Season 2014 was unofficially dubbed the “year of the naked bike,” just as 2015 has been a superbike year. Those past 12 months saw new naked weapons from Japan (Kawasaki Z1000/Yamaha FZ-09), Italy (Ducati Monster 1200S), and Germany (BMW S 1000 R). But none commanded the public’s attention like this, the KTM Super Duke 1290 R. An intense social media attack on our Instagram accounts and endless teaser videos of MotoGP rider Jeremy McWilliams doing things us mere mortals could only dream of got this bike off to a flying start in the public eye. This bike is the epitome of Austrian awesomeness. A bigger engine than everyone, better brakes and styling that looks like a cross between Mad Max and the Avengers make this thing stand out. I mean, who doesn’t notice a massive orange cacophony of rumbling hate thundering past the driver’s window?
Like A Rottie
There’s two sides to a Super Duke. One is the mental image of a crazed madman with malice in his heart riding to the end of the world on a rolling orange fireball, the other is of a guy trundling down to the shops to pick up tonight’s sushi and a bottle of white. That’s because the Super Duke does both with absolute ease. This thing is nothing, absolutely nothing, like the old 990 Super Duke. That escaped mental patient of a motorcycle had the throttle response of a Gatling gun and a seat made from the disused concrete of a Mattighofen back alley. It was like a Rottweiler that was abused as a puppy, ready to eat you at any given chance. The new Super Duke is like a Rottie that’s been loved at birth—happy to be nice and play the family protector, but tick it off and it’ll go mental and still eat you at any given chance.
Two things immediately stand out when you first climb onto a Super Duke. The first is that fantastically padded seat—perfect for my big ’ol ass—and the second is the low ’peg position that means riders above six feet won’t feel like they’ve been jammed into a box and sent on their way. There’s a hint of KTM Super Adventure in the riding position, and compared to the Kawasaki Z1000 the Super Duke feels almost twice its size. The stance is roomy, almost lazy, and equals day rides into the 10-hour mark are scarier to contemplate than actually undertake.
Get going and the massive face-stomping torque of the 1301cc V-twin engine is hidden away in a masquerade of polite throttle response and delightful comfort. It’s all so… nice. It’s like KTM’s taken the old 990, beaten the anger out of it and sent it to the gym. Everything is bigger, tighter and more refined. It really is quite amazing the job the factory has done on the throttle mapping. For a twin this size that has any hint of sporting potential, having such a sublime throttle response is a masterpiece. The docile nature at low rpm makes the Super Duke’s power easily accessible without feeling like you’re going to throw yourself head first into a bus. There’s wads of massive torque available below 5000 rpm—it makes more torque at 4000 rpm than the RC8 makes at 6500 rpm—and this equals a bike that’s so easy to live with, so easy to enjoy you kind of forget it’s capable of rocket level speeds.
There are three different throttle maps you can choose from—Sport, Road and Rain—with varying degrees of traction and ABS intervention, including the “Supermoto” mode in Sport that lets you get a bit of a drift on before the system reigns you back in, although changing maps is one of my pet hates on the Super Duke. You have to screw around in the dash via the switches on the left side of the bar and just changing the personality of the machine becomes an intolerably frustrating experience. Turning the traction control and ABS off is even worse. This has to be done at standstill with the engine running and takes the best part of 30 seconds to accomplish, but if you turn the engine off via the killswitch and leave the ignition on, the system defaults back to having the ABS and TC on! I’d understand if it defaults back to “on” settings if you turned the engine and ignition off with the key, but using the kill switch and having to do it all again is a right pain in the backside.
But the great thing is this engine is so good you’ll soon forget about the other maps—just stick it in Sport mode and go riding. The brilliant low-down throttle response negates the need for the other maps, and with the ABS and TC giving you a little bit of slip before the power is cut you can have a rollicking good time with those safety nets not tangling you up too much.
But enough of the niceness. Yes, this thing is docile enough to get milk on; yes, it’ll happily drop the kids at school and; yes, it’s a much more grown up version of the brat it was before. But a leopard can’t change its spots, and when it’s time to get nasty, the KTM Super Duke 1290 R will punch as hard as any machine with two wheels and an engine this side of a WSBK grid.
Take the bike by the scruff of its neck and kick it hard. Like pissing off that Rottie in the backyard, the Super Duke will bite back and before you know it, you’ve already put your license on notice that you intend to part ways very soon. The Super Duke goes from docile to blisteringly angry, slicing past the first four ratios like pastrami as the revs climb at an exponentially fast rate. There’s a kick in the rev range at around 6000 rpm, the engine feels like it gets over a crest and then all hell breaks loose if you dare to keep the throttle pinned. The acceleration is nothing short of immense and it just keeps coming—five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11,000 rpm flashes past the dial before you’ve had time to register it even arrived. You’d struggle to get this level of go from a full-blown superbike not that long ago, now it comes in the form of a bike your nana could ride. Evil buggers, those KTM engineers.
The press jargon that accompanied the Super Duke on its release kept alluding to ‘The Beast’, and it’s in this style of riding they’re talking about. At sensible speeds the Super Duke is a puppy, at mental speeds it changes entirely.
The chassis plays the two-faced game as easily as the engine. This is easily the most comfortable bike bearing the naked bike moniker out there today—every rider I’ve told to sit on the Super Duke says the same thing—they can’t believe how roomy and well-proportioned it is. Ergonomics are absolutely spot on. It’s a bike designed for normal people, rather than tiny Italian and Japanese riders. There’s ample legroom and no weight on the wrists – you still get a solid windblast at high speed – but that comes with the naked-bike territory.
Surprisingly the 48mm WP fork does not come with preload adjustability, which for a machine carrying such a high asking price is a huge omission. That means the only adjustability you have on the front end is rebound damping on the right leg and compression on the left. That’s fine for most road applications – where this bike is aimed- but you’ll soon find the outer limits of the front end if you go to the track and really try to push it. The 4.9 inches of wheel travel is about standard and when matched to the 6.1 inches on the rear, I didn’t have any bottoming problems at reasonable speed, however when I head to the track the Super Duke will be getting a serious stiffen up.
Regardless, the Super Duke is so easy to maneuver and so nimble for its size you’ll be carving beautiful wide arcs as easily as squaring off corners on the rear brake and firing the orange beast up the next straight. The front brakes are about as good as it gets in the Brembo M50 four-piston Monobloc calipers matched to the Bosch 9M ABS system, so there’s no complaints there. These calipers grace the Panigale and possess more stopping power than the engine can throw at them, which is saying something. Our testbike had a slightly warped rotor and would give a bit of a pulse through the lever, but still the braking power was nothing less than impressive. As is the whole machine, really.
Want One, Got One
There are very few bikes out there today that are as genuinely versatile as the Super Duke. It’s made such an impression on us at the Cycle News office that we begged and pleaded for one as our next long termer, and got it! So you’ll be seeing lots more of this bike in the coming months as we delve deep into the KTM Power Parts catalogue to try and improve this machine yet further.
However for a standard machine, this is truly a stupendous bike. It’s so easy to ride even a beginner could do it (but I suggest they don’t just yet), is great as a two-up ride thanks to the massive rear seat that thankfully is not an afterthought but has been incorporated into the original design, and it’s capable of sending you powersliding and wheelie-ing your way into prison if you’re not careful. I’m yet to ride the new Aprilia Tuono 1100, but I’ve ridden the rest of the naked bike contingent and this one stands above all else.
The KTM Super Duke is an epic machine.
SPECIFICATIONS: 2015 KTM Super Duke 1290 R
75° V-Twin, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled
Bore x stroke:
108 x 71mm
132kW (claimed, rpm not given)
Digital Twin Spark
48mm WP inverted cartridge fork with adjustable rebound and compression
Single WP shock absorber with adjustable spring preload, rebound, and high/low- speed compression damping
Front wheel travel
Rear wheel travel:
Twin 320mm discs, Brembo M50 four-piston Monobloc calipers, Bosch 9M ABS
Single 240mm disc, Brembo twin-piston caliper, Bosch 9M ABS
Dunlop Sportsmart2 120/70 ZR17
Dunlop Sportsmart2 190/55 ZR17
443 lbs. (dry, claimed).