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.