KTM 690 Super Duke R

KTM 1290 Super Duke R review

Road test: KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R naked flagship is more Bruce Lee than John Rambo. Has Austria’s latest hooligan bike unlocked a darker side of Chappo?

Launch report: KTM 1290 Super Duke R


Bike brands beware: none of you are safe! Since claiming the dirt-bike world and rolling out a bunch of tarmac-tearing models, KTM says it’s about to balance sales between its on- and off-road machines. That being the case, its latest model – the 1290 Super Duke R – is truly a milestone machine to mark the transition.

I mean, just take a look at the numbers: 123kW. 144Nm. 189kg with all fluids, bar fuel (no, I don’t know why KTM expresses weights like that either). On paper it’s got the edge over the reigning naked-bike hero, Aprilia’s Tuono V4R APRC, and makes BMW’s 217kg K 1300 R seem like a contestant for The Biggest Loser.

And on the road it is … breathtaking.


I feel a kid with a golden Wonka Bar ticket as I arrive in the south of Spain, two days of mountainous Adalusian roads and the flowing, 5.5km-long, Ascari race circuit stretched before me. The 30-odd 1290 Super Duke R’s fill the morning air outside the hotel on the Mediterranean coast. The adrenalin is already pumping as I jump on KTM’s self-proclaimed ‘beast’.

I prepare for mauling.

Thing is, within the first few minutes, this bike is actually highly refined and sophisticated. It’s still a beast at heart, just one rocking a tuxedo and Rolex.

It’s supremely easy to ride for two reasons. Its ride position is upright and relaxed with a broad and fairly flat handlebar (and a manageable 835mm seat height). Secondly, its fancy electronics have tamed its ferocious output just enough for it to be the epitome of rideability, while preserving the essence of exhilaration.

The wizardry includes thoroughly sorted fuelling and engine management courtesy of Keihin but also cutting-edge, multi-level traction control and ABS systems courtesy of KTM’s Teutonic cousins at Bosch. The result is a bike you can tailor to match your mood, skill, and the prevailing conditions; it’s an electronic ‘safety net’ that’s ever ready to catch you, like an invisible hand, should things get ugly. And believe me, in unskilled hands and with this sort of mumbo, things can potentially get ugly fast.

Three times on polished, slippery mountain switchbacks the traction control saved my bacon (and a couple of shrunken eggs). Ultimately, these aids let me relax and enjoy the ride even more. This is the future of motorcycling – and it’s good.

As with the traction control, the ABS is unobtrusive but effective. Bosch didn’t employ its new Motorcycle Stability Control on the 1290, like it has on the 2014 1190 Adventure, because it’s only been developed with a linked brake system (the 1290’s brakes operate independently of one another).

Now, to the engine … oh, that engine. It’s good. Actually, it’s effing brilliant – so much torque, blistering power, and a thoroughly satisfying delivery of which you’ll never tire.

At 100km/h in sixth, it’s ticking over at just 3000rpm but open the taps and it takes off like an Exocet missile, charging on until its soft-action rev-limiter calls ‘last drinks’ at 10,000rpm.

There’s gobs of go everywhere but its 4000-7500rpm mid-range is its happy hunting ground. On a winding road, simply stick it in third or fourth, ride the throttle and use that ample engine braking to good effect. Bliss.

The WP suspension is adjustable for rebound and compression at the front and preload, rebound, compression and ride height at the rear. It combines with the chromoly steel-trellis frame and a WP steering damper to provide one very stable platform. On the track I marvel at the power and feel of the front Brembo stoppers and the beautiful control with which they transfer the weight to the front wheel.

The cornering clearance is in sportsbike territory as is the handling and performance in general but the ergonomics and quality seat add up to all-day comfort (although taller folk will notice a bit of a bend in the knees).

After two days of hard charging the 1290’s comprehensive trip computer was reading an average of 7.2 litres per 100km. That’s thirsty and, with an 18-litre tank, equates to a safe range of just 230km, but you could bank on more at a leisurely highway pace.

KTM’s offers myriad goodies in its Powerparts catalogue from a race Akrapovic pipe and race mapping to soft panniers and carbon by the metre. Look on its $23,500 (plus on-road costs) asking price as a starting point!

At that price, the Duke is dearer than the Aprilia Tuono ($20,990 plus ORC), about the same as MV Agusta’s 1090 RR ABS Brutale ($23,490), but far cheaper than Ducati’s Streetfighter S ($30,990).

But given the finish, performance and equipment on offer, the KTM’s asking price is more than fair.


KTM has arguably more momentum than any other marque right now and it’s onto yet another winner in the 1290 Super Duke R. Given the typical state of our rough-and-ready Aussie roads, KTM’s latest is a logical and excellent choice and it goes on sale March next year.

I want one!


– So much grunt

– Highly refined

– Effective safety aids

– Needle-sharp looks


– Thirsty engine

– Mirrors blur

In repowering its naked bike flagship, KTM passed by the old 990cc V-twin and went straight to the RC8 R superbike engine. Then it boosted capacity to 1301cc by increasing bore and stroke to 108mm and 71mm respectively.

Like the donk found in the new 1190 Adventure (see the review in MT #275), the 1290 features dual-sparkplug heads for a boosted, smoother output, while other noteworthy features include a slipper clutch, a ride-by-wire throttle, and selectable mapping (‘Rain’, ‘Street’ and ‘Sport’). Each offers increasingly sharper throttle response, while ‘Rain’ mode cuts the maximum power output to 73.6kW (100hp). ‘Street’ and ‘Sport’ each offer full-biscuit power.

The result is 123kW (180hp) at 8870rpm and 144Nm (106ft-lb) at 6500rpm in package weighing a claimed 189kg (with all fluids except fuel). Aprilia’s Tuono V4R APRC produces a claimed 123kW and 110Nm, while tipping the scales at 183kg (dry).

The fancy electronics continue with MTC (traction control) and ABS. The former automatically adjusts the available level of slippage depending on the active ride mode, while the latter also has a ‘Supermoto’ mode that retains ABS on the front but allows the rear wheel to be locked (similar to the Adventure’s ‘Offroad’ ABS mode). Feel like you should ‘man up’?

Both the MTC and ABS can be switched off entirely.

Numerous engine internals have been tweaked to increase durability, with 15,000km service intervals the result.


KTM 1290 Super Duke R


Type: Liquid-cooled, eight-valve, DOHC, four-stroke, 75-degree V-twin

Capacity: 1301cc

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