Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Super KTM Adventure

KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Far be from me to turn down a test ride on a 160 horsepower $20,000 superbike. I was in the Kansas City area just back from riding the western plains, when the Letko Cycles sign caught my eye. A couple of my riding buddies have been raving about the KTM 1290 Super Adventure. It was time see what they’re so fired up about.

Letko Cycles, Olathe, Kansas

Letko has been in business since 1969 and carries the full KTM line. The salesman mentioned they had an 1190 Adventure in back, ready to ride. When I told him I really wanted to check out the one with cruise, a must-have feature on my next machine- he said “no problem, I’ll just pull this new1290 off the floor.” How’s that for customer service?

They carry them all.

The Super Adventure has the features I want in a traveling machine: 7.9 gallon tank, heated grips, tubeless laced wheels, hard bags and the all-important cruise control. I’ve always used a throttle lock and they work well on long straight runs, but throw in some rolling pavement like U.S. 36 in Kansas and my right shoulder/neck area gets tight. A set-it, forget-it electronic wrist should take care of the issue.

Hard bags included, but not installed.

After I signed a waiver and was given a rundown of the controls, I was cut loose on a truly impressive motorcycle. The only real restriction was I was asked not to put the mode switch in “Sport.” This would unleash the full 135 horsepower to the rear wheel- something that needs to be worked up to. Fair enough, “Street” mode puts out something like 115 horses- not a slouch in any sense of the word.

Something for the kiddies.

The first thing that struck me as I gingerly pulled into traffic was the snarl from the exhaust can- positively intoxicating. There was an idiot grin under my helmet as I blipped the throttle. The seat, heated by the way, something definitely not needed in the 97 degree KC heat was plush. One thing I had been concerned about was engine heat- there was a bit on my left thigh, but nothing excessive. The bars were rotated a bit farther forward than I like, but a series of hash marks indicate they are adjustable. The heated grips, again, not tested, are of a normal diameter rather than the typical oversize aftermarket items. The windshield is large and adjustable. In short, the Austrians have designed a bike to accommodate a variety of riders.

Plenty of fresh rubber in stock.

My hour-long test included a brief blast up I-35- lots of fun, but could be hazardous to the drivers license. The balance was on surface streets in stop-and-go conditions where the high ambient temperature didn’t affect the machine in the least- the temp gauge never broke the half-way mark.

Start them early.

The Super Adventure carries a full complement of electronics: lean-sensitive traction control which is mode settable, ABS, again adjustable for road conditions, suspension pre-load and dampening controls, and the aforementioned power settings. The bike has all the bells and whistles. And that is my only concern. I am a bit of a Luddite and while I appreciate modern conveniences, I worry about their service life, particularly ten years down the road when the new-bike smell has worn off. The upside is much of this electronic wizardry is automotive sourced and well-proven in millions of miles of four-wheel applications.

Super Motards

KTM has a growing dealer network, another consideration. Alaska and Canadian provinces sport at least one dealer. But critically, the shops understand that KTM owners buy their machines to ride. Accordingly, they carry consumables like tires and brake pads- parts that can make or break an adventure. With a set of D.O.T. knobbies I can just picture myself ripping up the Canol Road in the Yukon, exhaust bellowing though the wilderness with a fuel supply sufficient to make the 288 mile round trip. Am I ready to pull the trigger and buy? I made it clear that my time-frame is 18 to 24 months out, but this machine sparks my imagination like few others. I’ll be thinking about it a lot.





cowboys and steel horses

Steel Cowboy

I avoid taking long rides to hot places in August for obvious reasons. This year though, my goal is to do an article on north central Kansas from the Missouri to Colorado border. Since the Christian Motorcyclists Association state rally was slated for Hutchinson, pretty much in the center of the state, I figured I could meet with some like-mined riders and incorporate it into the story. It just happened to be in August.

To bone up on local lore, I’ve been reading a book, Prairy Erth, by William Least Heat-Moon, one of my favorite travel authors. As only he can do, Heat-Moon constructed a 500 plus page narrative based on one just county in Kansas, Chase. Cool, Chase county lies in the heart of another place I wanted to ride and write about, the Flint Hills. This is process of how I construct my riding stories; connecting bits of random ideas that pop into my head. Hopefully a salable piece emerges at the end.

So, I jumped on the Strom early yesterday morning and headed southwest on U.S. 50/ I-35. Like Heat-Moon, I too eschew the super slab; they’re useful to digest vast chunks of real estate, but lack character. Trouble is, many fine old routes like U.S. 50 are being supplanted by them.

U.S. 50

I-35 turns into a toll road at Emporia, another reason to exit. Emporia also marks the entrance into the Flint Hills. I didn’t have an itinerary, but Chase County courthouse where Heat-Moon did much of his research was a must-stop. Other than that I just rode. All told, my loop of the hills covered from Eldorado in the south, to Council Grove in the north. Tally for the day was just under 400 miles, not particularly ambitious, but given it was in the upper nineties, challenging nonetheless.

Chase Count, Kansas Courthouse

Coincidentally, the previous evening I read a list of ways to make hot weather riding safer and more enjoyable, ironically on the Rider Magazine website. Of course covering all skin was a no-brainer; my Aerostich Darien suit handles that well, with vents that pass a lot of air for cooling. I also froze a couple of bottles of Gatorade and stashed them next to the camera to remind myself to hydrate. I figured I was good to go. The suggestion I didn’t heed and should have: avoid riding during the hottest part of the day. And if you do feel heat stress coming on, get to a cool place. On a bike, that last one can save you life.

Along K-177 in the Flint Hills

Trouble is many people don’t recognize heat stress. The steel mill where I work constantly hammers away at “shared vigilance,” looking out for your co-worker under hot conditions, something my preferred ride-alone mode doesn’t allow for.

So, when I saw a sign advertising the Hays House in Council Grove, Kansas, an establishment dating from 1857 and located right on the old Sante Fe Trail to boot, I knew I had to check it out. That I wasn’t hungry didn’t enter into my thinking. After I located the place, I stumbled into a cool in more ways than one, throwback to another century. When the server asked what I’d like to drink, I forced out a barely audible “iced tea.” After four or five of them I was revived enough to take a tour of what has served as a restaurant, bar, town hall, church, hotel and  host of other functions over the years. General Custer and Billy the Kid were once customers at the bar in the lower level. Lots of story material to work with.

Hays House, Council Grove, Kansas

This whole deal has got me thinking about the connection modern motor cycle riders have with horsemen from another era. In my mind’s eye, it’s not hard to see a lone cowboy strung out from a long day on the Sante Fe Trail tying his mount up, maybe to the same hitching post I parked the Strom in front of. I like that image.