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  • March 26, 2014
  • Dirck Edge
  • Chris Rubino and Dirck Edge

KTM 1290 Super Duke R: MD Ride Review, Part 2


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.


  1. azkri says:

    You guys in the states are one very lucky bunch.
    From where I come from, the Super Duke R cost almost USD39,000.00!

  2. TL1000s says:

    If I ever bought this bike (when I win the lottery ) the first thing to go would be the transformer beak headlight assembly . Instead I’d hand bash a small aluminum curved shield style fairing with a Vrod headlight jutting through . Awesome bike but that at light assembly gots ta go.

  3. Mars says:

    Apologies to all. I found the answer to my question, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to edit comments.

    For anyone who cares – I looked at a bunch of bike reviews and it turns out they just wear whatever they have laying around the office. Ther guy with the silver helmet and glasses in these photos, Vanson jacket – he wears that jacket and those jeans al lthe time. It looks like he has a couple helmets though. Oh – and he does wheelies on test bikes.


    • Dirck Edge says:

      If you mean we don’t pose quite as much as many of the other magazine’s test riders, you’re correct.The last time we tested juggling equipment, several competitors wore clown suits, but we just wore a Vanson.

      • Gabe says:

        What an interesting question! It depends on where you work. Some publications have a close relationship with apparel and gear companies that want their products featured in photography and have a huge wardrobe library for editors to choose from when they go on photo shoots or press launches, so they are dressed to the nines in brand-new gear perfectly color-matched to the bike (I remember one Executive Editor actually laying out my outfit at my desk like my mom used to do when I was in the shower). The irony is most magazine editors, when they’re not being photographed wear their favorite old stuff (like Dirck’s Vanson, which is actually pterodactyl hide)or my favorite street-riding gear, an Aerostich Roadcrafter.

  4. Mars says:

    Hey MD…can I axe you a question?

    DO you guys make a concious decision as to rider clothing in your photos? What I mean is – do you dress riders specifically and with artistic intent to portray the type of clothing you believe the rider of a particular bike would wear on that bike? I see your SDuke rider wearing jeans and I wonder if it were a ZX10R instead of the SD, would he be wearing leathers?

    Just curious about your artistic/editorial aesthetic. Thanks.


  5. Mars says:

    Dear KTM,

    Your motorcycles are exciting and alluring, and I plan to buy one real soon. But I wanted to write to ask you a favor. You see, while your engineers are brilliant, your technicians skilled, your designers inspired – your product is, well, it is difficult.

    I bought a 2005 625 SMC which was fun as a fun thing to ride, but I had to sell it. It was a decidedly unfriendly machine to live with. It vibrated like a paint shaker. It had a teacup for a fule tank, and an oil change was, well, it was a pain.

    I want in the worst possible way to buy a 690 Duke or even possible a 1290 SUPER Duke (although I am not beyond waiting for the 1390 Super Duper Duke), but I have that memory of the SMC – of the seeming thoughtlessness built into it.

    Hey, KTM, we love your stuff, but we have to work on this stuff in our garages where it is cold, sometimes cramped and poorly lit, and we do not all have raised stands and a million dolars worth of tools.

    Also, we have to wash these things and all those edges and angles, all that beautiful engineering and technology you like to show us – that stuff is impossible to keep clean. Ever bang your knuckles trying to get into a tight corner on a 25 degree day? We have.

    If your bikes could keep their character and heart, but be a bit more friendly to the actual people who have to live with them, the decission would be a LOT easier.

    Just saying. I am sure it’s me and not you. Still…a guy can ask. Right?

    • Dave says:

      The newer bikes are a lot better. I had a 690 Enduro. Still has two oil filters and two screens but oil changes were easy. Not bad on my 990 SMR either. Even easier on my 2014 500 EXC. A lot has happened since 2005!

  6. MG3 says:

    Pure hubris, but impressive never-the-less. You need this like you need a pre-planned funeral.

  7. ben says:

    This is clearly the most awesome bike ever built….as the japanese turn out more of the same, KTM goes blasting right by with a crazy fast naked bike. fantastic

  8. Gary says:

    Might be cheaper than a sportbike … no plastic body work. Then again, insurance companies will soon figure out they are insuring the equivalent of a road-going ballistic missile.

  9. Walter says:

    Has anyone asked KTM if they’ll soon be including the Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) braking software that they introduced on the 1190 Adventure?

    • Dave says:

      I heard somewhere that the two bikes use different systems so no MSC anytime soon.

  10. Blobby Bobby says:

    I love it! love the weird crazy styling, love the weird flares on the tank (remind me of my supermoto), love a vtwin with 180hp, love that it’s tame enough to just cruiser through town on and raw enough to tear up the mountain roads and back it in nice and smooth with that slipper clutch. KTM built this for people who wanted something different and they succeeded in my opinion. They won’t sell a ton, which makes me want it even more. Someone famous once said, “they laugh at me because I’m different, and I laugh at them because they are all the same”…I guess I’d rather be the guy laughing at all the normality. I will most likely be adding one of these to the stable.

  11. Pork Chop Express says:

    I’ve owned the 990 for the past 4 years and I personally think it’s one of the best all around “sporty” street bikes that there has ever been. The 1290 appears to be a pretty big improvement over the original theme. I can’t wait to get one in my garage.

  12. Sean says:

    I think we should mention the Tuono and give credit to Aprilia for being one of the first if not THE first to offer their superbike in naked form. Also, from what I have read the Tuono is winning the heads up comparos with the SD for its better integrated and electronics which allow on the fly adjustment where as the SD requires the rider to stop to change settings. Both excellent modern bikes that I’d love to own however.

    • todder says:

      Really like the tuono as well, but after sitting on one, my 6’3″ frame kinda feels scruntched up. Would like to sit on one to confirm ergos.

      • vince says:

        It is indeed too scrunched up if you’re over 6 feet. I’m 6’2″. I had a new Touno for a year. But my legs were just too pretzled (I’m 51), so I sold it. Nothing bad to say about the bike otherwise. Amazing motor and electronics package.

      • Dave says:

        I am 6’2″ and sat on the 1290 at a mc show and it felt nice. Not too cramped.

    • stratkat says:

      the Tuono was indeed first but KTM just got it right with the SD, ever sat on one? they are comfortable, fast, and in my opinion much better looking! ride em both then report back.
      in those comparos, the end results are crazy close, the Tuono has a great engine and usually wins the top speed, but then its not truly naked is it? i honestly dont think you would go wrong with any of the contenders. me? im a KTM man, had my 990 for 6 years now. you owe yourself a test ride.

    • Sean says:

      I’m 6’1 and havnt sat on the SD yet but the Tuono felt fine in my limited seat time. I’d give both a look when the time is right.

  13. lynchenstein says:

    …if you have to ask…

  14. Hot Dog says:

    It’s miss the 4th drive mode: Old Duffer

    • Gary says:

      Old Duffers know how to operate the right grip. That’s how we get to be Old Duffers.

      “There are old riders. And there are bold riders. But there are not a lot of old, bold riders.”

  15. Paul De says:

    Why is this considered a supermoto?

    • Blackcayman says:

      It’s clearly a “Naked-Sportbike”.

    • lynchenstein says:

      It really shouldn’t be. With those wheels and suspension bits you certainly won’t be taking many jumps.

      • Dave says:

        C’mon! It has far better suspension than the bikes Evil Knievel used to jump!

      • stratkat says:

        you can jump em alright, i jump mine all the time at RR crossings and over bridges. its a KTM, ever look at the size of the fork tubes?!

    • Agent55 says:

      Who says it’s a supermoto? KTM certainly doesn’t. They make big, v-twin powered supermotos, but this ain’t one. It’s all sporty/naked.

  16. Bruce G says:

    Quite a nice bike but very pricey in today’s competitive market.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Unfortunately, that isn’t all that pricey these days for a bike of that caliber.

      • stratkat says:

        check out what 16k gets you at a Harley dealer sometime soon. i was in there last weekend and you could ride off on a Sportster with a front wheel the size of the rear and some really trick paint!

  17. Tommy says:

    This new SD looks a lot like the 990 edition that I owned for a few years. The Monster 1100 which I also had for a brief time afterward was not even close when it came to comfort and aerodynamics. The SD split the air nicely providing a turbulence-free ride whereas the Monster did not. I attributed this to the SD’s raked headlight and mini spoiler over the instruments. Say what you want about the looks, it worked. And for higher speeds, just scoot back in the seat a bit.

    The SD engine was also much easier to live with. The SD could be ridden in high gear at 35 mph or so but you could forget putting the Monster into high gear until at least 75 mph. At any rpm, the SD was way smoother.

    The SD’s seat wore me out on the long ride home when I bought it. But it was actually quite comfortable once we acclimated to one another. The Monster’s seat had to be replaced after the first ride. My boys couldn’t take the constant pressure and pounding on the gas tank.

    On the down side, I could not find a throttle lock that would fit the SD. Consequently, for me it was not the best for long rides. I like that the new SD has a single, lower muffler so adding luggage will be easier and safer. The 990 was pricey but, sadly, this new 1290 is just too much so for this enthusiast. I wished KTM had a better dealer network. The popularity of their new ADV and street bikes might help.

  18. john says:

    put the flatter KTM 690 headlight on the Beast (please) great bike…thanks KTM!!! I own a 2013 690 Duke…best bike I have ever ridden…

  19. Norm G. says:

    re: “(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”


    I see what you did there.

  20. Gordon says:

    Thanks for the review, Dirck. I thought when you did the video review for the ZX-14R that you intended to do more videos. Have you backed off that idea?

  21. Austin ZZR 1200 says:

    I dont get the styling complaints. To me, it looks like a lot of wind protection for a minimum of cladding. Believe me, a bike this fast needs some wind-shaping bits

  22. Mike says:

    How does it compare with Ducati’s latest Monster?

    • Stratkat says:

      the monster really isnt in the same league:

    • Blackcayman says:

      it’s simply more….of eveything a performance rider wants except that it lacks the Italian flair

      • stratkat says:

        you can have Italian flair or… wait for it… performance

        • Blackcayman says:

          I am not a Huge Proponent of Ducati. I do however appreciate their design chops on (most) of their sportbikes. The Multi 1200 still hasn’t grown on me nor most of the other offerings. I do think the Streetfighter is badass, but the stance is too radical for an old man like me.

          To sum up, I would buy this Naked Sportbike before anything Ducati has even though the design of the SD isn’t exactly what I would dream up. The thrust of a big V-Twin is “INTOXICATING” and I know KTM builds a good bike.

          I hope that clears up any misconceptions

  23. Bob says:

    If they’d drop the price a bit, it’d be a no brainer.

    • Motowarrior says:

      There will be a substantial price drop in about a year or two. That’s when you will be able to buy a used one from somebody who bought one, finally worked up the courage to whack open the throttle and scared the crap out of himself!

  24. Gary says:

    Nice bike and nice review. Thanks. The only thing I’d wish for is cruise control for longer rides, and maybe a bullet fairing for some additional wind protection.

  25. takehikes says:

    sounds like a sweet ride but I really don’t fit this style bike at all, even smaller guys look like a monkey and a football. I would like to see one truly naked without the beak and plastic, stripped to its essence.

    • takehikes says:

      I was trying to be PC but yeah monkey humping a football. Perhaps in other places it means nothing but basically I think the riding position is a mess for anyone of any size.

    • VLJ says:

      “I would like to see one truly naked without the beak and plastic, stripped to its essence.”

      Honda CB1100. Triumph Bonneville. Moto Guzzi V7. First two generations of the Street and Speed Triples.

  26. Sweeper says:

    I totally agree with Bob & Provologna on the looks of this “beast”. I suppose if KTM wants to refer to this bike as the “beast”, then it ought to look like one right? I do love this bike for many reasons, but in person this bike just has zero presence. Something this powerful and expensive, £14K ($23,200) here in the UK, it conveys none of these attributes. Yes, this platform would make for an incredible sports tourer, regardless of KTM’s 1190 Adventure. Still, hats off to KTM for building it in the first place.

  27. Blackcayman says:

    Wow…looks like a great platform for a SPORT-touring bike

    • Tommy D says:

      Mount up some TKC80s and do some ADV rides too!

      • Blackcayman says:

        NO Tommy, perhaps you are aware of the 1190 Adventure model???

        Take your Trailie tires to that thread.

        I am obviously trying to Hijack this thread to talk about what “I” want to talk about – which is ultra lightweight SPORT-touring bikes that handle like Sportbikes with upright ergos.


        I’d settle for the 1190 motor in an ST
        or the FJ-09

        • Bob L. says:

          Hey Blackcayman…..we do think alike. The sweet spot for my hope is the FJR900 or the FJ09 as you dream of. This big KTM 1190 twin will guzzle gas and get me in too much trouble. Once again….Yamaha’s triple in a 450# sport-touring configuration and I get in line first. It will have to be pleasing to look at though and as long as I’m dreaming….ABS and under $13,000

        • Tom says:

          I was slightly joking about the knobs on the Beast as I think this bike as a Sport Tourer might be a stretch. But as I thought about it I could see your point. Some soft luggage and possibly a small screen could turn the Beast into an excellent Sport Tourer. But that is from a guy that rode a Buell XB12R 2500 miles in a week.

    • Bones says:


      • Blackcayman says:

        woot, woot!

        The movement is growing!

        What are we up to? 5 people who want a Light weight SPORT-tourer?

        • Bones says:


        • Joe Bogusheimer says:

          Count me in, too.
          A decent seat, a little more wind protection, and lots of power and light weight. Something I could comfortably use for a little commuting, weekend rides, maybe even track days, and still also take on a two-week vacation ride in comfort. Yeah, I know, you can tour on anything, even a completely naked 250, but a little more wind protection is sure nice when the weather gets cold and/or nasty.

  28. Bob L. says:

    Except for it’s “Transformer” looks, quite a nice package! Give me the same specs on something pleasing to my eye and I’m there. Actually, now that I look again, I like everything except the headlight and “jowl” treatment. What a powerhouse though!

    • Provologna says:

      Ditto the “jowl” thingy. One wonders what were the other cosmetic options considered that KTM voted worse than this particular Frankenstein styling exercise.

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