The 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT is The Gentleman’s Sportbike
To say I have been hanging out to ride the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT is somewhat of an understatement. I’ve been hanging out for more than a year, because the GT’s international press introduction was held way back in February 2016, and it’s only been in the last couple of months the U.S. fleet of GT’s has been available for service.
To quote that hyper overused saying, “Good things come to those who wait.”
And make no mistake: the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT is indeed a very good thing. The GT is born from the same bike that sits in my garage—a first generation KTM 1290 Super Duke R. I have ridden thousands of bikes and never once shelled out for a testbike, until I rode the Super Duke back in 2015. It’s my ideal motorcycle—a mix of arm-ripping grunt, a sublime chassis and looks that cut the night like a razor—and it came as no surprise to learn many Super Duke riders across the globe had turned their streetfighter beasts into long range touring weapons with the addition of a couple of saddlebags and an aftermarket screen. The Super Duke’s versatility is well noted.
KTM’s engineers knew a GT was coming when they built the original Super Duke. Hell, they know what’s coming three and even four years in advance. Even so, the arrival of the GT three years after the original 1290 Super Duke was still an eye-opener for the world’s press and riders alike.
Sports tourers are supposed to be more touring than sport, but KTM’s motto of Ready to Race permeates everything the company does, so we shouldn’t be too surprised when a bike designed to smash out miles looks as stunningly ruthless as this. Compared to the pudgy but extremely fast Kawasaki Concourse 14, the KTM looks like a UFC fighter.
In developing the GT engine from the Super Duke, KTM modified the ECU mapping, exhaust, cylinder heads and changed the valve timing so 80 percent (84lb-ft) of the engine’s torque is available at 3250rpm, with the total torque being 106lb-ft at 6750rpm. The 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R, by comparison, produces 88lb-ft at 4000rpm, with 103lb-ft in total at 7000rpm.
Those torque numbers are on the extreme side for a category essentially dominated by four-cylinder machines—BMW S 1000 XR, Kawasaki Concourse 14 and Suzuki GSX-S1000FABS—but don’t detract from the GT’s ability to be an absolute pussycat if need be.
It seems odd to say, but the GT is one of the easiest big bore sport touring bikes to ride slow, thanks to the beautifully mapped ride-by-wire throttle response mitigated by the four individual riding modes. All that torque is so easily accessible and the gearing tall enough that you can lull from corner to corner, letting KTM’s biggest twin trot along underneath you.
Telling you the GT goes like a bat out of hell with its bum of fire is not saying anything new. From 4000 through to 7000rpm, this is where the engine makes the most of its massive capacity. It truly is majestically fast—like the late Nicky Hayden the GT produces devastating speed without looking or feeling out of control. The gearing is such you will rarely see sixth gear on the quickshifter-equipped gearbox unless you like your highway cruising real low in the rev range (sub-3000rpm) or you like to travel at rather illegal speeds.
Fifth gear is where you’ll spend most your time on the freeway, and at 75mph in fifth the GT feels like it has almost the same get up and go as it has in third at 60mph. Flexibility is bred into the GT engine’s DNA, making it an absolute gem for long distance touring in comfort.
Like all current big bore KTM streetbikes, the GT is laced with a serious array of electronic features—semi-active suspension, traction control, combined cornering ABS from Bosch and Motor Slip Regulation that opens the throttle butterflies ever so slightly to avoid the rear wheel locking up under extreme downshifts—the GT is basically one big algorithm.
The traction control system is the same as the first generation 1290 Super Duke in that it’s only on or off, not adjustable to nine different levels like the 2017 Super Duke. In all honesty, the system is fine for all but the most spirited of riding. You have to ride the GT pretty hard to get the traction control system to kick in, especially if you have good tires like the Pirelli GT’s that come as standard fitment. The TC won’t allow wheelies, so if you want to loft the front wheel (a move so, so easy to do with all that torque), you’ll have to switch the system off via the left switchblock.
The Super Adventure of 2015 was the first on/off road KTM to feature WP’s semi-active suspension, and now that tech has made it to the road via the GT. Semi active suspension isn’t this magic carpet ride some think. The three settings of Comfort, Sport and Street are essentially base preload modes, allowing the system to vary the compression and rebound damping rates constantly in each setting after measuring lean angle, brake pressure and wheel speed.
The system works exceptionally well and is a far leap forward from the original electronic suspension systems that came out with BMW’s ESA and Ducati’s Skyhook variants of a few years ago.
At speed the GT is superbly planted. I found the Sport setting to be too harsh for my 195lb figure, which I found odd as I normally like a stiffer suspension set-up. The GT’s fork runs an anti-dive map, basically a fast increase in compression damping, in the Street and Comfort modes but not in Sport mode. That’s because Comfort and Street are softer set-ups and require the anti-dive compression increase so as not allow the fork to plow to the bottom of the stroke under braking. The Sport mode’s stiffer base settings negate the need for an anti-dive map.
Street setting was the ideal one for me over the kind of road surfaces you’ll find in Los Angeles (read: rubbish surfaces), offering the best compromise between comfort and sporting ability. Cranking it up to the Sport setting only made sense if the road was smooth and the pace fast. The stiffer setting certainly helps the GT carve through corners with aplomb, but any more than a minute in a straight line would see me heading back to Street mode, pronto.
Another first for a road-only KTM is the GT’s addition of cruise control, which is annoyingly placed on the throttle side, rather than the left switch bar. Holding a constant speed while fiddling with the cruise control switches, using the same hand, is stupidly frustrating, especially if you have limited movement in your thumb joint from too many crashes like I do.
Still, cruise control is something a machine carrying a GT badge must have. You’d never see high-end GT cars like the Bentley Continental GT without it, so the same should be true for the motorcycle equivalent.
And like plenty of high end GT cars, the Super Duke GT features cornering lights, these ones from Bosch. If you’ve never tried this system before while riding, it can spook you a little. Slow speed corners are no biggie, but when you come tearing off a motorway at 75mph into a tightening corner, it’s funny to see the road being constantly lit up just wide of your field of vision. It can take some time to get used to but I absolutely love this feature. When I come home of a night after work I often ride through canyons and the cornering lights makes for a safer trip home. Damn, I feel old just typing that.
I also feel old in that storage is becoming an ever-increasing issue in my life. Everything from my home cupboards to data storage to motorcycles, I never seem to have enough space to put my stuff. The GT is part of this issue. What makes this bike a GT and not a Super Duke are those nicely proportioned 7.9 gallon sidebags that are so beautifully integrated into the overall design. They’ll take a decent amount of stuff, easily enough for a weekend away, and will fit my medium Arai Signet-X no problem. But what if both sidebags are full of clothes and I still want to store my helmet? This comes back to a fundamental problem with modern motorcycle design. Why, in all wisdom, have helmet locks been eradicated from our bikes today? In the case of the GT, a simple helmet lock would free up an entire bag for other stuff. I’m being picky here, but hey, that’s my job. If KTM fitted a helmet lock on the side of the GT like almost every bike before the year 2000, it would be a hard bike to top in the GT category because no one else is doing it, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.
My gripes with sans helmet lock aside, it doesn’t change the fact the GT is an absolutely superb motorcycle. Back in 2015, we fitted the Touring kit as part of the KTM PowerParts catalogue to what became my Pikes Peak Super Duke before we turned it into a racer, and save for the GT’s screen and slightly wider/more comfortable bars there really wasn’t a massive difference between the two.
For me, the GT is the ultimate sport touring motorcycle—with an emphasis on sport. There are other bikes out there that do the touring thing in more comfort, but the KTM combines things like heated grips, a quickshifter, cruise control, electronic suspension, on road comfort, looks and that raucous engine so superbly, it’s extremely hard to find fault with it.
2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
Engine: 75° V-twin four-stroke, eight valves, DOHC
Power: 173hp @ 9500 rpm (claimed)
Torque: 106lb-ft @ 6750 rpm (claimed)
Bore x stroke: 108 x 71mm
Compression ratio: 13.2:1
Chassis: Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated
Front suspension: 48mm inverted fork. WP semi-active control.
Wheel travel: 4.9 in
Rear suspension: WP Semi-active monoshock
Wheel travel: 6.1 in
Front brake: Brembo M50 four piston monobloc caliper, 320mm disc. Bosch Cornering ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two piston, fixed caliper, 240mm disc. ABS
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear tire: 190/55 ZR17
Wheelbase: 58.3 in
Steering head angle: 65.1°
Seat height: 32.8in.
Fuel capacity: 6.0gal
Weight: 451lb (dry, claimed).
Color: Super Duke GT Orange (tested), Super Duke GT Anthracite