Older And Tougher
Born from the 1290 Super Duke R, the GT has always been a sport tourer with attitude. It’s still rough and tough, but it’s grown up a bit in the last few years.
Already Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, KTM continues to ramp up its sales numbers, with the 126,808 bikes it sold in the first half of this year representing a further 15 percent up on 2017, itself a record year for the company.
Perhaps surprisingly, one of its palpable hits helping drive that increase has been the most expensive model in its entire range, the 1290 Super Duke GT first launched three years ago as the Austrian company’s unique take on sports touring with a difference—i.e. with an accent on the “sport!”
Photography by Heiko Mandl
Those sales say this model has completely addressed KTM president Stefan Pierer’s concerns before it appeared. “I don’t think a sport tourer in the classic way matches 100 percent with KTM’s brand identity,” Pierer says. “Our customers expect something sporty made the KTM way, not like other manufacturers do it.”
That certainly describes the GT, which since its 2015 launch has provided its owners with the dazzling performance and benchmark handling of the take-no-prisoners 1290 Super Duke R streetfighter, coupled with everyday practicality and user friendly convenience. It’s a successful marriage of opposites.
Despite being the first ever KTM V-twin street model with touring pretensions, the GT has been such a hit that KTM has now devoted some extra R&D budget to making it better still.
At Intermot 2018, KTM unveiled the seriously improved 2019 version of the model that Greiner and his R&D colleagues, led by project manager Tobias Eisele, have been working on ever since GT Version 101 was launched three years ago—and just a couple of weeks later they asked me to come and ride it for a day in glorious autumn sunshine along the superb riding roads running up and down the hills and valleys of KTM’s Upper Austria hinterland.
The 2019 Super Duke GT is even more fun to ride than before, as a sharper, stronger and more refined version in every way of its predecessor. It’s a fact underlined by the outgoing 2018 model GT, which my riding companion Luke Brackenbury, KTM’s PR Manager, had brought along to compare with the new bike.
Swapping back and forth between the two was educational—I’d never have thought the outgoing model would seem quite so dated, having itself set new sector standards on its 2015 release.
From The Hot Seat
Settle aboard the quite tall 32.8-in seat, which delivers a spacious riding position with the footpegs quite rear set so your toes don’t touch down at high lean, nor do your legs get cramped, especially when riding for long stretches.
That sense of spaciousness is extended via the wide one-piece handlebar mounted on the upper triple-clamp, which delivers a commanding riding position via any one of the four different positions it can be rotated to—its flatter shape yields a more upright and much more relaxed stance than on the Super Duke R. The specially-designed hand guards unique to the GT gave extra protection to my hands on a chill autumn morning, when the three-stage heated grips, again fitted as standard as before, but now with the wiring completely hidden, were very welcome. Both front brake and hydraulically operated clutch levers are of course adjustable.
“The hand guards were aerodynamically developed for the GT because it’s such a fast bike,” says Greiner. “Wind interference on your handlebar can be a real problem at speed, so it’s critical to have properly shaped hand guards there, and I think they look really nice, too.” Form follows function.
The test bike’s heated seat was super comfortable and looked good, seemingly a big improvement over the outgoing bike’s when I swapped between the two. But that’s when I learned that this so-called Ergo Seat and its pillion counterpart were in fact on the list of 50-odd dedicated GT aftermarket accessories. Really, the Ergo Seat is so comfortable that it’d be a false economy not opting for it, and the same goes for those eminently practical hard bags. It’s worth noting with the luggage removed there’s no ugly frame left in open view—the steel mounting system is very discreet, and doesn’t detract from the bike’s styling.
The uprated 1290 GT also features a revamped version of WP’s semi-active suspension, with three different riding modes available for selection by the rider—Comfort, Street and Sport. These are obtained via an SCU/Suspension Control Unit which, according to feedback from accelerometers and stroke sensors front and rear, adapts the damping rates of WP’s 48mm upside down fork and rear monoshock to best suit the properties of the road surface, as well as the rider’s style.
However, impressive as that already was when I tried it first time around three years ago on the GT, it’s immediately noticeable how much better it’s got on the new bike—an impression confirmed by swapping to the older model for a ride over similar broken road surfaces.
Okay, so it’s a cliché to say that the 2019 model delivers a magic carpet ride, but honestly, you practically float over bumps and broken tarmac in a way I wasn’t expecting—you see the imperfection in the road surface, but you hardly feel it when riding over it, so greatly enhanced is the ride quality verging on the plush delivered by the semi-active suspension.
“We’re pretty proud that we could achieve this improvement using the same hardware as before, just by developing a new software for it with different algorithms,” says Gustav Greiner. “The accuracy is more than three times greater in monitoring the street surface and analyzing the result than it used to be before.” Suspension travel is unchanged, at 4.9-in up front and a massive 6.1-in at the rear, just that the damping is vastly improved—and it wasn’t so bad previously!
Moreover, with the semi-active suspension customers can electronically choose via the dash the appropriate rear pre-load adjustment according to the load they have, whether rider only with or without luggage, or two people with or without bags.
Conversely, the Brembo brake package and cast aluminum wheels are unchanged, sourced as before from the Super Duke R, with twin radially-mounted four-piston Monoblock calipers gripping 320mm front discs with a large 240mm rear, incorporating switchable Bosch 9ME combined ABS (so, including cornering ABS) with four modes: Street, Sport, Rain and—Supermoto. Well, this is a tourer done the KTM way.
A Refined Beast
As before the GT boasts the same latest generation 75° V-twin eight-valve LC8 engine with chain camshaft drive measuring 108 x 71 mm for a capacity of 1301cc as its 1290 Super Duke R-model sibling, but with different tuning and some uprated hardware.
The engine has same-size-as-before inlet valves but now in titanium, whose lighter weight is largely responsible for that 500 rpm higher rev limiter, together with revised resonator chambers on the stainless steel exhaust.
Aside from presumed performance benefits, this also means that the previously best-selling Euro 4 compliant Akrapovič slip-on silencer in the GT aftermarket catalogue will now be a hard sell—the 2019 model’s stocker sounds great, muscular and rorty at the same time, if inevitably slightly muted.
However, while all this has resulted in a two horsepower increase in power from before to 175 bhp at 9,750 rpm, the biggest difference is in the way that it’s delivered—a fact again confirmed by swapping back and forth between the outgoing GT and the new one. Eisele’s engine experts have in fact handed back two horsepower from the 177 horsepower spec of the 2019 R-version in order to deliver a greater spread of grunt all through the rev range on the new GT, with torque peaking at 7000 rpm with 104 lb-ft on tap.
“Basically, we took the engine from the Super Duke R, and refined it a little bit for the GT,” says Tobias Eisele. “We changed the intake snorkel where it enters the airbox, all the ducting, and the ignition map, and in respecting the needs of a touring bike, we slightly reduced the maximum horsepower, but worked on the way the power is delivered.
“The torque curve is flatter and broader, and that’s what you actually feel on the road. On this bike, you have more than enough power everywhere, so what’s most important is the way it’s delivered.”
When the super strong acceleration is delivered to the grippy Pirelli Angel GT rubber, and metered by the nine-stage TC dialed down to level one or or, the ride is literally awesome. This is a sports tourer with serious attitude, and a much fatter hit of midrange torque than before from 4000 rpm upwards. Another key element is that the crankshaft is now 1.1 pounds heavier, so there’s a bigger rotating mass which helps retain momentum and adds to the sense of torquiness, as well as helping the engine run smoother. The gear-driven counterbalancer is unchanged, and does a good job of eliminating the vibes inherent in the 75° V-twin engine’s layout.
A Supreme Mile Muncher
What all this means is the GT’s V-twin engine eats up tarmac with a ferocity that continues unabated until just before the revlimiter kicks in. Meaty doses of power and especially torque are always at hand, but it is truly effortless in its application, so there’s even less of a need to use the six-speed gearbox hard than was the case before.
That’s a pity in a way, because along with smoother performance and greater torque at lower rpm, KTM has now added an auto-blipper clutchless downshifter to its positive, precise Quickshifter+ powershifter package, forming part of the optional Performance Pack, which also includes MSR/Motor Slip Regulation for controlling engine braking electronically, besides the ramp-type slipper clutch included as standard.
The GT’s gearshift is addictively easy to use without ever touching the clutch lever after you get going, except for feathering it slightly in slow traffic or tight turns when revs drop below 2,000 rpm. The gearbox ratios are unchanged, same as the final drive and primary gearing, but Hill Hold Control is now available as an option, and sampling it on the test bike proved it worked OK on quite steep inclines.
By remapping the Keihin ECU for 2019 to incorporate further development of the ignition timing to deliver a smoother, stronger pickup from low revs, KTM’s engineers have produced even more top-end performance. That’s while delivering a noticeable hit of extra mid-range muscle which is maintained all the way to the 10,500 rpm limiter, at which point the RBW/ride-by-wire digital throttle simply stops building revs, rather than a hard cutout.
At the other end of the rev scale, the GT has a meaty power delivery, pulling strongly off its 1500 rpm idle speed before coming on strong from as low as 4000 rpm in Sport riding mode out of the three available (100 bhp Rain and full power Street are the others). I could hold fourth gear for mile after mile, carving corners through the Austrian countryside, followed by straight-line squirts to the next bend, making the GT live up to its name as a grand tourer with sporting pretensions that are constantly available at the twist of a wrist. Sure, you can knock it down one gear or even two to get added zest, but the 1301cc motor has such huge reserves of torque that in real world riding you don’t need to do this.
The Best Yet?
With such serious power and acceleration on tap, don’t think this new KTM 1290 GT, complete with more power, more torque, and a wider spread of each, is in any way an abrupt handful exiting a turn off a closed throttle, because Eisele’s engineers have done a great job of taking the edge off the GT’s voracious jump to terminal velocity, without at the same time excessively neutering the initial launch. Even the Sport mode’s throttle response is smooth, in offering up more power at smaller openings than Street mode, which requires just a little bit more throttle for the same yield of power until around one-third opening, where both modes then offer similar performance.
Rain mode smooths out throttle response even more while capping peak power to 100 bhp, though I only tried this once thanks to the sunny weather for my ride. Of course, it’s another matter if your ride takes you to a race track for a track day, at which the GT would be perfectly adept. I didn’t get the chance to try this out, but among the several optional packages available is the Track Pack, which allows further adjustability of the electronic settings, as well as extra programs covering launch control, spin adjuster, three throttle response settings, and an anti-wheelie on/off function.
Comfort without cornering compromise. Distance without diluting performance. KTM’s strap lines for the new GT are well chosen. The most radical long-distance sports tourer in the marketplace combines the 1290 Super Duke R’s phenomenal engine performance and handling capabilities in a torqued-up package that’s as happy munching miles at speed as it is in carving corners. Dealer deliveries will begin in March/April in the USA of a bike that’s still unique, only even better than before.
The Aesthetics Game
Part the new appeal of the ’19 GT is visual, for in just looking at the two bikes side by side as you walk towards them, it’s evident that the new model’s heavily facelifted styling by Kiska Design has given it more presence, as well as a greater sense of substance than before.
The new shapelier screen is more protective at speed than the older one, and is safely adjustable one-handed on the go through nine different positions over a range of 50mm. Cruising at 100 mph with the V-twin engine running at 6,500 rpm was surprisingly relaxing for a neo-naked sports tourer, with excellent protection, very little residual windblast, and no excessive noise.
The 2019 GT’s redesigned front end also features wider and more protective side pods to the unchanged six-gallon gas tank—1.5-gal bigger than the R-model’s 4.7-gal tank. These now contain a new pair of storage compartments to hold stuff like freeway toll tickets and credit cards to pay them, quite apart from the key for the bike which for the first time on a KTM now features the RACE ON keyless remote system.
You now don’t even need a key to unlock the fuel tank when refueling, meaning that on this new bike you end up basically using the key only for the lockable panniers. There’s also a USB socket in the left hand compartment to recharge your phone etc., though be warned that there isn’t room for larger such devices.
A New Face
The facelift features a new and quite distinctive looking LED headlight, comprising six forward-facing ultra-bright LEDs within the central aluminum housing. Further LEDs deliver the DRL/daytime running lights incorporating self-cancelling indicators, and the three-stage lean angle specific LED cornering lights mounted within the fuel tank spoiler. These are linked to the Keihin ECU’s lean angle sensor, and increase in intensity as you lean the bike over, directing light into the apex of a turn in a way that’s even helpful in daytime, as when for example you negotiate darkly forested sections of road. The TFT dash also switches into its very distinctive Night mode in such conditions.
Same, But Different
As before, the GT shares the same orange painted tubular steel trellis frame as the 1290 Super Duke R—there’s a choice of just two bodywork colors, the white/orange livery of the test bike, and a black/orange variant—and while retaining the same geometry with a 24.9° head angle and 4.2-in of trail matched to a 58.3-in wheelbase, there’s a longer, stronger subframe than the R-version to give the passenger extra space and thus greater long-distance comfort via lower footrests. This also facilitates fitting the specially-designed hard panniers that’ll come as standard in the USA, but are an option everywhere else. The 2-1 exhaust’s right-side silencer is also mounted lower down to make room for these.
Working The Menus
New for 2019 is the easy-to-use 6.5-inch TFT dash which is both aesthetically pleasing as well as functionally effective – swapping back to the outgoing model showed its analogue tacho and LCD speedo to be downright retro.
The TFT version’s full color screen is visible in direct sunlight and features a choice of layouts, one more street focused and the other for track use. I love the way the tacho reading changes color as revs rise, going from plink through red to scarlet and then crimson as it nears the 10,500 rpm rev limiter, 500 revs higher than before. Working through the bike’s various menus and other functions is now done via an illuminated menu switch found on the left bar, where the switch for the cruise control included as stock has now also been positioned for greater convenience – previously it was on the right.
There’s no navigation package as such featured on the GT, but the new KTM MY RIDE smartphone connectivity feature allows you to download the relevant app to your phone, which makes the GT navigation ready for onscreen turn-by-turn directions and audio prompts in five languages. This lets you pre-plan your route to allow you to follow it turn by turn via the dash, or have audio prompts if you have a Bluetooth helmet. “You just have to get the software on your phone, plan your routes, and then it talks it out,” says Greiner. Caller ID is displayed with the ability to receive or reject incoming calls, along with the facility to toggle through tracks on a music playlist.CN
|2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT ($20,499)
|Water-cooled DOHC 75-degree V-twin 4-stroke, 4 valves per cylinder, camshaft drive
|Bore x stroke:
|108 x 71mm
|Electronic fuel injection and engine management system, with Keihin ECU and 2 x 56mm Keihin throttle bodies with single injector per cylinder, RBW digital throttle and choice of three riding modes (Sport, Street and Rain)
|Six-speed with two-way clutchless quickshifter as standard
|Tubular steel trellis
|Fully adjustable 48mm WP inverted telescopic fork offering semi-active suspension with four different riding modes and anti-dive.
|Cast aluminum swingarm with fully adjustable WP monoshock and Pro-Lever variable-rate link offering semi-active suspension with four different riding modes
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
|2 x 320mm Brembo stainless steel disc with radially-mounted 4-piston Brembo Monoblock calipers and switchable Bosch 9ME Combined-ABS
|Single 240mm steel disc with 1-piston Brembo floating caliper with Bosch 9ME Combined-ABS
|120/70R17 Pirelli Angel GT
|190/55ZR17 Pirelli Angel GT
|Weight (claimed, no fuel):