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2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Review

Monday, February 10, 2014
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2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Review Video
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The 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is one nasty machine. See the beast in action in the 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R video.
Nasty – for most people the word is negative by definition, but for us motorheads it’s a complimentary adjective and crossed my lips with a smile when I first saw KTM’s newest flag ship Duke. Just looking at the 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R you know it is going to be one hell of ride. The sharp angles and aggressive stance more than hint at the potential for absolute destruction of your driver’s license and insurance rates. Even sitting still it is adrenaline distilled, and after sampling the new KTM we can attest that it really is as nasty as it looks. But the Super Duke R is so much more.

The 1290 Super Duke R is the third generation of KTM’s big bore naked bike, with a massive jump up from 990 to 1301cc. Team Orange engineers have boosted the iconic 75-degree V-Twin LC8 powerplant to its largest displacement yet by increasing the stoke by 2mm and the bore by 3mm. inside the larger cylinders new forged F1-type pistons are 47 grams lighter than those in the RC8 superbike. DLC-coated cam followers reduce friction in the redesigned DOHC heads. Twin sparkplugs in each reshaped combustion chamber are fired independently for a smoother and more efficient burn. On the MotoUSA Dyno the Duke belted out an impressive 150.7 rear-wheel horsepower and 92.4 lb-ft of torque; impressive numbers for a naked bike for sure. On the pavement, power gains resulted in a 11.10 second quarter-mile at 134 mph.


Whacking the throttle to the stop is nothing short of exhilarating with a smack of arm–stretching power that comes on strong right of the bottom and builds before tapering off as the 10,500 rpm approaches. This engine is defined by its broad torque spread that smashes the 190mm Dunlop SportSmart 2 rear into the pavement. Conversely, the front tire rises from the pavement with just a twist even in fourth gear. This massive LC8 is the best yet from KTM, hands down.

Tempering the massive on-tap power is KTM’s lean-sensitive MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) system. The Keihin ride-by-wire throttle butterflies are adjusted for the optimum traction depending on whether Race, Sport or Rain is selected. The system is seamless and well sorted. Even in Race mode the level of control and safety is impressive without interfering with the drive out of corners. Only on the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway’s track were we able to get the rear end to break loose and even then it was controlled and predictable. Sport mode mellows the hit out a bit more, but is more than enough to put a smile on your face and Rain keeps everything under control for wet or slippery pavement. In my opinion, it’s one of the best TC systems out there. KTM has got it right the first time around. Now we can’t wait until it migrates onto the RC8 superbike.


Changing the MTC modes is fairly straightforward via a four-way thumb control on the left handlebar. The only gripe I have is that it takes a long press of the button while stopped to disable the MTC when the mood for 12 o’clock wheelies strike and the system reverts to an on position when you turn off the engine. It’s a nice safety measure, though it did get tiresome when repeatedly swapping bikes for our photo shoot. For the average rider, however, it should not be an annoyance.

The Super Duke R also has a nicely sorted ABS system which is calibrated to the selected riding mode. There is also the option to turn the ABS off and a supermoto setting that allows rear wheel slides while keeping the front ABS active. For me this is the most fun and natural feeling set up. No matter the selection, the ABS is not too intrusive and when it is needed reacts seamlessly and without an awkward kick to the brake lever or pedal. Once again KTM has got it right with its electronic aid, and has impressed this serial hater of all things ABS.

Braking power from the Brembo M50 monbloc front calipers and 320mm rotors is ridiculously strong and to be honest was a bit startling at first. The initial bite is strong and lever effort is light. One finger braking is all that is needed even on the racetrack. The rear pedal is also well calibrated and delivers excellent feel from the four piston caliper and 240mm rotor. In a 60-0 mph brake test the 1290 Super Duke R came to a stop in 99.1 feet without the aid of ABS. Distance increased to 138.5 feet with ABS. 


KTM designed the 1290 Super Duke R’s chrome molybdenum tubular frame to be exceptionally light and rigid while also being balanced. A singlesided swingarm graces the rear with a fully adjustable WP shock handling the damping duties. Upfront, a WP upside-down fork is fully adjustable with the left fork controlling the compression damping while the right handles rebound. The wheelbase is a longish 58.3 inches for stability.

On the track or the street, handling is superb. Turn is as you would expect from a naked or standard bike – slightly slower than a full-on sportbike but not sluggish. Once in the corner the Duke is stable and locked in and finishes the corner with light feel. Only on the racetrack do you feel the size of the Duke after getting too greedy on the brakes and running it in deep. For the track we added a turn of preload to the rear shock to quicken the front-end response slightly and cranked up the low-speed compression five clicks, turned in the high-speed compression a half-turn and slowed the rebound by six clicks. On the street the stock settings worked well, soaking up pavement imperfections while still affording a sporty ride.

The only low point of the Super Duke R is the transmission. Gearing is slightly off, being too tall especially in sixth where at 80 mph the engine lumps along at 4000 rpm with a load of vibration. Adding a couple of teeth to the rear sprocket would be the first, and probably only, change I would make. Gear shifting is slightly notchy through the Dukes adjustable lever linkage, and we experienced false neutrals a handful of times. A percentage could be blamed on lazy footwork, but not all. The slipper clutch is the highlight of the drivetrain, keeping the rear wheel in line and under control in hard downshifts and while on the brakes.

Ergonomics are top notch with a roomy rider’s triangle. The reach to the pegs from the 32.9-inch high seat is relaxed enough for an all-day rider but is sporty enough for spirited shredding. The bars are straight and wide giving loads of rider input into the front wheel and make for a comfortable and slightly forward stance. On the road the lack of a windscreen does put strain on the rider at highways speed, but hey it’s a naked bike and that is part of the experience.

The 1290 Super Duke R is the nastiest thing in the KTM’s stable and it is also the best ever. Just a few months ago in the 2013 KTM 1190 Adventure First Ride I claimed it was the best street-going motorcycle KTM had ever produced, that assessment is now incorrect. The Super Duke R is the best street machine ever developed by the Austrian marque thanks to an intoxication engine, rock solid handling and top notch electronic rider aids.

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2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specs
Keihin ride-by-wire throttle butterflies are adjusted for the optimum traction  whatever the MTC setting.
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 1301cc 75-degree V-Twin
Bore x Stroke: 108mm x 71mm
Primary Gear Ratio: 40:79
Secondary Gear Ratio: 17:38
Clutch: PASC anti-hopping/hydraulically operated
Ignition: Electronic ignition system with digital ignition timing adjustment
Frame: Chrome molybdenum tubular steel frame, powder-coated
Front Suspension: WP Suspension upside down fork
Rear Suspension: WP Suspension monoshock
Front Travel: 4.92 inches
Rear Travel: 6.14 inches
Front Brake: 320mm twin-disc, radially mounted Brembo four-piston caliper 
Rear Brake: 240mm single disc, Brembo two-piston caliper
Final Drive: Chain, 5/8 x 5/16 X-Ring 
Steering Head Angle: 65.1-degrees
Wheelbase: 58.34 inches
Ground Clearance: 5.5 inches
Seat Height: 32.9 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.75 gallons
Weight w/Fuel: 470??? pounds
Quarter Mile: 11.10 @ 134 mph
Braking 60-0: 99.1 feet w/o ABS; 135.5 w/ABS
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Justin Dawes   May 21, 2014 08:29 AM
@bootworks - The lean-sensitive TC is found both on the 1190 Adventure and 1290 Super Duke. HOWEVER the 1190 Adventure is now equipped with lean-sensitive ABS, which the SD does not have.
bootworks   May 21, 2014 08:21 AM
"Tempering the massive on-tap power is KTM’s lean-sensitive MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) system." Is this correct? I was under the impression this was to be found only on the new 1190 Adventure...
motousa_adam   April 16, 2014 08:13 PM
@inthemachine - the question marks are due to an formatting error in the article manager program. As far as the time goes the Super Duke is a little challenging to launch. It has a solid clutch, but its engine has so much torque that it wheelies pretty aggressively in the first three gears. Also since it doesn't have a front fairing it is more susceptible to aero drag. I think 11.10 is a pretty quick time for a naked bike. Adam
inthemachine   April 12, 2014 04:17 PM
@motousa_adam Hey Adam not sure if you'll even see this post but I was wondering about some of your numbers in the test. First why is the wet weight of the bike list as 470 with question marks? Second was 11.1 the best quarter mile time this bike could actually post? That seems very slow for a bike with 150 hp at the wheel and plenty of torque. Anyways I was hoping you could sort that out for me, thanks.
motousa_adam   February 17, 2014 09:14 PM
I haven't used the latest SportSmart but I know the previous generation SportSmart was inferior to the Q2. The SportSmart is designed for U.K. roads and has design compromises to meet the demands of the pavement surfaces.
Justin Dawes   February 16, 2014 02:44 PM
h7gixxergary - It's hard to say as I have yet to ride the Q3 and Adam only rode the Duke for the accel and decel tests. I will say the SportSmart2 is a damn fine tire and worked great on the track and the street. The rear did begin to wear quickly as the day went on at the track, but we were running a very low pressure of 28psi cold. I would assume the SportSmart will wear longer than a Q3. I would have no problem running the SS2 stock tires until they wore out, then the change to a Q3 would be a good option as the SS2 will only be sold in the US through KTM.
h7gixxergary   February 15, 2014 08:43 AM
Hey Adam or Justin, Will you answer my question about the new Dunlop SportSmart 2 tires on the SDR? Are they as good, better or not as good as the Dunlop Q3? All the SDR reviews I have read say they are a good tire that works well with the bike but they don't say anything about how they compare to the Q3, which IMO is the best street AND track tire available. Thank you for your input and info.
motousa_adam   February 14, 2014 06:52 PM
Yes that stopping distance is correct and quite a feat indeed. Speaking of which: The BMW S1000RR sportbike actually had a shorter stopping distance in this a test from '12 >>> http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/9/12926/Motorcycle-Article/2012-Hypersport-Motorcycle-Shootout-Conclusion.aspx
Physics   February 13, 2014 05:29 PM
99 feet? That is by far the shortest stopping distance I've ever seen reported for a motorcycle. Are you sure that's correct? That's an elite stopping distance from 60 mph for sportscars and supercars...
AM   February 13, 2014 01:39 PM
@huff955 - It is a dry sump motor and pressure lubrication with 3 Eaton pumps and that's where the oil stays. Some bikes put it on the frame like the Suzuki DRZ 400. There is a window on the left side to check oil level. There you have it.
h7gixxergary   February 12, 2014 09:10 PM
KTM says these new Dunlop SportSmart 2 tires were specifically designed/made for the 1290 SDR. How do the tires compare to the Dunlop Q3? Are they just as good on the street and track?
Huff955   February 12, 2014 12:49 PM
Can someone tell me what the gray case directly behind the front wheel is on the front of the engine... And why does that bother me so much?? Argh..
bijdub   February 11, 2014 09:51 PM
I own one of this beast in Dubai and I can vouch that it is just wild fun! I quiet agree with this review as I had ridden on track and winding roads of UAE. it works just great and the torque will leave everything behind you disappear. I haven't had the false neutral issue yet but it is just two weeks since I have been riding the 1290. It is thoroughly enjoyable.
Piglet2010   February 11, 2014 04:29 PM
There is something wrong with the ABS calibration (whether this particular bike, or the 1290 SD in general) for the stopping distances to increase so dramatically.
jet057   February 11, 2014 01:04 PM
IMO i would wait 2 or 4 year's before i would purchase one.In this time the gremlin's will be caught and removed w/ new tech. idea's...Dude i wanna ride this bitch...lol
motousa_adam   February 11, 2014 11:18 AM
@NevadaDave - Yes, that is correct. The Super Duke achieved a 39.8% shorter stopping distance with ABS manually disabled (ABS was set to its most sporty setting). I have yet to use any ABS system that can achieve a shorter stopping distance than what I can do manually on dry pavement. Here is why: This test is conducted from a ground speed of 60 mph in the lowest running gear possible (usually second gear but sometimes first, on very fast sportbikes). When that speed is reached I apply both the front and rear brake immediately as hard as I can. The electronics then work their magic, ensuring that both wheels do not lock-up, and an effortless stop is achieved every time with ABS enabled. I then repeat the test with ABS manually disabled. Upon reaching 60 mph I apply both brakes as hard as I can just unto the point of lock-up. Being able to flex the tire and explore the full power of the machine’s brakes is why the 39.8% shorter distance you see here. This demonstrates that it is possible to net a shorter stopping distance manually on dry pavement. Of course, if there are rocks, or the pavement is wet, ABS could be superior. We would love to test this but due to time and cost restraints it is not possible. So for now it is only 60mph- 0 mph simulated panic stop on dry asphalt. I hope that helps explain things for you. Adam
NevadaDave   February 11, 2014 09:46 AM
" In a 60-0 mph brake test the 1290 Super Duke R came to a stop in 99.1 feet without the aid of ABS. Distance increased to 138.5 feet with ABS." There seems to be something wrong here - using ABS increased the stopping distance by almost 40%?! That seems to be a very large discrepancy. I took the time to read some online articles, and the conclusions were somewhat ambiguous as far as which (ABS or non-ABS) resulted in the shortest stopping distance, but in general, there was not the huge difference in stopping distance between the two modes. Is it possible that the ABS on the Duke was not set up properly? If the combination of braking power and tire grip were such that the bike could pull off a 99.1 foot 60-0 distance (about 1.2 G deceleration - hang onto your eyeballs!) without, I'm assuming, locking up the front wheel, I would think that the ABS should be able to come pretty darn close to that, rather than the much weaker .86G.
buzzdsm   February 11, 2014 04:10 AM
And the price is......
Phatcow   February 10, 2014 08:35 PM
@AM, I have a 2012 RC8R, false neutrals have actually plagued me as well.. it may be the one gremlin that haunts KTM
MCUSA Bart   February 10, 2014 03:31 PM
AM, sorry for the typo - it is 4000 rpm not 400.
AM   February 10, 2014 03:25 PM
Justin, this is the first time I am reading about hitting false neutral. Could this be an one off? Did KTM say anything in regards to this? Any trouble on the street too, or was the problem just at the track on heavy loads? You said: in sixth where at 80 mph the engine lumps along at 400 rpm. Umbelievable!! Really? 400 rpm?? That's just too tall gearing period. Sixth is just of no use anywhere but at the track.
AM   February 10, 2014 02:12 PM
Justin, that's the first time I read something regarding false neutrals on transmission on this bike. Could it be a one off??? What did KTM say in regards to this?? Any shifting problems on the street? What's the vibration like when riding on the street? 400 rpm in sixth gear @80 mph??? That's just too tall gearing. It will definitely need a bigger rear sprocket.