KTM 990 Superduke
KTM 990 Superduke

2014 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R: MD First Ride

This is a report from the Ascari Circuit in Spain from Albert Escoda on the new KTM 1290 SuperDuke R. Escoda was at the launch with Jeremy McWilliams (see yesterday’s article ). Escoda is very fast, indeed, and one of the few journalists who can try to hang on to McWilliams’ exhaust fumes (by his fingernails, and only on occasion).

We went over many of the technical details in an earlier article  for your reference. Here is Albert’s report from the launch:

I will never forget the impression the original SuperDuke made on me when I first rode it in 2005. It seemed like a dream come true. A powerful street bike with the agility of a supermotard.  The ideal bike for me and my fellow “hooligans”.

The fourth version of the SuperDuke is here, and it is not an evolution, but a completely new motorcycle with power and technology never before seen in the lineage.

It is a “beast”, but a controllable one.  Carefully designed to manage the massive 180 hp, KTM has incorporated a stiff, CroMo trellis frame that weighs only 20 pounds.  The single-sided swingarm is a beefy aluminum structure.

 To cope with all the torque, the rear axle diameter is huge (55 mm).

The big 1290 SuperDuke R has completely new steering geometry and a longer wheelbase in part to keep the front wheel on the ground more than it otherwise would be. The upside-down WP fork has large 48 mm tubes, and is fully adjustable for compression, rebound and preload. The WP shock, in the tradition of KTM, is anchored directly to the swingarm without linkage. It is fully adjustable, as well.

A WP steering damper is also fitted, just in case you ride with the front wheel a little light.

With all this power available, you need good brakes, of course. Big 320 mm floating discs in front are hauled down by top drawer Brembo four-piston calipers, as well as a radial pump master cylinder. A two-piston caliper works on a 240 mm disc out back.

An anti-lock brake system is standard from Bosch. This can be set up to allow the rear wheel to slide, supermoto-style.

The center of attention is the massively powerful v-twin engine derived from the KTM 1190 RC8 R superbike. Figuring it needed more displacement, KTM applied both a bore and stroke job to take it all the way out to 1,301 cc. Think of it this way, each slug displaces slightly more than 650cc! In addition to that 180 hp, torque peaks at 144 nm (106 foot/pounds).

Each cylinder has two spark plugs and two overhead cam shafts.

A ride-by-wire throttle controls Keihin fuel injectors, and the rider can select from three power maps, including Sport, Street and Rain.  Rain mode limits peak power to 100 hp.

The Bosch traction control system is of the sophisticated MTC variety described in our earlier article. This lean-sensitive system, according to KTM, can be turned off, but in its most intrusive state can effectively save a rider from high-sides.  It can even prevent wheelies, if you so desire (obviously, Jeremy McWilliams did not engage this feature).

Not surprisingly, the big twin also features a slipper clutch. one so sophisticated that it increases pressure on the clutch plates with increasing engine torque, allowing softer clutch springs to be used to reduce hand fatigue.

Remember the days when superbikes got all the technology, and naked bikes got the shaft? The larger pistons in the bored-out SuperDuke R are actually lighter (by 47 grams) than those found in the RC8 R. Valve adjustments are only needed once every 15,000 km (9,320 miles).

The new SuperDuke R is more comfortable and has a very balanced riding position. My knees tuck perfectly into the 4.0 gallon fuel tank. Both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable for reach.

The sophisticated electronic controls are manipulated at the left hand grip, and the new instrument panel combines comprehensive digital display information with a analog speedometer.

I had trouble sleeping before our first ride through the streets of Spain, and awoke like a child on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to hear the engine exhaust note. Sitting on the bike for the first time, I was immediately comfortable and at home, as the KTM representatives explained to me the ABS and MTC adjustments.

The first ride was 200 miles by road with hundreds of curves. I dialed in ABS braking for the front, but turned it off for the rear, while selecting full power in Sport mode and traction control off. In the first two miles, it seemed like the front wheel was in the air for at least one mile.


The big KTM sounds powerful. even violent. You learn quickly not to open the throttle aggressively in first, second. and even third gear.  No naked ever kicked so hard.

Acceleration is almost brutal from idle, but when you arrive at 7,000 rpm, it is “@@*!+. ”. From there, it continues to stretch your arms towards redline.

KTM 990 Superduke
KTM 990 Superduke

Which is not to say the SuperDuke R is difficult to ride, or intimidating. You always can dictate the experience with your right wrist. The bike is actually easy to use, and traction proved excellent with the purpose-built Dunlop Sportsmart tires fitted to the extremely light, low pressure, die-cast wheels.

I immediately felt comfortable cornering, as the bike falls in easily and steers accurately through the turns.

The KTM representative leading the ride began to up the pace considerably on the dry roads. Aside from the excellent, controllable brakes, and the confidence while leaned over, the thrust and elasticity of the engine was the highlight! How do you combine the explosion of a nuclear bomb with extraordinary modulation? We passed through a stretch of undulating roads that I will never forget, full of elevation changes, as well as flowing corners.

The lead group stopped half-way through the ride, and all we could do is look at each other and laugh when we removed our helmets.

Heading to Ascari, the scene of our track ride the following day, we encountered broken asphalt and very poor traction conditions, for which I turned on the traction control. When the roads improved, I turned TC off, once again. I was glad I had ABS for the slippery part, and I felt it engage several times, undoubtedly saving me from more frightful experiences.

At first the suspension seemed rather soft, particularly under heavy braking, but adding two clicks of compression immediately brought better balance.

I was particularly nervous as we arrived at the Ascari Circuit on Day 2, as it can be a dangerous place on a bike. Fortunately, Jeremy McWilliams was on hand to talk to us about the track and then lead us on a few leisurely laps to learn the best line. The morning was sunny and warm, and I reduced the tire pressures we had run on the street.

Jeremy and I know each other from past track encounters, and I did my best to hang on his wheel during one session. He was aboard one of the bikes fitted with all the KTM “power parts” (exhaust, suspension, tuning, slicks, etc.), and even with my stiff suspension settings, my standard bike started to feel too soft after a few turns at our relatively crazy pace. I pulled over to stiffen things up further, and the bike felt much better.

I latched back on to Jeremy, and at his pace I had to scrape the foot pegs on both sides as well as the exhaust canister. After the fifth lap, the tires started to lose grip, and I had to back off.

I eventually got my chance to sample the “power parts” model that features even more horsepower (192 hp), as well as the stiffer suspension tuning and slick tires. I had much more confidence both braking and accelerating on this bike, and it felt much more stable at race pace. Unfortunately, it started to rain during this session, and after ABS kicked in a couple of times I had to back off the pace.

After lunch at the track, I offered to accompany Jeremy on the road back to the hotel. By this point, the road was wet in sections, but McWilliams was hauling ass nonetheless. I thought to myself that Northerners know how to ride in this shit, and although I held the pace, I was not so comfortable.

That was definitely 30 km (19 miles) to remember!

So KTM has, once again, taken the naked bike category to a new level. When a superbike motor is not enough, you go bigger. and you end up with the KTM 1290 SuperDuke R. The performance is unreal, and the whole bike works superbly as a package. Not much more to say, really.

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