We have the world exclusive first ride on the 2020 KTM 890 Duke R. This bike will likely be a 2021 model in the US but will be released in other parts of the world as a 2020 model. We now have an updated review from Cycle News Road Test Editor, Rennie Scaysbrook that you can find here: https://www.cyclenews.com/2020/05/article/2020-ktm-890-duke-r-review-2/
Photography by Heiko Mandl
KTM has had a smash hit with the 790 Duke, its first-ever parallel-twin model launched two years ago powered by the LC8c (as in, liquid-cooled eight-valve compact) engine. Dubbed The Scalpel for its focused design and pared-to-the-minimum weight and bulk, the 790 Duke has provided Europe’s largest manufacturer with a unique contender in the middleweight marketplace, which has been a top seller thanks to being competitively priced, and super fun to ride. With its highly distinctive sharp-edged styling, the 790 Duke has filled the pretty big gap between the 690 Duke single and 1290 Super Duke V-twins in the Austrian firm’s street bike range, and in doing so brought an entirely new level of electronic sophistication to the mid-size sector, with features that some Japanese one-liter sportbikes don’t even have.
Now KTM has gone one step further—make that several steps—with the debut at this year’s EICMA Milan Show of the 890 Duke R. Lighter, more powerful and even more purposeful than its kid sister, this is clearly aimed at topping the middleweight sector in terms of outright performance and razor-edge handling, once again, at an affordable price.
“We’re focusing here on the hardcore KTM naked[-bike] rider, with a bike that’s developed for very aggressive street and track riding,” says Dutchman Adriaan Sinke, KTM’s Head of Product Management. “We wanted to create the ultimate mid-class sports naked that’s also a serious option for riders of bigger bikes who are looking for something more agile, but still powerful, and exciting to ride.”
In fact, the 890 project dates back to 2012 when KTM engineers first began work on creating the LC8c parallel-twin motor. “We always intended to develop a 790 Duke R, which was in our planning from the start,” states Sinke. “But then during the development program it got to the point that we weren’t happy with our prototype of this—it wasn’t enough R, not enough KTM. So we decided to produce just the 790 Duke to start with, and then go full attack on the R, and make it what we believe a KTM Duke R should be, if necessary with a bigger engine. So we basically tore up the spec sheet of the original, and went back to the drawing board to figure out how far we could take that engine and that chassis—and the 890 Duke R is the result.”
And what a result it is. By dint of increasing both bore and stroke of the LC8c motor from 88 x 65.7mm to 90.7 x 68.8mm, to deliver a 90cc increase in displacement, KTM has achieved a significant increase in performance from the new engine, which delivers 99Nm of torque at 7,750 rpm, 13Nm more than the 790 Duke, itself until now the class-leading middleweight package, and 119 bhp/89kW at 9,250 rpm, so 14 bhp more power running on 95 octane pump fuel. Yet despite this they’ve actually raised the rev-limiter on this bigger-cubed motor by 500 rpm to 10,500 revs, while at the same time reducing the dry weight of the complete motorcycle by 7.3 pounds to 366 pounds, says Sinke—a savings mainly obtained by swapping to Brembo brakes from the J.Juans on the 790. For despite increasing the twin front discs diameter from 300mm on the 790 Duke to 320mm on the 890, the new package is 2.6 pounds lighter all told, thanks mainly to using aluminum carriers for the discs, and Brembo’s new-gen Stylema radial one-piece calipers, which are both good-looking and also lighter than the J.Juan ones. Switchable Bosch 2-channel ABS is fitted as standard for Euro 4 compliance.
More power and torque yet with reduced weight (and largely unsprung at that, which has a beneficial effect on the now fully adjustable WP suspension—the 790 Duke’s was non-adjustable beyond rear spring preload) sounds like motorcycle R&D nirvana. After being honored to be chosen as the first person outside the company and its suppliers to ride the new bike in pre-production prototype form, it took about six miles of the 110-plus miles I covered on a hard-ridden tour of the Salzkammergut mountains in KTM’s back yard, to realize how special this new KTM hotrod really is. Another of the many apparent paradoxes on what is a remarkable new motorcycle by any standards is that KTM has achieved this weight-saving while actually increasing the rotational mass of the forged one-piece three-bearing crankshaft by 20 percernt, which, of course, makes it heavier overall. This carries forged pistons, via a sophisticated cracked conrod design, which results in low piston weight and reduced reciprocating mass. The crankpins are offset by 75º (versus the more common 180º or 270º crank throws) with 435º firing intervals to replicate the gritty sound of a KTM V-twin’s irregular firing order. That heavier crank is to deliver a sense of momentum as the engine spins up, says Sinke, as well as greater stability in turns thanks to the gyroscopic function of the engine. This, in turn, has necessitated redesigning the twin counterbalancers—one at the front of the engine and one in the cylinder head—between the camshafts to eliminate vibration. The compression ratio has been raised from 12.7:1 to 13.5:1, thanks to a knock sensor now added to obviate detonation, and this, in turn, helps deliver improved acceleration. There are 1mm bigger steel valves (same material as the 790) all around, with the 790’s paired 36mm inlets increased to 37mm, and the 29mm exhausts to 30mm, operated via all-new camshafts with higher lift and more aggressive timing, while the exhaust headers are now wider for better breathing.
Those cams are chain-driven up the right of the cylinders, while the optional Quickshifter+ powershifter on my test bike allowed clutchless shifting both up and down the well-chosen (and unchanged) ratios of the six-speed gearbox, matched to a PASC/ oil-bath slipper clutch which is cable-operated for ease of maintenance, and to save weight. As on the 790, the open deck Nikasil-lined cylinders (thus saving the weight of cast-iron liners) are integrated into the upper half of the high-pressure die cast aluminum crankcases. KTM has also shortened the engine considerably by stacking the gearbox shafts vertically one atop another, and they’re surmounted by the shifter mechanism right beneath the unchanged 42mm Dell’Orto throttle bodies, which are fed cool air from an airbox under the seat, itself breathing via twin intakes either side of your hips. And in what Sinke says is a significant step in optimizing performance, each of the two cylinders is now mapped separately one from the other, delivering a more refined power delivery.
The result is a package that’s more intuitive still to ride than the already super-friendly yet fast 790 Duke. The engine is even more of a gem than its forebear, pulling hard and strong from just 2,000 rpm on part-throttle, or wide open in sixth gear from 4,000 revs up with no transmission snatch. Because power keeps building all through the rev range, you do have an inducement to flirt with that 500 rpm higher rev-limiter, but if you do hit it, there’s a soft-action cutout thanks to the RBW digital throttle. Yet the harder you rev it the paradoxically smoother the engine becomes—those counterbalancers really do their job, and it’s a smooth operator at all times as it carves corners through the Austrian countryside. But thanks to that extra dose of torque it’s happy to be short shifted to let you ride the torque curve through a series of bends interspersed with short straights, and here the really well setup optional two-way powershifter really worked well, letting you zap clutchless up and down the gearbox’s well-chosen ratios to surf that meaty torque curve.
Just as the first time around with the 790 Duke, the new 890 R feels small, slim, short, and sporty, with a close-coupled riding stance that has your chin seemingly over the front wheel. It’s a responsive, eager-revving bike that’s not only thoroughly practical but also hugely entertaining, and totally straightforward to ride as hard as you like on. It’s one of those bikes where you feel a part of it from the very moment you hop aboard. This could make riding to work a lot of fun, but maybe not half as much as taking the long way home on it!
Yet at 11,990 euro (approximately $13,000 USD) in Germany incl. 19% tax the 890 Duke R is a lot of bike for the money. Okay, it’s at the upper end of the middleweight category, but it’s well priced against the 1000cc bikes it competes with on performance.
“We think this bike is for an intelligent rider who doesn’t have the biggest ego, who realizes that power to weight is more important than throwing down 180 horsepower on the bar at night,” says Sinke. “This is someone who’s a very enthusiastic motorcycle rider who really understands where the gains can be made. For this reason, I’m convinced that the 1290 Super Duke is not at risk because of the 890 R, so we won’t be selling against ourselves. It has 60 bhp more, the styling is completely different, it’s much more aggressive, it’s much more in your face, and as good as the Super Duke is, they’re different beasts—one is a 180 horsepower monster, and the other is a 120 horsepower Super Scalpel. We call it the Evil Twin! This is a very serious, very compact, very evil little motorcycle, and I think it’s such a different kind of animal, that I don’t see the customer be the same as the Super Duke, because for a KTM it’s a very accessible motorcycle. Okay, it’s incredibly sporty and extremely agile, but it’s also easy to get along with and very well balanced. So compared to a 790 Duke, it’s a different animal.”
Evil is as evil does, and the key to the 890 Duke R’s significant dose of extra performance isn’t just the various engine mods KTM has concocted to stay ahead of its rivals, but its lighter weight which besides improving acceleration, also makes the bike so much fun to ride hard on in twisty stretches of road. The KTM switches direction almost on autopilot. Its handling is so precise and intuitive it seems you need only think about making a turn, and the 890 Duke R has gone and done it for you. The overall ride height has been increased by 15mm. This improves the anti-squat behavior because the swingarm is more in line with the drive chain. The bike doesn’t squat down as much as before at the rear under hard acceleration. It also means the riding position has been subtly altered, so you’re now sitting 0.6 inches higher at 33.8 inches, and thanks to the new flatter handlebar, you’re leaning further forward in what is a sportier riding position than on the 790, with the footpegs also moved back a little. This isn’t any more tiring than before, just definitely more sporty-seeming. You feel even more involved with the bike physically, and that’s one reason for the intuitive riding style I mentioned earlier. And even at speeds of 125 mph with the tacho showing 7,500 rpm, you don’t get too blown about thanks to the slightly more aerodynamic stance.
I started out using Street mode out of the four available via the RBW digital throttle, before switching to the sharper but still controllable Sport map. There’s also a Rain mode capped at 100 horsepower with a smoother pickup, and an optional Track mode for track days, with launch control, MTC slip adjust, revised mapping and throttle response, and the anti-wheelie turned off. But I ended up using Street for most of the day as better for real-world road riding in traffic and on tight, twisting mountain roads, switching to Sport when the road opened up so I could be more aggressive on the throttle. It really pays to surf that flat but meaty torque curve, so short-shifting wide-open at 7,500 rpm gave me plenty of acceleration en route to 100 mph in top gear with 5,800 rpm showing on the good-looking light-sensitive full-color TFT dash. As on all KTMs, this is an excellent example of how to present data to the rider, with the prominent gear selected reading in the top left corner always readily viewable at a quick glance, and scrolling through the pages is easily done via the switch on the left ‘bar. As on its low-cost 125/200/390 Dukes, KTM’s dashboards are a model of readability to others.
That compact engine format and the sharper sense of purpose you get riding this bike compared to the 790 makes it feel like a single in the way it steers, but like a maxi-twin in terms of power and torque. The 890 Duke R comes close to being the best of both worlds dynamically: it’s light and agile, responsive to rider input but with added power and torque compared to the smaller capacity version of the same model. And those great brakes which deliver so much feel and great bite without being snatchy, are just the icing on the cake. The only place that hard-riding Adriaan Sinke pulled a gap on me with his 1290 Super Duke R was up a long, quite steep one-mile-plus-long climb where the bigger V-twin’s extra cubes and added punch won out. Elsewhere, the more agile, more nimble 890 Duke R was the bike to be on, especially once we got too tight mountain turns where the sweet-steering twin that thinks it’s a single won out every time in handling terms.
The 890’s appeal is mainly about the power to weight ratio, and it’s more agile handling compared to a physically bigger V-twin, not just KTM, but any other manufacturer. It encourages you to brake later and accelerate harder after flicking the smaller-seeming bike through a turn. You’re aided in doing that by the new Michelin Power Cup II tires fitted to the bike, which according to Sinke, are much lighter than any comparable previous tire from the French manufacturer, so benefit handling via reduced unsprung weight, previously a preserve of Pirelli and Dunlop. These tires were truly impressive in the way they gripped, and I also double-checked how quickly they warmed up from cold, previously a weak point of Michelin street rubber. Not any more. These were always ready to be ridden hard on after the first mile of use after stopping for lunch or photos. Plus, the reduced unsprung weight obtained by those lighter tires and especially the Brembo brakes allows the fully-adjustable WP suspension specially developed for the 890 Duke R to deliver optimum compliance in riding as aggressively as you like. The new KTM also rode the copious bumps on degraded frost-ravaged tarmac up in the Salzkammergut mountains really well. Ride quality overall is excellent for an unashamed sport bike.
The 890 Duke R’s steering geometry is quite aggressive, with 24.3º of rake and 98mm of trail, delivering a 58.3-inch wheelbase. But it’s agile, super-responsive handling is the payoff for that, coupled with total stability on the fast third or fourth-gear turns—it feels planted to the tarmac, yet the great leverage from the wide, taper-section aluminum handlebar lets you carve corners and especially switch direction from side to side really easily. The handlebar can be adjusted almost infinitely in search of your preferred riding position. Thanks to the narrow seat where it meets the fuel tank at 5’10,” I could also put both feet flat on the ground at rest, in turn adding to the sense of being at one with the bike.
KTM’s engineers have done it again. They’ve successfully tackled the hardest task in two-wheeled development, and made the best better still by improving on what was already a market-leading motorcycle. They’ve produced a Super Scalpel that’s a significant step up from the basic model in what is already a stellar platform. No less an authority than Jeremy McWilliams who’s been one of the test riders involved with the project from the start and was responsible for the final mapping of the Keihin electronics, concurs. We were racing against each other at the Goodwood Revival a couple of weeks before I flew to Austria to ride the 890 Duke R. “You’ve got a treat in store,” said Jezza as we sat together waiting for the pre-race Riders Meeting to start. “It’s nearly everything you could look for in a real-world road bike—it’s light, slim and fast, plus it feels very refined. We put a lot of time into getting the engine characteristics just right, and I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it, because, in my opinion, it gives the 1290 Super Duke R a serious run for its money as the best bike in the KTM range and a candidate for being the best real-world performance bike money can buy. Have fun!”
Know what? He was right and I did! CN
2020 KTM 890 Duke R Specifications (pre-production)
||Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, 4-stroke, parallel twin
|Bore x Stroke:
||90.7mm x 68.8mm
||89kW (121 PS) @ 9250 rpm
||99 Nm @ 7750 rpm
||DKK Dellorto w/46mm throttle body
||Pressure Lubrication w/2 oil pumps
||Cable operated, w/PASC slipper
||Bosch EMS w/RBW
||MTC (lean angle sensitive, 3-Mode, Track optional
||WP APEX 43, fully adjustable
||WP APEX Monoshock, fully adjustable
|Front wheel travel:
|Rear wheel travel:
||2x Brembo Stylema 4-piston, radially mounted caliper, 320mm discs, ABS
||Brembo single piston floating caliper, 240mm disc, ABS
||Cast aluminum, 3.50 x 17-in.
||Cast aluminum, 5.50 x 17-in.
|Rake x trail:
||65.7° x 99.7mm
|Weight (dry, claimed):