I always thought a motorcycle review was supposed to go the same exact way every time. The journalist goes to a press launch, wooed by all of the hot PR girls that are at least three points out of his league, he dresses in a $2,000 ensemble, and then the lucky bastard gets ten hard miles of a brand-new motorcycle that has been shoved in his overstuffed mouth. After an event that could be a narcissist’s dream, the journalist then goes to his laptop and intermittently places 200 words about his experience throughout a 1,800 word repeat of statistical data supplied by the manufacturer inside of what is called a “media bag."
The average motorcycle review will tell you three things – what the bike looks like, what the bike performs like and the journalist’s first impression of what the bike felt like. The problem I’ve always had while reading them is trust; knowing that a review was written without bias because I know when I throw my leg over a brand sap ink' new bike for the first time, my ability to think objectively becomes inaccessible.
Lust at First Sight
When I first laid my eyes on the KTM 1190 Adventure, I instantly thought of my Speed Triple that was parked only a hundred feet away. I know that motorcycles are motorcycles and motorcycles don’t think like people do, but maybe they know. I mean, what if I get back and my faithful Triumph knows that I just went 8,200 heavenly miles – without her. I wouldn’t know what to do. But immediately past the jealous and insecurity my mind went to how awesome my ride was going to be.
1,195 cubic centimeters of gas chugging displacement is fed through a throttle body, which is controlled by a computer. The quarter turn throttle controller intelligently decides how generous it wants to be with its 130-ish horsepower. This is enough horsepower to complete a 1/4 mile in 10.68 seconds as tested by Cycle World Magazine. It's also 0.14 seconds faster than my aging Triumph.
Before I set off on the cross country trip, I decided to get a burrito. Expeditiously, I removed the aluminum side bags and set the bike’s personality to sport. The entrance ramp to I-80 towards San Francisco from Treasure Island is one of my favorite DOT anomalies. The merging lane is so small that any normal sedan with its gas pedal on the floor might reach 20mph before the lane merges into 50 mph-plus traffic. Consequently, this stop sign Interstate intersection has been dubbed my dragstrip.
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It was about midnight when I pulled the KTM up to the stop sign. I checked over my shoulder to find an easy merging situation that would gift me the clearance to give it a go. I brought the needle up to about 3,500 and let the butter smooth hydraulic clutch out. This was the first experience I’ve had with traction control on a bike, and just as I suspected, it sucks. But once the TCS stopped being an intrusive dickhead, I felt the true power hiding under the six gallon gas tank, and I was impressed. Impressed enough to involuntarily laugh for a few seconds before the impending gear change. My eye's widened as the pilers of the Bay Bridge blasted past me, faster and faster.
The 75-degree LC8 V-twin excels in some areas, but lacks in others. If you like to live in the past and have never experienced anything other than a pushrod V-twin, I would highly suggest you step into the world of technology and efficiency. It has the same demonic growl as a Ducati and the framerate of the two lonely pistons is slow enough to feel every ignited shot of gasoline vapor before they blend together into a harmony of adrenal gland depleting power. What has me intrigued is how well the engineers were able to smooth the thing out when it's being ridden easy. This V-twin is an outstanding engine, but is quite temperamental at low RPMs when compared to its inline rivals.
Because this was my first true adventure ride, I had only a YouTube playlist to educate myself on what to bring and I packed way too much. Spring preload adjustments are controlled by an handlebar-mounted push button rather than a spanner wrench, and it has a setting for one rider, one rider and his luggage, two riders, and two riders and their luggage. I chose the preload for two riders because I was packing just over one hundred pounds of unnecessary crap, which raised the bike’s center of gravity about a centimeter past what the side stand could handle while the wheel was turned to the right.
After witnessing it fall over on its left side, I only used the side stand when it passed a thorough test to make sure it would not fall over and parked it on the center stand when I wasn't there to babysit.
Getting to Know Each Other
Despite having the knowledge of the ineffective placement of the side stand, I was saturated with judgement-clouding lust. The 1190 had the size to carry all of my luggage while being surprisingly nimble and having enough power to make me smile. I set off on my round trip from San Francisco, California to Emerald Isle, North Carolina.
As I have stated above, the first moments on a new bike are met with little criticism. I'm experienced on a small 1,050cc naked bike and it took a little time to get used to the size.
Riding this bike is like lifting a large, lightweight box. I don’t know if it's just my lack of skill or if the thing really is that difficult to ride, but it took an abnormally long time for me to gain confidence while approaching a stop. Once the clutch was out, however, it handled like a dream. The high center of gravity allows for a very responsive control at both low and high speeds.
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Motorcycles are far from gluttonous when it comes to gas mileage, but once an engine climbs over a liter of displacement, it begins to fall to average levels comparable to their four wheeled counterparts.
This remains true with KTM’s 1190cc V-twin. Even on my best days, I was still only pulling about 40 miles from each high octane gallon. The normal days when I was not concerned with fuel savings hovered around 35 mpg, regardless of how throttle happy I was feeling. The aerodynamic improvement and weight savings brought by saddlebag removal, at a hotel, did very little to change the mileage ratio.
When I rode through Nevada, I had accidentally discovered something interesting about the fuel range estimation on the dash. It turns out that it is massively optimistic. When the six gallon tank is full, that dishonest computer says that the bike is capable of 320 miles before the next required fueling, which is far above an exaggeration. I managed to get roughly 200 miles before I started to feel uneasy about the amount of gas left in the tank.
Sure, a few extra miles can be squeezed from out from it—twenty three miles past the indicated zero to be exact—but when I ran out of gas on a state road in the Nevada desert and have no choice but to walk to the gas station, I stopped taking chances and strapped a two gallon reserve to the back.
In for the Long Haul
There is a point in all relationships where you begin to lose that initial lust, exposing the things that you really love and a gigantic list of pet peeves. I reached this point as I left the other side of Nevada.
Nearly every time I would stop for fuel, someone would approach me to talk about this mysterious monstrosity. I'm usually introverted when it comes to talking to strangers at a gas station, but after being alone for the entirety of my adventure ride, I welcomed the conversation.
The majority of those interested were men on the brink of retirement. I figured with the bike’s sharp looks and its hoss of an engine, it would attract a younger audience. But I have concluded that this bike is a commonly overlooked option for adventure touring, bringing forth questions about the competition of the well-known BMW adventure series. The KTM is just not as popular, and consequently, the average rider and fan of Ian McGregor knows nothing about it. The truth is that the BMW is a road bike that is capable of handling the dirt, and the KTM is a dirt bike that can ride on the road, but I’ve compared apples to oranges before and I’d rather not get into that now.
The one thing that sets this bike apart from all the rest (and the thing I love most about it) is the attention to detail possessed by the engineers who designed it. The gas tank is joined only at the top, and splits over the backbone of the frame. You would think that it would be difficult to feed gas to the motor with this setup, but the obvious solution installed is a hose that connects the split to balance the fluid. The clever thing about this hose is that both points where it attaches to the bottom of the tank have valves that can be shut. This could be useful in numerous applications where you would need to have gas in one side of the tank only, like roadside repairs to the notorious fuel pump or setting a manual reserve.
Around back, sprocket teeth have been welded to the swingarm to hold the chain during maintenance. This is freaking awesome and one of those things only noticed when needed, like when you need to pull the rear wheel on a sandy fire trail.
The handlebar controls have been modified from the cliché setup to allow for buttons that control the computer, and the low/high beam switch has been moved to the front of the housing, functioning like the high beam switch on a Honda Civic. There are tiny ingenious nuances around the entire bike that can keep a tinkerer entertained like a smug champagne sipper who is staring at the Mona Lisa.
The KTM didn’t hiccup for the entire length of the United States, even when I rode over 1,000 miles in less than twenty four hours.
But mere feet from my Atlantic Ocean destination, the halfway point, the fuel pump crapped out. I noticed a small squeak that happened intermittently and shrugged it off as a dry spot on the fork seal dust cover or something. Just as I turned onto the road of my buddy’s beach house, it flashed a warning on the display that said “fuel pump malfunction,” and I coasted into the driveway. I was lucky this didn’t happen ten miles into a trail with a “no trespassing” sign, or on the seldom traveled roads of the Nevada desert. Unfortunately, it still happened and it happened to a brand new motorcycle, which is unsatisfactory.
It still ran, but after about thirty minutes of operation, the squeak turned into a howl and the engine could only muster about twenty horsepower before it completely died. I ended up having to trailer the bike back to Greensboro, NC where the local KTM dealer conducted a $500 warrantied fix. This has unfortunately happened to quite a few more of the KTMs that share the same pump and has been labeled the notorious problem of the bike on several forums that I visited. Luckily, Kevin Powell Motorsports was kind enough to rob a fuel pump from another bike in order for me to get back on the road with little down time.
My biggest pet peeve was the chain. If it wasn’t liberally lubed every 300 miles, it made a chirping noise on the rub strips that sounded exactly like the faint squeak of the fuel pump. With another 4,000 miles ahead of me for the return trip, this chirp had me feeling uneasy every time it was getting close to the chain lube interval. This is not a big deal at all, but it is pretty damn annoying.
The motorcycle has a drive by wire system that is first sent through the on-board brain to justify the throttle input. It allows the throttle to become “smart” and it responds to minor throttle adjustments with a small bit of power, and larger throttle turns as a “holy hell, he wants to go fast!”
These movements can be made with a quarter turn thfrottle instead of a carpal tunnel inducing half turn throttle seen on mechanically controlled throttle bodies. I love the fact that the 1190 has this setup and other manufacturers need to use this as an example because it rocks.
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So the bike has an electronic throttle. It also has a brain. Furthermore, it has buttons on the left handlebar that control the brain. But it doesn't have cruise control. The only thing needed to have cruise control is software. Call me old fashioned, but I think this is a sham and I'm suspicious that the program was not installed in an effort to sell a greater number of the more expensive 1290 Super Adventure bikes, which has the software. But hey, a corporation wouldn’t be a corporation if it didn’t make decisions for the interest of the shareholders. Too bad it didn’t make that decision for the interest of the consumer.
I certainly do like to complain about the KTM’s brain, but it's actually quite nice. There are enough sub-menus to keep a bored rider entertained through the rolling hills of Kansas, and it's simple enough to operate without becoming a safety issue. The computer controls are quite possibly the easiest to use on the current market, with super simple, up, down, left and right arrows.
Suspension settings and drive modes can be set on the fly and there is a multitude of useful warnings and gauges. It displays tire pressure, outside air temperature, fuel range, gas mileage, average speed, drive modes, time of day on a twenty four hour cycle (none of that AM, PM crap), and other variables. If it starts to rain or snow, the drive mode can be changed on the go in seconds, and preload and damping adjustments can be changed to fit the ever changing road conditions.
The looks of the bike have grown from “she's hot, but not Internet hot” to “this chick is beautiful.”
The bike has a center stand, which in my opinion, belongs on every motorcycle manufactured. It's equipped with a 12-volt outlet and the adjustable windshield does its job well. Yeah, she might have her imperfections, but I’m not into her because of those; I’m into her because of the things I love. That, and she rocked my world.
'Til When Do We Part?
The longest length of time I have ever spent on the saddle of a motorcycle before this was twelve hours, and I had no idea what to do. But that is the thrill of it all; heading into the unexpected and solving problems as they arise.
I rode 8,200 miles total on this Clydesdale and enjoyed every second. I got to see some of the greatest national parks the United States has to offer, I accomplished a personal goal that was years in the making, and I can look back on the experience with pride.
Every motorcycle has its problems and every motorcycle has its perks, but that’s not why we ride them. Motorcycles are the closest thing to a horse that have been created since we traded the reigns for handlebars. It's the relationship between ourselves and the motorcycle that keeps us on the saddle, and it is the relationship that makes us remount when we get thrown off the saddle.
I said at the beginning of this review that I cannot trust a 10 mile review because of the judgement clouding power of lust, but I didn’t realize that love shares the same inhibition. The difference is that lust is what carries you to love. Love is what keeps you together. Love allows you to look at those small imperfections without care. If I had the money, I would have kept the bike. It's hard to gauge is a V-Strom or GS would be better bikes, but I know this one. I have put quite a bit of effort in our relationship and she has returned the favor. She showed me my country. She's an individual and has her own personality.
The question that must be answered at the end of every review is: “Is it worth the price?” This question is difficult to answer because every rider has their unique preference. Some men prefer the basic girl who adopts a personality only after it has gained a trending popularity. Her personality is consistent with his and they do well together. The KTM 1190 Adventure is far from basic. She's a temperamental tomboy who would do just fine on her own, but has allowed you join her on her world conquering rampage. She has her list of imperfections, but like the basic motorcycle, she's compatible with a certain type of rider. For that rider, she is worth well above the MSRP of $16,490. Even if you’re a die-hard BMW fan, I would suggest taking the KTM for a spin before making any decisions. You might have that chemistry together.
It was a sad day when I had to return the key. I got my last few pictures and said goodbye with a sincerity like the bike was actually listening. After a few words with the PR rep at KTM, I returned to my Triumph, said hello with a guilty tone, started it up, and noticed a small leak coming from the coolant overflow reservoir. She knew what I had done and was far from happy about it.