2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R First Look Review

KTM unveils a Super Duke that’s even more super at EICMA.

Just announced today at EICMA in Milan, Italy, KTM's brutally powerful flagship naked machine, the 1290 Super Duke R, will receive an extensive update for 2017. The 2017 Super Duke's power will come from the same displacement—a 1,301cc, 75-degree V-twin—but with a reworked cylinder head designed for broader power and smoother delivery at low rpm. If there was any bike in the world that arguably didn't need broader power it was the Super Duke. Nevertheless, we can all prepare for a little bit more.

2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R burnout
There aren’t many rear tires that can stand up to the KTM 1290 Super Duke R’s massive torque. Release the magic smoke!Photo: KTM

Aesthetically, the most notable change is the all-new headlight—split down the middle like an alien morphing into its evil counterpart—which uses LED both for the main lights and running lights. The new headlight also matches the design used on new-for-2017 KTM's 390 Duke and 1290 Super Adventure R, accenting the more subtle visual changes, like the sharper tail section, new spoilers along its flanks, and slightly different air intakes. Lastly, the other big note is the full-color TFT display nestled into the cockpit and the keyless-ride system, which we hope works as well as the BMW's we've tested with similar tech.

2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R unveiled at EICMA
As intimidating as the KTM 1290 Super Duke R is, it can look pretty small in photos. Note the lack of tail panels at the rear, exposing more of the detachable subframe.Photo: KTM

The Super Duke that we know and love today is an especially comfortable street bike, but does give up a bit of track performance to the competition. For 2017, KTM moved the Super Duke’s handlebar farther forward and made it wider to create a more aggressive riding position and offer better control on the track. Perhaps also with track riding in mind, the fork and shock springs have been made stiffer. If you’re extra serious about burning hot laps, there is a factory accessory “Track Pack” with expanded electronic rider aid function—specifically launch control, dumbed-down wheelie control, and further adjustability.

KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R for 2017
KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R for 2017, in orange/white. The muffler is familiar from the previous model.Photo: KTM
New headlight for 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R
A close up of the Super Duke R’s new LED headlight. It’s likely to get as many jeers as cheers, but KTM has always walked along the edge of extreme looks, and we like that.Photo: KTM

However, that’s not to say that the standard electronic package is sparse. There’s the familiar package of throttle maps, adjustable ABS and traction control, both of which are lean-angle sensitive (a quiet update to the 2016 Super Duke R). Then there’s the option dealer-installed Performance Pack, which includes a quickshifter and “KTM MY RIDE,” a Bluetooth system that allows connection to the rider’s smartphone to control music and calls. And, of course, now there is cruise control, just to make slaying miles that much easier.

The 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R in black
The 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R in black. It’s more subtle, but still an angular, beastly looking machine.Photo: KTM

In case you’re thinking the engine has been “detuned,” consider that the compression ratio has been raised to 13.6:1, and even though the Super Duke is Euro-4 legal KTM claims 177 horsepower from the engine (that’s down 3 hp on the previous generation). Even with the slightly lower peak claim, shorter velocity stacks (typically associated with top-end power) and a reworked cylinder head make us think that the new Super Duke R will pull pretty hard at the top of the rev band.

2017 1290 Super Duke R dragging elbow
The 2017 Super Duke R’s handlebar is a little wider and farther forward than before. Elbow draggers like this rider should be encouraged.Photo: KTM

The super-naked category has become, without doubt, one of the most competitive and crowded classes in motorcycling. Home of ultra-high technology, mind-bending horsepower, and bossy personalities. KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R debuted in 2014 and stepped immediately into the battle for top honors. Depending on who you talk to, the Super Duke is arguably the best of the bunch, hounded by Aprilia’s stunning Tuono 1100 and BMW’s screaming S1000R. Both the Tuono and the S1000R are receiving updates for 2017, too… that, is going to be a comparison for the ages.

2017 KTM Super Duke R wheelie
Wheelying shouldn’t be a problem for the 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R. This kind of wheelie… well, we recommend leaving that to the professionals on closed courses.Photo: KTM