When you ride as many large displacement, multi-cylinder motorcycles as I do these days, it can be difficult to adjust your perspective back to the time motorcycles were simpler, lighter, and less powerful. The fact of the matter is, however, simpler motorcycles are often the most fun to ride. Although Gabe had thrown a leg over the KTM 690 Duke and made his test available to MD, for various reasons I wanted to test the bike myself. The opportunity finally arrived this year. It was well worth the wait.
Looking at the specifications for the 690 Duke, it promises to be the ultimate single-cylinder road weapon. With a claimed 67 hp from the fuel injected 690 cc single, an efficient six-speed transmission powering less than 330 pounds of dry weight (claimed), and featuring modern disc brakes, it looks like it should be tremendously fun to ride.
The 690 Duke has 17″ cast aluminum wheels holding sticky, modern sportbike rubber, and stout, albeit non-adjustable suspension (including WP upside down fork and single rear shock with stepped preload), KTM delivers the chassis components necessary to take advantage of the rest of the nimble package. The tubular chromoly space frame holds it all together quite rigidly.
Ergonomics remind you of your last dirt bike. The exception is the relatively low seat height of 32 inches. Upright and promising agility as soon as you lift it off the side stand.
The clutch engages easily, and you pull away from a stop with plenty of low-end torque. As you ride the Duke for the first time, you might intuitively short shift it (as I did) assuming that it made most of its power down low and in its mid-range. That would be a mistake.
The 690 Duke pulls hard all the way up to its 8,000 rpm redline, lofting the front wheel as you wring out first gear. It is one of those bikes where more than one gear is frequently available to satisfy any given situation. It is not fast like a multi-cylinder sportbike or large displacement Adventure bike, but it is seriously fast for a single.
Slicing through traffic is a breeze as the Duke changes direction with little or no effort, almost reading your mind. Chassis balance is good, as the wide bars provide huge leverage for the lightweight machine, but stability in a straight line (even at high speeds) is never an issue. Southern California freeway travel frequently moves at 80 mph, or so, and this is one single that handles those speeds effortlessly, with plenty of acceleration left.
The KTM 690 Duke is a pleasant riding experience, punctuated with the vibration you would expect from a large displacement single, until you take it to a twisty road, where its handling is so good it is almost shocking. If you push the Duke hard through a series of tight corners, the speed you are able to carry is remarkable, and largely unfamiliar if you have been riding much larger, heavier machines.
This bike simply generates huge confidence in its handling through the canyons. I found myself approaching familiar corners at speeds significantly higher than I typically enter them, yet coming out the other side unscathed and without giving my speed a second thought. The feeling of total command and control of this lithe machine is something you have to experience. In this sense, the KTM 690 Duke is one of the most enjoyable bikes to ride. Period.
With disc brakes (and ABS) front and rear, stopping is effective, although at the pace you can carry on a twisty road, you might find yourself wanting a second disc up front on occasion. The suspension isn’t the most plush we have experienced, particularly when it comes to absorbing smaller bumps and road chop, but it seems dialed just about perfectly for the 690 Duke’s main purpose in life.
Of course, this isn’t the best bike for long distance travel, as the vibration can become annoying on the highway during extended stints. It isn’t too bad until you push the tach above 6,000 rpm and hold it there.
Can this much fun be practical as well? We got close to 50 mpg during our test, and that’s not too bad. At an U.S. MSRP of $8,999, I can think of several other commuters that are more expensive, and a lot less enjoyable to ride. The Duke now has a genuine passenger seat (no, we did not test it) and carries 3.6 gallons of fuel.
It is a bike you could teach your significant other how to ride on, and still taunt your friends and their expensive sport bikes on most twisty roads. Basically, if you ride this motorcycle and you don’t want to buy one, there might be something wrong with you.
Take a look at KTM’s web site for additional details and specifications. Both of the 2014 color schemes are pictured in this article.