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2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R EVO: MD Ride Review, Part 2

You can see Part 1 of this review here. The purpose of this second part is to provide a more detailed description of the riding experience aboard the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R EVO.

On paper, the principle change between the new EVO and the 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R previously tested by MD is the new suspension system. We described this new semi–active system in Part 1.

A quote from our 2020 review, which, once again, addresses essentially the same engine and chassis dynamics we experienced with the EVO (the 2020 bike was already the third generation engine and frame) is appropriate here:

With the engine as a stressed member of the frame, and the steel trellis featuring larger diameter tubing, KTM claims triple the torsional stiffness of the prior model, and a lower center of gravity. All this while reducing the weight of the frame. The stiffer swingarm is the same length, but the pivot point has been raised 5 mm to reduce squat under acceleration. The triple clamps, steering column and subframe were all redesigned, and all lose weight, as well.

Big, 320 mm floating discs are squeezed by, arguably, the best brake calipers available from Brembo for street use. Once again, the brake system is lighter this year, in addition to being more powerful and efficient. The brakes slow down new, lighter wheels shod with Bridgestone’s superb S22 rubber.

The design and the aesthetics, as well as the ergonomics, reflect a focus on minimalism. Engine and everything else necessary to contribute to the riding experience … and nothing more. Working again with KISKA Design, the extreme angularity now creates a family resemblance for all KTMs, it seems. But standing next to the 1290 Super Duke R after an invigorating blast through the canyons, we are struck by how compact, and dense the design is.

The riding experience reflects this. If “too much horsepower” was a characteristic of previous models, it is now, perhaps, a hallmark. Limited only by the skill of the rider (and for many riders, these limits are severe), the Super Duke R can accelerate, brake and turn near the limits of your imagination.

Which brings us back to the engine, and those advanced electronics that tame it. Each of the two cylinders is slightly more than 650cc in displacement (for a total of 1,301cc). As a youngster, a 650cc dirt bike was, in some ways, the ultimate. Wheelies whenever you felt like it, and power slides to suit any occasion. In theory, the two 650s beating beneath the seat of the Super Duke R provide similar possibilities on tarmac.

What struck us this time aboard the new EVO was the precise responses of the big KTM. The engine with its massive power is, nevertheless, predictable in the way that it responds to your right wrist. If you leave the bike in Street mode, you can cruise around all day without ever scaring yourself. Just roll on the throttle and apply as much acceleration as you think you need or want. Of course, even in Street mode, once above 7,000 RPM, or so, the bike is a rocket.

We were interested to try the other riding modes, including the optional Track and Performance modes. We found the fuel injection mapping in each of these modes is excellent, in our opinion. Of course, the Track and Performance modes respond more quickly to throttle inputs, which is precisely what they are intended to do. In Performance mode, for example, the bike launches much harder with the same relatively small throttle application that would feel much less intense in Street mode. Sport mode was all we really needed for aggressive street riding, which is slightly sharper in its response to the throttle than Street mode.

The same “precise responses” relates to the handling. This bike goes exactly where you point it without hesitation. It is not nervous at all, just responsive. The handling inspires confidence. It can do what many smaller, lighter bikes can do, such as trail brake up to the apex and change lines mid-corner without much fuss. The handling reminds you of a smaller, lighter bike.

But you want to know about the new semi-active suspension, don’t you? In short, we were impressed. When electronically controlled suspension systems started showing up on production bikes roughly 10 years ago, they didn’t always work particularly well. At the time, my personal preference was for a well-designed manually adjustable suspension system. I recall comparing some earlier electronic systems provided by Ducati and KTM, and I thought KTM had their system sorted out better than Ducati.

The WP semi-active suspension system found on the new Super Duke R EVO is a latest generation design that, in our testing, worked seamlessly. It had the responses and feel of a well-set-up manual system, with the added huge advantage of almost infinite adjustability. In our (somewhat limited) testing, everything from the Comfort setting straight through to the most aggressive track-focused settings moved in a linear fashion through stiffer and stiffer compression, coupled with appropriate rebound damping.

My son Evan and I tested the bike sharing a similar setting with the automatic preload enabled. This kept the rear ride height in the same range for both of us even though I am roughly 30 pounds heavier than Evan.

This is the flagship sport bike offered by KTM at the moment, even though it is a naked. It provides an excellent TFT display and the usual, intuitive control of the myriad of settings available through buttons adjacent to the left hand grip. Cruise control works well, and you can even have a heated seat and grips.

It was interesting to have Evan along for several hours of testing because he is both an excellent rider and the owner of a KTM 890 Duke R, which is currently MD’s favorite machine for attacking a tight, twisty road. Here is exactly what Evan wrote to his editor father when asked to comment on the new EVO:

Duke 1290 thoughts:

– Quick shift, and transmission in general, felt extremely smooth.
– I think you and I were using the exact same suspension settings and it felt very good to me, so I guess that smart suspension stuff was working well?
– I didn’t use them much, but was impressed at some of the comfort/convenience features it had, e.g. cruise control, and that customizable switch that can take you quickly to frequently used menus (and did it have heated seats/grips?). I’m not sure if that sort of stuff is standard on a lot of bikes but I haven’t seen it on a ‘sport bike’ before.
– The motor obviously is fantastic. It was extremely easy to ride for how powerful it is. In race/track mode, the burst of power right off idle was pretty intense, but smooth.
– It felt lighter and more nimble than I expected
.

Compared to my 890 R:

– Quick shifter is leagues ahead of mine.
– Heavier & harder to flick around, but not as much as you would expect.
– Obviously faster, but did not feel usably faster in the tighter canyon roads we were riding.
– Like my 890, it’s very quick and rideable keeping it in 3rd gear and mid-revs, but it’s a lot more fun revving it out a bit – I think around 5k is where it really starts to feel vicious
.

Does the 1290 Super Duke R EVO provide more engine performance than you can typically use on the street? Yes. Does the 1290 Super Duke R EVO provide more engine performance than a non-expert can typically use at a track day? Yes. Does the EVO provide more usable power on the street or track for most rider skill levels than a high-revving, four-cylinder, open-class naked bike? Yes, in our opinion. Would most riders be quicker, on street or track, aboard an 890 Duke R? Yes.

So this bike may be overkill from a performance perspective for many riders. Not any more so, perhaps, than other open-class nakeds. Indeed, the bike is very predictable, and usable on the street … with power reserves that are generally more than what is needed or necessary. Those power reserves are there for the exploitation of more skilled riders, but also for adrenaline junkies who want to twist the throttle to the stops now-and-then (don’t forget to leave wheelie control operative) to experience sensations that are quite rare aboard a street legal motorcycle.

The 2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R EVO is priced at $19,599. Take a look at KTM’s web site for additional details and specifications.

35 Comments

  1. richard says:

    the looks are unique and popular these days…looks will always change with the times..you dont buy this bike for looks !! hang on tight and relish in performance

    Cruisers are built for looks !

  2. RonH says:

    I personally like the styling and the performance. As for Mick’s preferences… I see his point and I appreciate riding light bikes too. But, as a twenty year Hayabusa owner I still get off that bike, look at it and can’t help shaking my head and saying to myself… that was amazing and really fun. This Duke may be my next bike.

  3. Tommy D says:

    I no longer eat at restaurants that are Buffets aka “All You Can Eat” style. Call it maturity, being healthy or smart. There is no need to pay for overindulgence for the sake of overindulgence. This is how I view this bike. Glad KTM puts all the flavor into their mid sized and dual sport bikes.

  4. yellowhammer says:

    A truly hideous motorcycle. It’s like a bird finger to pleasing aesthetics, which, I suppose, defines their niche.

  5. Dino says:

    I would have thought by now there would be a lucrative market for KTM replacement parts..
    Round headlight.
    Tail section that is more in touch with the rear end..
    Everything else seems like another winner from KTM.. I just can’t get into the styling after all these years

  6. motorhead says:

    My new Bernhardt leather couch looks better than this new KTM Super Duke. But then, my leather couch doesn’t have a great engine, great handling chassis and suspension, or wheels, either. So I would buy the Duke after all.

  7. Fastship says:

    I own one. Remember the feeling you got as a teenager when you first opened the throttle on a YR5 or some other ’70’s two-stroke? It’s the same feeling.

  8. todd says:

    The great thing about bikes like this is, after a group ride to The Junction, the rider of the bike comes up to you and tells you how difficult it was for him to keep up with me on my 1991 K75S. It never ceases to entertain me that the slowest riders always tend to buy the fastest bikes. I see bikes like this and chuckle a little to myself. What you really need to look out for is the guy or gal on an old G650GS with slicks.

  9. JRH says:

    I have been lurking in the shadows for about 10 years now on this site and really appreciate everyone’s comments – even Mick’s. The KTMs really seem to have it together from a performance perspective but I too am not crazy about the looks. Currently ride an ’07 Sprint that the previous owner set up with every option that I would think of (and a couple I don’t even use). So my taste are a little “old fashioned” but I will try to contribute some thoughtful comments going forward. Thanks again everyone for all your comments.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Welcome

      • todder says:

        I’m in the same boat. Been looking to upgrade my 2008 Sprint to KTM. Performance entices me, but not the styling. Funny how I’m starting to feel nostalgia for the older KTM designs of the original 990 super duke, SMR and Adventure.

  10. dt-175 says:

    can’t wait for mick to tell us how a suzuki t 500 is better cause the suzi weighs less.

    • Mick says:

      Crash on your melon today buddy? I got no love for poor handling old bikes. The only Suzuki that I have ever owned if the quad that I plow ice race track with. Old Vinson 500. Best bang for the buck at the time. Poor thing is getting kind of tired.

      The wife actually gave me a bike that is more or less in this market for my 60th last November. She wanted to buy new but I didn’t want the current model that is ride by wire. I got a last of the dinosaurs used with 1100 miles on it. It saddens me that best thing I could find or not, I am just so disappointed in what the industry has to offer.

      I was hopeful when the industry was pushing around the idea of limiting street bikes to 100hp back in the late nineties. Had they done so, the only the direction they could have gone was light and awesome. Right down my ally. Instead we get zillion horsepower heavy rigs with dial a nanny. Oh great.

      • dt-175 says:

        you seem to have no love for great handling new bikes either…

        • Mick says:

          No I don’t. They are needlessly heavy and therefore are not nearly as great handling as you have been lead to believe.

          I short. I have no love of heavy bikes because no matter how good you might think they are, they would be much better if the were one or two hundred pounds lighter. Even if they had considerably less power.

    • newtonmetres says:

      Suzuki T-500? Man you”re a relic like me: My first bike was a Yamaha RD200
      twostroke 1973 0r 74.

  11. Squidly Me says:

    Anyone else but me happen to notice that KTM bikes look like mantis shrimp?

  12. Mick says:

    “Limited only by the skill of the rider (and for many riders, these limits are severe)”

    That has to be the most strongly worded criticism of street riders I have even seen made by an OEM. I knew that they had to be aware of that. But I never thought that any OEM would ever say something like that out loud.

    I get a kick out of the ad vibe too. It is exactly time honored new model dirt bike fluff. KTM is clearly a dirt bike company.

    The bike? Yeah yeah yeah. Yet another overkill street bike. Now that you got that out of your system. How about a bike that has everything you need for public roads and no more. Test it in Corsica. Make a perfect Corsica bike. I’ll bring money. But not a dime until then.

    Unfortunately, I’ll die a zillionaire. Tune in next year for the 1390.

    • Kermit says:

      Mick, I think that is the opinion of the MD crew, not KTM. Not a fan of the style but I do like the blue/orange combo. When it came to KTM styling for the street, thought the RC8 was a good looking bike.

    • randomlad says:

      The italicized words are from Dirck’s review of the 2020 model, they’re not from KTM

    • Chris says:

      I’m pretty conservative but LOVE the look of KTM street bikes (though I think it high time they inject some new colors into the lineup.) Though a little lumpy with those big pistons, I still like this vee twin over a heavy wide 4/cyl (I know, they’re now narrower than my 2009 FZ1.) I have a 2016 SD GT and remember how easy it was to ride off the lot. You know you have a lot of power and you must definitely hold the grips tightly – especially if you have a passenger wrapped around you – but the weight distribution and chassis was so well sorted for me (I’m 6’2″) I almost immediately felt at home on it, not intimidated. I look at the new KTMs and contemplate an upgrade but what for? I’ll go $10k in the hole for a little better handling and superior electronics but the same (or less) hp. Not worth it IMHO. The Streetfighter offers 207hp but is way down in torque. Now if KTM would offer 210+hp PLUS 110ft/lbs+, now that may pry my fingers off that $10k.

  13. Davester says:

    Fabulous bike. I think the Engineers at KTM do an excellent job of giving maximum performance in all categories. The Kiska design is not something I admire at all, I just have to accept it as function over form. I had a 2013 Super Duke R. It disappears beneath you when you’re riding. This 2022 model should be a fantastic ride.

  14. TP says:

    Maybe it’s a great engine and maybe it’s a great motorcycle but it sure is ugly and looks plain weird.

  15. Jim says:

    Such an amazing engine. Still miss my ’14.

  16. Doug Basinger says:

    Thanks for part 2. Any idea when I can get one from my dealer? I am getting one to go with my 890 Duke R. Woo Hoo!

    • Curt says:

      Congrats on your excellent plans! My salesman said mine was due any day. So I suspect yours should be available soon, too.

  17. VLJ says:

    Okay, fine. If any of you mutts here wanna buy me one of these things just to prove your point, I’ll go ahead and accept it.

    🙂