The KTM Adventure has shrunk. And we’re better for it.
Normally when someone tells you you’re going to get less for your money, alarm bells ring. Why on earth would you say yes if that were the case? More is more, not less, right? Well, not exactly with the 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R.
The Austrians have dropped the capacity and thus the horsepower of the now 1050cc Adventure. A bizarre move by a company whose slogan is Ready To Race, no doubt. That’s until you realize the reduction in ponies actually equates a better motorcycle.
The move to 1050cc (not 1090 as it says on the sticker) is part of a wider restructuring of the KTM Adventure line up. The big daddy is now the beastly 1290 Super Adventure R, the road-going Super Adventure now has a T at the end of its name, and the 1190 Adventure and Adventure R have both been mothballed.
Yet the death of the 1190 need not be in vain, for it provides the basis for the 1090 in everything from looks to engine and chassis. That’s not to say the 1090 is simply a sleeved down version of the 1190. Far from it, as the new motor that sits between the orange steel trellis chassis rails doesn’t share a massive amount to its older sibling.
The KTM engineers have gone through this thing top to bottom with the aim of a friendlier engine that’s lighter and more accessible to a wide range of riders. As such, they’ve given the 1090 new cases, a heavier crankshaft, new conrods, pistons, reworked cylinder heads with different cam timing, a new counter balancer, and gave it 103 x 63mm dimensions compared to the 105 x 69mm numbers afforded to the 1190.
The reworked heads come with a slight increase in compression from 12.5:1 to 13:1, although the stainless steel valve sizes remain the same at 42mm inlet and 34mm for the exhaust.
The new motor pumps out a claimed 125hp at 8500rpm and 80lb-ft of torque at 6500rpm, which is a fair bit down on the claimed 148-odd hp and 92lb-ft the 1190 had. Reducing the horsepower and overall weight of the engine, but increasing the mass of the flywheel, results in a far nicer throttle response than the old 1190, even if the numbers aren’t as overtly shocking as the 1190’s. Me thinks this and a certain Honda might now be meeting head-on in Cycle News’ very near future…
On the electronics side
Here, you get the usual, switchable ABS with the excellent Off Road setting, four different riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain and Off Road) and traction control optimized to each individual setting (there’s no eight-stage TC system like on the Super Duke, for example, just on or off). The Off Road map allows only 100hp to reach the back tire, not the full 125hp, with a softer throttle response compared to Sport or Street, and if you switch the ABS to Off Road it’ll disconnect the system from the rear wheel to allow you to back the bike into corners while still having the protection of ABS on the front. There’s no Bosch cornering lights or Cornering ABS system mated the same four-piston calipers on this 1090—that stuff has been saved for the 1290 range and one of the reasons KTM has managed to knock nearly $3000 off the sticker price.
Delving further into the chassis, much of the work that’s been thrown at the 1090 is in the suspension. A long time exponent of the KTM EXC line, this is the first KTM ADV bike to come with the dual piston, fully adjustable PDS (Progressive Damping System) shock absorber. As the shock gets lower in the stroke (it’s got 250mm/9.8 inches of ground clearance and the same shock length, by the way), the PDS system stiffens up substantially and increases the resistance to bottoming out. This is a bit of a boon for the 1090 because one of the issues confronting big adventure bikes is the shock blowing through the stroke, making for a pretty uncomfortable ride on anything other than billiard smooth roads.
The front-end has also come in for an overhaul. It’s still the same WP 48mm split cartridge system like the 1190, but it sports a heavier 6.5Nm spring compared to the 5.5Nm as used before. KTM also beefed up the valving and raised the oil level, resulting in a fork that not only rides higher in the stroke, but provides better chassis balance with more bottoming resistance and a subtler feel when you hit hard edges, like climbing over rocks while chasing KTM development rider and American off road badass, Quinn Cody.
The steel trellis chassis, swingarm and gas tank are unchanged, but the chassis now runs a caged ball bearing in the steering head to cure the issue of head bearings coming loose on the 1190 that were a pain in the ass to tighten. There’s a slight change in the graphics to the 1190 Adventure R and the front brake master cylinder cap now has a flat top instead of the cylindrical reservoir of the 1190, mainly so it didn’t get damaged in a crash.
Eagle-eye people will notice there’s no center stand. The reason for its omission is down to weight saving and cost, although KTM will sell you one for $250 at the dealer. All up, there’s a claimed 22lb weight saving in the new 1090, but the proof really is in the pudding when you fire the smaller, lighter beast into life and road off into the dirt.
Let’s get dirty!
Our ride for the 1090 intro took us around the hills surrounding Murrieta, San Felipe and Warner Springs—an ADV rider’s paradise about two hours south of LA and 45 minutes northwest of San Diego. You may as well be deep in the bowels of Baja here, with endless undulating terrain and plenty of ruts, rocks, sand, water crossings and high speed dirt blasting to keep you entertained and the KTM on its toes.
The most immediate difference between this and the 1190 is the engine. Everything about it is softer, more forgiving than the outgoing model, and the fact I was missing nearly 25hp in overall power on the 1090 didn’t even enter my mind. The throttle response in any of the four modes has no discernable kick to it—the drive, especially in Off Road mode—is liquid smooth for a large capacity V-twin. I remember the first time I rode a 990 Adventure R, man, what a difference between this and that old beast! The current crop of KTM engines are so damn sweet, it’s genuinely hard to find an area that isn’t totally spot on.
We did all of about one mile of tarmac before we hit the dirt leaving KTM HQ, so I stuck the 1090 in Off Road on the throttle and ABS maps and surprised myself by leaving it there for the next six hours. There’s plenty of mumbo with 100hp hitting the back tire in terrain that 45hp dirtbikes would struggle in. Running sandy washouts and creek beds, leaving the Adventure R in third or fourth gear and just letting it chug along, there’s really no need to go any higher in the maps but curiosity got the better of me. Switching to Street mode with TC and ABS off seemed to be the magic concoction for the dirt, allowing the rear Continental TKC80 to drift controllably but still provide meaningful forward momentum.
The reduction of horsepower means the Adventure is now truly a bike for all riders. It’s still a big, heavy thing, but without 150hp and tons of electronics to wrap your head around, the 1090 is a bike everyone can get the most out of, from Quinn Cody to little ol’ me.
The Off Road ABS setting worked well up until things started getting really rocky. Trailing the front brake down some gnarly descents and having the wheel come off the ground all the time meant the ABS kicked in at the wrong time, forcing the pads back and making the lever go hard for a split second. Turning the system off cured this, but you shouldn’t have an issue unless you’re really hitting rough terrain.
The engine and electronics might be good, but the real star of the 1090 show is the new suspension. The 1090 rides the rough stuff so much better than the 1190 Adventure, which we tested back in December last year. The PDS shock gives a much more compliant feel and holds itself up better under hard acceleration and when bouncing over rocks.
It’s a similar situation to the front. The heavier fork spring makes for a more compliant and comfortable ride, and the fact the front and rear both ride higher in the stroke means you’d have to try pretty hard to bottom them out in normal adventure riding conditions.
On the street the ride is more comfortable, but it’s not earth shatteringly different. These changes make for a far better off road bike, although I’d love to try a 1090 R with street-based tires because running TKC80s and really getting into it on the tar doesn’t inspire a huge amount of confidence.
The KTM 1090 Adventure is the bike KTM should have built a long time ago. Having not ridden the big daddy 1290 Super Adventure R, I’ll save my ‘best ever KTM ADV bike’ line until I have, but it better be damn good because the 1090 R is, so far, my favorite KTM ADV bike. KTM’s gone down the same path their great rival Honda took with the Africa Twin, making it more Ready To Adventure than Ready To Race. It’s lost weight, horsepower, and especially price, but in return you get more bike for your money—and that’s a pretty good deal to me.
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R
Engine: 75° V-twin
Power: 125hp @ 8500rpm (claimed)
Torque: 80lb-ft @ 6500rpm (claimed)
Bore x stroke: 103 x 63mm
Compression ratio: 13.0:1
Fuel system: Keihin EFI, 2 x 52mm throttle bodies
Chassis: Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated
Front suspension: 48mm inverted WP fork with, rebound and compression damping adjustability. 8.6in travel.
Rear suspension: WP PDS shock with spring preload, rebound and compression damping adjustability. 8.6in travel.
Front brake: Brembo four piston, radially mounted caliper, 320mm disc. ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two piston, fixed caliper, 267mm disc. ABS
Front tire: 90/90 21
Rear tire: 150/70 18
Head angle: 26°
Seat height: 35in.
Fuel capacity: 6.1 gal
Weight: 471 lb (dry, claimed).
Color: White/Orange, Black