So it’s time to invest in a new adventure motorcycle. You’re due for an upgrade.
Sure, your trusty steed has covered hundreds of thousands of miles, but it’s time to take advantage of the technology and quality that the modern-day, premium motorcycle market has to offer.
A few of your riding buddies have tried talking you into the Austrian-made KTM 1290 Super Adventure. It’s capable, comfortable, and, not to mention, lives its Ready to Race mantra. Your inner Chris Birch and Quinn Cody come out as soon as you thumb the starter button.
But some others are on team BMW Motorrad, suggesting the R 1200 GS is the best bike for you. And why not? The Bavarian built platform is the icon of the ADV segment for a reason.
Of course, at least for the majority of us, there’s only enough parking space in the garage and budget for one of these beasts. So which one is the motorcycle for you? We dive into both dirt-oriented models of the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure and KTM 1290 Super Adventure below.
We discuss the R 1200 GS over the R 1250 GS because the used market is flooded with the 1200s nowadays - and the deals are impressive!
Meet the Bikes – The BMW R 1200 GS Adventure
BMW is a pioneer of adventure motorcycling, period. Chances are, you can’t hit the next trailhead or gas station without seeing one of these. It’s the do-it-all machine.
The R 1200 GS Adventure encompasses all of the experience that Motorrad has acquired through its years of producing ADV bikes, and leads the charge in today’s market. The GS is powered by a burly 1,170cc opposed-twin engine in a housed in a steel trellis frame and rolling on 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels.
The Adventure model sees off-road inspired features atop the base model, including longer-travel suspension to tackle gnarlier sections of trail, wire-spoke wheels, factory-installed protection, as well as a taller windscreen, cushier seat and a larger capacity fuel tank.
Meet the Bikes – The KTM 1290 Super Adventure
The 1290 Super Adventure is the flagship of KTM’s adventure lineup. It'sbuilt to conquer anything on or off the beaten path.
Powered by the same 1,301cc V-twin that propels KTM’s highly potent Super Duke R, this machine has got serious firepower.
Like the BMW, the Austrian machine comes equipped with the 19-inch front and 17 inch rear wheels but sees more traditional WP suspension components than BMW’s paralever setup. For those who want more off-road capability, the R model offers a more dirt-worthy 21-inch front/18-inch rear wheel setup.
And not to mention, it comes with a whole host of rider aid features aimed at making your ride smoother, faster, and safer.
Tackling the Tarmac
Slogging highway miles is part of the ADV experience and an equal part in determining which of these two motorcycles is right for you. Which does it best?
It’s hard to argue against the BMW’s inherit roadster characteristics–even if it appears as a monster dirtbike.
Cracking the throttle of the GS’s opposed-twin powerplant puts down a tractable, smooth 125 horsepower and 92 pound-feet of torque, while comfortably cruising the highway in top gear.
It’s not particularly powerful, nor exciting, but it handles every are of road performance well A gripe? The GS begins to get a bit buzzy in the footpegs and handlebars around 4,500 rpm.
But where it lacks, it also compensates. The BMW is a stable and capable platform in the twisties, making use of its low center of gravity. And wind protection is superior as well.
That’s not to say that the KTM is any slouch on the road. It definitely isn’t. A strong 160 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque makes this machine the most exciting of the bunch, conquering short straightaways in a sportbike-like manner. Fourth-gear wheelies? Yeah, why not.
Despite its lighter weight – 549 lbs. vs. 573 lbs. – it has heavier steering between the two, but confidently stable at any lean angle. It takes a little more effort to get the KTM tipped into the corner than the BMW.
Oh, and both models come with 7.9-gallon fuel tanks, meaning 350 miles between fill-ups is totally plausible.
Off-Road Capability – Which Does it Best?
But adventure motorcycles aren’t built just for the road. In fact, they’re most fun in dirt.
Here, the KTM proves its capability, especially to faster, more aggressive riders. The Super Adventure settles down at speed, finding a confident balance if you have the guts to open up the throttle.
Despite having less suspension travel than the BMW, the KTM offers superior bump absorption and allows for more select line control. You’re in control of the bike, it’s not in control of you.
That’s not necessarily the case for the BMW. The GS is more comfortable and confident at slower speeds, rather than race pace.
But that also means that carrying momentum over obstacles isn’t always a choice. It plows through the trails, while the KTM rides over the trails. Sometimes you’re just along for the ride on the BMW.
And an interesting note about the varying seat heights. Of course, the KTM has a lower 33.9-inch measurement, but a wider front is of the seat means that the reach to the ground is very similar to the BMW, even at its 35-inch seat height.
The Deciding Factor(s)
Choosing between these two motorcycles comes down to your preferred and common style of riding. While each of these bikes is capable of conquering everything from highway miles to backwoods, rocky singletrack, each finds its own stride in different ways.
If you’re the ADV rider that is looking for the do-it-all machine, look no further than the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. It’s the proven on- and off-road machine with a strong balance of overall performance. It will get you wherever you want to go, just maybe not as quickly or aggressively as the KTM.
Speaking of, the KTM lives up to its Ready to Race tag in all ways. It’s fast, it’s aggressive and only gets better the harder you push it.
If you’re wanting to channel your inner Baja racer or tackle the hardest sections trails at speed, the 1290 Super Adventure is the obvious choice.
Regardless, both motorcycles are capable, class-leading motorcycles. You can’t go wrong.
BMW R 1200 GS Adventure Specs
- Engine: 1,170cc liquid-cooled opposed-twin
- Horsepower: 125 HP
- Torque: 92 pound-feet
- Drive: 6-speed/ shaft
- Fuel Capacity: 7.9 gal.
- Seat Height: 35.0 in.
- Chassis: Steel trellis
- Suspension Travel: 8.3 in. (front)/ 8.7 in. (rear)
- Wet Weight: 573 lbs.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure Specs
- Engine: 1,301cc liquid-cooled V-Twin
- Horsepower: 160 HP
- Torque: 103.3 pound-feet
- Drive: 6-speed/ chain
- Fuel Capacity: 7.9 gal.
- Seat Height: 33.9 in.
- Chassis: Steel trellis
- Suspension Travel: 7.9 in. (front)/ 7.9 in. (rear)
- Wet Weight: 549 lbs.