31 Aug 2014

Test ride: KTM 1190 Adventure

Today a friend from ADVrider invited me along to Rykas Café at Box Hill for a test ride courtesy of KTM UK. I love the styling of KTM’s smaller bikes but have never been all that mad on their large ‘Travel’ (adventure/dual sport) bikes—the 1190 Adventure and 1190 Adventure R. Nevertheless I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride the competition, as I have been pining for a go on one of these for quite some time.

The 1190 Adventure has always gone head-to-head with the R1200GS—consistently the top two bikes in the large dual sport category. I believe they are both excellent bikes, but appeal to different types of rider. The respective literature and reviews all seem to point to the same thing—the R1200GS is aimed at 60/40 on/off road, and the 1190 40/60. Both bikes offer big power, comfortable days in the saddle and the ability to carry along a tower block—but the R1200GS is slightly biased to on road travel, and the 1190 to off road travel.

After selling my soul on a comprehensive form about how I would be sent straight to purgatory (without passing ‘go’) if I damaged the bike, taking a mandatory breathalyser test and donning a fetching hi-vis bib, I was handed the keys to a slightly uninspiring grey 1190 Adventure (I wanted orange, dammit).

Modelling hi-vis (they say a camera adds 10 pounds—hi-vis stretched over a padded moto jacket adds about 75!) while testing the height... seat plenty low enough, feet planted flat.

My companion for the test ride—I wanted the orange one!
The 1190 Adventure looks like a huge bike in photos, and not much smaller in person. However, hopping on board, the bike felt smaller than either my R1200GS or my F800GS and I could easily flat-foot both feet on the ground. The handlebars are not as wide as either of the GS bikes, and the clutch/brake levers are stubbier.

I didn’t get off on the right foot when I tried to start the engine—the first attempt resulted in a click and a pinking sound from the engine. Second attempt was the same. Third time lucky, it fired up to a far more civilised, quiet idle than I expected—in fact, it was such an unintimidating sound I thought I’d got on the 690 SMC by mistake. Compared to the R1200GS’s boxer bark on start-up, the KTM sounded almost underwhelming.

Moving off, a pleasant surprise was how beautiful the clutch action is on this bike. KTM has BMW beat on this one—the R1200GS’s hydraulic clutch is sharp and snatchy to the uninitiated, whereas the KTM has a nice, wide engagement area, making a ham-fisted start unlikely to stall the engine.

The riding position is about halfway between my 800 and 1200, but the narrower handlebars felt odd at first to me, having spent the last 2 1/2 years with the BMWs.

Our group, led by a KTM employee, headed out along a few 40mph roads to start. The gears shifted well on the 1190—smoothly and accurately—and making progress was relatively effortless in traffic. But the engine sound bothered me, it seemed too quiet for the character of the bike—thrumming away almost, dare I say, like a large capacity scooter... accompanied by scooter-like engine vibration. This bike is crying out for a louder exhaust!

Once onto national speed limit roads (60mph) I had a chance to wind it up a bit. Once the revs exceed 5,000rpm the engine starts to get some character and smoothes out beautifully, sounding like a mini V8 stock car (although muted). This is the magic spot of the 1190—an instant transformation into a quick machine.

On my R1200GS I’m accustomed to stump-pulling torque just off idle, and the KTM felt a little bit flat in this respect. The KTM’s engine starts off meek and heads quickly to mad—whereas the BMW boxer pulls for Germany constantly through the rev range. Put another way, you get an exciting rush of power on the KTM, but even and constant acceleration on the boxer. Which is better? Neither—it’s your preference.

Through the bends, the 1190 Adventure certainly feels safe and secure, but the centre of gravity feels higher than the R1200GS, closer to how my F800GS feels. The KTM changes direction easily and effectively but I had to keep looking down at the dash see what gear I was in and where the revs were sitting. I quite enjoyed the good burst of power the bike offers between the corners.

The brakes scrub off speed as effectively as the R1200GS but the front end dives, although not as much as the F800GS—a consequence of long travel forks. Despite diving, the bike remains completely stable.

I didn’t get a chance to play with any of the settings, but on the left was a pod of arrow buttons and a selector in the middle. Sorry KTM—BMW has you beat on this one for ease of accessing all the bike’s features through dedicated switches.

During the test ride, I thought the KTM had a seat warmer and was thinking how nice that was... but it turns out it was simply the heat from the engine... great in the winter, but not so so good on a hot day.

Returning the bike, I turned it around in a space about the size of my bedroom, and the bike is stable and easily managed at walking speed. It goes up onto the centre stand more easily than either of my BMWs as well.

Final thoughts? Overall I liked it—it’s fast and easy to ride, taking less than 5 minutes for me to gain my confidence. However, considering the extra 25hp it has on the R1200GS, it didn’t feel any faster—I would say the two bikes would be neck-and-neck up to about 100mph. KTM’s traditional-style suspension is beautifully damped and well controlled but lacks the wafty, magic carpet ride of BMW’s quirky telelever/paralever system—which has the added benefit of anti-dive braking.

Would I buy one? Interesting question. Overall it reminded me of a much more powerful and refined F800GS—perhaps the similar suspension layout and centre of gravity made it feel like that to me. If my needs were more off road focused, then yes it would be a contender. But for long journeys through narrow, twisty paved roads alternating with open highways and a few dirt trails, I still feel I made the right choice with the R1200GS.

Go on the forums and a minority of very loud people will have you think neither the KTM nor BMW will last more than a month before everything goes horribly wrong—but with virtually no issues at all with either my 800 or 1200, I have no reason to believe a new KTM would be any less reliable.

In summary—the 1190 Adventure is a fine bike aimed at a slightly different buyer than me. And the optional Akrapovič exhaust should come standard.