Things do change in this conservative industry, but it can take time. That is, unless, you have a manufacturer that is willing to take risks, and be more entrepreneurial than some of the others. KTM fits into this category.
I can remember readers constantly complaining (not that long ago) about the fact that naked bikes were always de-tuned, and de-contented when compared to their Superbike siblings. The 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R has completely changed that. Turned it on its head, in fact.
Starting with KTM’s 1195cc Superbike, 75 degree V-twin, KTM added displacement (both bore and stroke), all the way up to 1301 CC, and reduced the weight of the reciprocating engine internals, including but not limited to the piston! What we have in the end is an engine that is both extremely usable and tractable below 8000 rpm, plenty fast for any street use, and insanely quick from 8000rpm to redline. Indeed, this author really cannot recall riding a motorcycle on the street that provided the same sense of acceleration that the new Super Duke R provides, short of Kawasaki’s ZX-14 R. That is saying a lot, particularly with the number of ridiculously quick bikes these days. When someone says the new Super Duke is fast, believe it!
To give the reader a sense of the acceleration, at 75 mph, or so, in third gear, just below 8,000 rpm, turning the throttle to the stops results in thrust reminiscent of other “fast vehicles” accelerating from 5 mph (a “rolling start”) in first gear! Chew on that.
But this bike is about much more than power and acceleration. It is the complete package. Beginning with the chassis, KTM built a new trellis style chromoly steel frame with bolt-on subframe (off topic, but maybe Ducati should go back to something similar for its superbike) with excellent strength and flex characteristics to tame the monstrous power and torque. It weighs only 20 lbs. and works as advertised. A fully adjustable WP 48mm fork has tool-less adjusters on top of each leg, compression on the left and rebound on the right. An hydraulic steering damper is standard. A fully adjustable shock attaches to the single-sided swingarm in back.
The brakes will make many superbikes jealous. All Brembo in front, including radial master cylinder powering monobloc M-50 radial mounted 4-piston calipers and 320mm rotors. The rear brake is a single rotor squeezed by a Brembo 2-piston caliper. According to KTM, the Super Duke R was specifically designed with Dunlop for the new SportSmart2 tire to work with the electronic package.
That electronic package is comprehensive. As KTM describes the Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) and Drive Modes:
- Engine torque and lean angle dependant power delivery for perfect acceleration even under critical conditions and high lean angles
- Three drive modes:
3.Rain (max power 100 hp)
- Torque reduction using the RBW (ride-by-wire) acts in a much smoother way than usual ignition and fuel delivery cutting systems (it closes down the Butterflies)
- Rider feels a very soft interaction and sees yellow MTC-indicator light in the new combination instrument blinking
- You can switch the traction control off
- Mode switch located on the left handlebar
This system was designed with Bosch, as was the latest generation ABS system with both Street and Supermoto settings (the later allows you to lock the rear wheel while still featuring ABS in front). ABS can also be switched off completely.
As I said in Part One, the ergonomics are roomy and comfortable, while the broad seat provides good support. The cockpit places the rider in a heads-up riding position … much like a dirt bike. The tank is very tall where it meets the seat, but it doesn’t get in the way. Curiously, the shift lever extension you slide your toe under is very short, and noticeably pokes your foot unless your boot top is quite stiff. The pegs are a bit slippery.
We found the handling to be excellent. The Super Duke is very stable at high speeds, yet relatively nimble for a bike with such a huge V-twin. The dirt bike seating position encourages the use of leverage on the bars. We wouldn’t call the bike flickable, but it does change direction fairly easily. One issue we had was some under-steer exiting corners. The bike has a fairly long wheelbase, and the V-twin engine pushes the rider’s seat back a bit in the frame, removing some weight from the front end. This can be compensated for by sliding as far forward as possible on the seat, and this is the position we assumed while attacking corners, particularly tight ones. We also found that increasing the shock spring preload 2 turns balanced things out for a 200 lb. tester
The suspension offers a good balance between comfort and control. Not an easy thing when you have this type of horsepower and braking power. The suspension has longer travel, and is softer, than that found on a typical pure sport bike, but it is a supermoto, after all.
Those brakes are outstanding. The front brake, in particular, offers strong initial bite, but all the modulation you need for control. The transmission shifts positively, if a bit notchy, particularly at lower speeds. Vibration is well controlled, although the mirrors are buzzy at freeway speeds. The instrumentation is extremely comprehensive, and the buttons near the left grip allow you to control all of the options available from the electronic controls. We did note that the speedometer is quite optimistic, in the neighborhood of 10 %.
Our mileage ranged from mid to high 30’s, not too bad given the extremely powerful motor. The fuel injection works very well. No abrupt, or unexpected responses from the throttle, just as it should be. We played with the electronic options a bit, and didn’t notice much difference in the throttle response between the full-power Sport and Street modes. We didn’t try to crash the bike in order to test KTM’s claims regarding the traction control at aggressive lean angles, but we have seen the video explaining how it works, and it is good to know it is there.
This is a lot of motorcycle in an extremely light package, a claimed 418 pounds dry. The engine, chassis and electronics seemingly leave nothing to be desired by adrenaline addicts. Fast on the street and fast at a track day with upright comfort, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R is an awesome machine. No other way to describe it. Priced at $16,999, its an expensive bargain.