KTM 1190 Adventure S – a final Review

After selling my trusty KTM 1190 Adventure S 3 months ago in Peru i think its time to take a proper look back and review my life with the bike.

I used to be a BMW man. Even tough I ride more than 25000km a year on average I’ve only owned 3 Bikes so far. The first, a BMW F650GS single. A sturdy little workhorse that I took to Scandinavia and around Austria. This was my first bike and I sold her after barely a year when I realized that I wanted to go bigger. The logical step up from there was a 2008 BMW R1200GS. A legend. At the time the best selling Big Adventure Bike.

Northern Norway, early Summer

That bike, for all intents and purposes, was perfect. There were barely any Issues other than a broken ABS sensor and a single seal at the drive shaft developing a tiny leak in 80000km. But eventually there came a time when we had to part ways. It was either that or ride her till shes dead and I wanted something new after 4 years of ownership. The Market was big at the time with lots of options. The new liquid cooled R1200GS, the Yamaha XTZ1200 Super Tenere, the Ducati Multistrada and of the course the KTM 1190 Adventure. I rode all of them on extensive test rides. The BMW was fun but seeemd to lack spirit. The XTZ I had tried before when i bought the 1200GS and its engine and weight just seemed outdated. The Multistrada was a fun beast but ultimately not an offorad machine with its 17″ front wheel(plus it had the reputation to be an italian Diva with lots of electronics issues). That left the KTM. Initially I leaned towards the “R” Model but soon realized that the 21″ might be overdoing it for my type of riding at the time(a decision i would learn to regret 2 years later when riding through the americas). From the first moment I planted my ass on the 1190 Adventure S i knew this was the bike for me. It had more power than I could ever want, a super smooth ride and the weight was substantially less than on the 1200GS.

 

 

After doing some search I managed to find a demo bike and between seeing the Ad and picking up the bike only 2 days went by.

Somewhere in Idaho

The Bad

I’ve owned the bike for 3 years in total and covered every kind of possible surface on it. Roads both good and bad, volcanic deserts in iceland, deep sand in baja, steep rocky climbs, all kinds of mud, dirt, you name it, we’ve seen it.

So after that experience I have a somewhat differentiated view on big Adventure bikes in general and the KTM models in particular.
Let me begin with the negative, the 1190s flaws. One of the biggest Issues i’ve always had with the bike is heat buildup. It was horrible. The engine generates such an excessive amount of heat that in anything but freezing temperatures you will have a sweaty crotch. There are various aftermarket parts that remedy this(wings seatcoolers for example) but nothing that really provides a significant improvement. You just have to learn to live with it. Another thing to bear in mind is that the 1190 S is NOT an offroad bike for a number of reasons.
Yes, the argument can be made that the 1190 is quite capable offroad and that does hold true but at the end of the day its the street version of something that isnt a dirtbike to begin with. Sure, Chris Birch might do crazy things on his 1190 that others wouldnt manage on an EXC but hes just the exception that proves the rule. And another thing, plasting along fireroads isnt what I consider offorading…

Let’s take a look at the way she comes equipped from the Dealership.

  • The OEM “bashplate” is made of plastic
  • There is no radiator guard
  • The “crashpads” that come with the bike are made of plastic
  • OEM Wheels that are way too soft

Those 4 things are what you need to take care off right off the bat if you wish to ride this bike offroad. Theres no way around it. The R model does come with different equipment, solid metal engine guard and crashbars at least. The wheels are just as soft. After my Americas Adventure my rims were bent so badly that the tubeless setup was no longer working as the tires were constantly leaking air and I was running tubes. And dont even think about adjusting the rim seal tape yourself. Even my dealership needed 4 attempts to make it sit properly.

On the road in Icelands Highland

I replaced all those Items(except the soft rims) with parts either from Touratech or the KTM parts Catalogue which set me back ~700€ in total. Another Issue that you need to address is the Airfilter. The OEM design sucks, period. In dusty conditions dirt will get behind the filter and eventually clog your injectors. You need an Unifilter/Rottweiler/Powercell kit to fix this. Unless you’re in Australia there they equip the bikes with the Unifilter kit by default(go figure…). Another Issue related to filters are the fuel filters. Again, shoddy design. This will most likely not affect you if you do somewhat normal riding but if you’re going outside the “civilized” world, get a Guglatech pre-filter and bring spare filters for the pump. I cannot stress this enough, long rides without spare filters will only end in tears. My filters eventually clogged and the fuel pump overheated leaving me with a barely working bike at the back of beyond. If you need to replace the fuel pump get an aftermarket part, Quantum fuel systems offers good quality. Another Issue that I ran into when riding mud is the front mudguard, it clogs easily so you may want to add some risers there. Speaking of Risers, for me at 1,87m the handlebars without risers were just too low to ride comfortably standing up. Solution was to get Touratech Bar Risers and lowered, wider footpegs from Radegarage. Which brings me to the comfort aspect of the bike. The OEM seat may be fine for 2-3h riding but everything beyond that made me just want to get off the bike as my ass would seriously start hurting. Luckily KTM offers a comfort seat thats harder and a lot more comfortable on long distance rides(it’s also a lot cheaper than any aftermarket seats). Both are very wide at the front so if you want to go mostly offroading with it get the seat from the 1190 R, its more narrow in the front and its easier to hold the bike between your knees.

Hellas Rally, Greece

The Headlight isnt exactly something to be proud of. Now most of us dont ride in the dark since we mostly ride for fun but when you get into the position where you need to ride after nightfall the stock headlight is a joke, both high- and low-beam dont nearly have the power to make riding at night safe. Luckily there is an easy albeit somewhat expensive solution to it. The Cyclops LED Headlight kit which pretty much makes any night become bright as day. Install is super easy as its mostly plug and play and imo one of the best upgrades you can do. Not only do you have better visibility but it also saves you from the hassle of broken bulbs.

On the negative side of things is also where the suspension resides. The 1190 S comes with electronically adjustable suspension. For every day or weekend riding this is just fine and actually very enjoyable but if you pack long distance luggage you soon notice it has its limits. Even more so when riding 2 up plus luggage. So if you want to use it for that kind of thing you’ll have to upgrade with springs adjusted for the additional load.

 

 

The Good

That being said im gonna start with the positive where I ended with the negative, the adjustable suspension. At the push off a button you can adjust preload as well as the riding mode. Preload settings are

  • 1 Person
  • 1 Person + Luggage
  • 2 Persons
  • 2 Persons + Luggage

now, this may all sound nice on paper but they calculate the weight of a single rider to be around 80kg including Gear. That’s never gonna happen so with some farkles on and you being of normal build you will most likely ride around in 1 Person + Luggage mode the entire time.
The other settings are in relation to how soft or hard the suspension is, there are

  • Comfort
  • Street
  • Sport

Comfort is only really usable on long distance highway rides in my opinion, its just too soft for anything else. Street is for your normal rides and Sport for when you just cant take that GS from your tail. Sport is pretty firm and on anything put perfectly paved roads a tad too hard.
In relation to that you can also adjust the riding modes:

  • Rain, Engine set to 100HP and Suspension set to soft
  • Street, Engine set to 148HP and Suspension set to street(this is the default mode)
  • Sport, Engine set to 148HP but with more agressive throttle response and Suspension set to sport
  • Offroad, Engine set to 100HP but with very soft throttle response and allowing for more Rear Wheel Spin, Soft suspension setting

The ABS can also be adjusted

  • On, full ABS Mode, Front + Rear Wheel
  • Offroad, ABS only for the Front Wheel
  • Off ABS off

Now, these settings are not permanent unless you buy the KTM Offroad/Bad Fuel Dongle. Without the Dongle the ABS settings will default to On the next time you turn off the bike.The settings for the traction control can also be toggled between on and off. Just like the ABS settings these are only persisent with the Dongle, otherwise MTC will default to on once you turn off the bike.

As you can see there are a ton of things to play around. The LCD is fully adjustable and will give you the usual set of info, Ambient temperatures, Oil temps, Trip meter etc. It can easily be used while riding through the handlebar control buttons and once you get used to them you wont need to even look at the buttons to adjust the settings.

Icelands Highlands

Wear and Tear

Let’s talk about wear and tear. The Bike comes with a chain unlike the R1200GS with its shaft drive. That’s good and bad. On the bad side you have increased effort for maintenance, on the bright side a broken chain is easier to fix than a broken shaft drive. For me while i owned the bike the chain lasted about 20000-25000km which is an acceptable value in my book. The Break discs are extremely long lasting, even after 85000km they were still within tolerance. Pads lasted about 10000km on average(i dont do a lot of breaking :-)). As far as maintenance goes the intervals are very convenient at 15000km for a change of fluids and valve adjustment. On my trip through south america(which was 55000km) I had the valves adjusted once before I left and at the 25000km mark  check up they were still within tolerance and didnt need adjustment. Oil change is something that can easily be done on the road as the drain plug and filters are easily accessible, same goes for coolant. Brakefluid was a bit of an issue. Especially in hot conditions it turned bad very fast and began to draw water. Shortest period between clear fluid and dark soot was 5 months. Tire wear is a bit of a problem thanks to the potent engine. The Front will last ages(got 15000-20000km out of each front tire) but depending on what you use the rear will be gone in no time, for example:

  • TKC80, used in Iceland, gone after 3000km
  • Pirelli Scorpion Rally, used in Greece for Hellas Rally, 1500km
  • K60 Scout, used in Europe + US, gone in 5000-7000km
  • Miteas E07 (non-Dakar) gone in 6000-8000km
  • Conti TKC70 – starting showing signs of wear after 7000km but still good for another 3000km(had this one on when I sold it)

Now to the really bad part, things that went boink and broke.
I barely had any issues back in Europe but on my travels the bike did give me some headaches

  • In Iceland the Front Forks started leaking, I ended up riding 1000km without oil in the front fork
  • In Idaho, i mentioned this already, the fuel pump more or less died on me
  • In Colombia the front wheel bearings simply disintegrated(after 15000km)
  • In Honduras the rear shock simply broke(shaft snapped). Luckily, and I have to say a big thank you here, KTM agreed to replace the shock free  of charge
  • In Colombia the steering Damper lost all oil(you only know what difference this part makes once its not working anymore, trust me)
  • Again in Colombia the Wheel bearings disintegrated for a second time(after 5000km)
  • In Costa Rica the front wheel ABS sensor failed. If you think “no big deal” you’re wrong. Without the front sensor the bike doesnt get any speed from the wheel and will default to emergency mode which will leave you with a limping engine, no ABS and no traction control.

 

 

So, I guess most of it can be explained by arguing that the Bike simply wasnt made for such a harsh ride but its a KTM, at least the broken shock isnt something that is allowed to happen.

Some final thoughts on Big Adventure Bikes in General. All the Big Adv Bikes are basically SUVs, they may look like you can tackle anything with them but reality is slightly different. Theres too much power here, too much electronics and first and foremost too much weight. Of course you can ride a loaded 250kg bike through deep sand but it’s not gonna be fun. If I learned anything from my travels in the last year its that I would never go on a trip like this again with anything bigger than a KTM 690. Give me a DR650 or an XR650, maybe even a KLR, those are the bikes you want for something like this. They’re simply, they’re sturdy and any village mechanic will be able to repair them. There is a lot more to be said about how to approach such travels based on my experience but that will be a different post.

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