By Jaco du Plessis | Published on 2020-09-03
The route for the day: a 600km loop over Bainskloof Pass, through Ceres and Op-Die-Berg, stopping at Cederberg Oasis for breakfast. Passing Algeria towards the turning point at Clanwilliam, hugging the mountain on the way back with stops at Porterville and Gouda.
The bike for this ride is a 2017 model with 10,000km on the clock, fitted with amongst other extras a Acrapovic Superduke slip-on, vibration-damping handlebar raisers, aftermarket foot pegs and an aluminium bash plate.
The clarity is very good and the design is simple yet stylish and visually pleasing.
Navigating the various screens is intuitive and in general KTM have done well to not overload the rider with endless adjustable settings.
The engine is brilliant - no other adventure bike comes close to delivering this sort of power. Yet amazingly, it's also very smooth.
It redlines at 12,000 RPM although you would never approach that unless you're on a race track. I went up to around 8,000 RPM a few times but the engine never felt stressed for a moment. It does pull very strongly though, make no mistake, from anything over 3,000 RPM.
The ride-by-wire is a little bit snatchy at very low speeds when in "sport" mode, although the sensitivity can be reduced by selecting the "offroad" or "rain" modes.
The quickshifter is very smooth and works even at low revs, although there is a very satisfying “pop” on upshifts when you go over 7,000 RPM.
The suspension if fully adjustable and top-notch. The suspension was set up a little firm for my liking but as a result I never came close to bottoming out when hitting ruts on the gravel or doing minor jumps over drainage contours.
Combined with good ground clearance, you would have to work very hard to upset the bike.
The seating position is comfortable, and riding standing up also feels natural. When you can't find anything bad to say about the ergonomics, that means it's good.
The seat allows shifting your weight backwards and forwards effortlessly.
I did over 600kms with a very sore body from riding enduro the previous day and I felt no worse when I arrived home.
The stock screen is just not tall enough to keep the wind off your helmet, unless you really duck down. For comfortable highway touring, a taller screen will have to be fitted (such as on the "S" model).
The tank and front fairing does a good job of keeping the wind off your body and legs.
Because of the knobbly TKC 80 tyres fitted, I didn't explore the top end speed, but at 170km/h the bike felt perfectly stable.
My consumption was around 17km/l, carrying no luggage. I think that's decent for a bike that puts out the power it does. I didn't baby it, but I also didn't race flat out. My highway cruising speed was between 140-160kmh and I did some sliding on the dirt corners. The route included quite a few mountain passes. With the 23 litre tank that gives decent range - almost 400km.
The bike really looks the part. The alien-looking headlight that seems so ugly on the 790 seems to work really well on the 1290. Despite the powerful V-twin engine and big tank, the bike looks and feels relatively slim. With some knobbly tyres on, there is no doubt to any onlooker that this is the king of them all. It turns heads.
The keyless ignition system works well. The fob still has a key built-in to open the seat, although the fuel cap works keylessly.
The bike is equipped with ABS, MTC (traction control) and MSR (motor slip regulation). MSR works alongside the slipper clutch to avoid losing traction on the rear wheel in case of sudden deceleration or downshifting.
Toggling these settings, as well as the rider modes, is not hard to do via the menu buttons on the left handlebar, although I prefer dedicated buttons to control these core features.
The traction control works alongside the selected ride mode to allow suitable amounts of wheelspin for the terrain. If you want to get to your destination safely, the system stops you from doing silly stuff, although it doesn't interfere unnecessarily.
The mirrors, handlebar, clutch, levers and all the rest is well built and of good quality. The cockpit feels premium, as it should. The one exception here is the buttons to control the TFT. The plastic feels substandard and the buttons themselves don't always register when pushing them down, nor do they provide a satisfying click when pressed.
What's it like to ride this 160 horsepower adventure bike?
Honestly, it's not as intimidating as I thought it would be.
The power is immense, but not hard to control. There seems to be an infinite supply of torque. Most bikes get to a certain speed then the engine start hesitating. I went as fast as I dared go on offroad tyres and never came close to that point. If you crack open the throttle at 180km/h, it will accelerate effortlessly.
There are videos online of people taking these machines on race tracks, and I understand why - it would be a bit of a waste otherwise, as you won't be able to test the limits of this bike on a public road.
Like most fast vehicles, the thought of being able to go very fast is thrilling indeed. A short little straight comes up withing nothing in front of you, and you apply full throttle. The engine roars, and physics do all sorts of weird and wonderful things to your body. Just for a couple of seconds. Most days, that's all you really need: not really going at breakneck speeds, just that little intro to it.
The button to activate the electronics is location on the right handlebar below the kill switch/starter button. This is the traditional location for a the starter button, so at almost every stop I turn the bike off by accident instead of firing up the motor. The button would have been better placed above the kill switch/starter button.
The side stand would benefit from being a couple of centimeters longer - the bikes feels a tad too much leaned over when placed on the side stand. The foot itself is also too small and will dig deep into any soft surface. A side stand foot enlarger would address both these issues.
This bike is an excellent adventure touring bike. After 600km of riding I wished I could turn around and do it again. For KTM the 1290 is a clear improvement from their previous adventure models, including the 990 and 1090.
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