I wouldn’t be a very good journalist if I couldn’t admit to my own bias. There are bikes that I really want to like and those I don’t much care one way or another. In much the same way, there are times when I get really excited about everything new and times when I cling to the old and resist change.
One example of such bias sits in the garage right now (not the 1190). I really want to call this particular bike the greatest thing ever. Sadly, for as good as it is, it is leaving me more neutral than excited. On the other hand, are the the new 1190 KTM Adventure bikes. I was a real fan of the 950/990 series and had serious reservations about the new bigger and more complicated models. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to like the new bikes.
Our time with the off road focused R model was short. Likewise I am going to keep my comments short. It has been almost a year since KTM invited the first editors to ride the new bikes. If you have not read some other 1190 test yet, you probably are not that interested in it anyway. I was starting to feel a little bit that way myself. With no chance to ride one, my interest had waned. But once astride the new bike, that feeling changed rapidly.
On paper the new 1190’s are a pretty high tech piece of work. The R model gets the off road goodies and the standard gets its own electronic suspension package that is adjustable with just a push of the button. The R puts out 150 horsepower, but with the flip of the switch to offroad mode, that is cut drastically. It is just one of the ride modes available.
Let me just say that the motor is amazing. It is so far beyond the 990 that comparison is almost silly. The 990 was nice, but even the higher horse models seemed to lack just a bit when you wanted big passing power. The 1190 is silky smooth in delivery and very fast.
The idea of ever needing more power never crossed my mind. In fact, I don’ think I ever really had the throttle pinned. With a fly by wire throttle, traction control and slipper clutch, it is nearly impossible to upset the bike. It almost makes you feel like a MotoGP rider.
The R model comes with offroad spec 18″/21″ spoke, tubeless wheels. So it is easy to set up with real knobbies. It is probably easy to shred them too. It has a one piece sculpted seat. Twin discs up front give huge stopping power, pure KTM. The frame is all new, but in a similar trellis design like the previous generation models. Suspension travel is 220mm at each end, 8.6 inches. The cast lattice swingarm is a pure artwork.
The cockpit features a BMW style rider display with all of the pertinent information. On the left bar is the 4 button mode switch for changing all the settings and displays. It gives the rider an option to create a favorites screen with user selected information displayed.
There is a quite a bit of new information to take in on the 1190. This is only a highlight of the major features. Of course it can only mean so much on paper. All the specs in the world won’t make a bike “feel” wonderful.
During my fist pavement ride, it was soon obvious just how far the new bike has advanced. It is fantastic on the street and hardly shows any of the dirt heritage it comes from. Throttle feel and power deliver are super smooth. There is no hesitation or on/off surge. The cockpit is more street feel than the 990. The bars are lower and closer to the rider. The pegs feel slightly higher and rearward. The wind blast is moderate with little buffeting. All leads to a very nice street ride.
In fact it felt so “street” that I was a bit hesitant to leave the pavement. But it only took about a hundred yards of dirt to realize that we are on something special here. Almost immediately I was more comfortable on this new bike than I ever was on the 990.
First is due to the front end feel. It is completely neutral. It requires very little steering effort, but at the same time feels completely planted. There is something in the chassis geometry that just feels very right. The sensation of weight seems greatly reduced also.
But it is the electronics package that is the real show stopper. For the last 20 years, ABS on adventure bikes has mostly been about how to to disable it. It was a constant pain on both Beemer and KTM. Well forget all that. The new 1190 ABS system can be turned off, but you will probably never need to do it. It is a huge leap from the old system. It is now a benefit in the dirt instead of a hindrance.
Hard stops in the dirt are straight and controlled. There is almost no recognition of the ABS in action. Certainly none of the old on/off feel that was so obvious. By comparison, with the ABS turned off, the rear wheel will start to step out rather easy when it gets to the edge of traction.
As for the MSC stability control, it has a pretty neat trick up its sleeve in the offroad mode. It will allow the rear wheel to spin at twice the speed of the front. It is just enough to let the rider steer with the rear wheel and not have to worry about throttle control. When the MSC kicks in, it simply feels like the rear wheel has found some traction and the bike leaps forward. Like the ABS, there is almost no sense of the system in action. It is seamless.
As for the ergonomics, I felt them to be improved for the street and slightly worse for the dirt. The sitting position is a bit more sporty and the standing position cramped. The bars are lower and farther back. While the bar mounts are reversible, it does not have the two hole mounts like the rest of the KTM line.
As you can see. For the large part, my doubts about the new model have all been pushed aside. This bike works very well and is loads of fun to ride. While it does not look the part of a Dakar racer in the same way that the 990 did, I would be far more likely to venture into difficult terrain on the 1190. It is confidence inspiring.
I certainly wish I would have had more time with it. There are lots of places I would like to show it. It also means that my impressions are mostly skin deep and there is lots of detail that I did not have a chance to get into.
My complaint list is small. The thumb switched for the rider display takes a little time to get used to. I think it is just a matter of getting to know the sequence of buttons to push. But for the first rides, I found it distracting. The LED dash display can be a bit hard to read in the sunlight also.
There is only a cigarette lighter outlet for power on the dash. Seems like a USB should be standard these days, even multiple ones. In the headlight there are two additional 12v outlets, one keyed and the other is constant. What is supposed to be under seat storage is taken up by emissions equipment. There is only one small outside storage area, not really big enough for anything but coins. The helmet lock is a cable that hooks under the seat.
There are a few touches that I really like. The center stand is very easy to use. On the old 990 it was always required too much effort to get the bike up and down. All of the levers and controls feel top notch. The seat is middle of the road, it will work for some riders, but others might find it has too much slope.
I have to say the 1190 R seems to be a hit all around. It is far more polished and sophisticated feeling than any of the predecessors. It has finally given up on any pretense of looking like a Dakar bike. So I will miss a little bit of that rough around the edge feel. But I think it is a huge technological improvement and is a great bike to ride.
Next Up – Ride time with the KTM 1190 Adventure standard model