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KTM 1290 Super Adventure S (2021) - Review

BikeSocial Web Editor. Content man - reviewer, road tester, video presenter, interviewer, commissioner, organiser. First ride was a 1979 Honda ST70 in the back garden aged 6. Not too shabby on track, loves a sportsbike, worries about helmet hair, occasionally plays golf and squash but enjoys being a father to a 6-year old the most.



090_KTM 1290 Super Adventure S 2021
003_KTM 1290 Super Adventure S 2021
066_KTM 1290 Super Adventure S 2021


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It’s been a long time coming but KTM has finally given the world its completely revamped 2021 1290 Super Adventure S – the first bike in the world to come with radar-assisted safety kit as standard. “The sportiest and most technically advanced Adventure bike to ever roll its wheels off the production line,” the marketing material reads.

It was way back in August 2019 that we saw a near-final version of the Super Adventure on test, and as long ago as May 2018 that KTM confirmed it was developing a forthcoming production bike using radar-assisted cruise control tech when demonstrating the system on a prototype. After a lengthy incubation period you’d expect the new 1290 Super Adventure S to be something special, and it’s certainly much, much more than a quick facelift of the old model.

On paper, the engine’s headline specs – 160hp and 102lbft of torque from 1301cc – have barely changed. In fact, the old version had a whole 1 lbft more and hit its peak power fractionally lower in the rev range, at 8750rpm rather than the 2021 model’s 9000rpm. But the similarities belie the depth of changes made to the LC8 V-twin. This new Euro-5 friendly version comes with lighter weight cases and an entirely reworked exhaust system to go alongside a revised chassis, subframe, suspension and electronics. New tyres, an updated headlight and of course the radar-enabled adaptive cruise control are also included.

At the behest of our COVID-19 inflicted world, foreign press trips have been replaced by, on this occasion, a 190-mile ride from KTM UK’s HQ next to Silverstone’s famous racing circuit on a variety of roads from B, A, dual carriageways and even 200 yards of gravel towards the highest part of SE England.


  • Level of thought and detail that’s gone into making this a significantly better bike than its predecessor

  • Brilliant looking TFT screen

  • Luxurious suspension with multiple forms of adjustability

  • Bags of mid-range

  • Erratic indicator switch

  • No quickshifter as standard; bad move in 2021 for a £15k machine

  • Seat drops from the high position, and the standard version isn’t particularly comfy

  • Electrical gremlins are still present

REVIEW: KTM 1290 Super Adventure S (2021) | UK Press Launch

The mostly-new KTM 1290 Super Adventure S for 2021 is laden with tech and despite meeting stringent Euro 5 emission regulations, it still churns out massed of power and torque, has brilliant suspension and is a doddle to ride. But, how does it compare to the previous version?


KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Price

How much is the 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure S? £14,999.

When I read the spec sheet and the accompanying press material, it was clear to see KTM had put a great deal of effort into making the Super Adventure as competitive as it could be in a swelling market of electronic-laden bikes. But all this tech and torque for less than 15-grand, what’s the catch?

OK, so the KTM doesn’t come with heated grips, heated seat or a quickshifter as standard but it’s still packed with new-fangled tech and all sorts of customisable parts from the foot pegs, bars and levers to the screen, seat height and suspension settings. The very bike I had for this ride was equipped with both the additional packs (Suspension PRO and Rally Pack). Add them together and include a few more trinkets, then it’s known as the Tech Pack, all of which is detailed further below but has a retail price of £1,086.36 + fitting. It includes hill-hold control (infuriatingly uncontrollable because it doesn’t work in neutral, nor on flat ground and when you’ve got it on there’s no indication on the screen, nor does there seem to be any way to turn it off without waiting for it to switch itself off*) and quickshifter+ (no idea what the + is for but it still has too much of a power cut while the shift takes place, it’s clunky at low revs/speed and requires too much of a stamp on the downshift). It brings the total to £16,085.

Two colour schemes are available – the traditional orange and black plus a black and black version for the stealthier approach.

*maybe user error


Power and Torque

In a class where top-end adventure bikes with anything less than 120hp are deemed uncompetitive, the Austrians haven’t held back with the Super Adventure’s big muscle figures in previous generations, so despite those Euro 5 necessities, the 160hp peak power @ 9000rpm remains. It’s an impressive, stand-out number but even for those who counter with, “yeah but it’s near enough 250kg”, I implore you to find a private road and find out what 160hp and 138Nm feels like.

Peak power is one thing but peak torque is where the KTM excels. It’s an almighty figure from an already impressively smooth 1301cc V-Twin, and just when you think the bike is ferocious enough at its initial acceleration (from stand still or when rolling on), just let it breath through to 6,000rpm then you’ll feel the grunt – like a 21st century powerband. Of course, the different riding modes modulate the amount of hp available as well as throttle reaction/sensitivity, traction control and engine braking. Sport, Street, Rain and Off-Road are joined by the optional Rally mode. Try Off-Road on the road and while the power is limited to 100hp, the clouds become like a magnet to the front wheel… if that’s your bag.



Engine, Gearbox and Exhaust

Let’s not underestimate the versatility and extent of electrical complexity that allows a big twin cylinder motor to make such smooth, glitch-free power from not many rpm’s in top gear all the way through to the 10k red line. Physically, this 1301cc heartbeat doesn’t poke unattractively out of its new chassis either, rather its nestled in low and even tipped slightly further forward than the outgoing model. The LC8’s dimensions are almost reminiscent of the 890 version. It’s smooth at low revs, strong in the middle and, were you irresponsible enough to do 100mph, it’d be doing a shade over 5000rpm. Double that figure and you’ve got the red line, so double the mph and, well you get my drift…

Clearly it’s fast and there’s something about big KTMs offering entertainment in the form of noise, feeling and character over longer distances that doesn’t happen on other bikes...well, maybe the new Ducati aside.

The cooling system has had a clever upgrade: two radiators (one for each cylinder) move heat from the engine away from the rider via the fairing-based outlets which was both noticeable and pleasant on March’s hottest day since the ‘60s.

The motor is joined by a revised exhaust system with twin headers, two catalytic converters and three lambda sensors to tick the Euro 5 box while the hefty stainless-steel silencer makes less noise than before, though an Akrapovič after-market slip-on is available at £1177. While bulbous enough, the standard exhaust run and pipe is neatly designed to fit snugly under and then alongside the subframe on the same angle as the bodywork. With the over-and-under outlets plus ‘KTM’ stamp on the side, it’s as attractive as emission regulations allow.

The gearbox has been upgraded for “even shorter shifting action and faster shifting times” courtesy of using alternate materials, though I was still left wanting. The shift isn’t much quicker than before and when you jump from a competitor bike to the KTM, the delay is emphasised unless you’re in hard-charge mode. It’s still as clunky as the outgoing model too and requires a purposeful stamp to make the down change. Yes, the bike I rode included the quickshifter+ option but my flabber remained un-ghasted. The gear lever is thankfully adjustable because I found it set quite high, like it should be for off-roading when stood up, meaning you had to take your foot off the peg to click down when on-road. On the positive side, I missed no gears and neutral is a doddle to find.



KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Comfort and Economy

A completely redesigned 23-litre, 3-part fuel tank is located much like the 790 and 890 in a ‘saddle-bag’ formation keeping weight based lower and therefore improving the centre of gravity. The energetic mix of roads on the launch ride provided an ideal testing ground for much of the bikes on-the-fly adjustability which in turn returned a range of 170-miles before the fuel light appeared, with an indicated economy of 49mpg, identical to that claimed by KTM.

In terms of comfort, well that depends on your height/weight/dimensions plus luggage and pillion requirements, or even the type of riding you fancy from sporty to off-road to longer distance or a mixture of all. Either way, it’s a circumstantial. That said, walk into any car dealership and book a test drive and the first thing you’ll do having climbed in will be to adjust the back support, lumbar, distance from the wheel, the steering column and so on. All to suit your preference. Do we do that on a bike? Nope. If you’re 5ft 5in or 6ft 5in, 8st or 16st you’re expected to be suited to a one-size-fits-all powered two-wheeler. OK, I jest a little because many bikes have seat height options but there aren’t many with the range of bespoke adjustability of the KTM. From the foot pegs, bars and levers to the screen, seat height and suspension settings.

Which is a good thing. I found the seat to footpeg length too short for my 6ft/14st frame with 33” inseam but they can be moved by 10mm. My fellow six-footed journalist was also demonstrating his lower half crampedness with intermittent stretching. Thankfully there’s plenty of space for your top half – the redesigned tank thankfully takes the top-heavy feel away, reduces the width leg splaying, allows more room in front of your sternum and helps with low speed manoeuvrability. Important with a 250kg machine. Speaking of seat heights, the standard version has two heights, at 849 and 869mm, adjustable by simply moving catch to the higher position. However, twice on my machine and once more on each of the other two journos did the seat fall back into the lower position while riding!

The switchgear has been redesigned and is backlit too. Why every manufacturer of premium machinery doesn’t provide this is beyond me, but while the KTM’s new buttons are designed to look smart and are clear enough, I have two issues: with recent electronic-based developments the onus is on the manufacturer to offer a suite of adjustability via simple-to-operate controls. They still need to be spaced out appropriately for those in winter gloves, and the rider still has to be able to feel the operation of a button – you know, that click to establish it’s worked instead of getting distracted if it has/hasn’t. So, while the incredible new 7” TFT screen is superb to look at, a doddle to understand thanks to the animations, colours and a simple menu, I was too distracted by that extra split second needed to load the relevant screen or work out what option I should be choosing. The switchgear, particularly the proximity of the down-button to the indicator switch, which in turn was inconsistent with its operation, is too close together and it’s not like I have big gorilla hands. The bike has auto-cancelling indicators and that’s great but out of habit (and because it doesn’t really take that much extra effort) I still click to cancel. With more of a spongey feel to the indicator button than a reassuring connection, I could manage a 50% cancellation success rate. Not a deal breaker but something to be aware of.

The adjustable windshield is pleasingly manually operated with a 55mm range that can be operated by either of the twin handwheels, one on either side. It’s wide and nicely curved so isn’t intrusive and, should I have tested it in the rain, I expect its angle to have bean ideal to disperse any droplets comprehensively.

In the KTM PowerParts range for the 1290 SAS are 11 seat options with a heated version and single rider and pillion seat, rally seat or comfort seat included. If touring is your thing then I’d urge you try the standard seat on a long test ride. My bottom wasn’t particularly pleased after 190-miles… and that were interspersed with plenty of stops too. However, for what the seat lacked, the suspension more than made up for…



Handling, Suspension and Weight

One of the key upgrades for 2021 is the improved KTM-owned WP suspension set-up. This is the latest spec ‘SAT’, or Semi-Active Suspension. Wait a minute, shouldn’t that be SAS? Oh, but the model is the Super Adventure S… and that’s SAS. Anyway, call it what you will but it is mega.

With a new control unit and optimised settings, the whole show is controlled by the funky screen with its array of pictures demonstrating what the setting will do. Both the front forks and rear shock are adjustable on the fly and via the switchgear with three damping modes available as standard (Comfort, Street and Sport) plus another two as optional extras (Off Road and Auto). The 48mm WP APEX SAT fork comes with an anti-dive setting as an option too, to prevent the old pillion helmet clash under braking. Even a preload adjuster has 10 steps of adjustment depending if you have a pillion, luggage or just fancy a sportier ride with the rear jacked up so the nose gets into the corner better. The whole system is really well developed, plush to the extreme, easy to navigate via the TFT and provided the most comfortable ride. Working in conjunction with the other tech such as cornering ABS and traction control, it’s adaptability in Auto mode is classy, gliding over the country roads, pot holes and yumps then pitching sweetly into corners of varying degrees. It’s a pity the standard seat and leg room don’t conform.

The overall weight is only offered in dry format until we can get it on some scales but wet it’ll be around 245kg, or 5kg more than the outgoing version, though that still puts it alongside the Multistrada V4 and Pan America. However, KTM’s trick is the distribution of that weight via the aforementioned three-part fuel tank which works a treat and is acutely noticeable in the faster corners when transferring bike weight forward when on the brakes ahead of the corner, then back as you release and to the side as you turn. All of which is beautifully unflappable, assisted with the shorter frame (by 15mm)/longer swingarm (by 15mm) set-up for a little more ability and stability.

Sceptics may dismiss the standard-fit Mitas Terra Force-R tyres simply because they’re not Michelin or Bridgestone, and though I can’t vouch for their longevity after a sub-200-mile day, I can praise their ability at keeping the KTM on the road with comfort and grace. Not once did I endure a slide or moment of discomfort on the 19” x 17” Slovenian rubber.


KTM 1290 Super Adventure S Brakes

Other than the wheels and a few bolts, the brakes are the only part that remains unchanged from the old S and with good reason. There’s plenty of power although the fronts don't always feel as strong as they are because the electronic suspension controls the amount of dive more accurately than conventional units. On the flip side, with anti-dive enabled there’s less reliance required on the rear brake to prevent such a thing. Let the electronics do their thing. And of course, with the ACC active, the engine braking takes over automatically as opposed to the front brakes being applied to ensure rider comfort if it detects something slower ahead.



Rider aids and Accessories

Another headline act is the ACC – or Adaptive Cruise Control – which is standard on the KTM yet an optional extra on the only other two models that exist with the similar technology, namely the Ducati Multistrada V4 and the BMW R1250RT. It works via a Bosch-developed radar fitted adjacent to the headlight and governs your distance to a vehicle ahead by one of five settings ranging from a gap between 0.9s – 2s. I’d already used the Ducati version so this wasn’t so alien to me, and while the novelty was still intriguing it is simple to get used to and takes a bit of strain away from travelling in traffic. It’s only really useful on the dual-carriageways or motorways but is super clever. For example, if you’ve set it at 70mph and your following a truck doing 55mph and you want to overtake, there’s no need to override the system, just indicate and the bike will begin to increase speed automatically. It might be a solution to a problem that didn’t really exist but give it a whirl before judging.

The new headlight is said to be stronger for night vision with a wider beam but it looks even more like an anteater now that it’s been redesigned to surround the ACC radar, it’s not off-putting and I’m enamoured by its uniqueness.

We’ve already spoken about the new, anti-scratch, tablet-esque 7” TFT but did you know it’s tilt-angle adjustable too? Well, I’d read that before riding yet couldn’t manage to move it. Feel free to tell me how if you work it out. Still, it is pretty to look at, very clear to read and automatically inverts colours when you ride through a tunnel, forest or night-time arrives.

One of the most rider-friendly parts is the cool phone-sized storage box with USB socket positioned right in between the front of the fuel tank and the handlebars. That makes it a bugger to open when the handlebars are turned but nevertheless, if you’ve got an iPhone 11 Pro or smaller then you’ll be happy. Alternatively, coins, card or the key fob (yes, it’s keyless) will fit easily. 

Two optional Power Parts sets:

Suspension PRO (£252.79) – individual damping for the fork and shock, auto preload settings and adjustment, anti-dive setting and damping modes

Rally Pack (£180.54) – Rally mode, MTC slip adjuster, adjustable throttle response 

Or, add them together plus a few extas:

Tech Pack (£1086.36) – both of the above plus quickshifter, adaptive brake light, hill hold control, and Motor Slip Regulation



Accompanying the ‘S’ model for 2021, also comes the ‘R’ version which is more off-road focussed thanks to its wire spoke 21” front wheel and 18” rear (instead of the cast allow 19 x 17 on the S), alternate suspension with a further length of travel leading to a taller seat height. I’ve opted to include the R alongside the base spec of the new Harley-Davidson Pan America, Ducati Multistrada V4 and BMW R1250GS in this table. But don’t forget, there’s been rumblings of a pretty tech-laden new Triumph Tiger 1200 on its way too:


KTM 1290 SA R

Ducati Multistrada V4

Harley Davidson Pan America


Engine capacity






160hp (118KW) @ 9000rpm

170hp(125kw) @ 10,500rpm

150hp (112kw) @ 8750rpm

136hp (100kw) @ 7750rpm


102 ftlb (138Nm) @ 6500rpm

92 ftlb(125Nm) @ 8750rpm

94 ftlb (128Nm) @ 6750rpm

105ftlb (143Nm) @ rpm


221kg (dry)

243kg (kerb)

245kg (kerb)

249kg (kerb)

Seat height





Fuel tank

23 litres

22 litres

21.2 litres

20 litres



From £15,665

From £14,000

From £13,705


KTM 1290 Super Adventure S (2021) Verdict

The 2021 1290 Super Adventure S is a very clever and well-priced machine, capable of dominating the road and light gravel too (with standard tyres). The KTM gremlins were present on my test machine with a preload adjuster warning light cropping up twice as well as that interesting ‘auto-adjusting’ seat. If you plan on covering any big miles then make sure your test ride is long enough, or find one of the multiple seat options to suit your behind.

The incredibly engaging and smooth engine is a hoot. It has all the torque and energy of the Duracell bunny crossed with Usain Bolt and kept me highly entertained. Accompanied by the high-quality WP semi-active suspension and you’ve got the hallmarks of a rewarding ride each and every time. The adjustability across the whole bike means I can’t critique the riding position too much, and while the TFT screen is magnificent to look at and operate, I just need it to be a little faster and the operational switchgear further apart. Oh, and a new indicator switch too. Overall, the 2021 model is a huge improvement and if you can learn to live with its idiosyncrasies (which some say forms part of its character) then £15k will get you a very complex and endearing motorcycle.



KTM 1290 Super Adventure S (2021) Technical Specification

New price




Bore x Stroke

108 x 71 mm

Engine layout

2-cylinder, V 75° (aka ‘V-Twin’)

Engine details

LC8, 4-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder / DOHC


118 kW (160 hp) @ 9,000 rpm


138 Nm (102 ftlb) @ 6,500 rpm

Top speed



6 speed

Average fuel consumption

TESTED: 49mpg

CLAIMED: 49.6mpg (5,7 l/100 km)

Tank size

23 litres

Max range to empty

TESTED: 248 miles

CLAIMED: 250 miles

Rider aids

ACC, 7"TFT, Cornering ABS, TC, LED lights


Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated

Front suspension

WP SAT (semi-active technology) Upside-Down Ø 48mm. 200mm travel

Front suspension adjustment


Rear suspension

WP SAT (semi-active technology) shock absorber. 200mm travel

Rear suspension adjustment

Semi-active, electronically regulated preload

Front brake

2 × Brembo 4-piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm.

ABS: Bosch 10.3ME Combined-ABS (incl. Cornering-ABS and off-road mode, disengageable)

Rear brake

Brembo 2-piston, fixed caliper, brake disc Ø 267 mm

Front tyre

MITAS Terra Force-R 120/70 ZR 19 (cast aluminium wheel)

Rear tyre

MITAS Terra Force-R 170/60 ZR 17 (cast aluminium wheel)




1557mm ± 15 mm



Ground Clearance


Seat height

849 / 869mm


220kg (dry)

MCIA Secured rating

Not yet rated

Warranty / Service Intervals

15,000 km service intervals / 2 years unless you buy through KTM finance, then it’s 3 years


Photography/Video: Too Fast Media Group



What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible.

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here.

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars, based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

  • A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard

  • An ignition immobiliser system

  • A vehicle marking system

  • An alarm system

  • A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has, and compare it to other machines on your shortlist.