First Ride Impression: 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R

First Impression: 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R
Photos: Adam Booth and Scott Hoffman

I am a moto guy so the logic behind an adventure bike at first did not compute. I figured there was a reason gristly, rugged men of the 1940s to the 1960s stopped racing heavy big-twin off-road bikes—they were heavy and handled like bricks. At first I thought they were like mopeds, fun until your friends found out. I had ridden adventure bikes in the past but never long enough to fully understand the attraction. The 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R launch changed my opinion. Adventure riding can be a blast if you respect bike and know what it can and can’t do on the trail.


In 2003, KTM unveiled their first twin-cylinder adventure bike and it’s been full steam ahead ever since. For 2017, the new 1090R enters the picture for Katoom. Although the 1090R and the older 1190R it replaces do share the same chassis in a sense, the total dynamic of the motorcycle seems to have changed. The 1090R is a world model yet it was KTM USA that first requested some of the changes that went into the new model. The lion’s share of this model will be sold in North America.


KTM launched the 1090R Adventure R and wanted to show us key-punchers just what a real adventure experience is all about, complete with two days of riding with a camping stop along the way at a private motorcycle-friendly ranch. The ride was mostly off-road out in the hills and mountains southeast of Murrieta and Temecula.

FirstRide-KTM1090R-static-3The engine is one element that’s all new for the 1090 Adventure R. The displacement is slightly down but the rideability for off-road is way up. KTM stated they built the engine from the beginning stages to meet all of the current emission standards both in the United States and Europe. The bore and stroke have been changed compared to the 1190R engine but the compression is also up from 12.5:1 to 13:1. The cases are new yet the crank is slightly heavier for optimal torque and off-road riding. The actual total displacement is 1050cc despite the name. Total claimed horsepower is 125 with 81 foot-pounds of torque. In off-road mode the power is rated at 100hp. The idea was to create an engine where the power and torque comes on sooner and lower in the RPM range.

KTM wanted to regain some off-road prowess in the adventure bike sector and much of the R&D went into this goal. The suspension is much more suited for more aggressive adventure riding with the introduction of a PDS shock in the rear and stiffer springs up front compared to the 1190R. Valving has also be updated front and rear to work with the shock and fork spring changes. The PDS is a first for KTM in their Adventure line. The twin-piston PDS shock helps keep the ride plush with improved bottoming resistance and feel when taken off-road.

FirstRide-KTM1090R-static-5The total weight has also been reduced by a claimed 22 pounds. The engine is lighter but KTM also removed other items such as the center stand to save weight. In a sense, the 1090R is a revised and more simplified version of the 1190 for more core adventure riders. KTM also removed one of the ECUs that control the electronic lean sensor yet it still retains traction control. One other nice element of the 1090R is the hit, more competitively priced at $14,699 MSRP.

The 1090R still offers a lot of features including a steering stabilizer, four performance modes including Sport, Street, Rain, and Off-Road. The off-road mode also includes an ABS off-road setting that allows the rider to turn off rear ABS yet still retain some front- wheel ABS. KTM’s Quinn Cody said he was unable to out brake the ABS off-road setting when it was turned off.

For our mostly off road ride, KTM equipped all of the test bikes with KTM Parts longer footpegs and aluminum skid plates. The pegs are a must-have if you plan on riding a lot in the dirt.
For our mostly off road ride, KTM equipped all of the test bikes with KTM Parts longer footpegs and aluminum skid plates. The pegs are a must-have if you plan on riding a lot in the dirt.

Other features include updated cage-style steering head bearings, adjustable ergonomics, adjustable windscreen, luggage rack brackets, and handguards standard. The tires are also off-road ready right from the dealer floor with continental TKC 80 rubber.

When we arrived to the intro the only items added to the bikes were KTM Parts, longer foot pegs, as well as a KTM Parts aluminum skid plate.

Although I had ridden several other brand’s adventure bikes including older KTMs going back to the 950, my total seat time had been limited to short 5-15 mile stints over the years. Before the ride, I tapped into all of the tips I had picked up of helping out at Jimmy Lewis Riding Schools.

DBT on the 1090R wearing Fly Gear, Alpinestar Boots, 6D Helmet and EXS Brand Goggles
DBT on the 1090R wearing Fly Gear, Alpinestar Boots, 6D Helmet and EXS Brand Goggles

We hit the dirt less than a mile from the start of our ride. At 6’1” with long legs, I was expecting to be a little cramped in stock trim but I was surprised that the bike had a lot of room and the standing position was relatively comfortable. As a moto guy, I would want a bar that was a tad straighter but it did work for street riding. The KTM Parts foot pegs are a must-have if you plan to spend extended time off-road. Compared to some other adventure bikes I had ridden, the new 1090R feels more off-road suited right from the get-go.


We were encouraged to test all of the performance modes but the Off-Road with Off-Road ABS proved to be the most efficient setting when the pavement ended. This might not have been the most fun mode but it was the most trustworthy. Turning off the traction control does allow you to drift and spin up the rear exiting corners and can feel a little more aggressive in the dirt. If you want to experience Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, flip the switch to Sport mode with the traction control turned off. Sport mode is full horsepower but because this is a street setting, the traction control is too sensitive and does not work off-road. In Sport mode, the bike just rips on the roads but you have to be smooth on the throttle or the rear just spins and is all over the place. This mode is more responsive but can also get away from you if you are not smooth on the throttle. It is possible to switch modes while riding when the throttle is closed but the bike has to be turned off to switch off traction control and ABS in Sport mode.


On the pavement, Sport mode is the most fun when conditions are dry. The engine doesn’t have the raw power of a full liter sport bike but it gets up and goes when the throttle is twisted and has ample power for the average rider. The other modes split the Sport and Off-Road setting with altered power delivery, traction control and ABS settings.

One of the downfalls to not having a center stand is you have to be creative if you get a flat
One of the downfalls to not having a center stand is you have to be creative if you get a flat

On fire roads, tighter switchbacks, and jeep trails you can feel the “dirt bike” roots that have been designed into this motorcycle. The 1090R is lighter feeling and appears to have regained some of the dirt heritage that was instilled in some of the earlier KTM Adventure bikes. The suspension does hold itself up in the dirt in a variety of conditions. You can feel the chop more on basic flat roads but when the conditions get worse, the tradeoff is well worth it. You still have to watch out for G outs and deep potholes. If you hit them too fast, the 1090R will let you know very quickly that you are going too fast. We did bottom the fork and shock a few times but learned very fast that managing speed on the trail and braking for holes can almost eliminate a possible hard bottoming encounter, but they do happen now and again. At the end of two days our wheels were still round, FYI.


In off-road conditions, the 1090R worked best while standing, even when turning. It feels most like a dirt bike while standing and if you try to sit down in corners or in the sand, most the handling goes out the window and is not recommended. You can sit if the dirt roads are flat, smooth, and straight but that is pretty much the only time while off-road. The 1090R handles best and feels the lightest when ridden with finesse and if you steer the bike while weighting the foot pegs and with lean angles. If you try to manhandle the bar and force the bike to change directions, it can get very tiring in a short period.


The brakes work very well with plenty of raw stopping power but in the dirt still had a very accurate and progressive feel. I seldom felt any pulsing from the ABS in off-road ABS mode but when I did, I knew it was working. Even with ABS completely turned off, the front brake had a great feel and ample power without ever locking up. Because the bike is heavy, the rear brake was hard to judge for me and took the entire first day to get acquainted with. One journalist cooked the rear brake because he was unaware he was resting his foot on the pedal. I actually I adjusted the pedal up from stock, which helped the feel for me.


And because the new model works so well off-road, I was very surprised how well it works on the pavement, even with TKC 80 knobbies. We did several transfers from dirt to dirt through twisty pavement mountain roads and it handled much like one would expect from a street bike. If you pushed it too hard you could start to feel the knobs start to talk to you and say “slow down”. For a knobby, the TKC works remarkably well on the pavement.


After two days on the bike there were very few items I would have wanted to change. One being a personal handlebar bend, second was maybe a lighter spring in the throttle as my throttle hand did get a little sore by the end of day two (note there are no cables, it’s fly by wire so the spring is only for feel). And another personal preference would be a foot peg that was positioned back 5-10mm.

KTM road racer/390 RC Cup adviser and other media stuff guy Chris Fillmore stretched the boundaries of the 1090R by taking the bike to the moto track. A perfect downside was possible, just never come up short or go long.
KTM road racer/390 RC Cup adviser and other media stuff guy Chris Fillmore stretched the boundaries of the 1090R by taking the bike to the moto track. A perfect downside was possible, just never come up short or go long.

FirstRide-KTM1090R-Filler1Overall I was impressed with how dirt oriented the new 1090 Adventure R really is. I gained a new respect for adventure riding and if you plan on covering a lot of ground and want to get off the grid for several days at a time, this could be the bike for you. After day one one as we pulled into the camp area and was greeted with a cold beverage and place to rest my bones,I knew it was the icing on the cake to an awesome day on a motorcycle. I was that moment I fully understood what adventure riding was all about. The 1090R brings back the combination of dirt and street that a rider with more of an off-road background can appreciate. It’s not a mount I would want to take through single-track trails but we tackled some pretty deep sandy roads and fairly aggressive beat-up Jeep trails and it never faltered. If your adventure is more street with basic fire roads, maybe the larger 1290R might be up your alley, yet for those with off-road roots and who plan on spending a lot of time exploring off-road, the new 1090 Adventure R is the most versatile that I have ridden thus far.

Extra Images

Support DBT by shopping through the links below: