REVIEW: 2016 Adventure 1050 - an alternative to BMW Motorrad's invincible Gelande/Strasse?

When the concept of the heavy-duty, long-distance, touring motorcycle was put into regular production as the Gelande/Strasse by BMW Motorrad over three decades ago, no one could have fore-seen what was basically a niche product for European riders wanting to cruise the sand dunes of northern Africa becoming a worldwide phenomenon. These days, all the major manufacturers have a big dual-purpose in their line-up, to cater to every sort of rider.

From BMW Motorrad’s GS-series bikes of today, to Ducati’s Multistrada 1200 range, the big ‘adventure’ styled motorcycle is not going to go away anytime soon. Not wanting to be left out of its share of the large-capacity off-roader market is KTM, with its “Adventure” series of dual-purpose bikes.

Most adventure-type bikes are typified by a tall saddle height, over-sized fuel tank, upright seating position and the provision for mounting hard-case bags. Styling of the bodywork tends to be on the edgy side, and the sub-frame is usually exposed, since it will be covered up with the saddle-bags anyway.

In the case of KTM, the Austrian company drew on its roots in moto-crossing and motorsports history to come up with four different versions of the Adventure bike in its range. Starting with the top-of-the-line 1290 Super Adventure, to the 1190 Adventure and Adventure R, there is a KTM Adventure bike to suit everybody.

Which brings us to the 2016 KTM 1050 Adventure. Positioned as the entry-level dual-purpose bike in KTM’s Adventure range, the 1050 Adventure is a big dual-purpose meant to be affordable, but no less capable, than its bigger-engined siblings.

Launched late last year, the 2016 KTM 1050 Adventure slots in right at the bottom of KTM’s Adventure range of bikes, and is meant to be a low-cost, capable long-distance mile-muncher for the rider who wants a big-engined dual-purpose, without the big buy-in cost that BMW and Ducati demand. To keep costs down, the 1050 Adventure is assembled in CKD form at KTM Malaysia’s plant in Jitra, Kedah.

It was pointed out to us the 1050 Adventure we get in Malaysia is identical in every way to the 1050 Adventure in other markets, save that the Malaysian CKD version comes with a steel sub-frame that has been painted black – shown in the gallery – and not the bare aluminium sub-frame that was on the test bike we rode.

Obviously done with an eye on keeping costs down, we have to say that while a steel sub-frame might be slightly heavier than an aluminium unit, it is a whole lot easier to repair, especially if, god forbid, you happen to crash the bike when it is fully-loaded. Repairs are also easier if the worst happens when you are off the beaten track somewhere in the back-waters of Laos, for example.

The impression given off by the 2016 KTM 1050 Adventure at the first approach is of this massive, brutal, tall dual-purpose machine. Almost like a Rottweiler, when dressed in KTM’s corporate colours of black and orange. But, like a Rottie, you will find a soft, loyal interior personality when compared to the purposeful exterior.

Getting on the 1050 Adventure isn’t that much of a stretch for our 168 cm tall rider. At 850 mm, sliding slightly off the seat to one side or another will allow one foot to be placed on the ground, but not flat. We made the mistake of riding the 1050 Adventure with sports – not racing – boots, and paid the price for it, which will be explained later.

Thumbing the starter brings the 1.050 cc 75-degree V-twin to life, with the EFI letting the engine settle into a smooth idle quickly. With 94 hp, the power figure for the 1050 Adventure isn’t going to scare anyone, and proved to be more than adequate during spirited highway riding with two-up touring posing no issues.

What is notable is the torque figure. While KTM claims a 107 Nm maximum torque number, 90 Nm of it comes in from 2,500 rpm for that low-down grunt, and responsive ‘urge’, from the engine. Taking off revealed an issue with the side-stand.

For riders a little short in the inseam, reaching down with the left foot for the stand was a little difficult when wearing sports boots. No issues with chunky riding boots, or proper enduro style boots, just that the sleek heel of the sports boot we wore made it hard to find the proper grip to flick the stand up, especially when the 1050 was parked on a surface that was sloping off to the right.

If we were going to have to live with the 1050 Adventure on a long-term basis, we would look into fitting or welding a little tab on the side-stand to make it easier to flick the stand up. Do note, this is a rider issue, not a problem with the bike itself.

Riding the 1050 Adventure was a breeze, with the up-right seating position and tall seat height giving a commanding view of traffic. Flicking through the gears was quick, and the engine’s torque made light work of acceleration, belying the bike’s 212 kg weight.

The 2016 KTM 1050 Adventure, like its 1190 and 1290 siblings, comes with a full set of riding aids, albeit with only three ride modes and traction control that is missing the off-road mode, while the bigger KTM Adventure bikes get the full four-mode traction control.

The wide handlebars – at 811 mm being 20 mm wider than the bars on the 1190 Adventure – gives the 1050 Adventure good controllability, with a precise steering feel that doesn’t feel in any way vague due to the long-travel suspension. Flicking the 1050 into corners just needed a light touch on the bar, but it was possible to feel the steering effort in pulling the bike back up again.

Running fully-loaded, with both panniers filled to brim, did measurably increase steering effort, as did carrying a pillion passenger. While the passenger is not perched high in the sky like he or she would be on a sportsbike, the change in the centre of gravity is noticeable, despite the 1050 Adventure’s 1,560 mm wheelbase.

A nice touch are the slotted rear-axle adjusters, which give an additional 15 mm of wheelbase length adjustment. Riding the 1050 Adventure with a little dash and verve did nothing to upset the bike’s composure.

Coming as standard is the WP suspension, with a 43 mm upside-down fork in front and a WP monoshock in the rear. The rear is adjustable for compression and rebound, and is nice to find installed in what is supposed to be a “budget-conscious” bike.

Certainly the 1050 Adventure handled everything we threw at it, including two-up riding, fast solo touring as well as attacking our usual test loop up the mountain. Heeled over, the bike tracked straight through the corner, and displayed no signs of wallow or weave, despite the 185 mm of suspension travel up front and 190 mm in the back.

Seating on the 1050 Adventure is nicely comfortable, with no real discomfort felt after a four-hour ride with one petrol stop. The long saddle allowed a lot of seating room, for both the rider and passenger, and being flat, was broad and supportive in all the right places.

A long ride south through a mix of tolled highways, country B-roads and narrower plantation roads, through both light and heavy traffic, brought out the best in the 1050 Adventure. Braking, with the standard equipment Brembos coupled with front and rear ABS, was linear, and no problems dealing with the bike being loaded up.

What was noted was a troubling high-speed weave, and by high-speed we mean somewhat illegal high three-digit speeds on the open highway. We did have full panniers, but no passenger on this ride. Checking the tyre pressures revealed nothing amiss, and slowing down made the weave go away.

Very slowing increasing the speed didn’t reveal a weave, but whacking the throttle open did bring it back. We put it down to rider position and weight in the panniers, since the suspension settings were spot-on otherwise, so pack with care, and be prepared to weight the front end a little when doing high velocity runs.

The ABS system, as well as the traction control, on the 1050 can be disengaged at will, allowing for the rear wheel to be locked up when so desired. This is an advantage when riding on low traction surfaces such as mud or sand, when a rear wheel drift is necessary for tight turns and riding single-track trails.

KTM’s PASC slipper clutch made light work of selecting gears, with the clutch lever pull being almost feather-weight light. During a hard charging run up the mountain, deliberate attempts were made to try and defeat the slipper, but to no avail.

Hard downshifts, jamming down through the gears, didn’t make the rear wheel slip at all, and there was zero chatter and hop, even when changing down through a corner while leaned over. The massive cast aluminium swingarm helped in this regard, and the welded trellis perimeter frame didn’t flex, although pushing things to edge did betray a little protest from the frame under very hard braking.

However, the 1050 Adventure supplied as our test bike was fitted with KTM hard-case aluminium panniers, at our request. This had the effect of making the bike as wide as a five-barred gate. In real-life terms, the asymmetrical panniers made the 1050 measure 1,440 mm across. For comparison, the Perodua Viva measures 1,745 mm at its widest.

This had the effect of making negotiating and cutting through traffic a touch interesting. And if our test rider finds it interesting, rest assured you will be terrified. A certain amount of caution was called for, then, while making our way through Kuala Lumpur traffic.

Not helping was the 23-litre fuel tank, which, while having a very useful range of 340-plus km, also made the 1050 Adventure a touch top heavy while moving around at walking speed. The average consumption we recorded was about 6.9 litres per 100 km. Bear in mind this was with a full-loaded bike and a passenger while not sparing any of the horses, so your mileage will definitely vary.

The looks of the 1050 do take some getting used to, with some of our colleagues liking it, and others calling it a “Decepticon”. With the bluff front end, and the knee panels in ABS plastic, the looks of the bike are decidedly angular.

Lighting the way is a stacked headlight unit, surrounded by the LED DRL. The turn signals and rear light are also LED powered units, and a nice touch is the auto-switching from DRL to headlight at dusk, as well as the self-cancelling turn signals.

Accommodation in the cockpit of the 1050 Adventure was well thought out, with the manually adjustable screen going from low to high and three positions in between. At the lowest position, the wind protection from the screen was good, but left the helmet in the airstream. Set to the top position, both rider and passenger were enclosed in a reasonably big bubble of still air, but things rapidly got stuffy when moving through traffic at low speeds.

The wide handlebars did help in this respect with 20 mm of adjustment to suit different hand-angles and shoulder widths, and the foot pegs on the 1050 move through a range of of about 10 mm, to suit different leg and foot lengths. The light effort of the ride-by-wire throttle also helped in terms of decreasing ride fatigue, and a rather high-speed run back up from the south didn’t cause the rider to cramp in the right wrist.

Retailing at RM73,021, the 2016 KTM 1050 Adventure also comes with some optional accessories. The Trekker aluminium cases that were fitted with our test bike retail for RM6,206, including installation, and have a carrying capacity of 37 litres, with a weight limit of 10 kg. Also available is a performance exhaust from Akrapovic that cuts 3 kg from the standard system’s weight and goes for RM8,416, with no ECU re-mapping required.

In terms of competition it would, of course, be unfair to compare the KTM 1050 Adventure against the BMW Motorrad GS, which is in a completely different class in terms of quality of build and materials. This is in spite of the 1050 Adventure actually being a capable dual-purpose highway cruiser. A more direct comparison can be made against the Triumph Tiger Sport ABS, which is also 1,050 cc but with a triple-cylinder EFI engine.

The Triumph Tiger Sport, which is CBU against the KTM’s CKD version, retails at RM71,900 for the 2014 model, and RM76,900 for the 2015 edition, but lacks the KTM’s ride modes and traction control.

So, who needs a 2016 KTM 1050 Adventure? The obvious market is the senior professional, who wants a do-anything bike with enough get-up-and-go to harass younger riders who think they’re fast. In the hands of a capable rider, and judicious use of the ABS and traction control, there is no reason a 1050 Adventure can’t keep up with the current crop of sportsbikes, and with the benefit of not having to endure crippling back pain.

Being able to carry more than a toothbrush and a change of underwear with the optional hard-case luggage is an added bonus. If you’re a newer rider stepping up to the litre-class, but sportsbikes leave you cold and cruisers aren’t your cup of tea, then the KTM 1050 might be a good introduction to the joys of dual-purpose sports touring.