Despite riding off two cylinders, KTM’s latest bike is a handful, writes Noel Ebdon.
Road test: KTM Super Duke 1290 R
Few bikes are truly scary to look at, but fewer still have the performance figures to back up those aggressive looks. Most evil-looking (and sounding) bikes are simply masking that they are no different or, in many cases, inferior to others on the market. As the old saying goes, it’s not the size of dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Luckily for the Austrian bike manufacturer KTM, the new Super Duke looks like a close relative of the Predator, sounds like an angry atom bomb and has all the horses required to back up its looks.
Bright orange (as you’d expect from KTM) is the main feature, especially when you add in KTM’s edgy and sharp lines. The front light may look like the head of an ant, but this is a seriously cool-looking bike.
But the biggest headline of the Super Duke is its crazy engine. The KTM pumps out 180hp, from just two cylinders. That’s more than many saloon cars on the market today. Weighing in at just 189kg, the power-to-weight ratio doesn’t bear thinking about.
The engine sparks into life with barely a stab at the starter. The sound is a little muted, mainly because of the standard exhausts that have to comply with strict European noise regulations.
KTM has fitted the Super Duke with a ride-by-wire throttle, as it claims that it would otherwise be almost impossible for the average buyer to ride. This removes the physical link between the rider and the engine, robbing some of the feel associated with a cable. It’s also snatchy, peaky and a bit too hair-trigger for some riders.
But it’s not all bad. The advantage of all this technology is two-fold. Firstly, it allows for a very clever traction-control system, which jumps in if you overdo it with your right hand. Plus, the 1290’s engine comes with a number of map settings, allowing riders to select how they want the power delivered and how much is available. Although rain isn’t much of an issue in the UAE, it does mean that riders can pick a less aggressive setting when they want to relax and enjoy the ride.
On track, the Super Duke feels incredibly light, thanks, in part, to a low centre of gravity and those flickable, wide handlebars. It’s a common trait of bikes of this genre, but after riding a full-on superbike, the ease of use of a street bike like this will be a nice shock to many riders.
This will also make the Super Duke a great city bike, despite its huge engine. Being able to easily manoeuvre through traffic jams and around obstacles is a definite bonus, although you might find yourself going a bit quicker than you probably should, such is the ease of the power delivery.
The brakes are immense, hauling the Duke to a stop without any fade or theatrics. They also give great feel, which is key to knowing what the front end is doing.
The only letdown really is the front suspension, which is far too soft and makes the brakes (and the rider) work harder than they perhaps need to. Some of this could be dialled out with time, but, from stock, there will only be so much adjustment to what is a very spongy set-up.
The rear is spot on, though, keeping the rear wheel firmly stuck to the tarmac regardless of what you do with your wrist. Both the forks and rear shock are built by WP and look the business. KTM and Ducati tend to fit race ready suspension to their bikes, allowing owners to avoid the high cost of fitting it should they need the better equipment. On the flip side, that does make the bikes initially more expensive if you aren’t planning on any heroics.
As with any unfaired bike, wind becomes a factor at any speed over about 180kph. Even tucked in behind the headlight, the buffeting causes some interesting speed wobbles. However, given that’s a mark above the UAE’s highway speed limits, this is only relevant to track riding – as most Super Duke owners won’t spend much time on the track, it’s not something that’s going to worry the majority of buyers.
For a lot of riders, the Super Duke will be too much. The smaller Duke would suit most people, as it’s more than powerful enough for today’s clogged roads. But the Super Duke shows what’s possible now that serious electronics technology has come to mainstream motorcycles.
If you want the most powerful V-twin bike on the market, then this is going to be your only option. It may look angry and have an engine that should probably be in a car rather than a bike, but it’s easy to live with and, importantly, great to ride.
V-twins might not be for everyone, but why go for four cylinders when just two will do just fine?
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