Bike reviews

Reviewed: KTM 1290 Super Adventure R (2021)

371531_MY21 KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R_ Static

KTM has made some big changes to their off-road biased Super Adventure R for 2021, making it faster, lighter and more focussed than ever. But is it now too much for a regular adventure rider? We took one out on both street and dirt to find out…

With a mantra like ‘Ready to Race’, there’s no surprise that a fair amount of KTM’s machinery is fairly hardcore, and their latest range-topping off-roader, the 1290 Super Adventure R, is right in that vein. Much like the Super Adventure S (it’s more street orientated brother) the £15,999 R has had some serious work done to it for 2021, starting with a heavily revised engine and gearbox.

The 1301cc V-twin engine may be lighter but it pumps out a massive 158bhp, which is an incredible number when you consider that this thing has been designed with some serious off-roading in mind. So much so that KTM have been incredibly busy on the handling side of things, making some massive changes to the chassis, geometry and weight distribution.

Not only is there a new frame, but the new tank has been placed lower down, making the Super Adventure R’s centre of gravity lower than before, as is the seat height. It comes equipped with WP XPLOR suspension for good measure too.

Couple that with a new, chunky display, mobile connectivity and rider aids galore, and it looks like the Super Adventure R is a serious bit of kit, whether it’s tackling tarmac or dirt. But how does it perform?

370547_MY21 KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R - Front-Left - OT spec

The beast

I don’t know about you, but I think that KTM’s design department seem to knock it out of the park with nearly every model they release – and the Super Adventure R is absolutely no exception. With those aggressive new aesthetics it looks incredibly striking and aggressive, yet thanks to that lower seat height, not actually too intimidating.

KTMs tend to sit fairly high (especially the off-road range) but I was pleasantly surprised at not only how low the Super Adventure was, but also just how light it felt too. That three-part tank, placed low down, makes such a difference to the general feel off the bike as well.

With the weight low down it felt so manageable and balanced – even with my little legs. This is coupled with a big, intuitive dash and a nice riding position, which meant I not only felt instantly at home on the big 1301cc beast, but confident to push it as well.

And talking of 1301cc, I had to remind myself just how much go this thing had, as the thumpy ‘twin motor doesn’t feel too aggressive, nor too sensitive, when setting off. I have to say though, even in ‘Road’ mode it felt incredibly eager to let loose all 138Nm of torque on tap, and with a bit of open road it pulled so hard from the bottom end that the traction control light was almost constantly on – thankfully, the electronic aids on it are absolutely incredible, across the board.

I’d go as far as saying it is one of the most exciting engines in the game, especially in ‘Sport’ mode where it felt like I had a twin cylinder ballistic missile in between my legs. To my surprise, I really had to have my wits about me as the model I tested came equipped with some Bridgestone A41 crossover tyres, for use both on and off-road. These weren’t quite ready for the acceleration crazed antics of the Super Adventure R, even on a warm sunny day.

To be honest, as far as the engine goes my only gripe is a lack of a ‘shifter and ‘blipper as standard as the optional one (part of KTM’s ‘Tech Pack’) is so sublime, so if you’re reading this on the way to your local KTM dealership, make sure you tick that box on the order form.

371537_MY21 KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE R_ Action

Even with those tyres, the Super Adventure R is by no means a poor road bike – in fact, it’s quite the opposite and I was surprised at just how well it held up on the asphalt. Thanks to the geometry changes it handles corners and bumps with ease, and although it’s set up fairly soft to be comfortable on the dirt, it’s more than capable of keeping up with most things on your favourite B-road.

It performs on A-roads too, as it will more than happily set at 70mph or so. KTM say that sixth gear is an ‘overdrive’ gear and it feels like that too, sitting very low in the rev range at cruising speeds with barely any engine buzz.

With a nice amount of wind protection it makes motorway slogs effortless, while not only is the cruise control both effective and easy to use, but after a day in the saddle that new seat really did look after my rear end too. Okay, it’s not as comfortable as some of the more sensible options on the market, but it was better than I expected.

But then again, it’s not called a Super Adventure for nothing. Although it was a surprisingly good machine on road, it was off the beaten track where the KTM not only came into its own, but it really did feel at home.

As much as I love off-roading I’m definitely not the most talented rider on the dirt, but after switching it into ‘Off-Road’ mode I couldn’t believe how easy the KTM felt on both gravel and grass. At no point did it feel like a big, 240kg adventure bike, but thanks to that revised tank and chassis, it actually felt closer to an agile 450cc enduro machine, with a set-up that delivers a confidence inspiring ride, whether stood up or sat down.

This is helped by the softer power delivery, which came in so much smoother and offered a gentle throttle pick up that wasn’t so overpowering that it tied that chassis up in knots, and indeed the rubber grip underneath. The best thing about this bike is how it makes you feel; after just half an hour on dirt and gravel, I felt like an off-road god.


There’s an adventure bike for everyone these days, from BMW’s incredibly poised and polished GS range to Harley’s new Pan America line-up, but if you really are serious about the ‘adventure’ side of riding then there’s only one route to go – and that’s the Austrian one, in the form of the 1290 Super Adventure.

It’s devastatingly quick, insanely agile, comfortable and effective at smashing mileage and somehow, feels like a dainty motocross bike when the going gets dirty. If you’re looking to do a lot of road mileage then I’d definitely recommend the more street-orientated S model (or at least running some more road orientated rubber on the R), but if you’re serious about sending it on the muddy stuff, then I haven’t tested a better adventure bike than the 2021 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R.

Words: Carl Stevens

Photos: KTM

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