Spied! KTM E-Duke Electric Naked Motorcycle

Is this proof of a soon-to-be electric motorcycle from team orange?

spied ktm electric duke
T-shirt, unbuckled helmet… KTM’s tester clearly isn’t concerned that the electric prototype might throw him off.Photo: BMH Images

Niche firms like Zero have largely proved that electric bike tech is already reaching the stage where it's viable for everyday use, at least for some riders. But relatively low production volumes sentence these machines to high prices and thinly-spread dealer networks, factors that feed in to keep sales low and prevent eBikes from reaching a point where they break into the mainstream.

Now imagine if a company like KTM, with a strong international sales and dealer network and the sort of leverage that one of Europe's biggest manufacturers has on hand, stepped into the market — because it looks like that's what's going to happen. The bike you see here is clearly still very much a prototype. The 390 Duke bodywork, wheels, suspension and brakes show that it's largely made of pieces the firm's R&D department had on the shelf. But the power unit is a new electric motor and transmission, and it looks remarkably production-ready.

spied ktm electric duke
The huge battery pack above the motor/transmission appears to double as the bike’s main frame. That should help offset its weight.Photo: BMH Images

The vast majority of electric bikes take advantage of their motors' enormous low-rev torque and ability to spin to stratospheric speeds to eliminate the usual gearbox and clutch. They then move the rear brake lever to the left hand bar to create a twist-and-go machine with no foot controls at all. KTM itself took that path with the off-road-focused Freeride E, its first toe in the electric bike water. This is different. There's a conventional looking clutch and multi-speed transmission, with completely normal bar and foot controls that will be familiar to the rider of any gas-powered bike. That could be a good move; it will add flexibility, and perhaps improve range, while also appealing to those of us who like to shift gears.

By using the suspension, wheels and brakes from the 390 Duke, KTM is giving a clue as to the bike’s weight and performance potential, too. The 390 makes 43hp—around twice as much as KTM’s current Freeride E electric offering can muster—and weighs 340 pounds (154kg). If it can come close to matching those figures in an affordable electric street bike, KTM might have a winner on its hands.

Range will remain a big concern. The existing Freeride E, aimed really at off-road leisure use rather than real-world commuting, can drain its power reserves in as little as 30 miles. The new bike’s battery appears to be around four times as big, though, and allied to improvements in battery tech could push it well over the 100 mile mark.

The big question hangs over what KTM’s plan is for this machine. It’s clearly still some way from being ready to make its official debut. If the firm follows its usual practice, it’s likely to reveal the machine as a ‘concept’ first, perhaps as soon as the end of this year, and to follow up with a production model a year or so later.

In the meantime, we can expect a deluge of spy shots chronicling the idea’s development. But perhaps more interesting still will be to see the reaction of KTM’s rivals. We know that all the major Japanese manufacturers have developed electric prototypes already, but are holding them back until the market for electrics has matured enough to promise a profit. Will Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki or Suzuki be tempted to accelerate their plans for electric bikes, now that KTM’s secret is out in the open?