It’s clear to the dozen or so head-to-toe KLIM clad men milling about the two KTM trailers that something is amiss. I can understand their confusion. The 1%-ers are easy to pick out in their KTM orange and grey suits, huddled together laughing and casually surveying the parking lot with the easy self-confidence born of being the best riders in any given group for as long as they can remember. Their heads turn, their eyes follow me as I approach one of the new 1190 Adventures and plunk my helmet unceremoniously down onto its seat. I’ve claimed this one, as close to the front of the pack as I can get, which wouldn’t be at all unusual, except I’m the rarest of riders at a KTM Demo – a woman.
Big adventure bikes, like the BMW R1200GS and KTM 990 Adventure, seem near exclusively the domain of men, and for good reason. They are tall and heavy, an uncomfortable combination even for women who stand over the 5’4” U.S. and Canadian average. Add 50 pounds of crash protection and luggage and you’ve a lot of weight to throw around, especially off road. And, if you have a tip over, a lot to lift solo.
Plenty of riders buy an adventure bike and never once take it off road in the truest sense; a graded dirt or gravel road perhaps, but that’s the limit. Perhaps that is what KTM considered in designing this new 1190 Adventure. It is the most road-worthy Adventure the Austrian brand has ever produced, with a plethora of electronics to aid the over exuberant rider in the case of the dreaded equation of “enthusiasm > talent” gets the better of them.
The 1190 Adventure is tall, no doubt about it, but even with the seat in the high position I was able to touch comfortably with the balls of both feet – admittedly at 5’9” I am taller than the average female. The 1190 Adventure’s seat height is 860mm/33.8in at its lowest, and 875mm/34.5in at it’s highest. This allowed me to walk the bike backwards while sitting on it, my first test of everyday rideability.
While the 1190 must weigh in at over 500 lbs with fuel, oil, and coolant, it carries its weight very well, feeling slimmer and more manageable than its closest competitors the Triumph Tiger Explorer and BMW R1200GS. The bars were a reach however, putting me into a sporty riding position that was not entirely comfortable. The 1190 offers two handlebar clamping positions, letting them move horizontally +/- 10 mm, but for smaller riders bar risers or bar backs may still be needed.
Standing on the 1190’s pegs my knees locked solidly onto the slender gas tank (a silly looking test as there was nary a dirt road to be had on our short demo ride). This was even more comfortable on the more off-road oriented “R” model since its seat is thoughtfully designed to have a bit of extra padding where it wraps around the tank, one of those little details that sets KTM apart from its competition.
A blip of the throttle (I managed to restrain myself from revving the throttle repeatedly as we slipped away from the staging area, unlike my male counterparts) and off we went. Once underway the KTM sheds even more weight and is remarkably easy to maneuver in slow speed parking lot situations. The hydraulic clutch pull is relatively light and my bike seemed to have none of the snatchy throttle response issues that I experienced on my first 1190 Adventure ride in Germany a few months ago.
In fact, for a 150bhp motorcycle, the 1190 seems rather docile until you push it above 6000 rpm. I’ll leave the discussions about why this might be via fueling, bore vs. stroke, the layout of the v-twin RC8-derived engine, the fly-by-wire throttle control, the engine mapping modes, etc to my colleagues, many of whom have done a terrific job of dissecting the nuances of this machine. What I will tell you is that this bike is an absolute hoot to ride.
It is a visceral and engaging experience – there is no doubt you are riding a race-bred motorcycle when you’re piloting a KTM – and yet, as I was informed upon dismounting, grinning like a tween-aged girl who’s just received her first kiss, this new KTM is refined. Refined? The new liquid-cooled R1200GS is refined. A Honda Goldwing is refined. The 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure however is not refined.
It vibrates and snarls, the windscreen is basically useless at highway speeds (thank goodness there’s an aftermarket for such things, wink wink), and the seat on the R model doubles as a rump roaster per my fellow riders’ reports. It is the raw essence of motorcycling, wrapped in what a few years ago was sci-fi 21st century traction control and braking technology. You feel connected to it, much more so than when riding its German or British competitors. I suppose this is why KTM people are so loyal, and why they have a reputation for being riders in the truest sense of the word.
All of which leaves me with one impression: “I wish it was smaller”. And here is where my gender – which translates into my size and strength – comes into play.
The entire weekend I didn’t see another woman take one of the 1190s out for a demo ride – not counting those heading out as a pillion behind their husband/boyfriend/significant other. There were a handful of other female riders there, and they all had skills, but a casual survey said they were all riding bikes smaller than 1000cc: 450 and 520EXCs, a BMW F800GS, a 990 SMT.
The fact of the matter is, a big bike like the 1190 is a real challenge to ride off-road, and frankly there is some stiff competition for the street-oriented adventure market. The number of female riders is growing every year, and while we’ve got the skills it’s just a fact of nature that most of us are not physically equipped or even willing to pilot such a large, powerful bike in sketchy off-road situations.
So, while the 1190 Adventure is truly an amazing ride, I can’t help but wish that KTM would officially introduce a 690 Adventure model to the North American market. Because I don’t need 150bhp off-road, but I sure as hell want a bike this engaging and capable in a practical adventure size. And, I’m not the only one.
More Info: Jenny Smith is Twisted Throttle’s Head of Marketing, and an experienced adventure rider. Her 15 years of riding includes rebuilding a 1975 Yamaha XS650 into a café racer and kitting out an RC51 for use as a sport tourer. Jenny’s current ride is an intrepidly kitted out ’09 KLR650E.
Further Reading: Ride Impression: KTM 1190 Adventure Vs. 1190 Adventure R