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2014 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R: MD First Ride

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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. Wow!

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.

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.

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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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30 Comments

  1. MotorRowe says:

    $16,999 confirmed

  2. mudnducs says:

    Are they EVER going to post a price for this thing? I’m dying to find out if I can continue to drool over it or simply ignore it.

  3. stinkywheels says:

    I have a hard time keeping the wheel down on my 1125CR, it’d be impossible on this beast! It’s hard to make these naked liquid coolers not look like transformers, but KTM, using all the sharp lines they do, REALLY used the transformer look this time! Still not as bad as the RC8. I don’t hate it, just sayin…

    • guuu says:

      No, its very easy. Just engage (or actually don’t disengage) the wheelie control.

      • i11nuu says:

        …also, the 1290R’s wheelbase is over 4″ longer than the 1125CR’s. (I have no idea where the center of mass is relative to the rear axle on either bike, but I bet it’s at least relatively as far forward on the KTM as the Buell.)

  4. Provologna says:

    OK.

    In the earlier track video of the bike’s release, with Jeremy piloting the bike, it handled like crap. At that time I thought KTM was epic stupid to release the video. It made way too much power for the chassis/handling.

    In this latest video, all is forgiven. Jeremy flies on the track, sucking mortals off their line, with absolutely no apparent wallowing, the bike handling like it’s on rails.

    I’m curious of seat to foot peg distance for my 34″ inseam and knees that want to stretch. Also wanting some wind protection.

    Otherwise, I might get past the butt ugly look after all! I’ll take black. Looks about perfect, if it’s reliable.

    I can’t believe the frame’s weight, about equal to my “Fat Bike” bicycle XL aluminum frame.

    • stinkywheels says:

      I can’t believe the handling can be evaluated by a video. You must be very astute! I’ve had some really scary rides on great bikes with shagged tires, cold pavement, off tire pressures or usually just a bad day on my part. I like the black best also. Never liked orange, too bad it doesn’t come in red! ARREST ME RED!!!

  5. Hashimoto says:

    Buy cheaper tile and the 690 Duke. It’ll be more fun.

  6. Lenz says:

    Still missing the sound track of this creature with the race pipes – Please Herr KTM – play the music – you know you want to

  7. Motorhead says:

    To think my money is going for a remodeled master bathroom, complete with Italian marble, new tub, custom cabinets. Instead of buying this bike. Somebody stop me, the tile man is not here yet…

    • Gary says:

      If you spend it on the tile you will take it for granted within two weeks. Doubtful that the same is true of the bike.

      Does that help?

      If not, you can always buy Italian tile in KTM orange. It looks terrific with custom cabinets.

  8. Nick says:

    I personally find the bike stinkbug ugly, but after watching the video of that guy McWilliams driving it around the racetrack, I really want to ride one.

  9. VLJ says:

    What ever happened to those gorgeous two-tone (half orange, half white) wheels we saw when this bike was first announced?

    I want those wheels!

    Otherwise, this seems like the perfect (crazy) naked sportbike. Performance for days, character in spades. If there was ever one comparo I would love to take part in, it would be the 2014 Naked Bike Bacchanal pitting this 1290 Stupid Duke against the naked S1000RR BMW, the Tuono V4R, and, I suppose, that new Ducati Monster.

    • Matt says:

      you mean Super Duke

      • VLJ says:

        Nope. I also considered Stupor Duke, Supersonic Duke, Sir Duke, Marmaduke, etc., before thinking, ‘That much torque and hp, in a bolt-upright naked weighing about as much as a can of Pringles? Awesome. This thing is just crazy stupid…it’s the Stupid Duke!”

        • stinkywheels says:

          I’ll go with stupid. It’d probably do it’s best to save me, but my stupidity would reign!

  10. Ken says:

    This runs as good as it looks! Had a 2007 990 Adv and it was not the best bike. Looking at a Tuono or the Super Duke, can,t wait for a heads test!

  11. Norm G. says:

    re: “KTM has incorporated a stiff, CroMo trellis frame that weighs only 20 pounds.”

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

    FULL TRELLIS FOR THE WIN…!!!

  12. Geo man says:

    oh wow, that is one crazy ride… you know its about time manufactures go to bigger size motors. Most of the bikes today are made for smaller lighter riders. Tall lanky guys want big v-twins with torquey’ motors. I would even go bigger like 1400+cc light weight twin. I am 6’4 however so I have the extra weight + reach to keep the front down (200lbs)

    • iliketoeat says:

      You really think you need more than 180hp? Ummm… yeah, OK.

      • Geo man says:

        its not the HP a tall lanky guy needs its the torque, and the bike has to be really thin to make up for being tall….. No one has really made a bike for a 6’4 + 200lbs person, it would be a very interesting project with many possibility’s.

        • stinkywheels says:

          They do make them. They’re called Adventure bikes and most people bitch that they’re too tall for mortals. I understand, (kinda) they’re not the sexiest two wheelers on the planet.

          • guuu says:

            Adventure bikes, enduros, mx’ers etc. do have high seats but also have high footpegs. Footpeg to seat distance is usually pretty average. There is and will never be a bike designed for people over 6ft.

  13. Gabe says:

    Great writing! I wonder how much better it is in Spanish.

  14. bandito says:

    It sound like a beast to me. Whow !!!

  15. Bill L. says:

    This bike sounds amazing and the best chance for losing my license i could ever have!