. Aftermarket flat-backed sidecases, like Twisted Throttle’s SW-Motech Trax EVO boxes and racks, will stick out quite a bit on the right, and the original KTM notched case holds next to nothing. The first aftermarket company to relocate or shrink that exhaust and bring the right case closer will be a hero.

The KTM 1190 Adventure and Adventure R offer distinctly different ride experiences for bikes that appear to vary so slightly on paper. If you want an ultra-comfy bike for pleasant long distance touring, BMW may still have KTM beat, but if you’re the kind of rider that wants to be a dirty long-distance hooligan and giggle the whole way at the terrifyingly fast throttle response, you have just found your motorcycle. Personally, I would choose the standard version for overall comfort, sporty handling, and versatility, but I saw plenty of riders drooling over the “R”.

Ultimately, the “standard” 1190 Adventure captures the power of a sport bike, and shows every indication of off-road prowess that will still have little competition from BMW or Triumph’s adventure offerings.  For the more hard core off-roaders, the R awaits.

Life is full of difficult decisions, isn’t it?

Related Link: Twisted Throttle’s 1190 Adventure/R Accessory Selection.

About the Author: CEO and founder of Twisted Throttle, Erik Stephens’ exploits span the searing heat of South Africa, to the volcanic geology of Iceland, to the high plains of Patagonia for six continents of adventure riding experience.

Bike: 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure/R

  • More Info: KTM’s 1190 Adventure R page
  • MSRP: Adventure – $15,999 (predicted) / R – $16,799 USD
  • Displacement: 1195 cc
  • Engine type: Liquid-cooled V-twin
  • Power (crank)*: 150 hp @ 9500 rpm
  • Torque*: 92 ft-lb at 7500 rpm
  • Tank Capacity: 26.5 litres
  • Carburetion: EFI
  • Final drive: Chain
  • Front tire 120/70ZR-19
  • Rear tire 170/60ZR-17
  • Front tire (R): 90/90 V21
  • Front tire (R): 150/70 ZR 18
  • Stock tire:  Continental Trail Attack 2
  • Brakes, front: Twin 320 mm disc, with four-piston radial calipers
  • Brakes, rear: Single 267 mm disc, twin-piston caliper
  • Seat height (R): 890 mm
  • Wheelbase: 1580 mm, +/- 10 mm
  • Warranty: info n/a

* claimed

11 thoughts on “Ride Impression: KTM 1190 Adventure Vs. 1190 Adventure R

  1. Great review, thanks for your input!
    I guess we just have to wait a little longer to see what will be like when test driving, but more importantly, see what the new BMW GSA will be like also. I want to test drive both before making my final decision. I own a 2012 R1200 GSA and I love it, but my brain is telling me to trade for the KTM. However, have owned a couple of Harleys, and having my share of heat coming through the engine, this is a BIG turn off about the KTM, and the fact that is lacking cruise control, does not help neither… Either way, very excited about the head to head reviews of GSA and 1190R next year!!!
    Cheers, from Nashville.

  2. Have my eye on this bike for a while now and can’t wait to this bike in person! I think KTM has done a fantastic job with this new bike.. powerful, light weight, great suspension, style and comfort, and should give Ducati multi a serious run for the money….
    But, this HEAT issue could be a deal breaker for me… had a few sport bikes in the past that were real cookers on warm days.. don’t know why few manufacturers choose to ignore this problem but really hope they choose to address this before it goes on sale here in the states… time will tell.

  3. I had a gsa too took the 1190 for a rest ride ,it was the bike I’ve been looking for,sure you do get a bit hot under your seat,but get that shield stuff and mould it under the seat and it reduces it by 70% .I’ve just done a two day trip away and 80% was dirt from fire trails,fine pebble roads,and a couple of the beaten tracks , The KTM did everything I asked from it ,there’s no way I would have rode the BMW like I did the 1190 it felt like I was on my 450 dirt bike again and I’ve still got my shines no way I’m going back.

  4. Just got a test ride on the new 1190 Adventure (thank you to RJ, owner of All American KTM in Ramona, CA) and recently test rode a low R1200GS to – they didn’t have regular height GS to test ride.

    I’ve also been the happy owner of a 2006 950 Adventure since 2007 and the new 1190 will be my next bike. It does steer a bit heavier than the 950/990 due to the wider 19″/17″ tires but it’s a fair trade knowing you have more rubber when riding it like a sportbike. I also love the added power and slipper clutch after running around on race / sport bikes the last few years.

    As for the complaints about heat, it was in the mid 70’s temperature wise and I never experienced any heat issues – unlike my son when he rode passenger on my 950 before mounting up some Leo Vince cans. On the 1190 I don’t think I will need to change the muffler out – at least not for heat issues. It is very quiet something I like but might change to lose some weight off the bike and get a bit more mechanical music like my 950 with quiet inserts installed.

    Compared to the new GS, the 1190 is lighter, has more power, but lacks cruise control – something I would like when touring. The GS is quick to, and does have a flatter toque curve that feels a little stronger on the bottom end but still has the annoying rocking feeling (my opinion) of the Boxer engine at idle / when starting off in first gear. The transmission is also still very clunky compared to the velvet smooth gearbox on the 1190. Also some little details on the GS just strike me as cheap compared to the KTM when looking at both bikes fit / finish closely.

    Comfort wise, I think both new bikes are pretty comfortable and both are more comfy than my 950ADV’s seat has ever been. KTM has really done a good job with the new 1190 overall and even though I like the looks of the R version better, I think I will probably buy the regular version given I’m inseam impaired at 5’7″. The regular 1190 seat in the low position, is definitely lower than my short 950 with the KTM low gel seat installed; something I will appreciate in more technical off road terrain.

    I also love the push button convenience of adjusting suspension settings and power modes on the new bikes. Good bye 950, hello 1190.


  5. I just put my name on one at the local dealer last weekend after a test ride. The bike was perfect for me.

  6. I was under the impression that the tank capacity is 23ltr and not 26.5ltr as stated above? Can anybody confirm?

  7. FYI, the BMW R1200GSw has also had “offroad” abs (rear wheel lockable) and unlinking/decoupling of the linked brakes available from the beginning of 2013.

  8. i had the opportunity to ride a demo 1190,awesome!had the 2009 ktm 990 R,I am selling my 09 zx14 to get this well balanced machine!

  9. I got started with the adventure bike thing on a new 2002 Suzuki Vstrom DL1000. It was large, comfortable and smooth. More to the point, it let me go “off pavement” at will, which was great while getting lost in the Rocky’s. The weight and suspension had it’s limitation though, and more than once I’d back away from climbing the next hill because I’m not skilled in the dirt.

    A decade later (starting with the Triumph Tiger 800) here comes an assortment of large, powerful bikes with improved suspension for nearly anybody to do nearly any dirt hill….. find the pavement and fly away 1000 miles from home. Soooo very awesome the way the industry is moving, albeit slowly, to the “just go anywhere” motorcycle.

    I do wonder how the new Vstrom will compare, but having the review above to sort out differences between KTM’s Standard and R versions, I’m likely to grab a Standard while they’re still available. The heat thing, I’ll find a fix. The on-road handling disadvantage of the R vs. the Standard, not important, because there are too many other pluses to the Standard. Says me anyway.

  10. I wanted the 990 until I really looked at the 1190, started riding dirt bikes at 9 (1969 Suzuki TC 90), graduated to rice rockets in ’75 with the GT-750M “Water Buffalo”, owned a Yamaha TT 500 and a Maico 440 WR along the way until switching to H-Ds in college. Looking to sell a ’89 EVO 1340 ElectraGlide to finance a used (very rare) 1190 R (gonna keep my custom ’80 74″ 4 speed Superglide though!). The more things change the more they stay the same……

    JB -28 November 2015

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