Being a thoroughly jaded motorcycle journalist, there are few motorcycles that genuinely surprise me these days. The new KTM 1290 Super Duke R proved to be one of those.
Although we tested the bike at the launch in Europe, this was my first opportunity to ride the bike myself on roads familiar to me here in Southern California. My first taste of the Super Duke was a short trip back to the garage from KTM’s Southern California headquarters in Temecula. Immediately, the bike reminded me of some of the dirt bikes I had raced when I was younger. Stiff, direct and communicative.
The bike also felt surprisingly docile, but I was in traffic that required me to keep the throttle quite a ways short of wide open. Sure, the bike felt like it had plenty of low-end power, but nothing startling or worthy of the “Beast” nickname.
The big Super Duke is comfy. KTM learned from its early days of building street bikes with dirt bike seats. Seriously, some of those earlier KTM street bike efforts were quite uncomfortable. The new Super Duke has a broad, relatively flat seat with good support and excellent comfort on longer rides.
The ergonomics are otherwise fairly up-right, with decent leg room. The short, stubby gear shift lever dug into the relatively soft cover of the boots I was wearing for the trip home from KTM. Other than that, it was hard to fault the ergos of this big supermoto.
A few days later, I had a chance to ride the Super Duke on the open highway, and twisty back roads. My first chance to twist the throttle hard erased all thoughts that this motor was in any sense unremarkable. Above 7500 rpm, through to roughly 10,000 rpm, the Super Duke truly is a Beast. It revs fast and hard, and combines both massive peak horsepower with the big torque you would expect from a large displacement (1301 cc) twin. The acceleration feels different from that offered by an inline-four superbike, somehow meatier and beefier, but just as ferocious. Indeed, I don’t recall a superbike featuring gratuitous power wheelies in third gear … particularly with my weight forward and over the tank. The KTM does. The big KTM also gives you way more around-town, low rpm grunt, a fantastic combination.
This bike is both effortless in its acceleration, and truly fierce! The suspension and chassis have a lot to live up to in the context of this engine performance, and they largely do the job. Those top notch Brembo calipers in front combine excellent power and feel, and the fully adjustable suspension allows the rider to dial in both comfort and control. I had some minor issues with the handling that I will discuss in Part 2 of this report.
We had a chance to put quite a few miles on the big Super Duke, and the phenomenal engine performance compelled me to write this short piece … I’ll save additional thoughts for Part 2 later this week.