2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R | FIRST RIDE

Beast Mode On!

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Francesc Montero, Sebas Romero
They say: “Torque; Beast.”
We say: “So fast you’ll forget how to form complete sentences!”

KTM has never been shy about its intentions for the signature Super Duke streetfighter. Born from a sketch by Gerald Kiska way back in 2000, the Super Duke was intended from the beginning to be the most extreme, aggressive hooligan bike you could wheelie away from a dealership. This latest, fourth-generation version, redesigned from the ground up, remains true to form—the most extreme, aggressive hooligan bike you can buy today.

We've long loved the Super Duke, even naming the second-generation platform "Motorcycle of the Year" back in 2007. And this is the best one yet. Officially designated the 1290 Super Duke R—there is no "base" model, the full-stick R version is the only choice—this is a quantum leap forward from the third-gen bike, expanding engine capacity from 990cc to 1,301cc, incorporating sophisticated rider aids including variable ride modes, traction control and ABS, and grafting top-end braking and suspension components for to set a new standard for naked bike performance.

Such an ambitious Super Duke redesign underlines KTM's newfound commitment to streetbikes. (This was KTM's third major streetbike presentation for the 2014 model year, after the 1190 Adventure and 200/390 Duke.) Though best known for its bright-orange off-road racers, streetbikes now account for nearly 50 percent of the Austrian firm's annual output—which, in 2013, numbered nearly 110,000 units, making KTM Europe's largest full-size motorcycle producer, ahead of BMW, Ducati, and Triumph. KTM's Duke lineup, covering everything from 125cc to 1,300cc, is driving this stratospheric streetbike growth, tripling the company's market share in the past four years (with much of this growth coming from Asian markets). The Super Duke is the flagship, making this redesign doubly important.

The R revision is another Kiska creation, and his signature sharp-edged styling cues remain prominent as ever. The overall effect is that of a razor-shaped dirtbike, with dagger-like shrouds concealing the radiator and an elongated beak that mimics the outline of a conventional MX fender. The contrast-colored steel trellis frame is a prominent styling element, with the bolt-on rear subframe trimmed with the tiniest plastic skirt.

The Super Duke R's real attitude comes from the engine. To create the 1290 engine, KTM engineers increased the bore of the LC8 superbike engine 3mm and stretched the stroke 2mm, pushing the 75-degree V-twin nearly to max capacity. Superlight, F1-style box-in-a-box pistons weigh less than the old 990 slugs and lighter, single-piece cams and DLC-coated finger followers further reduce reciprocating mass, so the 1290 delivers a delightfully free-revving character, despite the added displacement. Revised cam timing, a reshaped combustion chamber and intake ports, and staggered-fire dual-spark ignition improve combustion efficiency for smoother running across the powerband. Bonus: Nitrified exhaust valves extend the service interval to 10,000 miles.

Our first impression of this 1.3-liter, 180-claimed-horsepower mountain motor matches what KTM Street Product Manager Jöerg Schueller says was his first reaction after riding the initial prototype: "Jesus F*cking Keerist!" Talk about torque… KTM claims a peak figure of 106 pound-feet at 6,500 rpm, and says it surpasses the old 990 engine's peak output at just 2,800 rpm. This engine reminds us why we used to love big-inch V-twins, before the modern era of peaky twins like Ducati's Superquadro and even KTM's own RC8R superbikes that trade low-end thrust for high-rpm horsepower. Super Duke R delivers supersized acceleration in any gear, at any speed, even power wheelying in fourth gear! There's simply no replacement for displacement.

Such a mega-powerful motorcycle might be difficult for many to enjoy without well-developed rider assists, so KTM turned to its partners at Keihin and Bosch to develop a cutting-edge electronic control system combining ride-by-wire throttle operation with traction control and ABS. The Keihin throttle bodies, widened from 52mm to 56mm this year, fuel flawlessly at any rpm, with perfectly calibrated ride-by-wire circuitry knocking the edge off what would otherwise be a massive low-rpm power hit. There are three ride modes—Sport, Street, and Rain (the latter 100 hp max)—each with different throttle response, traction control, wheelie control, and ABS parameters. Traction control can be turned off completely; so can the ABS, which additionally offers a Supermoto mode that disconnects the rear pressure modulator to allow rear wheel drifting, a must for any proper hooligan bike.

Electronic settings are manipulated using the same thumb controls as the 1190 Adventure (the dash is shared with the Adventure, too), making changes less convenient than some other brands. Ride-mode selection sits two menus deep and requires you to close the throttle and depress a button for two seconds; disabling ABS or TC requires traversing three menu screens and a five-second button push. A necessary liability precaution, KTM says, so you'll never "accidentally" switch these safety overrides off.

Unless you "need" balance-point wheelies, though, there's no reason to switch anything off. The Sport settings are especially impressive, and permissive enough to let you slide the rear under power, skim the front wheel off corners and over rises in the road, and subtly drift the back end up to any apex. Bosch's latest MM500 sensor platform reads both wheel speed and lean angle to interpret traction and acts on the throttle plates, rather than cutting fuel or spark, to make TC intervention essentially invisible. The only time you'll feel the traction control step in is when you really want it to, after your antics cross the threshold from exciting to something scary.

The ABS system, also by Bosch, is equally impressive. Equipped with Brembo's best M50 calipers—the same as Ducati's Panigale—the Super Duke R can lock up either end at will, especially on the slick and slippery mountain roads surrounding Ronda, Spain, where the press launch took place. Unintentional opportunities to test the ABS abounded, and it's worth remarking on just how well Bosch's latest ABS system responded. Unlike older systems that backed off braking pressure so much that the bike would inevitably understeer when the wheel locked, Bosch's super-sensitive 9ME pressure modulator arrests small front-end slides remarkably quickly without altering your cornering line or braking trajectory at all. This is world-class ABS, the best this tester has ever experienced.

Improvements to the new Super Duke reach beyond the engine and electronics, with the rest of bike redesigned to match the aggressive new dynamics. The chrome-moly trellis frame is all new, designed for rigid-but-balanced performance. There's a single-sided swingarm for the first time, too—this looks cool, sure, and also makes room for the massive stainless-steel pre-chamber exhaust without totally killing cornering clearance. Unlike other bikes in this category—including our favorite Aprilia Tuono V4 R—the Super Duke is not a modified superbike, but, rather, a standalone platform designed as a streetfighter, with geometry specifically suited for this type of riding. This means a slightly longer wheelbase (58.3 inches) and more relaxed steering geometry with 4.2 inches of trail, which gives this bike unexpected high-speed stability without sacrificing agility or maneuverability.

The Super Duke R is a pleasure to hustle through any corner, fast or slow. Credit light weight—KTM claims a curb weight of just 416 pounds, which seems credible to us—and an all-new Dunlop SportSmart2 tire developed specifically for this model, with a tall, V-shaped profile up front for quicker turn-in. Handling is further aided by excellent suspension components from KTM's in-house partner firm WP, with factory settings determined by ex-GP race winner Jeremy McWilliams, presently employed as KTM's lead test rider. The firmly sprung 48mm inverted fork delivers telepathic feedback, thanks to a split design that separates the compression and rebound damping circuits into the left and right fork legs, respectively. The single WP rear shock, offering both high- and low-speed compression adjustment in addition to rebound and a slick ride height adjuster borrowed from the firm's motocross bikes, similarly delivers the elusive combination of sufficient support and supple feel. Whether striking sharp-edged freeway expansion joints or resisting deep g-outs on the steep-banked turns of Ascari Race Resort where we spent one high-speed afternoon, the Super Duke R always delivered the same taut-yet-luxurious ride quality that we usually associate only with ultra-high-end aftermarket suspension components.

The R's ergonomic package is outstanding as well—another advantage of a chassis designed firstly for this application. Hovering 32.9 inches above terra firma, the saddle is almost dirtbike-high, but a wasp-like midsection allows even average-height riders to still reach the ground. An especially supportive 3D-foam saddle is still comfortable even after an athletic, 150-mile street ride—a surprise, since the old Super Duke saddle was one of the worst ever! Legroom is abundant too—class-leading, we're guessing—and the mid-mounted footrests feel lower than you expect, though thanks to lots of ride height and the narrow overall width, the pegs never touch down (we actually dragged the shift lever without touching a peg). The tapered-alloy riser bar is a short reach from the saddle—more dirtbike than streetbike—but not too wide or tall, so you can still tuck in and stay comfortable well into triple-digit speeds.

Well-rounded versatility is the Super Duke's most impressive trait. It's extreme when you want it to be, but it isn't demanding all the time. Tractable power, carefully calibrated electronics, and an exceptional degree of overall refinement mean the Super Duke R knows how to behave when you ask it to. Nuclear-fast yet easy to control, full of personality yet easy to live with in everyday riding conditions, the 1290 Super Duke R is a shot across the bow for the naked bike category. Sure, it's going to be expensive (price $TBD, but we're not going to be surprised to see something in the same neighborhood as the 1190 Adventure, which will be around $17K), but the Super Duke 1290R is a motorcycle worth seeking out.

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION

KTM blends a bored and stroked LC8 superbike V-twin with the Adventure's electronics and an exclusive chassis to create the ultimate naked streetfighter.

RIVALS

Aprilia Tuono V4R, Ducati Streetfighter S, MV Agusta Brutale 1090, Triumph Speed Triple R

TECH

Price

$TBD
Engine type l-c 75-deg. V-twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 1301cc
Bore x stroke 108.0 x 71.0mm
Compression 13.2:1
Fuel system EFI, ride by wire
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 180.0 bhp @ 8870 rpm
Claimed torque 106.0 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension 48mm WP inverted fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension WP shock with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake Dual Brembo Monoblock four-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs, with ABS
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 240mm disc, with ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop SportSmart2
Rear tire 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop SportSmart2
Rake/trail 24.9 degrees/4.21 in.
Seat height 32.9 in.
Wheelbase 58.3 in.
Fuel capacity 4.8 gal.
Claimed curb weight 416.7 lbs.
Color Black, orange/white
Available February 2014
Warranty 12 months, 12,000 miles
Contact ktm.com

 

VERDICT: (4.5 of 5 stars)

Everything we like about big-bore V-twins, supermotards, and digitally enhanced superbikes, combined in one complete, cohesive, highly capable naked streetfighter package.

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