Very much unlike the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R is a model of sophistication.
By Rennie Scaysbrook | Photography by Kit Palmer
I remember the first time I rode a KTM Super Duke. We’d just been delivered one from KTM Australia in 2014 and after about five minutes on board, I stopped and yelled at my riding partner and good mate, Simon.
“Man, this thing’s nuts!” I blurted out to a very jealous looking Simon. The Beast, as it was christened, made every other twin-cylinder sportbike motor—except for those found in the very highest end of Ducati superbikes of the time—instant also-rans. This thing had so much torque, so much performance, it really was difficult to believe. It reminded me how I felt the first time I rode the BMW S 1000 RR at Phillip Island. KTM, like BMW, had moved the game substantially forward.
Over the years the Super Duke has evolved but stayed very true to that original hooligan ethos. It’s effectively a 1301cc V-twin supermoto, which explains why it was so easy for supermoto hero Chris Fillmore to obliterate the course record on one at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 2017.
That 2017 model was the first time the Super Duke received any changes (you can read our 2017 Super Duke review here. Shorter intake funnels helped smooth out power below 5000 rpm; the electronics now included Motor Slip Regulation and nine-stage traction control; there was a funky new dash and keyless ignition.
The 2020 Super Duke was refined further. Different injectors, airbox, cylinder heads, crank, gearbox, exhaust and a shorter, lighter and far stiffer chassis—plus aggressive new styling—signaled the Super Duke was ready for the new decade. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the Super Duke hasn’t changed remarkably for 2022, save for the addition of WP’s semi-active suspension and some funky new colors.
Now if you’re thinking you’ve heard this before somewhere, you’re right. Last year, KTM released the Super Duke EVO in Europe, which came with the new springers and paint job. We didn’t get that model here last year, but for 2022, we do. We’re just not calling it the EVO. It’s still a Super Duke EVO, but you can’t buy a Super Duke without electronic suspension in America, so the EVO name got turfed.
The suspension gives you three modes of Comfort, Street and Sport, each with their corresponding stiffness and damping characteristics. The system allows the rear spring preload to be set via the dash with up to 20mm of adjustment over 10 steps in either 0-100 percent or in 2mm increments.
There’s also an optional Suspension Pro setting, which gives you different preload modes for high-speed/high force braking to stop the suspension from plunging through its stroke. In here are three settings, Track, Advanced and Auto. Plus there’s an automatic preload auto-leveling at Low, Standard and High. You got that?
Aside from the springers, there’s new colors and the throttle uses a new 65° quick-turn twist tube, similar to a race throttle, so you get more go earlier in the twist.
Aside from that, everything else is the same as in 2020. Along with the suspension you get three riding modes (Rain, Street and Sport), and the optional Track Mode, that gives you access to the launch control, nine-stage traction control, anti-wheelie, etc.
There’s been no motor changes, so those 180 Austrian horses are still at your beck call, as is the rather ridiculous 103 lb-ft of torque.
Having such grunt in your right hand is a powerful feeling and one I never tire of experiencing. There’s so, so much torque that you find yourself pulling fourth-gear wheelies simply because you can, and hardly any other street bike on the road today will do so.
But that motor is probably the most flexible V-twin ever created. You can lull along leisurely with the revs never seeing north of 4000, and the Super Duke’s immaculate manners will allow it to happily play along.
However, give that new throttle a hard yank and you better hold on. It’s a stupendous piece of engineering, a V-twin Harley-Davidson and Ducati could only dream of making. The motor is geared quite tall and with sixth gear a real overdrive, you really only need the first five ratios to really get the most usable performance.
Where it gets interesting is the suspension. I did not take the Super Duke to the track (shame on me), but I feel I’d want conventional suspension if I did. On the road, however, electronic suspension is king, in my book. And WP has made a damn good first of it for the first time on a Super Duke.
I’ve ridden more Öhlins electronic bikes that I can think of, but this was the first time I tried WP on a super naked (not including the KTM Super Adventure). Sport setting is indeed very sporty, and not that pleasant over a long ride. It’s fine for real canyon scratching, but most of my rides were completed in Street mode, as it offered a far more compliant ride over So Cal’s shithouse road surfaces.
The suspension, combined with that stiffer, more responsive frame, makes the Super Duke a dynamo in corners. Load that front Bridgestone S22 rubber up, release the pressure on the Brembo brake package and let the chassis orb its way around the corner. It’s not as telepathic as an Aprilia Tuono V4 Factory, but it’s pretty close. Given it’s a skinny V-twin, the Super Duke doesn’t feel as big as it is in corners. The Super Duke has lost a bit of the rawness I fell in love with all those years ago, but refinement is not a bad thing at all.
There’s a degree of added sophistication with the new Super Duke, but it still uses that infuriating proximity key that seems to work when it wants to, as well as the dash that still doesn’t recognize a full tank of gas until about five miles into the ride.
Little tech things like that are super annoying, but the ride is absolutely brilliant, so you can’t stay mad at it too long.
I bought my 2015 Super Duke race bike and I sold it in 2019. I still miss it. And some day, if the financial gods shine in whatever form, I will heavily consider another Super Duke. It’s a massive supermoto, a bruiser of a bike the brattiest brats could be proud of. And I want another one in the garage. CN
2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specification
|103 lb-ft at 8000 rpm
|Bore x stroke:
|108 x 71mm
|Keihin EFI, 2 x 56mm throttle bodies
|177 hp @ 9500 rpm
|Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated
|WP 48mm fork, semi-active, fully adjustable
|WP shock, semi-active, fully adjustable
|Brembo Stylema Monobloc 4-piston, radially mounted caliper, 320mm disc, ABS
|Brembo 2-piston, fixed caliper, 240mm disc, ABS
|120/70 ZR17 in.
|200/55 ZR17 in.
|Weight (dry, claimed):