KTM 690 Duke | First Ride

Juvenile No More

The KTM Duke celebrates its 18th birthday in 2012, and this latest 690 feels more grown-up than earlier models. The original Duke and subsequent iterations were hard-edged and aggressive— a key selling point for some riders, but too extreme for the majority. This latest version is updated to reflect its name. It’s still quick, light and happy to wheelie, but some of the rawness has been soothed.

Taking the Duke to adulthood entailed changing more than 90 percent of its components. The new two-piece seat is wider and has been lowered more than an inch, enabling sub-6-foot riders to climb onboard. The engine’s capacity has been increased to a full 690cc (up from 654cc) by way of a longer stroke as on the upmarket Duke R, and the cylinder head now holds two sparkplugs for more efficient combustion. KTM claims peak power is up by nearly 5 bhp and that fuel efficiency has been improved by 10 percent. The ECU still offers three power maps, but the throttle-plate control is now digital. Stylistically, the Duke’s chin fairing has been deleted and a new exhaust finds the muffler bolted to the right ¬ flank. Large cutouts enhance the contours of the gas tank, while a new single-lens headlight replaces the twin projector-beam setup for a more traditional look. Suspension is also new and more basic than before. The 2012 Duke is expected to be about 20 percent less expensive in most markets, but unfortunately North America isn’t on the distribution list. In preparation for the impending European ABS mandate, the Duke’s Brembo brakes can now be so equipped as an option.

Setting out from our launch base on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands con formed that the Duke has developed some manners. Cleaner combustion and better-managed injection result in noticeably smoother throttle response devoid of the previous abruptness. Below 2500 rpm the engine shudders in typical big-single fashion, but above that mark it revs smoothly. There is some buzz, but only at the upper reaches of the tachometer. Rolling open the ride-by-wire throttle sends the bike rocketing well into triple-digit territory. That’s impressive performance for a single, and predictably the Duke felt even better when we headed into the mountains. With a claimed curb weight of just 352 lbs., proven geometry and virtually limitless cornering clearance, the Duke owns twisty roads.

As before, the Duke is at ease in the city. Visibility from the fairly high seat is good and there’s ample steering lock for tight maneuvers. I experimented with the Comfort engine map, but found it too dull. Alternatively, Sport mode had too much of the old bike’s abruptness, especially when rolling off the throttle. Most riders will undoubtedly stick with the Standard setting.

The Duke is still a slugger, but after a half-day’s ride I felt fresh enough to conclude that this latest iteration is a step forward in terms of practicality, albeit at the expense of some of the lumpy charm that has endeared this model to its fans over the years. But with plenty of style, incredible handling, long legs for the freeway and increased fuel mileage, the only issue with the new 690 Duke is its absence from American dealerships.

KTM 200 Duke | Muscled-Up Mini-Mono

KTM’s 125 Duke is a hit in Europe, but EU regulations limit the bike’s output to 15 horsepower. In other regions, however, no such restrictions exist, which is why KTM has the 200 Duke.

Developed in parallel with the 125, the 200 uses the same frame, WP suspension and Brembo brakes, but the engine has been bored and stroked and a larger throttle body and exhaust were installed. The result is a stated 73 percent increase in horsepower, without a single pound added to the 296-lb. curb weight!

While the 125’s meager power limits it to city use as a scooter alternative, the 200’s 26 bhp makes it an entertaining, go-anywhere funbike. I took one for a spin around KTM’s Austrian headquarters and the added power and torque (up 68 percent) made the 200 easier and more enjoyable to ride, with far less clutching and shifting. It packs enough of a punch to be entertaining, and can get you where you’re going without delay.

Manufactured in India, the 200 Duke will hit Indian, Asian and South American markets first, followed by Europe later in the year. Hopefully KTM will see fit to bring the model stateside, where the 200 could give Honda’s and Kawasaki’s 250s a run for their money.

Tech Specs

Adulthood brings with it a more conservative appearance, greater power and smoother throttle response, plus a lower price and seat height.
Aprilia Dorsoduro 750, BMW F800R, Ducati Hypermotard 796, Husqvarna Nuda 900

Price na
Engine type l-c single
Valve train DOHC, 4v
Displacement 690cc
Bore x stroke 104.5 x 80.0mm
Compression 12.6:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 70 bhp @ 7500 rpm
Claimed torque 52 lb.-ft. @ 5500 rpm
Frame Steel trellis with aluminum swingarm
Front suspension WP 43mm fork
Rear suspension WP shock with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Brembo four-piston caliper, 320mm disc with optional ABS
Rear brake Brembo one-piston caliper, 240mm disc with optional ABS
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Michelin Pilot Power
Rear tire 160/60ZR-17 Michelin Pilot Power
Rake/trail 26.5º/na
Seat height 32.9 in.
Wheelbase 57.7 in.
Fuel capacity 3.7 gal.
Claimed curb weight 352 lbs.
Colors White, black
Available na
Warranty na
Contact KTM North America, Inc. 38429 Innovation Ct. Murrieta, CA 92563 951.600.8007 www.ktm.com/us

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 stars.

KTM’s original wild child has matured into a lean, entertaining and improbably useful character.