It’s probably not a good idea to rely on the traction control to save your ass in every situation
This was meant to be a dirt test. We’d gone to the magical Isle of Man to ride the awesome Adventure Spec Challenge IoM500. That’s 500km (over two days) of off-and on-road adventure riding fun, all part of an ongoing roadbook rally competition. Only here I was on the famous TT course barreling down to the bottom of Barregarrow Hill at a modestly quick 85mph looking at the blind left kink at the bottom and wondering whether I should, perhaps, roll off the throttle.
That’s one of those risk-reward scenarios. Of course I took the risk, and the 1290 thundered through the dip as it banked left, dutifully keeping to the left side of the road so that we flew off toward 13th milestone in a heightened state of happiness. Now that’s not a patch on the 140-150mph that the TT racers have on when they sweep through here; but on a big adventure bike, on knobblies – well, fair play KTM (and to the Bridgestone AX-41s for that matter), no issues.
Certainly as a bonding exercise (with the 1290) the IoM500 worked. Often you’ll get guys pouring scorn on the super-ADVs, saying ‘too big, not enough fun’. But when it comes to a one-bike-does-all they’re hard to beat. And nothing gets you attached and understanding your bike like a big ride.
It was a six-hour blast to the Heysham dock for the 2pm ferry to the Isle of Man. That meant a 5.30am wake up given I live just about the other end of the country. It was a cool morning, too, so I had the thermal lining in my Scott Dualraid suit, and I had the 1290’s heated grips set to max. The wee screen was in the up position (it’s a simple manual adjustment) and with that 23-litre tank brimmed I was only going to need the one refuel over the 350-mile journey. A 1290 is a comfortable place to be on such a long road trip, certainly more commodious and relaxing than a 650-single.
That said, there were stops. First at Thurrock services (exiting Kent), to link up with mate July on his 1190 Adventure R (the 1290’s predecessor). Then another stop at KTM (Silverstone) for July to swap to the KTM 790 Adventure R – his choice of ride for the weekend. Then another stop at Keele services for a spot of tea and cake, before arriving dockside with a good hour in hand before the scheduled sailing. The 1290 simply stormed the journey, sitting on 85-90mph for long distances, returning about 55mpg, shrinking time and distance. That big tank with its 250-mile range is a damn useful thing to have.
Equally, there’s space aplenty on the 1290, so I had the huge Canon SLR 1DX camera and lenses in the tank bag; clothes, shoes and few odds and ends in the Giant Loop saddle bags; and tent, sleeping bag, mat and waterproofs etc in the Ortlieb bag on the rack. On the 1290, even with all that lot it looked like I’d packed light.
As my iPhone is now over two years old and is going the way all iPhones are programmed to do – playing up, losing battery life, not connecting etc, I wasn’t using the Bluetooth KTM My Ride navigation system (which works ace – when the iPhone complies) but instead a Tom Tom Rider 550. The Tom Tom does a great job of suggesting the best route and alerting in real time to likely hold-ups (if only the iPhone would connect…). I thought I knew a better option on the last back roads into Silverstone, but it turns out I was wrong and the Tom Tom right – got to trust to technology, eh?
No, not fast laps. You have to respect that outside of the TT and Manx GP weeks the Island locals probably aren’t anticipating bike nuts to be trying to emulate John McGuiness on the otherwise plain old here-to-there Manx roads, and while yes there were a few moments (as described earlier) we kept these to a minimum. And actually, riding slower seems to speed up circuit learning – with countless trips made to the Island I’m always trying to memorise the course, but yeah, I learn slowly.
So come Saturday morning we set out, now with roadbooks mounted and ICO Apps up and running on our phones (for once the iPhone complying), and started discovering the full length and breadth of the Island thanks to Rally Moto’s impressive route plotting.
The first off-road section was fantastic, a long graveled two-track up over the mountains (or high hills at least). And when I say long, the trail must have been at least half the length of the island as it started just outside Ballaugh and we exited it around Peel/Ballacraine. Quite something after the 500 meters at a bite experience of riding green lanes in the South East!
Compared to say the long level pistes of the Kielder 500, this was a more technical trail, too. Rainfall and vehicle passage meant the two-tracks were worn a little deeper with a raised grassy crown between, and you got occasional extreme erosion where heavy rains had cut bike-swallowing gullies. And you were riding over often-loose rock/slate, plus the trail went up/down left/right quite regularly. On the 1290, as with any super-ADV, there was something of a self-imposed speed limit as the potential for tyre damage was high – you just can’t go hitting rock steps at speed with a 250-kilo machine.
Nonetheless the 1290 was a doddle to ride over this. Aside from a fairly high centre of gravity (which you only notice if you swap to something like the new-wave 790) it behaves pretty much like a regular dirt bike, probably helped by the 21”/18” wheels and beefy WP suspension. And in off-road mode you can happily rely on the dirt-adjusted ABS to look after you on tricky descents – just make sure you pick a good line. But at no point was I struggling or wishing I was on the 790 instead, it’s a comfortable place to be is the 1290 even off-road.
Again, when we reverted to the road sections, the 1290 was the perfect ride. I like the high seat height – you see over everything – while the engine means you pick any speed and just whoosh along letting your subconscious do the operating. It’s a 158hp 1301cc behemoth, but the riding, thanks to all those electronic aids, can be pretty carefree.
Of the bike-protection upgrades we had installed (see RUST #43), I think I only really tested the Rally footpegs. These are so big (but not too big), and so secure (no slipping) that they made the off-road riding super comfortable. Occasionally I heard the odd clank of a rock firing into the upgraded sump plate, but the standard one would have been just fine. And we were never challenged on remaining perpendicular so the hand guards and various crash protections were never tested.
What I did really like were the Bridgestone AX-41s (see separate story), which were great both on- and off-road, as befits a 50/50 tyre. Lots of grip, even on wet rock, not noisy on the road and plenty of grip there, too – and the rear, after 3000+ miles looks good for a safe 4000 miles. They’re a quality act.
THE GOOD/NOT SO GOOD
Ahh yes – keyless ignition. Turns out I like it! I kept the key in my jean pocket the whole time and just pressed the ignition button on and off as and when. I am hopeless with keys, never putting them in the same place twice, so to just leave the key in the one pocket the whole five days of the trip – I probably saved hours of search time. And keyless fuel cap – I like that too, both for ease of use and zero chance of bending/breaking the key.
If there was one thing I could personally dispense with, it would be the hill start assist. Maybe it can be disabled, but I found it intrusive and when you’re trying to make a three-point turn in a green lane (wrong turn again!) if the electronics get so much as gets sniff of a slope they stops you rolling backwards. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to hold a bike on either brake on a hill whereas the inconvenience when it engages exactly when you don’t need it is a royal pain – and embarrassment. That said, if I was shorter I bet I’d hold a different opinion.
Likewise it’s probably not a good idea to overly rely on the traction control to save your ass in every situation. I managed to combine a particularly aggressive throttle-on moment with a super-slick section of tar seal and the 1290 snapped out sideways real quick. I’m not sure whether it was me instinctively closing the throttle, or the KTM’s computer instantaneously throwing out the emergency safety net, but it was a close call. Either way, it’s a big call to ask the bike to save you every time when riding like an idiot (so don’t!).
Day two of the IoM500 brought rain, lots of rain. And here I really valued the rain option in the ride modes, it simply takes the stress level down a few notches when on the road and it gets by well off road too. As well, the heated grips came into play again. Wearing thin motocross gloves all I needed was the minimum setting to maintain genuine comfort. Day two, without doing so much photography on account of the rain/mist, flowed really nice and in the company of Clint and Rueben on their GSAs, we just barreled along (until the afternoon cake stop).
In the space of a week I’d put on the best part of 2000 miles on the 1290. It ran faultless. I adjusted the chain once in that time, at the end of day one at the IoM500 when it started clanking on the swingarm (ahem). After the long weekend in the IoM there was a two-hour wash down. Again, I was impressed just how well it cleaned up, Shiny Sauce and my old Karcher jet washer was enough. Cleaning the wheels I was pleased to find the spokes all in tension and still shining, like new. And for all the rock impacts, the rims were still round, running true, unmarked.
The 1290 is coming to the end of its tenure with us, and we’ll return it with a heavy heart. It’s asked for nothing over the months and 4000 miles we’ve had it, it’s made long distance work easy and when been directed off-road it’s been the proverbial pussy cat, so instinctive to ride, calm and deliberate when you want it to be, while on the odd occasion when I let it off the leash it turned into something of a wild cat, bounding and scrabbling up one particular climb in the IoM like it was an EXC. A lot of bike. That said I’m going to get back a lot of garage space when it’s gone!
Yep, the 1290 Adventure R has a lot more capability than we tested it over. It can be a struggle to get the time you need for those big rides, eh? Maybe next time. But yes, it meets KTM’s claim of being the most extreme adventure bike – while being surprisingly easy to live with (and operate). Maybe not a novice bike, but not to be feared. Big, powerful, playful – and rider friendly in every way.
*1301cc, 158hp – it’s a Top Trumps ace card
*Electronics keep a handle on all that power
*Suspension is damn good – didn’t even look to adjust it!
*Big tank = big miles
*TFT screen is big bold and packs the info
*21”/18” wheels allow serious tyres
*Centrestand makes servicing and cleaning easy!
1290 NOT SO MUCH
*Quickshifter almost too quick
*Hill start assist foils three-point turns
*Still not sure I like the headlight design