2013 KTM 690 Duke Bike Review
July 1, 2013 Posted in 2013 Bike Tests | Comments: 0
Words by Mike Pham:
I was thrilled (for obvious reasons) when I got the call to ride the new 2013 KTM 690 Duke for this review. I’ve owned a KTM LC4 powered bike before and, while the bike was fun to ride, it was not refined. That bike was called the KTM Duke II and, while the styling was ahead of its time in 2001 for a street bike, it’s version of the LC4 engine felt like it was made for a dirt bike.
I not-so-fondly remember shaking down the 405 freeway with my teeth chattering and my feet falling asleep.
Surely this couldn’t be the case with KTM’s newest street weapon right? Could KTM make a believer of me with the latest LC4 motor? I wanted to rack up some miles on KTM’s latest offering and see how it would integrate into the daily grind; for both commuting and hooliganing.
The 2013 KTM 690 Duke is 100% new for the U.S. market. It is fresh and packed with such features as twin ignition, ride by wire, ABS, and a slipper type clutch. If you don’t know what all these terms mean they basically translate to fun, better fuel economy, safer braking, and a smoother ride in the twisties.
With over 90% of the parts being new, KTM is serious about showing new and seasoned riders alike that this single cylinder is a serious contender for your garage space.
The bike is certainly a visual treat with it’s bright orange trellis frame (very Ducati-ish) contrasting with the all black bodywork (not Ducati-ish at all). The bike looks very angular and you definitely see the design cues taken from the larger KTM Duke 990. The exposed swing arm displaying the structural innards was a cool touch as well.
From the way the the pipe is routed under the bike to how they shaped the catalytic converter to match the angular styling of the machine, KTM even did a very nice job of making a stock exhaust system look cool. While I’m sure many owners will ditch the OEM exhaust for an aftermarket one to shave some weight, they probably won’t be swapping exhausts for better looks.
KTM also put a lot of thought into the new seat which is nicely contoured and more comfortable than previous offerings. Seats, even on bikes like the 690 Duke, are an important part of the bike and one that many manufacturers seem to neglect. It’s nice to see KTM paying attention in this area.
When I first started out on the initial ride I was surprised how much lighter the bike felt than its 330 lb weight, minus fuel, would suggest. The 690 Duke is narrow and is very easy to maneuver. Within a few miles I was carving through traffic with ease and felt like I’d been riding the 690 Duke longer than the few minutes of seat time I actually had.
Cruising at higher speeds will tell you that you are on a “thumper” single cylinder but this engine feels so much more refined than the old LC4 Duke II 640 machine. KTM has done a fine job evolving the LC4 and, with the twin ignition, they are able to squeeze 70 hp from it. While you feel the vibrations from the single cylinder, KTM did a great job isolating the handlebars so those vibes never really bother your hands.
Almost immediately into the first ride I noticed that something felt off; the instrument cluster was angled more towards the sky and less towards the rider. One negative effect of this is that when the orange low-fuel light comes on, especially under direct sunlight, you can’t see it very well since the background surrounding the warning light is orange as well.
The trip computer will start counting the miles since the low-fuel light illuminated however if you don’t pay attention to the display you could miss that; which I did. Luckily I noticed the warnings while I still had plenty of fuel on reserve so I was able to pull over and fill up.
One feature that KTM really got right for the KTM 690 Duke is a standard gear indicator which I found myself looking at quite often. Other manufacturers take note: it’s 2013 and gear indicators should be standard on all your bikes.
During my time riding the 690 Duke I was able to experience the bike in many conditions. On the freeway the bike has plenty of gusto for passing and the contoured seat was holds the rider in place nicely. I can see the seat being a problem for some taller riders but for my frame it just worked nicely.
The single cylinder engine has no issues keeping up with mixed traffic, though with no wind protection, I feel that this would be a weak area for anyone looking to do longer commuting involving freeways.
One day while riding the backside of Ortega Hwy. the clouds dumped some rain which worried me a bit as rain, especially when riding on a new machine and still getting used to it, is never fun. Turns out I had nothing to worry about as the ABS and smooth ride by wire system really gave me confidence and not once did the Duke 690 exhibit any bad manners.
Not more than 15 minutes later I was greeted by sunshine and a completely dry road on Ortega, so I decided to rip a bit and see what the Duke 690 had. I quickly found out that this bike is an absolute riot in the twisties. It’s very nimble and goes right where you point it. This motor kicks ass and pretty soon I was grinning wide with every turn.
The harder you rev 690cc motor, the more it gives back and I never felt like the motor was lacking power or that I couldn’t ask it for more. The ABS brakes were also working really well in the dry although I didn’t feel as much initial bite as I would have liked. (More on this later)
All too soon I was back in the more populated urban areas and had to decrease my speeds from fun and high to responsible and slow. The Duke 690 may be a blast when you are ripping through the twisties it also responds well to the “grind” of the city. With ease the Duke 690 and I morphed from hooligan to commuter and the remainder of the ride home was effortless.
I wanted to share the KTM Duke 690 euphoria with my significant other so I planned a nice long weekend ride to see how the Duke would fare with a passenger. KTM equips the Duke with two passenger grab handles, however they sit so low that my passenger complained she had to hunch down. Needless to say, the handles were never used during an actual ride.
On the flip side when it comes time to move the bike around your garage the handles come in handy.
The KTM Duke 690 did great for two-up riding and my passenger had no complaints about the seat even after a long day of doing more than 250 miles. One thing that I noticed is that while the ABS is compliant, there were times where I wanted more overall bite and a shorter stopping distance when 2-up. This wasn’t a 2-up only problem as I felt the same way even when I was riding the 690 Duke alone.
The 690 Duke makes a great commuter bike as it isn’t a gas hog by any standard. Even during the two-up riding trip I observed 50mpg. This can be attributed to the twin ignition as KTM claims that 10% greater fuel efficiency has been achieved.
I’m sure I could even squeeze a few more MPGs out with lighter throttle action…..but if you are looking for MPG’s over grins maybe you should be looking at a scooter.
There is one thing to note about the KTM 690 Duke; what is up with the kickstand? The kickstand feels a bit long for the bike and keeps the bike perched more upright. I always had the feeling that the bike was going to fall over to the right side, and while it never did, I always worried everywhere that I parked that I would return and find the KTM taking a nap on its side.
Be warned that a strong gust of wind may cause just such a disaster.
I logged a lot of miles on the 2013 KTM 690 Duke and to be honest, I didn’t want to turn it back in. I wanted to contact KTM and make up an excuse as to why I needed to be testing the ABS more, or seeing if the twin ignition was really aiding in a 10% fuel efficiency increase or some other made-up reason just to keep the bike longer.
The 690 Duke responded to my every request with a positive “can do” attitude. If I wanted to ride like a hooligan in the twisties, the bike snarled and shined. When I needed to ride to the office or run errands, the bike was comfortable and easy to live with. One area that a lot of bikes fall flat is in the passenger category.
Not so with the 2013 KTM 690 Duke, it was great for the rider and the passenger. I still would like to spend some more time getting used to the ABS, and the kickstand just plain scares me, but this bike has reshaped any of the past feelings that I have about the LC4. The KTM 690 Duke is so much more refined than previous offerings and I hear that KTM has even more new bikes in the pipeline.
I suggest that you contact your local dealer and schedule a test ride soon.
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