Motorcycles

Review: KTM 1190 Adventure R – a giant, 148-horsepower superbike for the dirt

KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true, 148-horsepower, dirt road superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true, 148-horsepower, dirt road superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true dirt superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true dirt superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: crash guards and bark busters standard fitment (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: crash guards and bark busters standard fitment (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: adjustable screen (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: adjustable screen (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: lean angle sensitive ABS and traction control standard (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: lean angle sensitive ABS and traction control standard (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true superbike for the dirt (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true superbike for the dirt (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: simple but effective dash (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: simple but effective dash (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
Couldn't catch the emu encounter on camera, but I did find a footprint! (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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Couldn't catch the emu encounter on camera, but I did find a footprint! (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: perhaps the most dirt-focused of the adventure bikes (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: perhaps the most dirt-focused of the adventure bikes (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: at home when the road turns to gravel (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: at home when the road turns to gravel (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
This view is reserved for those that can handle gravel roads (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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This view is reserved for those that can handle gravel roads (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a fine go-anywhere long-distance tourer (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a fine go-anywhere long-distance tourer (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: all-day comfort, if a little hot between the thighs (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: all-day comfort, if a little hot between the thighs (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true superbike for the dirt (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true superbike for the dirt (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: 23-litre fuel tank gives you close to a massive 500km freeway range (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: 23-litre fuel tank gives you close to a massive 500km freeway range (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: strong headlight and LED running lights (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: strong headlight and LED running lights (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: aggressive rally styling (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: aggressive rally styling (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: crash protection bars are a must on a bike this tall and heavy (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: crash protection bars are a must on a bike this tall and heavy (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: comes standard with Continental TKC-80 "twinduro" tyres. The bike is biased heavily towards dirt riding (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: comes standard with Continental TKC-80 "twinduro" tyres. The bike is biased heavily towards dirt riding (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: left thumbswitches control a slightly clunky menu system (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: left thumbswitches control a slightly clunky menu system (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a ton of information gives you plenty of opportunities to do mental maths while touring (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a ton of information gives you plenty of opportunities to do mental maths while touring (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: WP suspension is always top notch (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: WP suspension is always top notch (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: chunky rack can be fitted with a touring top box (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: chunky rack can be fitted with a touring top box (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: bash plate is standard(Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: bash plate is standard(Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R in the hands of a deeply uncomfortable rider (Photo: Gizmag/Cheng Aleng)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R in the hands of a deeply uncomfortable rider (Photo: Gizmag/Cheng Aleng)
KTM Adventure 1190 R in the hands of a deeply uncomfortable rider (Photo: Gizmag/Cheng Aleng)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R in the hands of a deeply uncomfortable rider (Photo: Gizmag/Cheng Aleng)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: emergency braking is possible on loose surfaces with the ABS system (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: emergency braking is possible on loose surfaces with the ABS system (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true, 148-horsepower, dirt road superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true, 148-horsepower, dirt road superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R stopped on a particularly scenic part of the Barry Way, VIC (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
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KTM Adventure 1190 R stopped on a particularly scenic part of the Barry Way, VIC (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

KTM bills the 2015 1190 Adventure R as both "the world's safest motorcycle" and "without doubt the twin-cylinder enduro with the greatest offroad ability." Backing up the first claim is one of the first lean-angle sensitive Cornering ABS systems to hit the market, and backing up the second is a pair of big, tubeless spoked rims with aggressively knobby tyres on. In the right hands, this thing is a dune-destroying cross-continental touring weapon, a true superbike for the dirt. Loz Blain's hands are not the right hands; he's spent precious little time on the dirt – but he's always up for an Adventure...

Review KTM Adventure1190 R

This review came as a bit of a surprise to me. The plan was to finish 2014 by riding what I'd heard was the craziest thing on two wheels: the KTM Super Duke 1290 R. The BMW S1000R scared several different shades of bubbling dung into my leathers earlier this year, and I'd heard tales of hardened bike journos jumping off the KTM weak-kneed with terror and hopping on the BMW to calm their nerves a touch. The Super Duke R was clearly a bike I needed to experience.

But due to a mix-up between me and Team Orange, a brand spanking new, zero kilometer 1190 Adventure R rolled up instead. I was disappointed for about four seconds before realizing here lay an opportunity to ride something way outside my comfort zone.

KTM Adventure 1190 R: all-day comfort, if a little hot between the thighs (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: all-day comfort, if a little hot between the thighs (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

I've been getting a little narrow in my focus lately – sportsbikes and tourers have been dropping off the list a bit in favor of big-bore naked hooligan machines, because that's where I get my jollies. My entire experience of adventure riding consisted of maybe a dozen times when I'd accidentally pointed a big-bore naked hooligan machine down the wrong road and ended up on dirt.

But I've watched as much Ewan and Charlie as the next guy. I've dreamed of mountaintop goat tracks and river crossings, of pacing myself against wildlife, of cooking eggs on hot engine casings and killing my own meat, of staring into a sunset with a grubby face, of running naked and wild-eyed in the scrub, of getting myself a two-wheeled four wheel drive and suddenly unlocking a vast network of tracks I never knew existed in between the twisty roads I love, each promising new degrees of manly adventure and hearty campfire laughter.

An Adventure had landed in my lap, so by gum an adventure it would be.

KTM Adventure 1190 R stopped on a particularly scenic part of the Barry Way, VIC (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R stopped on a particularly scenic part of the Barry Way, VIC (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

The Adventure in question is a 2015-model 1190 R. After all, if you're going to get into dirt riding, you might as well start out on a 217-kg (478-lb), 148-horsepower, twin-cylinder orange-blooded widow maker. This bike and I share a lot in common – we're both oriented toward the dirty end of the scale. For the KTM, that manifests in big spoked tubeless rims with dune-hungry knobby tires and a massive 21-inch front wheel. For myself, it mainly manifests in juvenile fart jokes.

It's a giant bike. At nearly 6 foot tall, I have to think twice about where I put a foot down. The seat height is 890 mm, to give it a bit of clearance in the rough stuff and allow extended suspension travel of 220 mm front and rear. It rides a good inch higher than its more road-focused non-R brother, which is a big old boofer in its own right.

I fired it up and took it out for its first ever ride. I figure it's quite a privilege to break a bike in, so I plonked it immediately in Sport mode, turned off the traction control and chucked a welcome wheelie before it had even turned its first corner.

The LC8 superbike engine is just a pearler. 1195cc worth of Austrian v-twin makes a rowdy 148 horsepower, but with a creamy flexibility that gives you multiple gear options for most situations. With the knobby tires on, anywhere on the shouty side of the tacho will get the rear tire spinning up on corner exits on or off the road, or the traction control light flashing an angry red at you as it grips and goes. In fact, the tire even spins up in 100-horsepower "off-road" mode at about 50 percent throttle, so you're probably gonna need to put stickier road tires on to get the most out of the engine.

KTM Adventure 1190 R: comes standard with Continental TKC-80 "twinduro" tyres. The bike is biased heavily towards dirt riding (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: comes standard with Continental TKC-80 "twinduro" tyres. The bike is biased heavily towards dirt riding (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

On the tarmac, the seating position is lovely, the motor is extraordinary and progress is rapid. It feels like a very civilized way to eat miles. Mind you, to a road rider who's used to race-profile sticky rubber, it feels odd to turn – 21 inches at the front and 19 inches at the rear is a big old pair of gyroscopes you're trying to tilt at speed, and you sure can feel them resisting your steering efforts.

The knobby tires dip you into the turn a little quicker than you asked for, and at higher lean angles you swear you can feel the little knobs of rubber twisting to pull you around. I can certainly see how a road rubber-shod Adventure 1190 standard with the 19-inch front wheel would give me a more secure feeling for fast road riding, but you can put different rubber on the R if that's your bag, and I found myself having a fair bit of fun on the street regardless.

I met another Adventure R rider in my travels at one point, who told me the knobbies and big wheels didn't slow him down at all on the road. I chose to take this as meaning he wasn't very quick to begin with, to protect my fragile ego.

KTM Adventure 1190 R: crash protection bars are a must on a bike this tall and heavy (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: crash protection bars are a must on a bike this tall and heavy (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

My only real complaint for road riding is that it runs hot enough to be a real drag below freeway speeds in hot weather. I was thankful I didn't have to commute on this one in the baking Aussie summer.

When the bitumen runs out … Well, that's what this bike lives for, but I was never going to push its limits. I was acutely aware at all times of my rubbish off-road abilities and the price tag of my gleaming, borrowed steed. Still, I sacked up and gave it a red hot go.

It took me a little time to get used to the feeling of both wheels slithering and sliding beneath me, but before too long I found myself blasting down loose, lightly rutted gravel roads well. Switching between riding modes is a fiddly job on the KTM, but once in Offroad mode, traction control allows your rear wheel to spin exactly twice as fast as the front and no more before it intervenes. What that means in practice is that an unskilled moron like myself can whack the throttle open on a corner exit and spin the back wheel up a bit without worrying that it's going to try to overtake the front. It builds a lovely illusion that almost convinced me I knew what I was doing, but the flashing red light on the dashboard winked the truth at me.

KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true dirt superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a true dirt superbike (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

And of course, any delusions of adequacy went out the window when things became steep or twisty or deeply rutted or muddy or wet or poorly cambered. In these instances I found it much easier to make progress standing up – but the ergonomics weren't quite right. I think I'd want higher bars for a more relaxed upper body, and putting weight over the front was tougher than it should've been due to the wide tank forcing my legs apart. I might consider bigger footpegs if I was going to do a lot of standing up. Then again, I might also consider wearing offroad-friendly riding gear instead of race boots and road leathers, complete with vastly pointless knee sliders.

Thighs beginning to burn, I pressed further onward, picking out a narrow single trail with some steeper sections, the odd broken log and some small jumps. Here I really appreciated the long-travel WP suspension. I've never ridden a KTM whose suspension I haven't loved; WP is a class act. I got some very mild air on this 217 kg behemoth at one point, and our smooth landing did nothing to discourage me from trying it again. I puckered my fundament and gassed it through several meters' worth of mud puddle I couldn't see the bottom of, and although the whole contraption went a foot sideways, it pulled us through as sure as a freight train. Well, it was sure in hindsight, anyway.

KTM Adventure 1190 R: emergency braking is possible on loose surfaces with the ABS system (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: emergency braking is possible on loose surfaces with the ABS system (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

On the slow end of the scale, I was amazed how compliant the engine remained at low revs. At one point, negotiating a tight bit of trail, I took it down near walking pace in second without pulling the beautifully light clutch in. When it started chugging a bit, I dropped a gear only to glance at the dash and discover I'd actually been in third. That would simply never happen on, for example, a Ducati Multistrada. This kind of flexibility is part of the magic that takes a raging off-road superbike and makes it a genuinely friendly experience for an inexperienced, fearful traction junkie like myself.

Apart from the spot-on fuel mapping and power curve, the other major part of the magic is the electronics. The Adventure 1190 R is a flagship for all of Bosch's top shelf safety systems. The mode-sensitive traction control is so good you can hardly tell it's operating, on or off the road. You're just catapulting out of your corner extremely quickly, with only the red light to let you know it's not your godlike throttle skills keeping everything in line.

KTM Adventure 1190 R: a ton of information gives you plenty of opportunities to do mental maths while touring (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
KTM Adventure 1190 R: a ton of information gives you plenty of opportunities to do mental maths while touring (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

For 2015, the mode-sensitive braking system now offers cornering ABS, or the ability to mash your brake lever like a chimpanzee even when you're fully leaned over. The Bosch system smoothly applies the amount of braking it calculates your tires can handle, bringing you to a safe stop without having to stand your bike up and run wide. Did I test this system by mashing the brake lever like a chimpanzee while fully leaned over? Hell no. I'm a fool, but not a suicidal fool. The ABS did however save my trembling bacon several times in a straight line on the loose stuff, and that's more than enough ABS testing for my pay grade.

There's other luxuries too, like tire pressure monitors, a tank that's good for almost 500 km (311 mi) of freeway riding and a sturdy rack and pannier mounts, which add to the overall feeling of class and competence this machine exudes. Even the underseat tool kit is special – it's the best I've ever seen on a motorcycle bar none.

All adventure bikes must at some point be compared with the BMW R1200GS Adventure, the boxer-bellied giant that kicked this whole category into second gear. The KTM is more than 40 kg lighter and its RC8-derived engine puts up a good 23 peak horsepower more than the GS. With just a 19-inch front wheel and road-focused tires, the BMW is probably the superior roadbike, although the non-R version of the KTM would likely leave it long behind. The 1190 Adventure R is certainly built to be king in the dirt.

At one point, I found myself punting along at a decent pace with a six-foot tall emu jogging lop-sidedly up the track in front of me. In well over a decade of riding on Australian roads, I've encountered scores of kangaroos, cows, sheep, wombats, goannas and even the odd echidna, but I can honestly say that emu was a first for me.

Couldn't catch the emu encounter on camera, but I did find a footprint! (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)
Couldn't catch the emu encounter on camera, but I did find a footprint! (Photo: Gizmag/Loz Blain)

May there be many more emus, and may there be many more bikes like this thing. Extraordinary power and acceleration, gentleman's-express levels of comfort, enough off-road capability to live out all your Dakar fantasies, but packaged and controlled in a way that's about as accessible as I could have hoped for from a colossal, 150-horsepower adventure bike. I feel my horizons broadening every time I throw a leg over it, and while it flatters my meager skills at this early point, I can also see how it might make a better rider out of me.

My interest in adventure riding is officially piqued. Once I'm finished playing with this wonderful 1200cc KTM, I suspect the missus will catch me searching the local classifieds for something smaller and older that I can fall off of with merry abandon in pursuit of some actual skills.

Check out our full video review of the KTM 1190 Adventure R.

Thanks to Kevin Doyle, KTM Australia.

9 comments
mramosc
This is just absurd; a 1190 for the dirt? really? Sad to see adventure motorcycles the same route as SUVs; getting bigger and bigger every year while getting less and less capable of any real off road. KTM: please listen to your customers: we want a 390, 450 or at most a 690 adventure, please!
canderso
What I think really needs to happen is the bikes in the 650 range like the KLR either need a better transmission to handle off road slow speeds better, or they need to adopt a derailleur type system to drop down a few teeth in the front for off road riding. Someone go patent that quick.
Craig Nowakowski
What happened to throwing a bike a round in the dirt. Ever try to man handle one of these on the trails? I owned a SMT990, great road bike, but it was supposedly for the dirt also, never got that thinking.
chidrbmt
Agree with the above,anything much over 300lbs is a poser for the dirt. The 990,with it's lower weight was better for gravel roads and some rough stuff. Gotta keep up with BMW Jones. Like the KLR for 30 years,keep it simple,relatively light & cheap. Surely Yamaha will do the same with a "dual-purpose" FJ-09 platform. All these electronics add up to $20,000 glorified toys with expensive repairs later on. The GS has always sold even though few go off pavement. The GS 80's Airhead originals were the best.
Catweazle
That thing is far too heavy for a dirt bike, sooner or later - probably sooner, the nature of dirt riding means you are going to run over yourself, and at 478 pounds that's really going to hurt!
Jay Finke
Ever drove a KX500 2 stroke ? anything bigger than that is insane, the old Yamaha 360 enduro and the Honda CR480 are nice bikes too
PaulYak
I really like the look of this bike. Many of the so called "Adventure Bikes" are very heavy looking (AND in reality). This looks almost lithe/adventurous lol. Sure it'll be a hit with touring on very rough roads, as KTM are a amazing company with great products. At least the off road machines I've owned have been superb. It's a resurgence period for motorcycles, after the lull due to world economic issues, enjoy it while we can.
Pat McSwain
I think some of you are missing the point. There are lighter/smaller enduros, always have been, still are. So why a 550lb (wet) enduro with 150HP? Who wants one? Apparently a lot of people. Yes, you can kill any Adventure bike with a KTM 300 E/XC. Nor are any of the dual sports, even the KTM 500, as capable as the 300 either, certain not the Honda/Suzuki/Kawasaki 650 Enduros, which are relatively speaking, boats. Overweight, underpowered, and crap suspensions. So, NOTHING with a license plate is going to be as good as a real off-road enduro bike. So how much dirt capability do you need? If you need a lot, you're not shopping for boats. And yes, a 300lb anything is a boat. If you don't need max speed in the dirt, how much highway aptitude do you want? Again the 500/650 enduros are terrible long distance bikes. You need something bigger. In comes the Adventure market. Heavy for dirt bikes, light for touring bikes, and not perfect at either, but perhaps adequate. Certainly not for everyone. But there isn't any bike that is for everyone.
Ktmcharlie
Disagree about mid size enduros being terrible long distance bikes, did 8,000 miles in the USA last year on my KTM 690ER and I thought it was the most comfortable adventure bike I have ever used. A few sensible mods like extra fuel tank/screen/gel seat and it was great. I could sit at 90-100MPH all day and at average American freeway speeds about 75-85 I was getting 60-70 mpg. Hard to beat that. I am 6'2" and weigh 200lbs in riding gear. A lot of comfort comes down to ergonomics rather than size and for a long legged tall bloke the seat to peg ratio results in a relaxed riding position. The screen was the standard tiny ER one but with a home made bracket setting it at the right height about 5 inches higher than standard it provided far more protection than most larger screens. Manufacturers seldom get this right, they pick style over aerodynamic function.