By Christophe Noel
Almost a decade ago, an orange beast escaped from the dunes and rocky tracks of Africa’s Dakar Rally and took up residence in the civilized garages of motorcycle enthusiasts the world over. This race-inspired animal was the KTM 950 Adventure and it became an instant icon. Since then, the adventure bike scene has exploded with almost every manufacturer dipping a toe, or diving headlong, into the mixed-surface market. With the competition edging ever closer to reaching the bar set by the 950 and subsequent 990 Adventure, KTM has uncaged another animal with the newly released 1190 Adventure.
The 1190 Adventure is not just a punched-out 990, it’s an entirely new machine. Riders have long praised the 990 for its rawness and ability to produce adrenaline-pumping horsepower. The 1190 promises the same thrill, but with a level of refinement and precision that seems to be KTM’s new forte. If the 950 is a ferocious animal, think of the 1190 as a beast less likely to bite your hand off.
There are not too many motorcycles in the adventure segment with a superbike engine stuffed under the seat. The 1190 Adventure is built around KTM’s powerful 1195cc, 75-degree V-twin engine that rips out an impressive 151 horsepower. Twist your wrist with too much enthusiasm and you’ll dig a furrow fit for a row of corn. Taming all of that power is a new ride-by-wire ECU with four programed riding modes: Sport, Street, Off-Road and Rain. Traction control further reigns in the power with three settings for Sport, Street and Off-Road. For those wanting to evoke the raw fury of the old Adventure, the traction control can be switched off completely. Suspension settings are tuned on the fly with an optional Electronic Dampening System (EDS). Riders can chose from Solo, Solo with Luggage, Two-up, and Two-up with Luggage. If nothing else, there are plenty of electronic options to keep you occupied.
All of this power and poise is packaged in a bike that stripped of its color and markings could be almost anything. To some dyed in the wool KTM loyalists, this could be problematic. KTM even succumbed to the beak when designing the front of the 1190 Adventure. It would seem that no bike is admitted into the adventure bike category without a prominent proboscis. At any rate, it’s a striking motorcycle.
These are interesting times in the motorcycle industry. BMW’s newly released R1200GS is now pumping water for the first time in 90 years, and KTM is wiring their bikes with more electronics than Sputnik. Some have argued that KTM’s new flagship adventure bike pushes the brand further towards the tarmac and away from their dirty roots. There is no doubt that in the last few years their orange letters have adorned some impressive road machines from their 1190 RC8 R superbike to their X-bow car. The 1190 Adventure is clearly aimed at the massive number of highway biased riders throwing a leg over adventure bikes, but who’s to say those adventures are less significant than the off-piste romps? Has the beast been too tamed? For those of us in North America, we’ll have to wait until 2014 to find out.