KTM 1090 Adventure R vs. Honda Africa Twin: SHOOTOUT
The Honda Africa Twin walked off with the crown in our 2016 Big Bore Adventure test, and KTM didn’t like it. Has Austria’s latest got what it takes to dethrone the current ADV king?
Last year, the world went mental over the Honda Africa Twin. We did, too. Honda’s return to the ADV cage match yielded a resounding victory thanks to a K.I.S.S philosophy—a great engine with one riding mode, good suspension, comfort, looks and a price point that undercut everyone in the class—and by a fair margin.
The ones Honda disposed were the long-time kings of ADV—KTM. The Austrian powerhouse and the 1190 Adventure/R hadn’t been beaten in a big-bore test for eons, so they were none too pleased Honda came and pulled the rug from underneath them.
For 2017, the only bike in the big-bore ADV market that has seen any form of change is the KTM (BMW and their GS Adventure—not the standard GS—were unchanged, the same with the Ducati Multistrada Enduro and Triumph Explorer). And it was a big change. A new name; a reduction in capacity from 1195cc to 1050cc; and a completely revised suspension set up by led by none other than KTM development rider and complete motorcycle badass, Quinn Cody, made this 1090 Adventure R an all new beast aimed squarely at the Africa Twin.
Click here to read this in the Cycle News Digital Edition Magazine.
By Rennie Scaysbrook and Sean Finley
Photography by Kit Palmer
At $14,699, the KTM is $1400 dearer than the Honda but $2400 cheaper than what the 1190 was. The KTM saw that reduction in cost by taking away some of the things essential to the modern ADV rider—things like a 12V plug socket, skid plate and a centerstand—all stuff you can have now as an accessory via the KTM PowerParts catalog.
The Honda is far from an angel in that regard, too. No 12V socket, no centerstand, but it does come with a skidplate as standard. It’s pretty easy to see where KTM thought they could save a few pennies.
Our test bikes from both manufacturers came with a couple of add-ons that must be noted here. Honda fitted up the optional crashbars and centerstand, while KTM fitted their wider ADV footpegs. Both bikes were fitted with the KTM’s standard Continental TKC80 adventure tires (the Honda comes standard with road-biased Dunlop d610 tires) to have an equal rubber playing field.
Due to the added weight of the Honda’s centerstand and crashbars, it’s hard to know exactly what the standard weights of the two bikes were. We measured the Africa Twin at 533 pounds with a full tank of gas, while the KTM weighed 544, again with a full tank.
The KTM also sits slightly higher, with a seat height of 35 inches compared to the Honda’s 34.3 inches on its highest setting (a low seat height of 34.3 inches is an option we did not use). It’s strange because looking at the two bikes side-by-side, you’d swear the shorter and wider Honda just looks heavier than the taller and narrower KTM.
Even before you take off, the first thing you notice about the Honda are those physically smaller dimensions compared to the KTM. The handlebar sits lower and the ride position has you feeling more in the chassis than on top of it like the KTM—the Honda’s is a less intimidating stance.
Glance around the Honda’s cockpit and you’ll see price-cutting measures everywhere: a cable clutch, rubber brake lines, an ABS switch that looks like an afterthought at the top right of the dash. It’s a basic looking cockpit. But basic has its advantages. Changing the traction control, for example, is super easy on the Honda. It’s a three-stage, plus off, system, activated by the switch on the left handlebar block you hit with your index finger (in the spot where the high-beam switch would normally be). The Honda TC changes on the fly literally with one flick of a switch.
The KTM, by comparison, requires you to stop what you’re doing, select the mode (Sport, Street, Rain and Off Road) and turn traction either on or off. The system doesn’t allow you to toggle through different TC maps like you can on the 1290 Super Adventure, and is a pain in the ass to use if you go from road/dirt/road and require different TC setups without having to stop and go through the modes.
The KTM’s dash is the same as the old 1190’s and KTM clearly felt that as the electronic aids are the same as before, there was no need to upgrade the dash—it would have caused a further price hike if they did, anyway.
Considering the Honda has one riding mode and the KTM has four, with the Sport mode comparable to the Honda at 125 hp (Honda won’t divulge hp numbers for the Africa Twin, but seat of the pants is about 100-110 horsepower on tap), we kept the KTM in Sport all day.
Once you get moving on tarmac, the Honda just seems to glide along. The parallel-twin’s power delivery is ideally suited to highway cruising, and it’s clear the Africa Twin has been designed more as a world traveler capable of going into serious off-road areas than just being a rocky trail warrior. The Honda is more comfortable than the KTM at speed, even if the screen is sadly unadjustable and deflects wind right into your face if you’re over six-foot tall.
By comparison, the KTM feels a bit like a caged animal. The new 1050cc engine doesn’t at all feel inferior to the Honda in terms of overall power—it’ll gobble up the miles just as easily as the Honda—but you can tell the tarmac is not where the KTM’s heart lies.
You don’t miss the extra capacity of the old 1190 on the road. 1050cc is plenty for this type of machine and it’s got more than enough power to get you out of any sticky tarmac situation, and makes you question what the point is in having 150 horsepower on an adventure bike (here’s not looking at you, 1290 Adventure R). The 1050 also radiates a lot of heat at the traffic lights. Emphasis on a lot. The Honda doesn’t suffer this issue, and we can only put this down to the fact the rear cylinder in the KTM’s V-configuration sits just below your butt. My 1290 Super Duke has the same problem.
The skinnier seat and stiffer suspension of the KTM—one of the primary areas of focus for development rider Quinn Cody—don’t allow the 1090 to offer as much comfort as the Africa Twin when heading down the freeway to the trail. But the shorter screen of the KTM is a win over the Africa Twin, as it deflects wind straight into the rider’s chest, rather than buffet his head to bits at speed.
Neither bike is a standout on tarmac twisties, especially with these TKC tires fitted. The Africa Twin holds a slight advantage over the taller KTM here—it’s a bit more stable and fluid in direction changes—but it’s not a big difference. Change the rubber to the more road biased tires the Honda comes with and I’ve no doubt its advantage would be greater as the softer suspension makes the slightly lighter Honda more controllable and forgiving than the KTM when the tarmac pace begins to increase.
Switching to the dirt, the KTM begins to show its claws. Just as the Honda is a superior machine to the KTM when touring and in average speed tarmac twisties, the KTM feels immediately more comfortable when the going gets tough.
The changes wrought by Cody and KTM as a whole have certainly borne fruit. The old 1190 would plow through the suspension stroke but the new 1090 is a much better machine for nailing gnarly ADV terrain and the new PDS shock is a revelation over the old 1190. The 1090 sits higher in the suspension stroke, and with the extra ground clearance over the Honda it is the bike you want if your ADV riding consists of the boulders, drops, ruts and climbs we all like to think we do when we go off-roading.
Quinn Cody just used one of these to finish 33rd in the Red Bull Romaniacs. Just let that thought sink in for a minute. He used a KTM 1090 Adventure R—albeit a modified one—and completed one of the gnarliest off road races on the planet. That gives you an indication of the kind of riding you can do on a 1090. And how good a rider Quinn Cody is.
I wouldn’t go taking the lower, smaller Africa Twin into something like the Romaniacs. But then, I wouldn’t be seen dead at the Romaniacs. Period.
If you get right into it with your ADV riding, the KTM is the bike for you. It offers more room when you’re standing on the pegs, making it easier to maneuver on the trails and easier to change direction on. But the Honda really isn’t that far behind. It’s certainly not as far behind the 1090 as the 1190 was to the Honda last year.
There’s not much to choose between the Honda and KTM on average dirt terrain. When things start getting really hectic, the KTM is the clear favorite thanks to the extra ground clearance and suspension more suited to the task of hardcore off-roading, rather than a compromise like the Honda’s.
The Honda will hold its own against the KTM on rough trails, right up to the point where most ADV riders will give up and find an easier route. I’ve seen first-hand how good an Africa Twin is in race mode, having used a bog stock machine (save for some heavier fork springs) with Johnny Campbell in the 2016 Vegas To Reno, so I can personally vouch for how tough the Africa Twin is. That race is more a flat out drag than a technical adventure ride, but for the majority of riders who are not Quinn Cody, the Honda will do everything they need.
The Honda does have its annoyances. The tiny footpegs are rubbish and should be replaced immediately with large items that allow not just more comfort but for you to push harder with your feet and steer the bike; the handlebar bend is great for road comfort but gives a cramped stance when off road; and the TC will default back to full intervention every time the engine is stopped, which becomes infuriating.
Despite these grievances, the Honda Africa Twin is still the winner of this test. The KTM is now right with and in many circumstances better than the Honda off road, but it’s not as good on the tarmac. The Honda might lack a bit of pizazz to the KTM, but everything it has works and works well. The TC is easy to use, the dash easy to read, the engine and gearbox are beautiful, the suspension excellent on the road and only left behind slightly by the KTM on dirt when things start getting properly gnarly.
The KTM is the hardcore ADV rider’s machine. More ground clearance, better suspension for the task, a skinny chassis and an engine that’s easy to get the most out of—the 1090 is a superb bike. But the Honda Africa Twin is all this and more. It’s cheaper, looks rad in the HRC red, white and blue and gold wheel color scheme (the red color scheme I could take or leave, and I’m not a fan of the grey), and is an easier package to live with, day to day.
The KTM is what you ride in the Roof of Africa extreme enduro. The Honda is what you ride to the Roof of Africa to spectate, then around Africa, up into the Middle East, to Europe, and eventually on the boat back to the U.S—an adventure we can all do.CN
If It Was Mine…
Sean Finley and I had pretty similar thoughts when it came to the question of what we’d change if we owned these bikes.
“This is a necessity for using your phone or other GPS navigation,” says Finley. “The KTM 1190 did have one as standard, and like the Honda, the 1090 has a spot to easily add one, but KTM left it off when trying to narrow the cost difference to the Africa Twin. That would be my first purchase for the KTM or Honda.”
“These are dubbed the Light Bar from Honda and will set you back $499.95,” says Finley. “The KTM came standard with crash bars, so that was certainly a plus for Austria. I’d definitely get a light bar for the Honda—like quick.”
“Neither bikes comes standard with a centerstand,” Finley says. “This is one thing every ADV rider—me included—must have on their bike, especially bikes as big as these.”
The KTM centerstand will cost $250 and the Honda’s $199.95.
“These mirrors are near unbreakable that offer a lot more adjustability for $120 from Double Take Mirror.” For sure, they would be on my Christmas list.
“There are lots of companies that make good pegs for the Africa Twin,” Finley says. “KTM fitted proper off-road pegs to our test bike and they certainly made a difference, and I’d quickly put them on mine.” Here are some peg options:
“The steering stabilizer was standard on the KTM and we did not feel that a steering stabilizer was a must on the Honda but know from experience that they really help on rough roads,” Finley says. Down the road, my Honda would get a steering stabilizer. GPR Stabilizer: $575.
We tested both bikes without any bags or luggage. Both KTM and Honda offer standard hard bag options and there are a lot of aftermarket hard and soft bag options. Again, bags would eventually find their way one either one of these bikes if they were mine. Some of our favorites:
Giant Loop Siskiyou
Givi Gravel T line
Wolfman E-12 Saddle Bags
“For sure, I’d switch to the Continental TKC80 rubber. Those are great tires for off-road use with decent street performance,” Finley says. “If you will be riding off-road, you will want to put a more dirt worthy tire on the Honda. The Dunlop Trailmax d610 tires that come on the Honda are great if you will be primarily riding on the street and are okay for hard-packed dirt but even well-maintained gravel roads tend to be unpredictable in terms of conditions.”
2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R ($14,699)
75° V-twin four-stroke, liquid-cooled
125hp @ 8500 rpm (claimed)
80lb-ft @ 6500 rpm (claimed)
Bore x stroke:
103 x 63mm
Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder-coated
48mm inverted WP fork with, rebound and compression damping
adjustability. 8.6 in. travel.
WP PDS shock with spring preload, rebound and compression
damping adjustability. 8.6in travel.
Brembo 4-piston, radially mounted caliper, 320mm disc. ABS
Brembo 2-piston, fixed caliper, 267mm disc. ABS
544 lb.(wet, measured).
2017 Honda Africa Twin ($13,299)
Parallel-twin, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 8-valve
Bore x stroke:
92 x 75.1mm
Steel semi-double cradle
Showa 45mm cartridge-type inverted telescopic fork, fully adjustable. 9 in. travel.
Monoblock cast aluminum swingarm with Pro-Link shock, fully adjustable. 8.4 in. travel.
Nissin 4-piston caliper, 310mm disc. ABS
Nissin single piston, fixed caliper, 256mm disc. ABS
34.0 in. (standard) 33.5 in. (low Position)
533 lb. (wet, measured)
Red, grey, HRC
(LEFT) Helmet: Schuberth E1 Jacket: Klim Badlands Pants: Klim Badlands Gloves: Klim Adventure Boots: Alpinestars Monofuse
(RIGHT) Helmet: LS2 Pioneer Helmet Jacket: AGV Sport Tundra Pants: AGV Sport Telluride Glove: AGV Sport Twist Boots: Sidi Adventure 2 Gore Tex