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Old November 20th, 2014, 03:00 PM   #1
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[sportrider - features] - Living With the Beast | 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Road Tes

Austrian manufacturer KTM has been making some impressive strides the past few years. Its off-road catalog has been carving out an ever-larger share of that market, and the orange-liveried motorcycles are now viewed as equals (and in some cases superior) to the more established brands. And its 250cc single-cylinder powerplant has forced Honda to work overtime in order stem the onslaught of KTM-engined dominance in the Moto3 class in MotoGP.

But its on-road lineup hasn’t been exactly sleeping either. After coming away impressed with the nimble and feedback-rich handling of its RC8 R supersport machine last year, we were anxious to see what KTM would come up with after hearing it was developing a naked streetfighter-style machine that would lay waste to anything in its path. And the initial reviews certainly didn’t disappoint.

We had Roland Brown cover the specifics of the new KTM 1290 Super Duke R in his first ride story in our March issue (“The Beast”), and needless to say, we were chomping at the bit to get our hands on one after reading his brief experience with the bike. So when KTM North America called and said it was stopping by with our test unit, the Sport Rider staff was already fighting to see who would get the key first.

Duty and the Beast
For an engine that pumps out a very impressive 152.3 rear-wheel horsepower at 9,200 rpm and 93 foot-pounds of torque at 8,300 rpm (including an astounding 80 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm, almost as much as the RC8 R at its 6,800-rpm peak), the KTM’s 1,301cc, 75-degree V-twin is surprisingly docile when not ridden in anger. The Super Duke can be ridden away with little warm-up in cold mornings and not suffer the coughing/sputtering that afflicts some other big-displacement sporting V-twins. Clutch engagement is smooth, and effort is light (assisted by the two-way ramped clutch that not only acts like a slipper clutch during downshifts but also uses engine torque to increase clutch plate pressure under power), with none of the snatchy action of other similar power-assist clutch assemblies.

Overall ergos are some of the best we’ve encountered on a naked bike, with a nicely padded saddle that isn’t too narrow or slanted leading up top to a tapered aluminum handlebar that is set at an optimum height for sport riding; just high and wide enough for comfort and control without turning you into an aerodynamic barn door. Down below, there’s plenty of legroom for 6-footers, yet ground clearance is abundant with no major hard parts dragging when aggression levels start going up. We had no real issues with longer stints on the new Super Duke, which is a good thing considering it sips fuel to the tune of a 40-mpg average, consistently allowing us about 180 miles per tankful.

In contrast to the 990 Super Duke’s seat, the 1290 Super Duke R’s saddle is surprisingly comfortable, with good padding and nice shape that won’t kill you after an hour.

Speaking of mileage, the KTM’s secondary LCD info panel to the left of the analog tach/ primary LCD panel provides a plethora of selectable data, one of which is miles left on remaining fuel (even though the primary display has a fuel gauge). We thought this was a nice idea until we noticed that the mileage counter jumps in increments of 10—not a good feeling to suddenly go from 20 miles remaining to just 10 while searching for a gas station.

Naturally, like most big-bore V-twins, the Super Duke R is geared very tall, and the engine is loafing along at 4,000 rpm at an indicated 80 mph in sixth gear (though the speedometer is very optimistic at those speeds). Interestingly, the vibration from its 75-degree V-twin with counterbalancer is much more subdued than prior Super Duke generations, despite the R’s significantly larger displacement. This keeps the view from the adequately sized and positioned mirrors from getting fuzzed out, which allows you to better identify what’s behind you—another good thing considering your driver’s license will be at constant risk on this bike.

Simply put, it doesn’t matter how tall the stock gearing is on the Super Duke. The KTM has so much torque from literally just off idle that it will lift the front wheel and carry it from a dead stop simply by sliding out the clutch with a moderate amount of throttle. Even thinking about full throttle in the first three gears results in law-enforcement-frowning wheelstands without any provocation (provided you have the traction control turned off…more on that in a minute). Those of you out there attending Hooligans Anonymous classes would do well to steer clear of the Super Duke R at all costs.

Dunlop Sportmax Sportsmart2 tires offer good grip and handling characteristics. Single underengine exhaust system provides outstanding performance while keeping noise in check.

Don’t assume the KTM is all low-end and midrange with nothing on top, though. Nor is it some slow-revving tractor engine. The Super Duke R’s V-twin powerplant zips through its rpm range in the same voracious manner in which it inhales lengths of pavement, pulling with a ferocity that continues unabated until just before the rev limiter kicks in at 10,000 rpm. Paying attention to the tach or the adjustable shift light on the dash is paramount to avoid upsetting the acceleration party.

With such monstrous power and acceleration, you’d think the KTM would be an abrupt handful coming off closed throttle, but the Austrian engineers have done a superb job of taking the edge off the Super Duke R’s jump to light speed without overly neutering the initial launch. There are three ride modes available—Rain, Street, and Sport—yet even the Sport mode’s throttle response is smooth while offering up more power at smaller throttle settings than Street mode, which requires a tad more throttle twist for the same power until around one-third throttle, where both modes then offer identical performance. Rain mode smooths out throttle response even more while capping peak power to 100 hp, but it works well in the wet.

WP rear shock offers high- and low-speed compression damping adjustment that helps it maintain compliance without the benefit of a suspension linkage.

The KTM’s MTC traction control system utilizes lean angle sensors to help determine the proper amount of wheel slippage while accelerating, with each riding mode offering progressively less tire spin; Sport mode lets you hang the rear end out a bit, while Street keeps the rear tire more or less in line, and Rain mode intervenes immediately to prevent any rear slip whatsoever. Because the system works the throttle plates instead of ignition or fuel, intervention is very transparent, and most power slides are smooth and controlled.

The MTC also keeps wheelies in check (especially in both Street and Rain mode), but it isn’t as obtrusive in Sport mode as some other traction control systems we’ve tried. If you try to snap a wheelie, then it will intervene aggressively to get the front end down; but if you simply accelerate hard, the MTC allows the front tire to get a few inches off the ground and holds it there. Combined with the generous amount of rear tire slip allowed in Sport mode, acceleration is maximized compared to what would normally be possible with an average rider with the MTC turned off (which is easily accomplished with the engine on and the bike at a stop; the system defaults back to MTC on every time you start it, so the engine must be running).

The 1,301cc V-twin actually drives three oil pumps—two for the dry sump lubrication system and one to create crankcase vacuum to eliminate pumping losses for more power.

Even with all that power on tap, the Super Duke R’s chrome-moly tubular space-frame with aluminum single-sided swingarm is more than up to the task of harnessing it. Overall handling is agile despite the KTM’s 58.4-inch wheelbase—the wide handlebar surely helps here—with none of the twitchiness we’ve experienced with some other high-power naked bikes (though the steering damper obviously plays a role). Chassis feel at all lean angles is excellent, aided by the Euro-spec Dunlop SportSmart2 tires (no relation to the US-spec Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart II or Q3) that provide good grip with decent bump absorption and wear characteristics. We even took the Super Duke R out to the racetrack during last issue’s Honda CBR-SP test, and it handled that environment with ease, with the suspension and brakes proving more than capable in that setting.

The WP suspension front and rear perform admirably whether on the street or track, handling everything in stride no matter the pace. We liked the high- and low-speed compression damping adjustability of the rear shock, which helps make up for the lack of a progressive suspension linkage and provided good compliance along with soaking up the big hits at higher speeds. While we appreciated the tool-less rebound and compressiondamping knobs on the 48mm inverted fork, we were a little disappointed at the lack of spring preload adjustment.

Brembo M50 monoblock calipers provide superb stopping power in conjunction with Bosch’s latest 9M+ two-channel ABS. WP 48mm inverted cartridge fork works well but lacks spring preload adjustment.

Bleeding off the speed generated by the engine and chassis is ably handled by radialmount Brembo M50 four-piston calipers biting on 320mm discs with the latest Bosch 9M+ two-channel ABS. The antilock system threshold is determined by which riding mode you are using; Rain mode prevents any lockup whatsoever, while Street allows some limited slip before it activates, and Sport permits limited slip with a little more delay before it cuts the party for maximum stopping power. We found the Sport mode to work the best for most street and canyon situations with good feel and power up to the point of intervention, though we obtained best results on the track with the ABS turned off (which is easily accomplished via the four-button pad on the left handlebar).

As would be expected with a motorcycle of this performance and intentions, not only can the ABS be shut off completely, but it can also be set to “Supermoto” mode. This allows the ABS to be functional in Sport mode for the front brakes, but the rear brake is free to do what it wants—meaning backing it into corners with the rear end hung out to your heart’s content.

The Number of the Beast
The performance naked-bike category in the US has suddenly become a very crowded—and formidable—group. The class was blown wide open by Aprilia’s Tuono V4 R two years ago, and considering its outstanding performance, it appeared likely the Tuono’s reign was going to continue unchallenged for the foreseeable future. But now the Aprilia is going to be facing some very stiff competition in the form of BMW’s S 1000 R, Kawasaki’s latest Z1000, MV Agusta’s 1090 Brutale RR…and the KTM 1290 Super Duke R.

One thing’s for sure: All the other machines had better bring their A-game. The KTM is that good. Stay tuned.

Test Notes

+ Awesome V-twin engine
+ Superb chassis, brakes
+ Good electronics package
- No spring preload adjustment on fork
- A bit pricey
- Traction control non-adapting
x Could be the new king of the hill…

Suggested Suspension Settings

FRONT: Rebound damping—9 clicks out from full stiff; compression damping—9 clicks out from full stiff
REAR: Spring preload—19mm thread showing on shock body; rebound damping—10 clicks out from full stiff; high-speed compression damping—1.5 turns out from full stiff; lowspeed compression damping—12 clicks out from full stiff


Bradley Adams
Age: 24
Height: 6’3”
I waited as long as possible to throw a leg over the KTM Super Duke R then, following my initial two rides, decided to hand the key back over to the boss. I really enjoy having a motorcycle license, and if ever there were a bike capable of getting mine revoked, it’d be the Super Duke R—a naked bike with 152 hp, 80 foot-pounds of torque at just 4,000 rpm, and an upright handlebar that makes wheelies a literal one-wheel stroll through the park. Are you kidding me, KTM?

I did manage to find some characteristics I don’t like. The KTM’s transmission isn’t the easiest to work or find neutral on, and while the electronics are easy to adjust at a stop, I feel like the system could be more intuitive. Why do I have to cycle the ignition when I want to turn ABS back on?

Fortunately, wheelies subdued those frustrations.

Kent Kunitsugu
Age: Old
Height: 5’8”
Okay, I will have to recant the editorial column I wrote a while back about not preferring naked bikes on my hour-long commute to work—there is one naked bike I really do like to ride through LA’s congested freeways. KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R is a laugh-a-minute thrill ride that made me remember why riding on the street can still be fun, provided you try and keep the fun out of sight of law enforcement—and not just because of the fun factor; its riding position is comfortable without turning you into a windsail.

Yes, the Super Duke R is not perfect: The electronics could be a tad more intuitive, and KTM says the traction control only works properly with the stock rubber. But those are minor nits, really. The Super Duke R is simply the most fun naked bike I’ve ever ridden, bar none. Sign me up.

To be putting out 80 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm is already pretty impressive, but past 5,750 rpm it’s obvious there’s plenty more where that came from. And it’s not all torque either; the KTM gets to its 152-hp peak very quickly.


MSRP $16,999
Type Liquid-cooled, 75° V-twin
Valve arrangement DOHC, 4 valves/cyl., shim-under-bucket adjustment
Displacement 1301cc
Bore x stroke 108 x 71mm
Compression ratio 13.2:1
Induction Keihin DFI, 56mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Transmission 6-speed
Front suspension 48mm WP inverted cartridge fork with adjustable rebound and compression damping, 4.9 in. travel
Rear suspension Single WP shock absorber with adjustable spring preload, rebound, and high/low-speed compression damping, 6.1 in. travel
Front brake Dual 320mm rotors with dual Brembo M50 radial-mount four-piston monoblock calipers
Rear brake Single 240mm rotor, two-piston caliper
Front wheel 17x 3.5 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel 17x 6.0 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Sportsmart2
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Sportsmart2
Rake/trail 24.9°/4.2 in. (107mm)
Wheelbase 58.4 in. (1482mm)
Seat height 32.9 in. (835mm)
Fuel capacity 4.8 gal. (18L)
Weight 472 lb. (214kg) wet; 443 lb. (201kg) dry
Quarter-mile 10.32 sec. @ 134.5 mph
Roll-ons 60–80 mph/2.46 sec.; 80–100 mph/3.37 sec.
Fuel consumption 37–44 mpg, 40 mpg avg.

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