Fa­gan’s clocked up the air miles and brag­ging rights, having blitzed KTM’s new 1290 Su­per Ad­ven­ture R around the Dakar.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties to blast around the world fa­mous Dakar don’t come ten a penny, but sex sym­bol Fa­gan got that dream ticket and pulled the pin on KTM’s new 1290 Su­per Ad­ven­ture R.


It’s blis­ter­ingly hot. I’m in the mid­dle of a desert. My balls are cook­ing in their own juices like those boil-in-a-bag pota­toes. Ev­ery mil­lime­tre of my del­i­cate su­per-white skin is shielded from the Peru­vian sun, which shows no sign of re­lent­ing. The rugged ter­rain has ac­quired an­other vic­tim, this time a front wheel punc­ture, so we’re stuck on the side of some gar­gan­tuan dunes wait­ing for the re­cov­ery truck. My camel pack is run­ning dan­ger­ously low on wa­ter and my vision is start­ing to di­min­ish. It’s like a scene from a movie, where every­one’s look­ing round for the juici­est flesh to start munch­ing just in case the worst hap­pens. No, I haven’t en­tered the Dakar rally, or an ex­treme sand­castle­build­ing con­test. We’re on a press launch.

Although the Dakar has moved from its spir­i­tual home to South Amer­ica, the world’s tough­est race has lost none of its splen­dour or ap­peal. With a supreme 16 year un­beaten run and a new vic­tor in Sam Sun­der­land, you could say KTM is boss­ing things when it comes to two-wheeled ral­ly­ing.

It was no real sur­prise then to learn of KTM’s de­ci­sion to launch its new racein­spired 1290 Su­per Ad­ven­ture R in Peru – an es­sen­tial part of the Dakar along with neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. KTM’s Ad­ven­ture range is some­what con­fus­ing ini­tially, with no fewer than five mod­els in the 2017 line-up but, in sim­ple terms, KTM has dropped the Su­per Duke R’s 1290 lump into an Ad­ven­ture chas­sis and smoth­ered it in elec­trick­ery. While the Su­per Ad­ven­ture S is KTM’s ul­ti­mate Tar­mac ter­ror­ist, the R model is aimed di­rectly at those want­ing an off-road edge, a true sense of ad­ven­ture.

With Chris Birch (Kiwi Dakar racer and Red Bull Ro­man­ics win­ner) as lead rider, we were in safe hands. As we me­an­dered away from our ho­tel and any form of civil­i­sa­tion, onto des­o­late tracks, it was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that his slo­gan, ‘say no to slow’ wasn’t re­served ex­clu­sively for rac­ing. The same could be said for the KTM 1290 Su­per Ad­ven­ture R – there’s ab­so­lutely no re­gard for hu­man­ity when pin­ning the R’s throt­tle. It’s a KTM after all, so that means a ri­otous de­liv­ery and lash­ings of char­ac­ter.

I sweat when I’m wip­ing my arse at home in Blighty, so man­han­dling a 217kg, 160bhp fiend in 40º heat when tack­ling Dakar ter­rain would be a moist ex­er­cise in Alpinestars ad­ven­ture clob­ber. KTM couldn’t stress the im­por­tance of con­stantly drink­ing wa­ter enough, after sev­eral fell by the way­side dur­ing the pre­vi­ous rid­ing group. Not wear­ing a camel pack was akin to not wear­ing a con­dom on the set of an STDrid­den porn shoot – highly risky.

Apart from the SA’s intimidating stature and willy-wav­ing horse­power on tap, the stand­out fea­ture has to be its new TFT screen. It looks more like an iPad than a dash; more info than the hu­man brain can ab­sorb and the func­tion­al­ity is slick and in­tu­itive – far more in­stinc­tive than pre­vi­ous KTMs. The R doesn’t feel like a 220kg ruf­fian. Sure, it’s tall, wide, im­pos­ing on the eye and ar­du­ous to push around, but once you’ve swung a leg over the soar­ing sad­dle, there’s noth­ing intimidating about the ride. I’m no off-road ace. I’ve raced mo­tocross as a kid and can pedal an en­duro bike, but I’m cer­tainly no ex­pert, and the Su­per R is a dod­dle to pi­lot on harsh ter­rain at a range of speeds. In fact, it ut­terly flat­tered me all day.

Go big or go home

Call it ego­tis­ti­cal, call it blasé, but I’ve never been an ad­vo­cate of ‘rain’ modes or any other power-sap­ping bull­shit. These fairy modes of­ten ef­fect rear wheel con­nec­tion and se­verely ham­per throt­tle ac­tion through ride-by-wire faf­fery, although KTM’s off-road mode is noth­ing short of stun­ning.

With the full-fat 160bhp culled to a more man­age­able 100bhp, there was still a hefty midrange to in­dulge in, and more than enough for the en­vi­ron­ment. Arse at the back of the seat and throt­tle wide open, I saw 140kmh on the dash be­fore de­cid­ing bet­ter of it. Like­wise, I had a brief stint in ‘Street’ mode and its 160bhp, but soon re­alised it was like bring­ing an M60 to a paint­ball party. And then there’s KTM’s off-road ABS, which leaves the rear free for skids and finer off-road con­trol, while the front works with mi­nor in­ter­ven­tion. It re­ally is a thing of beauty and re­moves an im­por­tant off-road vari­able to free-up the ride.

With beefed-up WP sus­pen­sion and oo­dles of travel, the Su­per Ad­ven­ture R isn’t just a brochure model, or a ‘fake’ ad­ven­ture bike as KTM made men­tion of in the pre­sen­ta­tion. With in­ces­sant dust and as­sort­ment of roost be­ing pep­pered from the rider(s) in front, there were of­ten hid­den ob­sta­cles we had no choice but to tackle, plus the pre-planned pho­tog­ra­phy jumps to land. Noth­ing flus­tered the R.

There’s a real sense that you’re in charge in the cock­pit, the sub­mis­sive front-end primed for piv­ot­ing on while the rear just does its thing. Most of the pre-lunch rid­ing was staged on tracks and shal­low sand, where we dicked around for pho­tog­ra­phy pur­poses, jumped off a few hard-pack dunes, and tracked the coastal paths.

It was rel­a­tively easy and any half-de­cent pi­lot would have cruised the land­scape with­out too many brown skid­marks. Having a) never rid­den in a proper desert, and b) never rid­den in South Amer­ica, most of my self-con­tained schmooz­ing was oohs and arghs, and chuck­ing su­perla­tives at the scenery. The fact that the 1290 was so easy to ride came as a dis­tinct and very wel­come bonus, but the gnarly stuff was yet to come.

We split into two groups. One would re­turn to the ho­tel via an ‘easy’ route. The other would fol­low Chris Birch and at­tack some hard­core ter­rain, deep sand and Dakar-spec dunes. Part of me wanted to en­sure I’d see my kids again, the other sug­gested that trav­el­ling all the way over to the other side of the world with­out fac­ing my fears and reach­ing out of my com­fort zone was ridicu­lous. I opted for the lat­ter and went balls-deep. Push­ing the lim­its As an avid school­boy mo­tocrosser who rev­elled in sand, I was look­ing for­ward to es­cap­ing the beaten tracks and en­ter­ing un­touched dunes – that ar­che­typal Dakar panorama that looks so invit­ing. Within five min­utes, I was firmly out of my com­fort zone as we nailed this rougher than rough track scat­tered in holes, ruts, sand and straight­for­ward haz­ards.

My fore­arms pumped-up like Pop­eye’s, cling­ing on for dear life, not that the SA-R was hard work – it was me mak­ing it hard work. Con­cen­tra­tion was at 100%, I sim­ply wouldn’t yield – I couldn’t. We were es­sen­tially rid­ing a mine­field of un­known chal­lenges and pit­falls, soon ver­i­fied when some fat Amer­i­can de­cided to ig­nore in­struc­tions, at­tempt­ing to em­u­late his Dakar heroes but his am­bi­tion soon out­weighed his re­treat­ing tal­ent. He went to hos­pi­tal with a hurty leg.

After the open­ing para­graph’s scene was played out, we were soon liv­ing the Dakar dream. Up to our nuts in deep, golden, Peru­vian sand and play­time for as far as the eye could see. Sand re­quires a cer­tain amount of com­mit­ment and a com­pletely dif­fer­ent rid­ing style to any­thing else: weight to the rear of the bike and throt­tle pinned. Stop and you’ll sink. Mo­men­tum is key.

It truly was an awe-in­spir­ing ride back to the ho­tel, with a dozen 1290 Su­per Ad­ven­ture Rs slic­ing through the dunes and carv­ing fresh trails in pre­vi­ously un­touched sand. KTM has now cre­ated the ul­ti­mate ad­ven­ture bike; a bike that you could ride from the UK to the Alps, use to chase down sports­bikes, and then take the scenic route home. In a ca­reer filled with ex­otic launch des­ti­na­tions and dreamy GP cir­cuits, this one goes down in his­tory. After rac­ing at the Isle of Man TT, it was the most in­cred­i­ble rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve ever had and a gen­uine chal­lenge at the same time. And it didn’t in­volve 200mph or Wi­nona Ry­ders*. *Knee slid­ers

2017's Dakar saw just shy of 9,000km of this type of ac­tion.

Al's still not back. He's grown a beard, changed his name to Chico and spends his days rid­ing this stolen KTM. Can you blame him? Pack­ing 160bhp and weigh­ing in at 240kg, this dirt bike sep­a­rates the men from the boys.

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