We were privileged to crack an invite to the launch of KTM’s new Adventures at the beautiful Champagne Sports Resort, near Winterton, in the ‘Berg’, looking particularly splendid, bedecked as it was in KTM’s signature orange detailing. Check-in was slick and smooth, what with the Covid protocols that needed to be followed. After getting settled in and drooling over our launch gifts, we gathered for a slide presentation on the spanking new 890 Adventures.
After an intro done by Louwrens Mahoney, Franziska Brandl, KTM’s sassy boss lady, brought us up to speed on KTM’s excellent performance, both locally and internationally. What is also becoming increasingly apparent is how the World is moving towards electric motors to power vehicles, both 2 wheeled and four. We may just be living in the ‘end times’ for fossil fuel-driven vehicles. Louwrens and tech fundi Stefan then briefed us on the new 890s.
The obvious feature is the engine, which gains 7 kW over the 790, to peak at a healthy 77 kW @8000 rpm. Torque is bumped a full 12 Nm over the 790, to 100 Nm @ 6500 rpm. Without going into detail, the whole engine has been evaluated and upgraded, growing in both bore and stroke in its transition to an 890. It features improved cornering ABS and Traction control too. Long-distance riding has been enhanced with the addition of cruise control.
The switchgear has all the necessary buttons, however, the software needs to be enabled by the purchase of an Options Package. There was consensus amongst the journos that these features should be part of the overall price of the bike, rather than charging an additional (substantial) premium on top of the purchase price. The additional price hike would be easily justified given the almost ‘must have’ nature of the package features (Motor slip regulation, cruise control and rally pack offroad settings). The TFT display also has the now-familiar KTM MYRIDE, for calls, music and turn by turn navigation.
Chassis tweaks include reworked brakes, lightweight steering head, lighter subframe and anodized, rather than powder coated hubs. The looks have been sharpened and freshened into a good looking package. WP suspension is also upgraded with rebound damping on the preload-adjustable rear shock, whilst the front forks have nifty hand preload and damping adjustment. Both models sport 21” front wheels.
Once equipped with the optional package the bikes can be fine-tuned for rider preference with several ride modes and traction control settings. As your confidence grows you can gradually ‘uncork’ the restrictions to match your improved skill levels. The crank has 20% more rotating mass which results in better low speed lugging ability and general civility. It was then early to bed in anticipation of a morning ride on the 890 R.
We rode out on a blue-eyed day hinting at some proper heat around midday. From the get-go, the bike feels more mature and ‘civilised’, as compared to the 790. The engine power and flexibility is also immediately apparent. This motor is an absolute peach. Smooth, powerful and tractable. Given the beans, it is seriously fast. Every other medium-sized Adventure bike out there is rendered a trifle pedestrian by the potent 890 KTM. The roads around the ‘Berg are much the worse for wear as a result of the good rains this season. Tar is potholed and strewn with gravel and the dirt is eroded, washed away and big fist-sized rock ‘lurkers’, exposed and waiting to destroy an unwary rim.
Despite these very real challenges, the Karoo 3 equipped R soaked it all up (literally) and kind of chirped, “Is that the best you’ve got?”. There is simply no debate. The R KTM’s are at the pinnacle of Adventure bike offroad ability. The more ability you have, the better they get, however, courtesy of the brilliant electronics, you can tone them down to docile compliant tools that work with you in any situation.
Let it also be known that they lead the way in setup simplicity. The display is clear and the features are simple and properly intuitive to carry out. This coming from someone who is hugely ‘BC’ (before computers), is particularly noteworthy! The 890 has a level of maturity and polish which was absent, by comparison, in the 790. It has, for me, brought KTM’s mantra of “Ready to Race”, under the spotlight. As always, the bikes are R to R, however, they are smoothing the rough edges and areas of no compromise into pretty complete packages, which go toe to toe with their opposition in all areas. They are coming in from the Dark side and are likely to appeal to an ever-widening audience.
The R is a very stable platform, even in really rough going, always working with you and flattering your ability. The engine is a massive part of this ride-ability. Putt up a technical hillside in first, with tractor-like ability, or wind it out on fast and flowing terrain. No sweat. The power is stellar. Whether in top gear roll-on or blitzing through the gears, there is consistent shove everywhere. No big-engined Adventure bike will have any hope in shaking off the 890, given its all-round potency and balanced ability. The lightweight and tidy dimensions are ace’s up its sleeve which, when allied to the motor, gives this middleweight a Mike Tyson punch. Special mention must be made of the superb brakes with brilliant offroad ABS. Top of the class!
We lunched, then hopped on the straight Adventure model, to complete the 890 picture. The Adventure always lives slightly in the shadow of its R sibling. This is due to the offroad kudos that get heaped on the R, which, to some, suggests that the Adventure is less bike. The reality is that it allows riders to buy the right horse for the course. If you want an all road tourer with decent weather protection (larger touring screen), impeccable road manners and a high spec, without needing absolute all-conquering offroad ability, then this is a compelling option. It still has offroad ability up there with the best of them. It comes standard with more road focussed Avon tyres which I felt worked well and contribute to its fine road manners.
Seats on both models are somewhat firm and may have some long-distance riders looking in the Power Parts catalogue for ‘comfort’ options. All the other touring accoutrements, like panniers and tank bags, are catered for in the said catalogue. My lasting impression of the impressive brace of 890s, is that they are now at a level that KTM’s biggest competition to their 1290 Adventures, may well come from within.
That evening it was time to be brought up to speed on the new 1290s. Well, somehow these really good bikes have been made even better. Let’s fast forward to the next days riding and flesh out on what has been tweaked and fettled. We again took to the trails with the R model first up. The new colour scheme, and sharpened panels, make for a striking looking bike. Resplendent in metallic blue and white with orange detailing, they look fantastic. The ‘transformer’ headlight, for which KTM has become synonymous, may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I have got used to it, and quite like the distinctive ‘face’.
The orange frame and engine protection bars on the R look rad too. Again, as with the 890, we have an optional Tech Pack with Adaptive brake lights, Rally Pack, Hill Hold Control, Motor slip regulation and Quickshifter, that should not be optional, as they are the standout features of the bike. Accessing all these options is done via a superb TFT display that is again, class-leading.
Ride away on the R and there is immediately the reminder that there is no substitute for cubes. When compared to the 890, It is not that the R feels much faster, but how effortlessly the 160 hp and 138 Nm motor delivers the goods. You are also aware of the larger size and bulk, with the corresponding inertia, of the 1290. Riders who regularly ride two-up, may gravitate towards the 1290 for the extra space afforded the rider and passenger.
On the standard settings, we experienced the front forks bottoming out on the rutted road and also how easily it was remedied by the manual fork compression and preload adjustment. A few clicks and twirls and all was sweet. The 1290 requires a little more thought about your chosen path as the extra bulk (over the 890) makes quick direction changes a tad more work.
The roads twisted and turned and undulated, with varying degrees of treachery, all depending on the surface. I followed South African Offroad Racing legend and KTM Dealer, Alfie Cox, who had Franziska (brave girl) riding pillion. What an education! Whilst his skill on the bike is obvious, his anticipation of treacherous potential hazards spoke of his years of experience riding these roads in the Berg. Thanks for the Masterclass Alf. The bike responds to smooth riding superbly, becoming an able and capable ally across any kind of terrain. It is almost otherworldly that something this big and powerful should work so well in the dirt. Testimony to the massive amount of effort that KTM have put into developing the 1290 into the weapon that it is.
This is attributable to tweaks that include a new frame, that positions the steering head 15 mm further back, moving engine weight slightly forward. The 23-litre tank incorporates side pods dropping a lot of weight lower. Suspension is WP XPLOR hardware front and rear. 48 mm forks have split damping, meaning that compression damping is catered for in one leg and rebound in the other. 220 mm of travel both front and rear. Although some opposition bikes sport up to 250 mm of travel, in reality, they spring them so soft that 30 mm is lost when you climb aboard. Not so the big Katoom. This does elevate the seat height to 880 mm on the R. Wheels are aluminium, tubeless and spoked.
Pay attention to properly setting up the suspension before venturing onto the dirt, lest you ding a rim hitting a lurker and bottoming out too soft suspension. Probably wise for our pothole infested tar roads too. A six axis IMU feeds info back to the brain on the bike regarding traction control, motor slip regulation and your off-road ABS to assist in keeping things tidy and the way you prefer them. Oh yes, it keeps the settings (890 too) when you switch the bike off and on again. Hallelujah!!! Traction control can be tweaked on the fly by means of a handlebar-mounted switch, adjacent to the left grip. A little too easily, in fact, as I found myself inadvertently adjusting it across rough terrain where my hand bumped the switch. Subtle engine work has kept the power, despite regulatory constraints and slightly lowered the weight (around 221 kg’s dry).
So, in short, the most competent offroad big Adventure bike just got even better. This is rare praise considering the quality and ability of the other bikes out there. It remains top of the pile for offroad ability and becomes that much ‘nicer’ in the process.
Last up was the Adventure S, sporting some fiendishly clever electronics. With similar engine tweaks, the bike sheds almost 2 kg of engine weight over the previous model. Both bikes have reworked gearbox internals to make shifts, especially with the optional Quickshifter, even smoother. The reworked frame lowers the seat height marginally in its two settings (849 mm and 869 mm). The screen has 55 mm of manual, tool-free adjustment, enabling smooth airflow for the rider.
The S has WP APEX SAT electronic suspension which has various settings including an ‘Auto’ setting which I found very impressive. The options package allows adjustable anti-dive in the front forks which also works well. And then the technological ‘Tour de Force’, Radar assisted speed control. A sensor just below the headlight, monitors the distance and speed from the vehicle ahead of you and keeps you at a safe distance, by adjusting the bikes speed.
Apply the indicator and move out to overtake (you need to do your usual safety check), and the bike accelerates up to your selected speed. Spooky! You can use the system conventionally too. Options allow you to adjust the following distance to suit, if utilising the radar guidance.
The S becomes the competent all-rounder for the rider that does not put a premium on the best possible offroad ability and wants an all-road Sports Tourer with creature comforts. At around R20k below the price of the around R320,000 R, it may just be the thinking man’s choice.
So there you have it guys and gals, four extremely competent new Adventure motorcycles from KTM, that really need to be ridden before choosing your next Adventure motorcycle. Every year these bikes improve from what are already highly competent levels.
It is certainly a great time to be an Adventure bike rider! Big shout out to Franziska and the passionate crew at KTM SA for a great launch and some privileged pampering. It is sincerely appreciated!
For more information visit: www.ktm.com
KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R/S & 890 ADVENTURE/R
For more information on the bikes that we tested in this article, click on the links below…