Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
These days KTM’s big street bikes are so well established that it hardly seems possible that the firm built its first V-twin roadster only 15 years ago. That original 950 Adventure was a simple, dirt-friendly machine closely related to the previous year’s Dakar rally-winning racebike. Since then the growing Adventure family has become more powerful and refined while retaining the ready-to-race character for which the Austrian brand is known.
The 1290 Super Adventure’s arrival in 2015 was a significant step. A dual-purpose blend of the 1190 Adventure and hardcore 1290 Super Duke, the 160bhp V-twin was powerful, versatile and sophisticated. For 2017, the Super Adventure family grew to three: the original model (renamed the Super Adventure T, and dropped for 2018); the dirt-biased Super Adventure R; and this bike: the street-focused 1290 Super Adventure S.
The S-model’s shape, created by KTM’s long-time design partner Kiska, is typically sharp and distinctive; focused on an insect-like front section comprising twin headlights plus an array of cornering LEDs that illuminate as the bike leans through a turn. The S is slightly sleeker than the original Super Adventure, partly because its fuel tank holds 23 rather than 30 litres. From the tall seat, the most obvious addition is a colourful, notebook-like instrument console.
Many key components are shared with the other Super Adventures, including the 1,301cc DOHC, liquid-cooled V-twin engine, complete with multiple riding modes. The tubular steel frame is also unchanged apart from lacking the R-model’s additional crash-resistant sections. The road-focused S’s main differences are suspension with 20mm less travel (though still a giraffe-like 200mm at each end), and cast rather than wire-spoked wheels, the front with a diameter of 19 instead of 21 inches.
It’s not quite true to say the Super Adventure S combines all the speed and raw thrill of a super-naked with the versatility of an adventure bike… but it comes enticingly close. That big, long-legged and humungously powerful V-twin powerplant is a gem; as effortlessly strong low down as it is thrillingly potent at high revs and backed-up by state-of-the-art traction control, as well as sweet throttle response.
The KTM is supremely useable too, its upright and roomy riding position working in harmony with a protective screen that can be adjusted on the move with one hand. Handling is responsive and also remarkably poised for an adventure bike, partly because the semi-active suspension, which adjusts automatically with mode, delivers excellent control as well as ride quality. Powerful brakes with cornering ABS mean speed can be lost even faster than it’s gained.
If ever there’s been a motorcycle to appeal to both heart and head, the Super Adventure S is it. With its throttle wound back it’s almost as crazily entertaining as its Super Duke sibling, yet is effortlessly capable of covering long distances in comfort. It’s a blast on back roads, shrinks motorways and has a range of well over 200 miles. It would even prove handy off-road, especially if its street-biased Pirellis were swapped for something knobblier.
Neat details include keyless ignition and a phone compartment with charging socket. Heated grips and cruise control also come as standard, as does a two-way quick-shifter for the slick six-speed gearbox. Extras range from silencers to panniers whose mounts flex slightly to boost high-speed stability. Fifteen years on from that original 950 V-twin, the S-model is well and truly a Super Adventure.
Price tag of our bike: £15,130.95 (1290 Super Adventure S £14,299, plus panniers £831.96)