22 GUN SALUTE: The 1290 Super Adventure is adaptable on and off the beaten track. Image: KTM
SABIE, Mpumalanga - The twisties in the Escarpment region of Mpumalanga are as close as a biker can come to heaven on earth... guess you've ridden it hey?
If you have, you loved it, if you haven't then read on - it was that particular piece of paradise that KTM selected to launch the 1050 Adventure and 1290 Super Adventure.
There's some irony in the fact that the two new bikes from KTM, a company famed for its off-road machinery, are much more at home on tar than off, but two days of spirited riding convinced me that these two machines are extremely competent.
During the initial presentation at the Sabi River Sun Resort in Hazyview KTM’s brand manager Vaughan Swanepoel pointed out that the 1050 and 1290 slot in respectively at the bottom and top of their adventure range rather than replacing the existing 1190 Adventure and 1190 Adventure R.
He also pointed out that there is a considerable parts commonality among the four models, including frame, switches and instrument pods. Aside from the obvious difference in engine size, other variations between the bikes include wheels, suspension and software.
IMAGE GALLERY: KTM 1050 Adventure /1290 Super Adventure.
My riding experience started with the 1290 on the first day. The route took us to Sabie via the famous (and somewhat infamous) stretch of road known as "the 22" (it's 22km long long) to Lydenburg via Long Tom Pass to Pilgrim's Rest and Sabie via Robber’s Pass, and back to Hazyview with a second shot at the 22.
That all meant a huge number of twisties among the region’s spectacular scenery. With a slightly detuned version of the 1290 Super Duke mill, it goes without saying that the Super Adventure has huge low-end torque.
The roads in Mpumalanga are plagued with potholes and moving targets - the slow-haulin' logging trucks. Approach blind corners with caution, accelerate hard only when you can see past most of the corner, a style to which the torquey motor loaned itself very well.
The 1290 has a semi-active suspension, which uses several accelerometers to sense the bike’s attitude and road surface and adjusts the damping continuously. This, in combination with lean-angle-aware ABS, gives the bike a sure-footed feel under almost any conditions and allows the bike to hold its line under mid-corner braking – a white bakkie that seemingly materialised out of thin air in a corner near Mac Mac Falls forced me to do just that.
On day two it was the 1050’s turn. This time the route took us to Graskop via Kowyn’s Pass, then to God’s Window, back to Graskop and on to Sabie. After a regroup in Sabie we rode to White River and back to Hazyview, a nice mix of tight twisties and fast sweeps.
The 1050 is no less torquey and responsive but its suspension is much simpler than that of its more expensive sibling and it showed both in the fact that the bike feels much lighter than the 1290 and less forgiving of abuse.
Under hard out-of-corner acceleration, the 1050’s front wheel became disconcertingly light which, in conjunction with the more sensitive steering, made it feel a little too skittish for my liking.
At God’s Window we had a brief opportunity to go for a jaunt down a dirt road through one of the many plantations. Now I'm not exactly a hard-core off-roader but the lightness of the 1050 gave me enough confidence to play a little.
The small front wheel and road-biased tyres mean that it falls squarely into the category I refer to as “Sandton scramblers” – macho-looking bikes that will rarely see anything other than tar – but I wouldn’t necessarily shy away from soft roads on this bike.
Which, then, is the better? My fellow journos were virtually unanimous that they preferred the simple honesty of the 1050 but, but if money were no object, I’d go for the more sophisticated and accomplished 1290.
Money, however, is an object for all but the most fortunate few, and the rather hefty R219 999 sticker on the 1290 versus the much more affordable R139 999 of the 1050 means we are probably likely to see more of the latter on the road.