First Ride: 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R Review
Riding motorcycles is all about staying in balance. So is designing and buying them. When you decide to buy a new KTM 1090 Adventure R it will be mainly because it was designed for the purist adventure rider who rides mostly off road.
For this bike, there’s two ways to write a review: 1. The “technical-engineer nerd method” which scrutinizes the nuisances of every specification form compression ratio to flywheel weight; Or, 2. Speak English and describe the riding experience, “the everyman method.”
Normally on “press intro” rides, my moto-journalist counterparts and I are chaperoned on guided tours that are more akin to a PG-13 “after-school special” than to a “no-holes barred” test ride in the wild. However, this time, KTM opened the gates and released the hounds. Laid out by multi-time BAJA 1000 champion and DAKAR vet Quinn Cody, the two-day course route was long, varied and technical in some spots with heavy doses of sand, both climbing to pine forest and descending to low desert. And, we were encouraged to take independent sojourns at the midway bivouac spread across a coveted 150-acre private ranch.
In testing this bike and critiquing its pros and cons for our readers, I took into account more than the spec sheet comparisons and spent the first two days off road riding on some of the more strenuous conditions. What I looked closely at for you was the balancing and compromises made by KTM to develop and launch this new bike while also attempting to guess exactly why they did them. If you had been saving up for an 1190R and lean toward off road, you’ll be a believer in the 1090R. But you won’t go so far as to call it the next generation of 990 (with its cult-like following and timeless rally fairing styling).
1090 vs. 1190 Comparison:
• 18% more affordable
• 16% less HP
• 12% smaller cc
• Only slightly lighter (11lbs)
When the 1190R was launched three years ago, it was hailed at the big bike alternative to the GS for technical riding while still powerful and stable enough for long highway sections. Now that the 1290 Super Adventure is taking a bite out of GS market share, the 1190 is replaced by the 1090, essentially an 1190 lite. But that will leave some riders scratching their heads. We have to ask you why you would buy this bike, a mostly stripped down 1190? It’s because you’re really riding off road most of the time or at least very seriously when you do.
The tradeoffs here are substantial and they point to really riding, if not racing. If it is 11 lbs. lighter, that isn’t a massive difference considering some of us carry tool belts that are heavy (or could shave half that much in a month on a few less cervezas). On the flipside of her weight change is the 145cc difference in the motor and 16% less HP. The point is that when things get really extreme in the outback, raw horsepower isn’t the only answer to riding your way out of the shit-storm of deep sand or loose rock on an unstable hillside. I found these tradeoffs made sense as I spent the first two days trying to huck the 1090 across 200 miles of varying terrain and realizing this is as big as “adventure riding” should get. Any “bigger” is a liability for what I’m looking for in crossing untracked dunes and beaches 90 miles from civilization.
Next comes the question of payload and optional equipment. If you are heading on a multi-year, trans-global expedition, consider stepping up to 1290 SA instead. (I’ll hang on to this 1090R long enough to test a few weekend escapes with soft-luggage and preferred controls and write a follow up report.)
The standard electronics lend themselves well to switching up varying surfaces during break-in. Those riders newer to dirt riding will favor switching to “Off Road” mode, which cuts the HP output by 20% and lets the rear wheel spin freely while the pilot can still override ABS. As a true off road rider, I outgrew this mode as soon as I learned how to unleash all she has to offer. I set her into “SPORT” and turned off Traction Control (TS) and Rear ABS. That leaves you with full power that still has ABS in the front—something the pros tempted me to tinker with. In other words, they challenged me to try and lose it in the dirt by grabbing a bunch of right hand. Once you get this down, experienced off roaders will stay in SPORT mode at all times. As Cody advised, it’s almost impossible to dump it with the front brake; in this case the computer is more coordinated than the rider.
KTM’s thing is “Ready to Race” and they have come very close to delivering a bike ready for that. I thought Quinn Cody was really crazy when KTM sent him the to the start line of the bomb run of an AMA National Hare (desert race with 100+ bikes staged handlebar to handlebar) on an 1190 last year. He now sets his sights on riding Romaniacs this summer on a stripped down 1090R. The balls?
Based off the same chassis as 1190 and 1290, KTM’s abridged incarnation loses the center stand, cornering ABS (lean sensor), AC Plug, and 14 lbs of mass from the smaller motor. Both ends of the suspension are beefed up with noticeably stiffer loads at the bottom, a testament to its off-road pedigree. We tested them with optional KTM rally footrests ($150) and skid plate ($299). The most noticeable thing stripped away from the 1090’s siblings may be the most important: It’s price tag is $3,200 lighter which aligns it to compete directly with HONDA’s Africa Twin. If I was a betting man, that’s where I’d lay this chip on “why they did it” like this. Look for a head to head shoot-out in the near future. It could get vicious.