Mega touring or dirt adventures, in the battle of the behemoths KTM 1290 Super Adventure R vs. BMW R1200 GSA TFT, the winner is clear. For motorcycle fans, 2018 looks like being a pretty exciting year, and if reports from the EICMA Show pan-out we are in for some cool new bikes.
There’s the Kawasaki Z900 RS, and supercharged H2 SX, Harley’s Sport Glide, the 1100cc Ducati Scrambler, and the crazy looking twin front wheeled Yamaha Niken to name a few. In the adventure bike section, it’s the models at the top of the food chain which are creating quite a stir. Here, we see two manufacturers announce upgrades to their 2018 top shelf dual sports bikes. These bikes are the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R and the BMW R1200GS Adventurer TFT.
Both bikes were at the very top of the food chain regarding capability and spec, and if you thought they couldn’t get any better, the 2018 updates push the envelope still further. The KTM and BMW are true trans-global tools, but we’ve decided to take a closer look at just what you get for your money and how they compare back to back.
Whenever a new model arrives on the scene, it’s always interesting to look back to where it all started. In this particular case, the first of KTM’s big twins, hit the dirt running in 2003 with the 950 Adventure.
Determined to introduce a large bore V- twin into their range, engineers, and designers at KTM worked flat out. From a clean sheet of paper to a fully dyno tested V- twin engine, took a mere 12 months!
Furthermore, resolving that their first big adventure bike was going to be the real deal, KTM took on Italian Rally ace, Fabrizio Meoni.
Meoni is considered one of the best long-distance off-road racers in the world. After consulting on the frame and suspension of the 950, he took a prototype on to win the Rallye des Pharaons in 2001 and the grueling Dakar Rally in 2002. The following year saw the bike’s official release.
KTM’s 2003 950 Adventure may not have won any beauty contests, but its engine was fast, its suspension, top of the range, and it’s on and off-road capabilities undeniable. Fifteen years later, KTM can still boast those attributes, but the 1290 Super Adventure R, has taken them to a whole new level.
Slightly Tamer Beast
The 1290 Super Adventure range consists of three models, the S, the R and the T. The S, is the most street based of the lineup, next comes the T with its touring capability and finally the R, which is the most off the road capable of the bunch.
The R’s engine is KTM’s tried and tested LC-8, 1301cc, liquid cooled V- twin, featuring a twin plug head. It’s the same one lifted from the ‘Beast’ (Super Duke R), but with lighter pistons, heavier flywheel and a new intake shape.
These modifications together with less aggressive cams, all combine to give smoother, controlled power with more torque at the cost of all-out top end power.
The engine kicks out an astounding 160 hp with a max torque of 103 ft-lb coming in two-thirds of the way to the rev limit. The resonator chamber on the cylinder heads, another throwback from the Super Duke, together with 52mm Keihin throttle bodies, aids smoothness, and fuel economy.
Power to the road transmits through a hydraulic clutch fitted with slipper assist, which is almost essential on a bike this rev happy and powerful. The gearbox has six well-spaced gears with sixth being spaced perfectly for fast highway cruising. An X link chain is the final connection between the 160hp motor and the back wheel.
With its 1170cc liquid/air cooled engine producing 125hp, on paper, the KTM’s power plant walks all over the BMW. As we all know though, how that translates to useable power delivery on the road and in this case, on the dirt, is another matter.
The BMW’s horizontally opposed twin boxer engine has been around for an incredible 94 years, and although the GS12 shares the same configuration, its internals are light years ahead.
With two overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, the big Beemer also has a balancer shaft to take the buzz out of the engine. The compression ratio of the 1170cc unit is 12.5:1 and the air/liquid cooled engine pumps out its 92ft-lb of torque at a lowly 6,500rpm.
Although the 2004 GS12 was a huge leap forward from the 1150 series it succeeded, in 2013, the engine received a significant update. The cylinder heads underwent extensive re-working having their intakes moved to the top and exhausts exit underneath.
BMW also swapped sides for the shaft drive and introduced their ride by wire system that same year. The subsequent changes this system allowed for, in engine output management established BMW as one of the world leaders in electronic rider aids.
Like the KTM, the GS gets a six-speed box, and a wet multi-plate slipper clutch, obviously final drive is BMW’s trademark shaft drive. The two bikes also share a quick-shifter to give clutchless gear changes up and down the box.
Trellis Times Two
Once again, both bikes have chosen a similar direction for their chassis design, namely an external steel tube trellis that suspends the engine below, using it as a stressed member. In the KTM’s case, the Austrian factory has chosen chrome molybdenum for its construction.
Chromoly, as it’s known, is approximately the same weight as ordinary steel tubing, but is significantly stronger with higher tensile strength and malleability. It has been the steel tubing of choice for custom frame builders since the 1960’s and these differences mean that you can use a smaller tube diameter resulting in a lighter chassis.
The KTM’s frame uses a ladder-type chassis, lifted straight from the factory’s dirt dominating enduro bikes. Weighing in at a fraction over 21lb, the majority of the frame lives hidden away under the body panels and gas tank. The trellis section that is visible is a bolt on crash-bar that wraps around the sides and front of the engine.
As for the BMW, the unit construction engine unit is a huge lump and therefore makes up a significant amount of intricate two-piece steel trellis’ rigidity. The Beemers unique Telelever suspension bolts to the top of the crankcase, doing away entirely with a conventional style steering head.
Smoothing Out the Bumps
The aforementioned, Telelever front suspension has been in use since the mid-eighties, being designed to do away with the type of fork dive associated with heavy motorcycles with long travel suspension.
This layout gives a kind of inverted fork assembly with its 8.3 inches of travel at the top of the 37mm tubes, and a rake of 24.5 degrees.
Bringing up the rear is another of BM’s innovations, the Paralever. This suspension consists of a single-sided cast aluminum swingarm, with a monoshock adjustable for rebound and preload.
The bike’s Dynamic ESA takes the already clever suspension to a new level quite literally, as it automatically adjusts the rear suspension to the road or trail conditions. Pre-load and damping are also changeable on the move, via the left side handlebar controls.
Traditional Style Forks
The 1290 goes down the more conventional route with colossal 48mm usd WP forks. The forks are fully adjustable with individual compression and rebound levels and include bottoming resistance technology borrowed from the works enduro bikes.
Rake angle for the KTM is a slightly more kicked out 26 degrees and both front and back end get 8.7” of travel. The swingarm is a die-cast aluminum open trellis unit. The fully adjustable WP monoshock also features a progressive damping system. Adjustment is manual on the R, unlike the more street orientated S model, which is semi-automatic.
When it comes to wheels, both bikes have opted for dirt friendly and slightly more flexible spokes. KTM though have taken the off-road credentials further with a 21” (90/90-21) on the front and 18” (150/70-18) on the rear.
More Rubber Up Front
By comparison and perhaps thinking that the front-heavy bike would probably overwhelm the thinner hoop, BMW have gone for slightly more rubber. Up front, the GS has a 19″ (120/70-19) and 17” (170/60-17).
Talking of weight, looking at the two bikes it’s easy to assume that the 1290 is the lighter of the two, no doubt due to the slimmer profile of the inline V- twin engine. Fully loaded with oil and gas, the figures confirm your suspicions, with the GS almost 50lbs heavier.
Even with a substantial weight saving, hauling-up either model takes some doing. Both bikes do it incredibly well though, using almost identical brake hardware.
On the Super Adventure, dual 320mm discs and four-piston Brembo floating calipers up front and a 287mm twin piston set up on the rear. The GS uses the same floating Brembo configuration but with slightly smaller discs, 305mm front and 275mm rear. Both bikes have corner adjusting ABS.
If there is one aspect of modern motorcycles that has advanced beyond all recognition, it is electronic rider aids. In this aspect, the 1290 and GSA have an incredible array of cutting-edge software.
Bosch features heavily on both bikes and on the KTM this translates to MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control), lean angle sensitive ABS and cornering traction control. The TC system has four riding modes; Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road.
In addition, the Super Adventure also gets an all singing and dancing 6.5″ TFT screen, with a day/night auto sensor, tire pressure monitor and V-shaped LED headlight with cornering sensor. Cruise control and keyless ignition also come as standard.
If that wasn’t enough, the 1290 also comes with HHR (Hill Hold Control) MSR (Motor Slip Regulator) and quick shifter. KTM’s MY Ride software is loaded on to the TFT dash, allowing Bluetooth connectivity with a smartphone.
This facility allows you to control incoming calls on the screen as well as audio. The TFT also comes loaded with turn-by-turn sat nav, and there’s a handy waterproof compartment close by with a USB plug.
Meanwhile, in the BMW camp, the 2018 Adventure gets all of the smart tech gadgets from the previous model plus some very clever updates. These include hill start control, keyless ignition, and Dynamic DSA with semi-active suspension.
Traction control gets ‘Rain and Road’ configurations and also allows you to dial in a sportier ride with ‘Dynamic’ and the off-road-friendly ‘Enduro.’ The latter backs off the ABS and stiffens up the suspension.
Even More Gadgets
In addition, the big Beemer also gets the option of ‘Enduro Pro,’ which cancels ABS to the back wheel and sends signals to the suspension to get ready for a serious workout. The GSA also gets cruise control, an onboard monitor for tire pressure and LED lights.
The big news for the 2018 GSA though is its 6.5″ TFT, and like KTM, they’ve packed in an incredible amount of features. The new dash is now the only source of information and apart from all the relevant stuff like speed, revs, gear, riding mode, etc., also gets ECS.
ECS stands for Emergency Call System, and the software can send a message to the emergency services with your GPS location in the event of a crash.
The TFT dash also links via Bluetooth to a smartphone so you can take incoming calls and perhaps, more importantly, make outgoing ones. This connectivity also gives the dash a basic sat nav facility. Although without the addition of a USB socket, this will last only as long as your phone battery.
Are you a Banana or a Pear?
Built to do the same job, and even sharing a lot of similar details and equipment, comparing these two bikes is not an easy task, it’s very much like comparing a banana to a pear.
On pure technical specifications of the two engines, you can see that the BMW produces 25hp less than the KTM, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story.
There is no mistaking the bloodline of the KTM. Even with softer cams and a heavier crank, the engine’s 160hp gives it the addictive feel of sports bike like acceleration.
On the road, the KTM never feels anything other than controlled. The front end will come up with a flick of the wrist though, and the rush to the horizon through the super slick gearbox is addictive. There’s an urgency which makes you grin stupidly, and as good as the rest of the bike is, you know it’s all about the engine.
The BMW is deceptive and produces its 125hp in a totally different manner. The super-smooth engine feels much more of a package with its cycle-parts and therefore appears to gather serious amounts of velocity effortlessly.
Even the way each bike handles couldn’t be more different. The KTM’s top-drawer, tuneable WP suspension, gives rock-steady road manners and controllable feedback on the dirt.
In comparison, BMW’s unique front, and semi-auto rear suspension gives on and off road manners that totally belie almost 600lbs of machine.
As for the electronic rider aids and equipment, both bikes are at the top of the food chain. Without the tech, the KTM would be virtually uncontrollable off-road and the BMW unrideable.
One Clear Winner
Not too long ago, it appeared that the world-conquering GS had the heavyweight adventure title all to itself. Make no mistake; the Japanese have produced extremely competent machines such as the Africa Twin, V Strom, Tenere, and Versys; each more than capable of a global adventure.
However, it took the bright orange Austrian bikes to make a real challenge for the crown. KTM has built spirit into the 1290 Super Adventure R so that the ride also becomes part of the adventure. The BMW R1200 GS Adventure TFT, on the other hand, is so competent, the adventure is whatever happens as a result of the ride.
Both of these bikes are two-wheeled Swiss Army knives, capable of mega-touring and mixing it on the dirt. Both go about the same job but in different ways, and you will instinctively know which one calls out to you. You’re either a banana or a pear, end of story.
As for the battle of the behemoths; KTM 1290 Super Adventure R versus BMW R1200 GS Adventure TFT, there is one clear winner, and that is lucky person who has the 20k asking price for either one of them.