KTM 1050 Adventure Review © Brake Magazine 2015

Rated – KTM 1050 Adventure 2015

Afresh face in the KTM bike line-up and a fresh look aimed at welcoming people into its adventure bike range, The 1050 Adventure is a new angle from the Austrian manufacturer but is it as good as we’d hoped?

Back in 2003, if memory serves me, when I first rode a 950 Adventure bike, KTM needed an introduction to many of my road bike riding colleagues who drew more associations with Easyjet orange than they did with the Austrian motorcycle manufacturer’s famed colour scheme.

That bike, with the now legendary LC8 twin cylinder engine, was a hit with me from the moment I thundered up the road. With stacks of Dakar riders to haul across from the sport department to the R&D department for a touch of bike development, it was always going to work as a motorcycle and it showed. With no small amount of self-confidence to design a bike which looked and rode, frankly, like nothing else it was refreshing at the time when adventure model bikes were pretty sluggish still and certainly not too agile.
Critics slated its tank range, high and uncomfortable seat and even the narrow front tyre on a powerful bike baffled some. For those used to the established king of the hill that was the BMW R 1100 GS, it was too off-road. It was a trait I liked because it was clearly better able to take an off-road beating. With better suspension, more agile geometry and clearly a bike designed from an off-road and sporty perspective (the same couldn’t be said of that GS) it was the first time I thought a bike was as ‘dual-purpose’ as I expected it to be.
KTM has stuck at those fundamental principles ever since, but, and this is a crucial but, the times, they are a changing. That was then, the KTM 1050 Adventure is now.

The whole ambience of the 1050 is a lot less daunting than the bigger KTMs.

Underneath it all the 1050 Adventure still sports an LC8 engine housed by fundamentally the same chassis found on the “bigger”, KTM 1190 Adventure model. It “stands alongside its siblings” KTM’s blurb will tell, but there-in lies a small problem with the 1050, or at least a talking point. Why not make it stand a little further away: 1050, 1190, 1290. Aren’t they all a bit too similar? It’s a good point but not if you look at the specs.
This is not meant to be a rival for Suzuki’s V-Strom 650, the V-Strom 1000 would be more like it. It’s more a rival for the 800cc bikes in the market, Triumph’s Tiger 800 and BMW’s F800GS in spec at least, although not in price.
I say this chiefly because of the way it feels to ride the 1050. The whole ambience of the 1050 is a lot less daunting than the bigger KTMs and indeed all the larger capacity adventure bikes.
Lighter pistons and a heavier crank help soften the blow of the mighty LC8 motor in this guise. The LC8 can be a Barnstormer of an engine in other KTM machines but not so here. There’s a softness to the delivery on the 1050 which doesn’t make it unrecognisably different but does provide a different feel things with the 50-odd bhp less on tap.

With the full-power, ‘sport’ mode selected on the easy-to-use electronic cockpit system, the 1050 can haul out of corners with tyre-testing torque if you ask for it. It’s all torque in fact and really doesn’t need any great amount of revs to live with – changing gear sooner rather than later is the rule. You notice the ‘de-tuning’ of the LC8 motor most of all if you do try to ride around with a fist full of revs. 66ft-lbs (90Nm) of torque is healthy but it runs out of steam sooner than the larger capacity KTMs.

Styling and ergonomics is typically functional, simple, angular and not terribly exciting. That’s not meant as a negative – it just is what this KTM is. The simple layout of the dashboard is easy to read, more so if you just jumped off a bike with conventional clock dials. KTM’s dash is common across most models and it makes instant reading when you need that sudden look to check your speed through a village.
Similarly, scrolling through the menu items and selecting different riding modes is simple and as “intuitive” as KTM claims it to be. Some bikes have slightly random sequences or fail to respond immediately to button pushing, not so here as you scroll up or down to select a different power mode, turn the ABS or traction control off.
The Bosch-developed ABS system can be turned to ‘off’ as well as ‘off-road’. Selecting off-road alone effectively keeps the front anti-lock turned on but allows the back to lock – which is largely only useful for doing skids. And there’s nothing wrong with skids right? It’s worthwhile option as the ABS system is effective and more or less unnoticeable if you’re thoughtful with your right fingers.
Other power mode options (apart from off-road) to scroll through and explore depending on weather conditions are ‘sport’, ‘street’ and ‘rain’. These are fast becoming de-rigueur on bikes but they serve a useful purpose, although it can get annoying to keep having to turn things off every time you turn the ignition key on. Overall the electronics ‘package’ is functional, easy to use and better than you get as standard on a V-Strom 1000 or BMW F800GS.

The light clutch helps make gear changes as soft as ice-cream in the sun.

Like all off-the-shelf KTMs, the 1050 has WP suspension and to that end this ‘budget’ version of a KTM Adventure bike doesn’t come off too badly after having some more ‘budget’ springers bolted on.

The WP forks are not adjustable and for the most part on the road that’s fine. Other bikes in the middle and lower sectors of the Adv bike market suffer with poor suspension, forks particularly. Not so here and the feeling on the road is adequate – not affected adversely either way for comfort or performance on anything from motorway to bumpy, old unclassified roads.

I wound some preload onto the rear shock absorber via the manual adjuster to help give the bike a better stance on the road, more positive turning ability and sure-up the rear end for faster riding. Without that tweak it feels a little too vague at the front for me and doesn’t steer as well. Wind it on too much and it can make things a little more choppy on really bumpy roads but it’s a pay-off I’ll happily live with for better steering.

One place where the budget isn’t cut is in the braking system. The Brembo brakes are the same as found on the bigger 1190. That means they’re still just as full of power and have the very same excellent feel at the levers in all the various riding conditions I found during testing.

Another big positive with this chassis is the steering geometry and how neutral it holds itself in road corners. This is a very stable and settled motorcycle, no matter the angle you lean, it will sit there awaiting the next instruction. If you brake or accelerate in the corner, even while still leaning, you have to do so with the touch of Shrek to cause 1050 too much stress. It felt good to enjoy a bike doing what I asked and there’s no doubt this is a good thing for riders moving up the adventure bike ladder looking for their first big bike – there’s very little to be daunted about here.

Helping things be consistently easy-to-use is a clutch lever so light that you can keep on it all day long with little or no forearm fatigue, especially off-road. The light clutch helps make gear changes as soft as ice-cream in the sun and, along with the fly-by-wire throttle, it basically makes using the gearbox a thoughtless task.

Other ‘sundries’ of note are the tank range – it clocked getting on for 240 miles in one tank which was about average for the period we tested the bike. The seat height is low for a KTM at 850mm (1190 is 860/875) and you can adjust the handlebar and footrest position. Coupled with the screen adjustment, a wider, softer seat and a quite wide set of bars I found it a comfortable bike to sit on for long periods. There’s a comfort seat option too which helps and is mainly notable because personally I often found the ‘ergonomic’ seat options designed for greater comfort to be less comfortable than standard. Not so here.

I have a list of ‘could do withs’ written in my note book during this test which I’ll share: heated grips, a centre stand, spoked wheels and a better sound from the exhaust. It’s not a long list and at least three of them are optional extras from KTM at the very least. I’m not really sure why we don’t see a centre stand or heated grips as standard items on a bike like this. It must be minimal costs.

Spoked wheels would be my natural choice on any Adventure bike because riding off-road is part of what I expect from a bike. I can see the point in the cast wheels – road emphasis in outlook, perception and reality. They’re also cheaper but I could do with spoked wheels as standard in the same way as I could use everything else on that list; for practical reasons. Oh alright, a nicer sounding exhaust isn’t really a practical reason but it would help A) reduce some weight from the rear end B) be a more impressive display of the LC8 motor and C) liven the engine response up. Add all these things as aftermarket or optional extras fitted adds a decent amount more to the retail price.

To some eyes at least the 1050 Adventure replaced the fairly highly regarded SMT. “Why?” has been a question I’ve heard often enough to make note of. The point being that there was nothing wrong with the very useful road bike that was the SMT, so why get rid of it and replace it with a similarly specced bike labeled Adventure? Arguably the supermoto (SM) notion is dead on its feet. Although supermoto as a sport continues, as a marketing idea Adventure bikes are hand-over-fist a brighter prospect. It may well be as simple as that.

I must say I struggle with the concept of it being an entry-level bike. For sure it sits as a stepping-stone up to bigger bikes, but entry level? It’s still too big, tall, heavy and too powerful to be as novice friendly as a V-Strom 650. There’s also the small matter of the price tag making it too expensive to have that label taken seriously as well.

In theory the 1050 can be made to conform to A2 licence holder requirements. This is a point which will vary depending on your national motorcycle licence requirements for learners. Here in the UK an A2 licence means you are limited to a motorcycle putting out between 26bhp and 46.6bhp. KTM dealers can restrict the 1050 from its standard 94bhp down to the limit.

This is the theory. We’re inclined to say you won’t find too many people on a restricted license buying this bike though. While it is possible maybe someone, somewhere will take up the option but will there suddenly be floods of 19-year-olds buying this bike? We doubt it. If you do then we’d like to hear from you.

Just stick to trail riding and don’t start attempting anything that involves wheels lifting off the ground…

I’m beginning to feel like a stuck record round these parts but in the last few months bike and tyre manufacturers keep emphasising to me how little most adventure bike riders use their bikes off-road. KTM, like many, has statistic and customer feedback to stack this up but, well, you can see where this is going – we don’t really buy it here at Brake.

To be fair the 1050 Adventure is designed to be taken off-road in a minor way, to dip toes tentatively in the dirty water and try it out. As such the 1050 is a good trail bike: well-balanced and good at letting you trundle along on nothing too serious. As mentioned earlier it makes light work of its transmission and despite the decent throttle response and that healthy amount of torque on tap it is light in your hands on the dirt. You’ll have to work hard to get arm-pump or find the bike running away with you.

Suspension performance is fine most the time, especially if you just stick to trail riding and don’t start attempting anything that involves wheels lifting off the ground. If you step that far, the limitations of the 1190’s de-tuned WP suspension start to show, a lack of control over the up or down strokes basically. She get’s really bouncy.

We ditched the footrest rubbers to reveal meaty and reasonably wide, grippy footrest underneath and found most things we tackled were as easy as most 1000cc adventure bikes could make it. Those wide bars mentioned earlier help make it very controllable.

The Metzeler Next tyres are ok (very good on the road by the way) but lack a bit of tread depth when things get muddy. It could do with a bash plate ideally and we didn’t have to try very hard off-road before we dinged the front magnesium rim – hence a set of spoked wheels would be high on our list of must-haves. From a styling point of view I’d prefer the front mudguard to live higher, up under the headlight like a proper off-roader rather than road bike-spec down there on the front wheel. Partly it’s personal preference and partly I think it would look good on this bike design but here’s hoping there’s an aftermarket solution for that.

The defining characteristic of KTM’s 1050 Adventure is that it has no defining characteristic. Which is a tad harsh, I know, but it isn’t meant to be. A dummed-down KTM Adventure model though it may be, it is quite obviously a bike to rival other road bike manufacturers. Which is a distinction I think is worthy of making for a manufacturer that has spent so much of its history in the Adv market standing apart from rivals. What’s makes this bike different is that it stands to attract people to KTM who are perhaps daunted by reputation of bikes in the Austrian firms range. Those traditional characteristics (off-road ability, power, engine character, quality components) are exactly what attracts me to the orangest of bike manufacturers as a rule but not everyone comes at Adventure bikes from the same place as I do. This is a road bike with some off-road potential rather than a dual-purpose sport adventure bike as we’ve come to know KTMs as. That makes it unusual for a KTM, something for the more road bike end of the scale.

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