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2020 KTM 890 Duke R: MD Ride Review

The KTM 890 Duke R is a special motorcycle … something we found out last week after testing this new machine from the Austrian brand. Less than two years ago, we tested the 790 Duke shortly after its introduction, and grew fond of the bike, but the 890 Duke R makes the 790 feel like an early Beta test of finely crafted software.

It isn’t just the sum of the new parts, although those new parts are an impressive upgrade on the 790 Duke. The 890cc parallel twin with dual balance shafts, slipper clutch and ride-by-wire throttle provides a surprisingly large increase in horsepower and torque. Surprising, because the 790 Duke was already pretty quick, and a roughly 12% increase in displacement shouldn’t make the 890 Duke R feel that much more powerful. But it does.

The new, adjustable suspension is a big upgrade. The WP APEX forks and shock are fully adjustable (except for fork preload, which would be the last thing a tuner might touch). It’s not just the adjustability of these new suspension units, it is the way they have been carefully tuned by KTM and its test riders. The rear shock even has separate adjustment for high and low speed compression.

KTM also reached for the best Brembo brake calipers available, denoted Stylema. Along with a radial master cylinder that is adjustable for lever ratio, brakes don’t get much better than this on a production motorcycle – even superbikes.

The latest generation electronic aides are standard on the new Duke R. Lean-angle sensitive traction control, cornering ABS (with a “supermoto” option to disable ABS on the rear brake), four selectable ride modes (Sport, Street, Rain and Track), and intuitive control of all of the available options from the left handgrip area. The optional Track mode offers nine-position adjustable traction control, launch control and wheelie control.

Compared to the 790 Duke, the 890 Duke R feels much more refined. The suspension is excellent, both in terms of damping and adjustability. Brake feel and power are outstanding. The riding position, although moderately aggressive, is comfortable and functional.

The 890 Duke R feels very light when you pick it up off the side-stand, and at a claimed 366 pounds (gas tank empty) it is. A narrow bike, reaching the ground is relatively easy for average-size riders.

Clutch pull is light, and as soon as you leave a stop you understand how smooth, powerful and predictable this engine is. Regardless of the ride mode selected, fuel injection feels as close to perfect as it gets, and power builds in a linear fashion.

Given how tight emission controls are in Europe these days, the fuel injection tuning is even more remarkable, as is the power output given the displacement of the engine. Not sure how KTM did it, but this is a bike that can easily run with bigger bikes on the street, and give them fits on a tighter race track.

In “Street” mode, the new Duke feels as friendly to ride as your favorite Honda of yesteryear, albeit still fast. In “Sport”, and particularly “Track” modes, throttle response gets sharper, but still linear and controllable. Opening the throttle mid-corner does not upset the chassis whatsoever.

And mid-corner is where you might find the biggest surprise. This bikes loves big lean angles, and can carry massive corner speed while feeling totally in control. The stock Michelin Power Cup tires certainly help this by being extremely sticky and communicative, but it is the chassis as a whole – the combination of light weight, flickability, stability and feedback – that can take a rider with above-average cornering skills and make him feel like a star.

So you can get on the throttle early, and this bike just jumps between corners. Braking late and deep is no problem with the power and control offered by the Brembo set-up.

The bike flicks into the corners so easily it is surprising – at first. Even though it comes equipped with a steering damper, the extra light brake discs, steering geometry and leverage at the wide handlebar make changing directions almost effortless. Other light bikes can feel as nimble, perhaps, but we don’t recall one with the kind of horsepower found on the Duke R.

The ergonomics are comfortable, although the reach to the bar is about half-way between a more upright naked or adventure bike and a café racer. The bar bend can feel somewhat uncomfortable when cruising along for extended periods (the sweep backwards is very slight, forcing a somewhat unnatural wrist bend when sitting upright). The handlebar feels correct, however when you ride aggressively in the canyons (or at the track) as you lean over the front end of the machine and exploit its raison d’être … railing corners.

The QuickShifter+ system is usable in the lower gears but works best hard on the gas in 3rd through 6th for upshifts. Downshifts feel fine everywhere (with the throttle closed).

The 890 Duke R is so capable, that expert-level riders will want to push it very hard. The front brake is so powerful, and controllable, that fork-dive can become a bit of an issue on corner entry. This can be dialed out, somewhat, by increasing the compression damping in the fork. KTM claims that the 890 Duke R makes roughly 120 horsepower at the crank, and our seat-of-the-pants dyno feels this is very credible, if not conservative. As dynos start to show up on the internet, we wouldn’t be surprised to see 110 hp at the rear wheel.

So is the 890 Duke R the ultimate canyon carver/track day bike? For some riders, on some tracks, it might be. But there is still a practical side to this machine. LED lights, the aforementioned steering damper and supple suspension mean you could commute on this bike in far greater comfort than on a harsh, hunched-over sportbike. Add a bikini fairing (KTM sells a couple that bolt right on) and hand guards for wind protection, together with a slightly taller handlebar with more sweep, and … voila … a reasonably comfortable standard-style mount. Stick it in “Street” mode and ride it every day.

At a suggested U.S. price of $11,699, it is more than a bargain compared to the $10,499 KTM asked for the 790 Duke when it was introduced. If you want more specifications and a look at available accessories, jump over to KTM’s website.

65 Comments

  1. todder says:

    I’d love to see the Husqvarna design team get their hands on this bike and give it the neo-retro makeover treatment seen with their street lineup. Betting it would at least have a round headlight…

  2. Mitar says:

    Hey all,

    Interesting to see the comments between old and new – style v function – performance v character – manga v chi…..

    I am 51 years old and no, I may not be as old as others. But, given I have been riding for 41 of those 51 years I have been “around”. Hell, I got into Motard well before it was a fashion accessory and people even knew what it was – here is Aus we called them chook chasers back in the 80’s. :):)

    Personally speaking – out of the ordinary is what is attractive – naked – angular – retro – etc all breakdown the norm’s. Someone mentioned the Katana – good call – famous and infamous today. Bikes started naked and then went fairing once racing started (gaining the edge) and we are now going back to naked – even scarier is angular and sharp edges….. Why, Moto-GP is one of those drivers….

    Anyway. The look of the bike is OK. It looks a little “whimpy” and needs to be beefed up a little – which can be done cosmetically very easily (tyres, colour, fender….)

    Anyway, I am rambling – have a great week all.

  3. dave says:

    Does anyone know where these are manufactured? Austria? India? I feel like this is an important thing to consider re build quality.

  4. Skybullet says:

    About styling, the older more affluent riders who can afford a new bike are not attracted to weird tech angry bug looks. Some may accept it to get the latest features but some just won’t. The conservative (Retro) new bikes usually don’t have state of the art functions, probably to keep the price down. Mfg’s should offer something pleasing to the eye of the most qualified buyers with the latest features to get us excited enough to buy it.

  5. David Hill says:

    An impressive bike although KTMs styling doesn’t work for me. Maybe they will produce a Vitpilen 801 one day.

    As a side note why does the comments section always seem filled with grumpy old men complaining about progress and technology and how everything costs more than it should. A real downer to continuously see this bitching and moaning.

    • mechanicus says:

      RE grumpy: Interesting observance. In the boom years, it seems that manufacturers strove to produce motorcycles stylistically attractive to the masses. Smooth, clean, rounded, comfortable upright ergos, etc. Almost anything anyone produced was desirable when viewed at a distance. I saw a giant change when the 1981 Suzuki Katana was released. Never had I witnessed such general rejection of a style. I personally never met a person then that thought that bike looked good. But, most of the motorcycle press lauded it! So the die was cast. Seems like from then on, manufacturers, particularly the Germans and Japanese, put most of the r&d into garish shocking styles to get press. This whole “manga”, as y’all put it, style is viewed by the press as the way things should look, regardless of what the average guy out there views as desirable. Sure, there will always be a fringe that will buy anything. But, as long as lightning bolt transformer-shaped praying mantis bikes are produced, I do not see increases in sales. And this seems to be what the intelligentsia prefers, so that’s how it will be done.

      • Dave says:

        I don’t see much to complain about on this bikes styling. If it were my choice I’d make the headlight a little more conventional and the contours ahead of the gas tank would shroud the radiator, the way the feature they’re emulating from MX bikes does. It’s a more conservative look than lots of things that are available today.

        I think we really need gas to go up above $5/gallon for a long time. I feel that’s about the only thing that’ll save motorcycling.

      • motorhead says:

        regarding grumpy old men: because grumpy old men are the largest demographic of motorcycling in the US. Young people have other interests, most of which involve finding a job, getting medical insurance, paying off school loans, and fiddling around on a gaming console. Some youngsters are also looking for a date, though that too appears to be following the motorcycling trend.

        • David Hill says:

          You are correct. So what are all these grumpy old men (or indeed any of us) doing to encourage the younger demographic into this recreation we love? An ideas what we could each do to make sure the industry upon which we depend survives the next 20 years? I feel the manufacturers need to wean themselves off this geriatric segment and focus on cultivating the next generation.

          • Dave says:

            He just thinks young people are losers, because he can’t see the successful ones (of which there are very many) from his porch and they aren’t interested in buying stuff that old guys like.

    • Jeremy says:

      So as you can see, Mr. Hill, grumpy old men are complaining because bikes no longer look old.

      And when they do look old, they complain that the “properly styled” bikes lack the power, brakes, suspension, and chassis rigidity of an R1.

      And if it looks old and has modern performance, well then the gripe is the modern price tag.

      • David Hill says:

        *sigh* I suspect that you are right about this. To me there are so many great options. You don’t have to like everything but please embrace and celebrate the diversity. This should be a golden age of motorcycling with great technology, more power, better brakes etc. Instead the comments section is filled with whining from folks who don’t seem inclined to actually buy a new bike anyway.

    • Reginald Van Blunt says:

      Grumpy old men have the experience to quickly recognize stupid design, and little time left to tolerate it.

      • mickey says:

        You can design bikes that appeal to those that can afford to buy them or you can suffer from a lack of sales. Seems simple to me.

        You can’t make someone love motorcycles/riding, especially a whole generation of them. They either do or they don’t.

        Heck, from what I have been seeing on the news, people can’t afford to feed themselves without a gov’t handout, much less buy motorcycles.

      • fred says:

        RVB – excellent. Grumpy old men like quality products, which no longer has to be the NEWEST!, FASTEST!, DIFFERENTEST! (I made that one up). Fads come and go, but quality endures. Unfortunately for the manufacturers, new bikes can easily go 50-100k with normal maintenance. That means that if a rider isn’t enticed by Newer, Faster, Differenter, he could wind up only buying a new bike every 5-10 years.

        A large percentage of young men think that if an older guy likes something, it must be old-fashioned and unacceptable. They have to learn the same lessons we learned at that age, and they get the joy and privilege of feeling that they are the first generation to discover the same old truths that we thought that we were the first generation to discover.

        That’s why I tend to ride older bikes. Bikes have had far more performance and capability that I can legally use on the street for a long time. I can have as much fun on my old bike at 2x the posted limits as the young kids can have at 3x the posted limits. And if we get tickets or accidents, mine are cheaper and less painful.

        Let ’em mock. If they live and keep riding, they’ll join us as either grumpy old men, or (as I prefer) grizzled veterans.

  6. Peter says:

    Please do a comparo between the Street Triple R/RS and maybe another bike of choice!

  7. Rex says:

    (swig) nik nik nik … manga.

  8. Marcus says:

    You failed to mention that to get higher spec electronics you have to shell out nearly $800 bucks extra so the dealer will unlock features you’ve already paid for. I’ll pass.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      $340 – see below. Those options are not needed on the street.

    • Provologna says:

      Employing Track Pack features on the street likely implies gross criminal activity, unsafe for everyone.

      For decades German car makers have offered extras resulting in a final price well over double the base cost. IIRC sales growth for premium German automotive brands has outpaced every other country of origin. I also think BMW and Austrian KTM have done well as of late.

      With all due respect, I presume KTM’s risk of losing sales for the reason you mention is of no significance to the brand. Your claim being 266% over the actual fee combined with a self-righteous tone seems consistent with an agenda.

  9. Dev says:

    How much extra is the Track mode?

    • Dirck Edge says:

      $340.00 for Track Pack, which includes Track mode and anti-wheelie off.

    • todd says:

      Get it while you can. KTM stopped allowing the track pack on the 690 a couple years ago but never told anyone. Many people (including myself) thought I could have the dealer add it after break in. No such luck. There are options inside the dash that I can never unlock!

  10. Provologna says:

    One wonders why the Japanese are allergic to bikes like this, an upper mid-size ultra high performance twin. It’s not like they can’t build one; they just have no interest.

    Value seems exceptionally high for this new 890. What’s the 790’s reliability record?

    I’d prefer if the 890’s appearance (including colors) was more conservative, less modern/stylized, leading to greater long term satisfaction and pride of ownership. That seems the only nitpick, and it’s not a big one.

    • Dave says:

      Yamaha has he FZ07 and FZ09, the latter having engine performance equal to this KTM. I was hopeful that Honda might offer something similar on the Africa Twin’s engine platform but it looks like they’re leveraging that engine in the Talon SXS buggy.

      • Provologna says:

        Tx for the reminder Re. the FZ09.

        The FZ09’s brakes, suspension, and electronic aids pale next to the 890, no?

        • Dave says:

          The Yamaha’s hardware doesn’t match up evenly with this KTM’s, but it’s also a much less expensive motorcycle, though both represent really good values. We could think of the KTM as an “r” version of the FZ maybe?

        • Don says:

          They should pale next to the 890 considering it costs 30% more. It would be a pretty poor value otherwise.

    • dt-175 says:

      they did. TL/VTR/RVT1000. nobody bought ’em. liter-4’s were even faster/poseur. if this KTM looked like that Kawasaki…

      • Dace says:

        Tons of people bought them. I’d venture a guess that the VTR1000 sold in greater numbers (I think I remember reading somewhere around 375k units global) than most post 2008 sport bikes. Volumes and tastes have changed quite bit since then.

        • guu says:

          And 1000 cc V-twins were “big bikes” at the time, not mid-sized.

          Suzuki’s 650 V-twins must be one of the all-time money makers for them.

          • Dave says:

            And they’re still big bikes, as is this 890 or anything with 100+rwhp. That there are now bigger bikes doesn’t make these any “smaller”.

  11. Ivor Rowland says:

    This is what keeps all the others on their toes.. super performance..I would like a dealer closer to me and I wonder what maintenance schedule is required.. modern electronics like abs and wheelie control are essential I suppose…

  12. Michael says:

    I want one too!! Had the 690, still have a 390. My dealer sold out to folks that have a massive budget so no more good deals on KTM for me, this bike out the door will cost me close to 14k, the Kawi dealer down the road has a new leftover 2018 Z900 for $6500 with no fees other than tax and the cost of the tag, that’s half the jingle..

    • Marcus says:

      Go for the z900. It’s the best bang for the buck out there. I own one. Send your suspension off to Dohearty Motorsports in Indiana and for less than $700 bucks you’ll get a suspension that works.
      Oh, change the OEM Dunflops immediately.

    • VLJ says:

      Or just ride the thing and enjoy it, because it’s perfectly fine bone stock for 99% of real-world riding. The vast majority of whiners on the internet can’t come close to pushing the Z900 to within a country mile of its suspension/handling capabilities.

      Yes, I owned one, along with countless other, higher-end sportbikes. Former track-day junkie. Sold Honda/Suzuki/Kawi/Yamaha for over a decade. The Z900 is perfectly fine, straight out of the crate. It does not need a ton of pricey suspension mods thrown at it in order to work well on the street.

      Most of the people on the interwebs who bray on about how a bike needs this mod and that swap wouldn’t know genuine speed if it tapped on their shoulder and politely asked them if they’ve ever even ridden fast enough on the street to eliminate the chicken strips? These people are simply regurgitating crap they read elsewhere on the internet. They also don’t realize that in the vast majority of instances in which the handling/suspension supposedly fell short, it was they themselves, the rider, who was the problem, not the bike.

      It’s so much easier to blame the tool rather than the dullard at the controls.

      Bottom line, your intuition is correct. While this new KTM 890 is undoubtedly a killer ride, and probably even better than the Kawi at being a canyon scalpel, save your money and get the wholly reliable, super smooth, wonderfully fast and fun Z900 for $6,500. Can’t beat that for bang-for-the-buck.

      Take the money you saved, and go do a few dozen weekends of track schools.

      • Anonymous says:

        The Z900 suspension is crap. Period.

        • VLJ says:

          The Z900’s suspension isn’t Ohlins-level spec, but it’s absolutely fine for street use, because Ohlins-level spec isn’t necessary for street use, and, in fact, is often too firm for optimum use on the street. The Z’s suspension is not the limiting factor. The rider is. Fast, experienced riders have no problem going fast on the street (not the track) on a stock Z900.

          Crap suspension? That would be what’s found on a ’75 Sportster, or any old Brit classic. The Z ain’t that.

          Internet whiners who have never seen genuine speed, who live to parrot grandiose nonsense they read from other internet whiners, well….

      • guu says:

        I would argue that most people on the internet or anywhere else don’t know what good suspension is and have no experience with such. That is the reason most manufacturers cut corners there.

        Quality suspension set for the rider is the biggest safety and performance mod you can make to a bike. You don’t need “genuine speed” to enjoy the benefits.

  13. bmbktmracer says:

    I want one!

  14. Mick says:

    So KTM claims a dry weight of 348 pounds for the 390 Adventure and a tank empty weight for the 890 of 366 pounds. Tank empty is fairly easy to verify. Dry weights can be off by sixty pounds or more if the OEM feels that things like tires and battery are wet objects or if there is no brake fluid, you don’t need hoses connecting the master cylinders to the caliper.

    This makes me wonder which bike weighs more and by how much if both bikes are weighed ready to ride with the same amount of fuel in the tank.

    I just wish the press would refuse to publish weights that are not accurate or verifiable. I like tank empty weights. That’s a dirt bike standard. You could bring a scale to a dealer and check it out for yourself. If it’s a little heavy, have a look in the tank.

    As soon as I see claimed dry weights, I know that I am being mislead, and there is no way for me to tell by how much.

    • pats says:

      I agree 100% with your comments.
      There is a european regulation (No.168/2013) that specifies that the motorcycle weight shall include all fluids, all standard equipment and at least 90% of fuel. I noticed that BMW Canada are using this norm for published weights on their web page. At least some standard does exist. I hope that all manufacturers use it one day to calm things a bit. All bikes would become suddenly heavier…

      On the same subject, I always consider my own weight (dressed up) when calculating HP/Weight ratios. It has a big impact.

      • Mick says:

        Score one for the Europeans. Or a fat zero for European lobbyists, depending on how you look at things.

        I never get wrapped around the axle on my own weight. I do what I am willing to do at the time and that’s where I am at. My weight directly reflects the quality of recreational opportunities in the places that I live, which changes often.

        I have talked to a number of people who say they don’t worry about buying a heavier bike because they can lose weight. The problem with argument is that they often weigh about the same, or more, a year later.

        I have found that pointing that out to them a year later sparks some interesting comments. 🙂

  15. Tom R says:

    …”nine-position adjustable traction control, launch control and wheelie control.”

    Adjustability overkill.

  16. jon says:

    Great review as usual but I don’t get this going easy on manufacturers of expensive bikes who choose to not give their bike’s ‘fully adjustable’ forks adjustable preload.
    Preload is the first thing anyone should set on their suspension. it’s not something to penny pinch on.

    • guu says:

      In my experience front fork doesn’t need adjustable pre-load (although all my street bikes have it). Rider/luggage weight has much smaller effect on the front than the rear. If for some reason you need more or less pre-load it´s easily adjusted internally. More often you would need different springs. Unfortunately many people confuse pre-load with spring rate. More pre-load doesn’t make your suspension any stiffer.

      I really don’t think it saves the manufacturer that many pennies. It’s the cheapest suspension adjuster, just a screw basically. Motocross bikes have the most advanced and expensive suspension in motorcycles and they don’t have front pre-load adjusters.

      • Gary in NJ says:

        I have to agree with guu, once set I don’t ever touch my pre-load. If I were to gain an additional 20-30 pounds (which I’ve never done) I would require a higher rate spring, not more preload. And I’m not going to adjust preload for the few times a year I’m riding two-up. In fact when I do ride two-up I’m riding with a lot less “enthusiasm” and seeking scenic roads versus fun roads.

      • Dirck Edge says:

        Generally agree with guu. I use rear preload and slide the forks in the triple clamps to adjust weight distribution and ride height. If you need to change the preload on your fork springs, you very likely need a new spring rate and/or different spring length IMO. Speaking strictly about street bikes here, but most principles are the same with dirt bikes.

  17. Skybullet says:

    Obviously not built to a price point. Amazing what spending a little more to get best available components will do.

  18. Tommy D says:

    I would assume that the 890 has a bit more poke at highway speeds for overtaking or possibly a bit better gearing for lowered RPM’s at speed. While my 790AdvR is smooth at highway speeds that engine seems really busy and a bit more grunt to lower the rpms at speed would be nice.

  19. Bubba Blue says:

    Is this a street, race or off-road? Looks like an off-road.

  20. Curt says:

    Though on the one hand, the upgrades just barely brought it up to the spec of my second-gen Super Duke R, the price point and the fact that it still has likely more performance than can be used on the street, make it sound like a bargain. Cool ride.

  21. randy says:

    can you please test the updated for 2020 Z900?

  22. mickey says:

    Can’t ask for a much more favorable review than that

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