There are adventure bikes, and then there are adventure bikes. The first could be (without naming names here) bikes that most owners buy and ride to the cafe, the machine never seeing a dirt road despite its design philosophy. Then there’s the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, built squarely for dirt and for those who don’t care about never seeing a coffee again.
The Super Adventure R received a complete redesign for the model year. The main changes are a new steel frame that weighs 22 pounds less than before, as well as new geometry, new bodywork and revised suspension for better off-road performance. The mission briefing wasn’t so much to go smaller, but definitely tighter and leaner.
Fresh bodywork covers each side of the redesigned split-style radiator that significantly narrows the front of the machine. The steering head is 0.59 inches closer to the rider for better control, and the swingarm gains 0.59 inches in length to cope with the demands of the bike’s 160hp, 1301cc V-twin engine making its best to shred the Bridgestone AX41. road tires at their heart.
Weighing in at 550 pounds with six gallons of gas and measuring 34.6 inches at the seat, this is a big, aggressive bike. Good thing KTM gave the rider every electronic aid imaginable to keep the whole rubber side down. The electronics suite includes traction control, cornering ABS, off-road ABS (which lets you disengage the rear brake on dirt) and cruise control. And engine modes include Rain, Street, Sport and Off-Road. Other technical improvements include keyless ignition and tire pressure monitoring sensors as standard equipment. There’s also a 7-inch TFT dash that you can connect your phone to via the KTM My Ride system for navigation and communication.
On the hardware side, there are those huge orange engine guards and the under-engine guard that are also standard. In KTM fashion, there are also some great options available, such as the must-have Rally Pack which contains an additional throttle map and access to the nine-stage adjustable traction control system (as opposed to the TC map on / standard stop). However, it’s the Tech Pack you really want, as it provides everything included in the Rally Pack plus features like Hill Hold Assist, Motor Slip Regulation and the Quickshifter+ system for clutchless gear changes.
This last setup is our test bike, and believe me, once you try the light-action KTM quick shifter, you’ll never want anything else. KTM should be applauded for creating a bike with handling that completely belies the size of the bike. Yes, it’s dynamically a huge machine, but the way it handles off-road is hugely impressive. It’s really at home on rough dirt roads, mixing deft, low-speed, low-rev throttle that hides the gigantic power output of a chassis that completely eats up the next rock or hill.
Still, you definitely don’t want to switch to the 1290 because there’s a lot of cycling to get off and a chance of breaking the mission control dash. But given the generous 62-inch wheelbase, the rider would have to make a sizable misstep to do so. The chassis is extremely stable, allowing you to drift off-road with confidence, and that’s before you add the extra safety net of nine-level traction control.
That said, you’re unlikely to take a 1290 into really treacherous, rutted terrain. As good as it is, the model variant is still not a fully sorted dirt bike, but it’s not too far off the mark. On the road, it will hit 100 mph faster than a bike that looks like this is allowed. The Superbikes of 15 years ago weren’t that fast. But you’ll also notice the mountain bike position, and it’s not the most comfortable at high speeds given the rider’s arms are higher than normal, although that’s a small price to pay for the gain you get when the road gets dusty.
KTM makes purpose-built motorcycles, so we shouldn’t be surprised that this 1290 Super Adventure R is aimed at true ADV riders. We also shouldn’t be surprised to call this the best big-bore ADV machine yet from one of the benchmark manufacturers in the category.