You may not know it, but KTM has considerable experience producing thrilling, hard-hitting road motorcycles. Through clever engineering, and attention to detail, the Austrian firm has developed visceral, high-performance street bikes with its Duke platform. And the revamped and V-Twin powered 1290 Super Duke R ABS ($16,999) is KTM’s most intense example to date.
Every few years the Orange Brigade elevate the bar in the styling department, and this fresh-faced Duke is no different. Although some would say it’s a bit over the top now, the new aggressively styled Duke sports a bold template for future designs.
Behind the controls the KTM has a considerably higher seating position than the Monster with its saddle measuring 32.9 inches—two inches more than the Bologna-built machine (with the low seat height option). This gives it a more top-heavy dirt bike style feel, though not quite that extreme. Below the waist the Duke isn’t as cramped as the Monster and its handlebar offers a more relaxed bend.
(Above) The KTM proved the clear winner in the power contest. Although it has a 500 rpm shorter rev ceiling (9900 rpm), the Duke’s 65-degree LC8 Twin belts out more torque and horsepower than the Monster, everywhere. (Center) During the braking test, it’s clear that KTM has some work to do in the electronics department with it recording a 16.4 foot longer stopping distance with ABS-enabled. (Bottom) The Duke offers three different engine power maps (Rain, Street, and Sport) that can be selected to reign in those ponies and make for a less intimidating ride.
The KTM feels light between the rider’s legs, so it was a surprise to discover it weighs in a few pounds heavier than the Ducati at 438 pounds. Dip the KTM into turns and it responds immediately, feeling more nimble than the Ducati – a great compliment to the Duke rather than a dig on the superb-handling Monster. Despite having a 1.2 inch shorter wheelbase, the Duke remains stable at speed during fast-paced rides on the canyon or track.
Off the dealership floor, the KTM’s suspension is better set-up than the Ducati. In stock form it has a springy feeling, but slowing down the fork and shock calms the chassis and makes for a more forgiving ride. We are especially fond of the handy red compression adjustment knobs atop each fork leg that allows for easy damping tuning, even while riding. Other clever touches include the shock’s off-road style plastic screw-cam preload collar that makes for easier adjustment. Curiously, the WP fork doesn’t offer spring preload adjustment, however it wasn’t a deal breaker—even during banzai track riding escapades. What was, however, is the OE-fitted Dunlop SportSmart 2 tires, which when compared to the Pirelli Diablo Corsa IIs came up short in terms of both grip and feel.
On the road the Super D delivers a highly agreeable ride for a sport-oriented motorcycle and is more adept at soaking up potholes and rough pavement than the Ducati. Factor in its more accommodating ergonomics and it easily becomes the more comfortable mount on longer trips. Though, to be fair, the engine does transfer more vibration from the controls in contrast to the smooth-running Monster.
Like the Ducati, the orange bike gets a pair of racing-grade M50 Brembo monobloc calipers. But they pinch 10mm smaller discs (320mm). Pull back on the lever and the front anchors offer sharp performance and feel almost identical to the Monster’s in terms of stopping sensation. Although not as strong as we’d like, the rear brake was marginally more responsive than the Monster’s back brake set-up.
During the braking test, it’s clear that KTM has some work to do in the electronics department with it recording a 16.4 foot longer stopping distance with ABS-enabled. Disengage it, and its stopping distance is reduced to 115.9 feet—however, it still couldn’t match the Ducati’s ABS-enabled (Level 1) 110.8 feet measurement. We noted that the KTM’s ABS cycles earlier and is more forceful in application compared to the more transparent engagement of the red bike.
Compression: 3 (turns out)
Low-Speed Compression: 9
High-Speed Compression: 1.0
Power Mode: Sport
Strapped on the dyno the KTM proved the clear winner in the power contest. Although it has a 500 rpm shorter rev ceiling (9900 rpm), the Duke’s 65-degree LC8 Twin belts out more torque and horsepower than the Monster, everywhere. When compared peak-to-peak, the orange machine cranks out over 10 lb-ft more torque (92.69 lb-ft) and 21.61 more ponies (149.94 hp) than its Italian counterpart.
(Above) KTM has considerable experience producing thrilling, hard-hitting road motorcycles. The 1290 Super Duke R ABS ($16,999) is KTM’s most intense example to date. (Center) Behind the controls the KTM has a considerably higher seating position than the Monster with its saddle measuring 32.9 inches—two inches more than the Bologna-built machine (with the low seat height option). (Bottom) In the Sport setting the KTM’s TC certainly isn’t a fail-safe with it allowing for considerable power slides during fast-paced full-throttle maneuvers off corners.
And it sounds more powerful behind the handlebar too, as the KTM sounds meaner and more pleasing to the ear compared to the tinny exhaust note of the Ducati. Surprisingly, the KTM’s exhaust is also less-likely to attract un-wanted attention, emitting seven fewer decibels at half of its maximum rpm (4950).
“The power on the KTM is super aggressive,” says Abbott. “It is better suited to more skilled riders. Somebody that’s new to street bikes—this isn’t a bike I’d recommend. It has a strong hit off the bottom, it revved really fast, it basically requires a lot of attention from the rider.”
Thankfully, the Duke offers three different engine power maps (Rain, Street, and Sport) that can be selected to reign in those ponies and make for a less intimidating ride. Like the Ducati, switching between each map is simple and can be accomplished while riding. Each map offers excellent calibration and will be welcome features based on road conditions and rider preference. Complementing the power modes is a wheel speed-sensor-enabled traction control system. And considering how much torque the Duke has on tap combined with the mediocre grip of its European-sourced Dunlop shoes, it needs the TC.
In the Sport setting the KTM’s TC certainly isn’t a fail-safe. While it gives the rider more leeway than the Ducati’s electronics (in its least-restrictive Level 1 setting), it’s still very possible to fully break rear wheel traction. On the track it functioned well allowing the rider to dial-in full throttle and drift the rear end of the motorcycle off turns. But on the street it didn’t do enough to quell the engine’s hard-hitting powerband.
Considering its shorter wheelbase and more top-heavy chassis, the Super Duke was more difficult to launch at the drag strip with it wheeling aggressively in the first three gears. Yet it still outpaced the Monster to 60 mph in a time of 3.47 seconds. It blitzed it by an even higher margin through the quarter mile in a time of 10.86 seconds at 134.6 mph. That’s nearly 0.5 second quicker with a 7 mph faster trap speed than the red bike.
- Gobs of torque, hard hitting powerband
- Suspension offers good compromise between sport and comfort
- Sounds great, but not overly noisy
- Feels a little top heavy
- Could have a wider range of traction control settings
- ABS calibration needs work
All that extra muscle adds up at the pump with the KTM registering a 34.4 mpg average, 1.2 mpg less than the 103cc smaller Ducati. But since it has a slightly larger fuel capacity the bikes were even in range (163 miles).
Top scores in each of the 10 subjective rider scored categories propelled the Super Duke to the top of the scorecard. Not only is it wicked fast, it proved to be the most comfortable and although its electronics don’t have the versatility of the Monster they still function well and help the rider explore its borderline absurd levels of performance in a more manageable way.