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.