In a world of cookie-cutter, look-alike motorcycles, the KTM 690 Duke not only breaks the mold—it jumps up and down on it, smashing it to pieces. Visually, it’s hard to find anything wrong with the design as its engineers developed the 690 with the best aesthetic elements from every sport-motorcycling segment.
Stare at the back end and you’d think it was the latest high-end sportbike. Take a look at its tall stance and beefy suspension and you’ll start to think off-road. Then examine the front end with stacked projector light beams and its cockpit and you’ll believe its pure supermoto. If engineers could have just integrated the front turn signal stalks into the mirrors they would have achieved aesthetic perfection.
Lift the 690 Duke off its trick aluminum kickstand and you’ll be amazed by how light it feels. In fact, you’ll assume it’s more svelte than its actual 352-lb weight. Slide over the top of the motorcycle and it will trick you into thinking you’re aboard a big dirt bike.
Pop the starter button and the 654cc Single fires to life quietly, proving that a compact underslung exhaust need not be loud. Grab a hold of the thick aluminum handlebar and it is easy to be impressed with the solid feel of the motorcycle. Everything from its Magura bars and control levers to even the gas cap appear to be of Star VMax-quality and fit together as if they were pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Riders with limited dexterity will be pleased to discover that the footpegs are mounted relatively low, which works together with the handlebar and seat to provide a relaxed rider’s triangle.
Twist the throttle and the bike leaps forward with the immediacy of a V-Twin sportbike. No joke, the engine in the Duke spools up fast and has some serious steam. Another plus is how lively the engine sounds when you hammer it.
Take a look at the dyno chart and you can see that the KTM engine pumps out over 40 lb-ft of torque from just over 5000 revs. Though on paper the numbers aren’t anything special when compared directly to the power output of Aprilia’s V-Twin engine, take into consideration that the KTM weights over 100 pounds less and it make sense how the bike can accelerate with such authority from a stop.
Throughout the journey, throttle response is instantaneous without feeling too jerky. And, like the Aprilia, the KTM allows the rider to adjust fuel map settings. A switch accessed inside of the frame next to your right leg provides multiple options: Position 1 is designed to limit power production for use during rides where traction is limited, Position 2 is Sport Mode which makes the throttle more sensitive and Position 3 thru 9 is Standard Mode.
Stay on the throttle and power escalates in a ridiculously smooth manner. Right around 7000 rpm you’ll be rewarded with a peak hp output of nearly 56 horsepower. Maximum power stays online for another 800 rpm before beginning to taper off until the rev limiter shuts the engine down at 8500 rpm.
Grab an upshift and you’re right back in the game. Like the Aprilia, the KTM uses a six-speed transmission, but the one in the 690 takes performance further, offering an Adler Power Torque Clutch (APTC), which not only eliminates rear wheel chatter during aggressive downshifts, but reduces the effort required to operate the clutch. And it works great—especially on the track.
We were also surprised with just how spot-on the 690 Duke’s final drive gearing is both on the street and the track. True, first gear is on the tall side, but it doesn’t compromise the ease of launching from a dead stop. The next four gears are spaced well to help ensure that you’re always right in the meat of the engine’s power. Yet, in top gear at 60 mph, the KTM is just a tick under 4000 revs.
Unfortunately, as speed increases, so does vibration. In the city you won’t really think too much of it, but when cruising down the freeway it’s pretty hard not to get annoyed by how buzzy the cockpit is. Yet we can’t help but admire just how nimble the bike performs on the freeway. Its slim dimensions and powerful engine allow you to zip in and out of traffic with about as much thought as you’d have aboard a 1000cc Superbike.
But racking up miles down the freeway isn’t what this bike is about. It’s about shredding pavement on the tightest backroad you can find, and this is where the Duke is in its element. Hustling it back and forth through tight switchbacks is virtually effortless. And slamming the bike from side to side doesn’t do a thing to compromise its composure.
Another clear beneficial feature of its chassis is the WP suspension components. Up front, the fork offers both compression and rebound adjustability, however, there isn’t any spring preload adjustment. Conversely, the shock offers all necessary adjustments, including spring preload, separate high/low-speed compression and rebound damping. Good thing is, not only does the suspension offer a wide range of adjustment, but the clickers actually work and the chassis as a whole is responsive to individual changes.
On a side note, one of the problems we encountered during aggressive street rides was how slippery the seat is, which has you sliding to the front whenever you’re hard on the brakes and then sliding back to the tail section when on the gas—highly annoying to say the least.
Despite how low the footpegs are mounted, the KTM has loads of ground clearance. In fact, even around Grange we’d rarely ever drag hard parts. Traction from the OE Dunlop Sportmax Alpha-10 tires was also first-rate. The tires feel similar to the Qualifier and only differ in the fact that the carcass feels just a bit softer. It’s also worth noting how fast the tires wear out. We logged about 600 miles on the street with one track day and the tires have less than 50% rubber left.
Without question KTM’s Supermoto pedigree ensures the 690 Duke is going to carve up tight canyon roads, but to our surprise its chassis is equally adept at tackling faster, more sweeping corners; its composure at speed is excellent considering that it’s a supermoto-style bike. Without a doubt, in the right hands this motorcycle has the ability to really make fools out of Sunday warriors on their liter-class superbikes.
In terms of instrumentation, the KTM has a petite display that houses a swept tachometer bordered by a digital display providing speed, double trip meters and a clock. A horizontal bar graph-style fuel gauge keeps tabs on the 3.56-gallon fuel tank that gives the KTM roughly a 170-mile range. Despite the instrument cluster’s small appearance, it’s actually easy to read while riding.
The Duke only offers a single disc brake both front and rear, but braking performances are sufficient and fade-free, whether you’re blasting around the street or track. A front radial-mount four-piston Brembo caliper connected via stainless-steel brake line to the radial master cylinder offers great initial bite and feel. Though as you squeeze deeper on the lever, feel quickly dissipates even though power continues to ramp up. Conversely, the rear set-up is perfect, and when combined with the effects of the slipper-action clutch, makes hacking this bike sideways a thing of pleasure.
After spending some time in the saddle of the Duke it’s almost impossible not to be enamored with this motorcycle. Not only is it light, fast and turns on a dime, it manages to be completely stable no matter what speed you’re rolling at. It looks awesome and its craftsmanship is something you have to see and touch to believe. If you’re looking for a performance Supermoto streetbike you’ll be hard pressed to find one better than KTM’s 690 Duke.
So which bike should be in your garage? Well, that depends on the type of riding you plan on doing the most. If the majority of your riding demands a motorcycle that can easily slice through city traffic yet still deliver an acceptable ride on the interstate, the Aprilia is it. However, if you are willing to compromise everyday street ability for a motorcycle more focused when you’re hitting your favorite backroad, it’s hard to argue against the KTM. Sure it is slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for. Each part on the bike fits together like it was carved from a solid piece of metal and the sum of its parts pack a considerable punch. Its style blends the best of contemporary motorcycle design and is one of the most attractive motorcycles made today. If you’re looking for the better street-going supermoto, the KTM 690 Duke is it.