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  • December 13, 2018
  • Dirck Edge
  • Chris Rubino
  • 84 Comments

2019 KTM 790 Duke: MD Ride Review

It’s interesting … some motorcyclists feel that more horsepower is always better, but the trade-off is typically more weight, less nimble handling and that somewhat intangible (not entirely) negative associated with the higher weight of the reciprocating parts in the engine (crank, cams, etc.). Many experienced riders end up drawing back, a bit, to a mid-displacement machine with adequate power that is more nimble and manageable. Enter the 2019 KTM 790 Duke that is the subject of this test.

To say that KTM is on a roll is a bit of an understatement, in our opinion. Like everything else in the age of the Internet, the motorcycle industry is moving quickly. Changing direction with little notice and little opportunity for big manufacturers to react. With Stefan Pierer at the helm, KTM has demonstrated an aggressive approach to the development of new models … sometimes different from established industry trends. 

KTM perceived that experienced riders, in part based on surveys of its own customers, would appreciate a middleweight, compact parallel-twin with a bit more displacement and punch, than the typical 650cc machines (in the case of the Yamaha MT07, 689cc) currently available from competitors. As a result, it built from scratch a 799cc motor with excellent power characteristics in a compact and light package. A very attractive concept, in our opinion, and one we were anxious to test. 

Keeping weight down was an important goal for KTM, and the 790 Duke comes in at a claimed 373 pounds dry (in the neighborhood of 410 pounds with all fluids, including 3.7 gallons of fuel). A KTM trademark at this point, the frame is chromoly steel, rather than aluminum. It uses the new twin-cylinder engine as a stressed member. Hanging from that frame are WP suspension components, including a 43 mm cartridge fork (non-adjustable), and rear shock (with spring preload adjustment). Hanging from that shock is a unique-looking aluminum swingarm with open lattice, triangulated bracing. 

That 799cc motor is a DOHC unit with Nikasil-coated cylinders and two counterbalancers. Crank timing and the cylinder firing order mimic the sound and feel of KTM’s bigger, 75 degree v-twins. Claimed output is 105 horsepower and 64 pound/feet of torque – very healthy for a parallel twin of this displacement.

KTM’s electronic rider aids also show up on the 790 Duke with its ride-by-wire throttle. Four selectable rider modes (Sport, Street, Rain and Track), ABS and traction control (both educated by an IMU sensitive to lean angle, etc.), wheelie control, launch control, and even a slipper clutch assisted by electronic adjustment of engine braking. All of these aids are easily controlled, and customized, by the rider through an intuitive interaction between the left handlebar switches and the instrument panel. 

That instrument panel is now a bright, colorful TFT display visible by the rider from a very comfortable perch that comes close to the bolt upright position found on KTM’s more dirt-focused models. Tires are Maxxis Supermaxx ST in sizes 120/70 front and 180/55 rear, receiving torque through a six-speed transmission with a stock quickshifter. 

The engine sounds powerful, and has a somewhat lumpy idle. It takes a couple of minutes to warm up on a cold morning, but leaves a stop with authority. 

The new twin builds power from just above idle, feels very strong through the mid-range and still pulls hard on top until power starts to fall off at close to 10,000 rpm. In the process, the sound and feel coming through the motor enhance the rider experience with low vibration levels and a v-twin-like beat. In a word, this engine is fantastic. 

The six-speed transmission shifts easily and positively, and the quickshifter works very well … almost spoiling the rider who has to jump on another bike with a traditional clutch-and-shift process. Full power up-shifts, in particular, are seamless, and executed without upsetting the chassis whatsoever. 

The largely non-adjustable suspension strikes a pretty good compromise in terms of its ability to absorb choppy street surfaces while maintaining sufficient damping resistance to encourage aggressive riding. KTM did a very good job here in testing, obviously. Small stutter bumps and potholes send more feedback to the rider than one would find on a plush tourer, for instance, but, in general, the stock suspension (aided by progressive springs) works well over a surprisingly wide range of conditions.

The front brake includes radial-mount four-piston calipers squeezing 300mm rotors. Power is plentiful, but initial bite is soft and the feel is a bit spongy. Leave it to KTM to allow the rider to switch off ABS on the rear brake (while maintaining ABS up front) so the rider can choose to back-it-in supermoto style. 

The 790 Duke is very stable in a straight line, even at high speeds, and corners well. The wide, dirt bike-style bars provide good leverage to turn the bike in, and the stock steering damper keeps everything under control – even when encountering mid-corner bumps. The broad spread of power makes strong corner exits a piece of cake, and allows the rider to often choose from two or more gears offering similar acceleration. 

The seat allows the rider to move fore-and-aft easily, and was surprisingly comfortable on longer rides. Leg room is relatively generous, and the handlebar is adjustable to four separate positions. 

The LED lighting offers good visibility at night, and the sharp, angular styling of our Orange model (the bike is also available in Black) is striking – in keeping with KTM design themes. 

Complaints are relatively few. The fuel injection, particularly when cold, can be a bit snatchy when picking up the throttle in the mid-range. The steering damper is a bit stiff for our liking (we would like to see an adjustable damper). Finally, riders with a large boot size can find their heel contacting the exhaust on the right side. 

So KTM’s goal to combine light weight and punchy twin-cylinder performance in a relatively unique engine displacement is a resounding success, on the whole, and the 790 Duke is an absolute blast to ride. A comfortable, upright seating position puts the rider in command of a friendly, but potent machine that finds a nice sweet spot below the open-classers, but well above the more pedestrian performance offered by other mid-displacement parallel twins.

The 790 Duke engine is so good, and unique, it gives KTM a competitive advantage, in our opinion. It is in a unique niche. The new Adventure models, the 790 Adventure and 790 Adventure R, will take full advantage of the weight savings and power delivery, particularly off road. 

The 2019 790 Duke is priced at an U.S. MSRP of $10,499.  Take a look at KTM’s website for additional details and specifications.


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84 Comments

  1. Frank West says:

    The F800R has a marvellous motor that feels like a vertical twin not a vee-twin but it is very uncomfortable even compared to a Street Triple and the KTM’s high bars don’t inspire on the comfort front. Yes, reliability may be a problem, Triumph and BMW have mostly moved on from that even though made in Thailand and China. Snatchy drive is another KTM problem, bit of a shame as I love vertical twins. F850R may be interesting when it turns up.

  2. JPJ says:

    At a time when most manufacturers are scaling back from low volume sales and thin profit margin. Kudos to KTM for being bold to develop a new engine and bike platform for them. With the exception of the odd styling, I like it. I bet it would be very exciting to ride.

  3. Kevin P says:

    At $10,500 it’s priced about the same as bikes like the 350 EXC/F and CRF450L (both focused dual sports) and for KTM they really contained the price well. I’d like to see a comparison to a Duc Monster and other naked options. Kudos to KTM. Now bring us a 390 Adventure and keep it 325lbs dry with a price in the $7000 range and an R with better suspension for $8000 range.

  4. Kevin says:

    More info on the upcoming 500cc twin, they’re talking 70 HP out of this little screamer! I remember the 500 was in development at the same time as the 790 twin. It doesn’t share any parts. So, 370lbs wet with 70hp? Yes please! Make mine a Duke 500!

    https://www.autocarindia.com/bike-news/ktm-working-on-a-twin-cylinder-500cc-motorcycle-410800?fbclid=IwAR0z4BRzRu-NupX_hTsWYmo5ySLZXpJU__yo4cu4aw6bbQcI3hgeUFY6Osw

  5. Kevin says:

    I see KTM is bringing out a 500cc twin. I supposed to replace the 690. That motor will be for the over-priced Husky bikes. I like the idea of a non-A2 compliant 500.I bet KTM will get 60 hp out of it.

    https://www.morebikes.co.uk/55179/theres-a-ktm-500-on-the-way-and-its-been-confirmed-by-the-big-boss-of-the-austrian-firm/

  6. todd says:

    The BMW F800R is better looking and probably much better quality for the same price. It just looks like they’ve discontinued it for 2019 though. https://pacificnwmotorcycles.com/Motorcycles-BMW-F-800-R-2018-Ferndale-WA-bfc063dd-c6d4-47ce-9016-a8cd0146ec40

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I like the F800R myself. Looks better, powerful enough even if it may be pretty outclassed by the KTM mill, nice fit and finish, and a fair price in my opinion.

      Perhaps the F800R is discontinued as it will return as the F850R?

  7. Mick says:

    I’m not a fan of the headlight, but I could overlook it. What bothers me most about the design is the tail section. I just don’t like the bulky looking castings. It was nice of them to include a couple of bolts toward the back for a possible rack mount.

    As with all the parallel twins on the market. I wish they would make an upscale model with better brakes and suspension. And hopefully about fifty pounds less weight. I’m pretty disappointed to see how much this bike weighs. The four hundred pound street bike mold should have been broken long ago.

    • TimC says:

      You can’t really go a whole lot lighter without going really exotic on materials/cost (and even then, you can only go so far).

  8. Anonymous says:

    KTM – Orange is the new fugly.

  9. Ralph says:

    “allow the rider to switch off ABS on the rear brake (while maintaining ABS up front) so the rider can choose to back-it-in supermoto style.”

    I’m glad they still have this feature. When it was introduced on the 1290 Superduke some people, including motorcycle journalists, said it was a gimmick. Hopefully by now they will have realized how wrong they were. If they stop producing bikes with ABS and TC systems that are adjustable and switchable, motorcycling will be dumbed down the level of lesser skilled riders. I don’t think rear ABS is necessary because rear wheel slides and skids are so easy to control.

    One of my bikes is a 2010 V-strom 650 which I bought new without ABS (it was optional then, and that is my preference). I can’t pick the rear wheel off the road on it because of its long wheelbase, adventure tyres, and I usually have luggage on the back, so the front tyre skids before the rear gets airborne. But I can still back-it-in by dragging the rear wheel sideways with the brake. That doesn’t work with ABS. Unfortunately, doing it too aggressively tears little chunks off the rear tyre. But when the tyres are nearly due for replacement anyway, it becomes a lot of fun.

  10. Jeremy in TX says:

    I think it is a neat bike. It’s not the best looking bike in the world, and that is coming from someone who typically likes KTM styling. It already looks dated.

    At $10,500, though, it seems like a good value.

  11. mickey says:

    Lets see…polarizing styling, snatchy throttle, takes a long time to warm up, non adjustable suspension, mushy brakes, glitchy fuel injection, questionable reliability, small dealer network and probably expensive

    but it’s Euro so it must be great

    If this were a Japanese bike, it would be taking a real verbal beating by the commenters here

    Good thing it’s light weight and has plenty of horsepower

  12. EZMark says:

    A 100+ hp twin for about the same price as the previous single?
    What’s not to like?

  13. Ken says:

    Nice styling, but is it really better then the Triumph speed triple, or BMW 800 bikes.? Seems K TM is late to the party in this class. For the money it also has to compete with all of the smaller Yamaha bikes.
    Had a 990 Adventure and it sure was an Adventure keeping it running. Damm thing left me stranded 3 times in the backcountry with electrical issues.
    Just seems they have note gotten quality up to speed with the other big brands.

    • VLJ says:

      I believe a fairer comparison would be to the much lighter 765cc Street Triple, not the heavy, brutish 1050cc Speed Triple.

      • Anonymous says:

        419 lbs dry is “heavy”? And the Speed Triple’s power delivery is known to be super-smooth, not so much “brutish”.

        • VLJ says:

          Compared to the Street Triple or this new KTM, yes, the Speed Triple is relatively large, heavy, and much more powerful. Measured at the wheel, the Speed Triple is a full 50% more powerful than this KTM.

  14. VLJ says:

    Dirck, is the throttle snatchiness of this thing better or worse than your Z900RS test bike? Also, how is the seat height?

  15. TimC says:

    800cc – middleweight? Sigh. Yeah I know “yes it is, now” but that’s the sad reality. I guess I better buy a Ninja 400 before it’s a 600.

    • Dave says:

      I’m in the “no, it isn’t” camp. If it makes over 90hp = it’s out.

      • VLJ says:

        Every 600cc supersport makes a lot more more than 90 hp, and 600s are the very definition of ‘middleweight.’

        • Stuki Moi says:

          600s are middleweight race bikes. As street bikes, the 600s haven’t really been middleweights since the CBR f4. The SV650 is the archetype of a middleweight street bike. This KTM, like all KTMs, is light for it’s displacement, though…..

        • Dave says:

          A historical vestige, in my opinion. I don’t consider them “middleweight” anymore. They’re narrow-focus bikes for experienced riders, where they used to be versatile street-sport bikes (think CBR600f3). They’re out.

    • Tom says:

      Middleweight is fine imo. I think of the 400s as Welterweights and 250s as lightweights 😀

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      At 410-ish lbs, I’d call it a middleweight. It’s just not a mild middleweight.

  16. WSHart says:

    It looks like something you’d get malaria from.

    • TimC says:

      If you just read the text, it sounds like a pretty fun bike. If you look at though, the styling is awful.

      Absolute butterface.

    • Provologna says:

      Yes, I’d agree. Every KTM (the larger the engine the worse they look) seems universally cursed with ugly. To say the orange has run its course is an understatement.

      • KenLee says:

        That curse of ugliness has the name: Gerhard Kiska. Not so long ago KTM boss Stefan Pierer told something about purchasig Ducati brand and I hope they will use oportunity to hire Ducati designers. In worst case Herr Kiska will start to design also Ducati bikes…

        • TimC says:

          “In worst case…”

          Thanks a lot for that thought. Now I have to gouge out my eyes before this becomes a reality.

    • DP says:

      This is relatively acceptable, but Adventure model is real turn-off. So my dream of potentially replacing my current bike is over.

      • Motowarrior says:

        Just curious, what do you find to make the Adventure unacceptable? And what is your current bike? I’m looking for a replacement for my aging BMW F800 GS. Thanks.

        • DP says:

          Sorry for late reply…
          simply put, in my eyes it looks like TURKEY (and I do not mean country).

          My current ride is CB500X; just about right given my time in life and capabilities/ resources. I used to have larger and more powerful bikes, but have to face reality.

          • motowarrior says:

            Thanks DP. The CB500X is a very nice bike I have rented while overseas. If you feel the need for change and you still want to stay on the small side, the Kawasaki Versys 650 is something to look at. I have ridden a friend’s (he is 70+), and it has ample power, great handling, lots of comfort and good mileage. And it doesn’t resemble any fowl! Happy trails!

    • blitz 11 says:

      You’ll catch a fever – a fever for a KTM!!!

  17. marloweluke says:

    Hopefully they make a GT version along the lines of the SuperDuke GT which I love but can’t afford and I really don’t need 160 bhp. A bigger tank and a half fairing would make for an awesome sport tourer.

    • John says:

      It’s already been made. Ducati hyperstrada. I’ve owned one. The base Hypermotard weighs about the same as this Ktm with more hp, 110 hp.

      I never knew why the Hypermotard/hyperstrada didn’t get the press attention like this 790 duke is getting

      • Nick says:

        I second that comment about the HyperStrada. I have an early 821cc version and apart from the fierce clutch (which can be fixed), I find it superb in all respects, including the assertive styling complete with beak. The motor is an absolute gem!

        Nick, UK

  18. hh says:

    Someday, I might leave my R1 and ride this wave of middle weight bikes, but for me, it’s like that scene in the movie Shane when he says about leaving, “… yes , but I’d like to think it was my idea…”

  19. Jon says:

    I had a deposit down on one of these, and had been eagerly waiting for it since the concept version was shown at EICMA two years ago. I joined a group on Facebook called “KTM Duke 790 & 790R” while I was waiting, since those overseas have had the bike for over a year now. I gradually saw posts begin to include photos of the engine leaking oil from various locations, which may or may not have been addressed by KTM dealerships replacing engine gaskets and bolts under warranty. After seeing about half of dozen of these, I got my deposit back and bought an MT-09 instead. I really really wanted the 790 Duke, but I just didn’t want to take the chance on a brand new motor given what I had been seeing, even though my last bike was a KTM 690 Duke. That bike had only one issue during my two years of ownership – the dash/instrument panel went dead. KTM gave me a new one free and I only had to pay the labor charge.

    • Fred says:

      I too was following a KTM ADV bike, but Owner reports of porous engine castings was the end of that idea. Jap bikes just don’t have those issues.
      Gearbox gear shift change issues were common complaints.

      • Lawrence Kahn says:

        Some 1973 Yamaha TX750 had porous cases. Just sayin’…

        • TimC says:

          Seems in the decades since, the wily Japanese have somehow managed to move on from that and actually figure it out, however.

          • Reginald Van Blunt says:

            Many of the reported ‘ porous case ‘ issues in the day of British bikes, actually were bad surfacing of case joints. I was always sucessful fixing leaks simply by gentle surfacing/lapping of the cases etc. and super cleaning and drying with lacquer thinner, alcohol, brand new gaskets, and aircraft quality sealant. Clean living and luck were helpful too.

          • TimC says:

            “Clean living and luck” LOL

        • BOB says:

          I bought a TX750 new in ’73. Porous cases were the least of the issues I encountered with this piece of junk. Among the more serious were the “Omni-Phase” balancers. Even though I was young, I identified at least 10 very poorly designed issues with the bike, which I gave to my brother to trade for a BMW.

    • Highspeedhamish says:

      Non adjustable suspension , Maxxis tires and “spanish made” KTM badged brakes are total giveaways. This bike.. is not made in Austria but by CF Moto in China. Hence all the issues. Crying shame too, I wanted one.

      • sbashir says:

        The bike is currently made in Austria. It will be made in China from 2020 onwards.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I don’t think the Austrians have a particularly stellar reputation with respect to quality, so don’t know why CF Moto would by default do a worse job of it

        • TimC says:

          The Chinese bikes e.g. 390s have a far worse reputation on the quality front. Like…Sport Rider I think? – one of the buff books – was very frank about the shortcomings there. Like uncharastically gloves-off brutal for a traditionally advertiser-conscious field.

  20. bmbktmracer says:

    Sounds like a well-engineered machine. The performance seems spot-on for a street bike. I like the styling well enough, though am not a fan of the all-plastic look. It’s as though KTM thinks all of their motorcycles need a tie-in to their dirt bikes. Maybe at this point their road bikes are well enough established to go their own way.

  21. Larry Hannemann says:

    On paper it looks close to the Yamaha MT09 in terms of weight and power. How about a head-to-head?

    • JB says:

      I’d like to see this, though the Yamaha is built to a price, while this KTM seems to have higher levels of fit-and-finish and equipment. I truly hope this KTM causes Yamaha to give the MT-09 the suspension, equipment and instrumentation that engine deserves!

      • Jon says:

        The MT-09 sells for $1,500 less than the 790 Duke here in the United States. What I’d like to see is Yamaha bring the MT-09 SP here in addition to the regular MT-09. The SP version would be my perfect bike. As it stands right now, in my opinion, the MT-09 has better brakes, tires, front suspension, engine, reliability, price and dealership network.

      • Jon says:

        I own an MT-09 and have read a multitude of reviews of the new 790 Duke. In my opinion, the MT-09 has a better motor, better forks, better brakes, better tires, better fuel mapping, better reliability, better build quality, better price and better dealer availability.

  22. Ricardo says:

    I have heard HORROR stories about the Lack Of Reliability of the KTM brand. Is this an issue that has IMPROVED?
    Their bikes certainly set themselves apart styling wise and you either LOVE THEM or HATE THEM.
    Personally I prefer a bit of change from the run of the mill and applaud them for taking some styling risks.
    NOW if they would only INCREASE THE NUMBER OF DEALERS to enable one to get service and parts I’d be serious about becoming a customer.
    For now though this bike offers me nothing that my 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 doesn’t already have (light weight and 100+ hp).

    • JB says:

      I think they’ve mainly had issues with their small-displacement street bikes lately. Other than that, it seems the big(er) bikes, twins and dirtbikes are pretty standard in reliability these days (as in 2015 model years and newer — the older bikes are a different story).

  23. blitz 11 says:

    Well, I have one. Actually, it’s my daughter’s bike.

    It does have that angular KTM styling, but if you sit on the bike, you can’t see it.

    I’ve taken it apart (greased steering head bearings, swing arm bearings, shock bearings), greased axles, farkeled it a bit (orange bits), and this thing is REALLY well engineered. i have a 690 duke, which I am keeping, but the 790 is a few notches up. Sounds really good even with the stock exhaust.

    my only complaint is that the hose junction for the front brake is right underneath the steering stem, which negates the use of a stand to raise the front end. However, i welded up a little adapter to fit beneath the oil pan so my daughter can use a hydraulic bottle jack to lift the front wheel to change tires. a bit less convenient, but it works.

    I don’t really get the KTM stying and this “droopy headlight” bit, but styling aside, it’s really well done. I don’t see anything in this class which i’d rather have in the stable than this at this time.

    • bmbktmracer says:

      Did you find any shortage of grease on the parts you removed?

      • blitz 11 says:

        Dealer greased axles when assembling the bike. Looks to be motorex grease.

        Other bearings not so much. I always take my bikes apart and use Jet Lube Moly grease sourced from McMaster-Carr. Works great, but is messy.

        When I visited the GasGas factory, i asked about lack of grease on new bikes as i watched assembly. I was told that the EPA is hard-core about grease/oil leaking through shipping containers and that to avoid that, minimum grease is applied. All my new bikes have been insufficiently greased from the factory, so i take them apart and remedy that with the Jet Lube.

        • TimC says:

          And yet another round of “Don’t Worry About the Government”

        • Reginald Van Blunt says:

          The Gas Gas reason sounds like pure BS, however, possible now a days, in which case if true I’d puke purple zerk fittings. No way all makes !

          • blitz 11 says:

            Not to name drop, but the person who told me about the grease was Brian Gillen, who was the Technical Director with GG at the time (2007), but now is the R&D Director at MV Agusta. I asked the question, and he answered it.

            Not sure why’d they BS me. It’s no more difficult to properly grease a bearing than not, and it’s not just GG who was light on the grease; so too, was Yamaha.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Just needs a round headlight and an oval slip on canister.
    That bolt on cast ? subframe look very Buellish to me.

  25. Grover says:

    Great performing bike, as long
    as you don’t mind owning the ugliest bike on the planet.

  26. Anonymous says:

    that is really ugly!

  27. Kermit says:

    I don’t have to have the fastest bike on the planet but I’d to be able to look at the bike and it not have a headlight that resembles a Praying Mantis.

  28. gpokluda says:

    Uh oh. Gas tank only hold 3.7 gallons! This bike will only be good for a quick ride to the Circle K for smokes. I have some fake tank seams we could put on it, though.

    Seriously, looks like a great bike on paper but like that girl you pick up in a dark bar, coyote ugly in the light of day.

    • JB says:

      Yeah, but you’re looking at 50 mpg vs 43 mpg (I assume you’re referring to the Speed Twin with that tank seam remark), so it’s decent at 3.7 gallons.

      • gpokluda says:

        Actually, it’s the other way around. The KTM is a holligan bike and will most likely be ridden as such. The only way it will see 40mpg is if it is in the back of a pickup truck. The Triumph is a roadster and has a better chance of 40-50mpg.

        • JB says:

          Not according to actual mileage reports from users… A lightweight 800cc twin will still get better mileage than a ~50 lb heavier 1200cc twin, especially when both are tweaked for performance.

    • BlindJoeBeck says:

      “Last night I came in at 2 with a 10. But at 10 I woke up with a 2.”

      I think Willie said that

  29. joe b says:

    Keep the engine, make one model look like the new Royal Infield Twin. Keep the good stuff but make it look seventies era old. THAT, would be a well recepted model. imho