Bike Description for
KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R
t its essence, a motorcycle is just two wheels, a frame and an engine, and not much more is needed for it to be the best fun you can have with your clothes on. However, when a bike strips down, and goes naked, the fun factor goes up by a factor of 10, leaving you with a stupid grin on your face.
What do we mean by that? Well, KTM Malaysia – the motorcycle company, not the train service – in its infinite wisdom, allowed the author to lay his paws, we mean, hands, on the 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R, also known as “The Beast”.
Back in 2002, KTM released the first Super Duke, using a 999 cc KTM LC8 V-twin that produced 118 hp and 100 Nm of torque. This was, however, in Rolls-Royce parlance, felt to be “insufficient”, and the 990 Super Duke R, with 130 hp and 102 Nm torque, was released in 2008.
This was despite the standard Super Duke having more than enough cojones to lift the front wheel in the first three gears, and the fourth, if the rider had enough balls to match the bike.
Then came the 1290 Super Duke R in 2014, and the bike quickly gained a reputation for being the ultimate hooligan machine, barely keeping the front wheel on the ground, and constantly going into corners with the rear wheel sideways, with or without the rider’s consent. This earned it the sobriquet “The Beast”, and if we could publish that in bold and all caps, we would.
Late 2016 saw a mid-model facelift for the Super Duke R, along with the addition of upgraded technology and electronics, to bring KTM’s flagship naked sports bike up-to-date. KTM Malaysia, being the trusting souls they are, placed the key for the 2017 1290 Super Duke R into the author’s hand, and said, “please have fun, but be careful.”
The thing about naked sports bikes, or as the author prefers to refer to them, hooligan bikes, is that for sheer fun factor and general misbehaviour on public roads, very little else can beat them. So, what happens when you turn the dial up to 11? Or, in the case of the 2017 KTM Super Duke R, 1290?
As the original Super Duke R, the 118 hp 2007 KTM 990 Super Duke R was no slouch in the anti-social behaviour stakes. That it got another 10 hp the following year just served to underscore the fact that the Super Duke R, was, in every sense of the word, a take-no-prisoners machine.
With the launch of the 1290 Super Duke R in 2014, and its 173 hp V-twin, KTM served notice to all comers that heads would roll if anyone dared to grab its crown. Three years on, and KTM is still top-dog in the naked sports bike stakes, with the 177 hp 2017 1290 Super Duke R.
Updated for 2017 with ride modes, traction control, lean angle sensor, wheelie control and other stuff we shall mention later, the 2017 Super Duke R is more a mid-model makeover rather than just a mere facelift. The face does look aggressive though, with the new KTM design language of a bisected headlight with LED DRLs.
The other major change made for the new model Super Duke R is its power output. Now bumped up to 177 hp at 8,870 rpm and 141 Nm of torque at 6,500 rpm, the 75-degree V-twin is, in KTM’s words, ready to race.
So, did we race it? Of course not. This is not what this bike is meant to do. What we did was proceed down the road in the necessary hooligan fashion, scaring women and children, and making other drivers and riders wonder what the hell just sucked their mirrors off.
No, not really, although there was an instance, during filming, when the paultan.org head of editorial remarked, “so, you were riding at what, 50%?” To which we replied, “no, 30%” and got an emphatic “you guys are crazy,” in response.
That the Super Duke R encourages crazy-ish behaviour from the rider is not really a surprise, and after riding its sports-touring sibling, the 2017 Super Duke GT, we found the Super Duke R was more of the same, just one step closer to the edge, but we certainly didn’t break. What we did find was a machine that was tractable, controllable and most of all, fun, albeit with a few faults.
On the first approach, the immediate thing we noticed is the Super Duke R appeared visually small, almost like a 690 Duke. That is, till we got really close. That was when the bulk of the fuel tank made itself obvious, and the seat height was, while not nose-bleedingly tall, was somewhat close at 835 mm.
Our 168 cm-tall rider could get tip-toe while seated, and flat-footed on one side, but if you intend to be riding this beast on a daily basis, check your inseam first. You’ll get used to the seat height soon enough, as we did, but the first couple of days riding the Super Duke R around made us conscious that this bike was designed for six-footers.
Settling into the saddle, we found it firm, supportive, wide and long, more than enough for any rider to find a comfortable seating position. Reaching forward to the handlebars, it was not much of a stretch, and the width of the bars were nicely proportional to the author’s shoulders.
Starting up the Super Duke R’s engine brought it to life quickly, and this immediately revealed a certain amount of vibration. Yes, we do realise that all V-twins vibrate, it is inherent in the design, and the Super Duke R is no different.
Revving up the engine showed its eagerness to rev up to the limiter, helped by the titanium inlet valves and forged short-skirt pistons claimed to be taken from Formula 1, along with a lightweight crankshaft. The counter-balancer has also been reworked for 2017 from the previous model, perhaps going some way to explain the amount of vibration we felt.
The engine itself is light, coming in at 47 kg, which, for a 1.3-litre lump, is quite commendable, and leads to the Super Duke R having a dry weight of 195 kg, and we are guessing, perhaps 205 kg fully-fuelled and ready to go. Which, if you’re a big fan of numbers, means a power-to-weight ratio of 1.15 kg per hp – in four-wheel terms, this is right up there in multi-million dollar supercar territory.
Setting off on the Super Duke R, clutch effort was firm, but not considerable. It does take an effort though, but the span adjustable lever allows any rider to get a comfortable fit.
Clicking the lever into first, we were aware of a certain stiffness in actuation, which we put down to the engine being cold. As we rode off on wet roads, we switched the Super Duke R to rain mode, which caps the engine at 133 hp, while Road and Sport modes allow the full 177 ponies to run free, but with different delivery rates.
For its initial stint with us, we took the Super Duke R up to Bukit Tinggi, using the wide, sweeping bends of Karak getting there. The Super Duke was in its element, holding the line through the corners with rock-solid confidence. The ample power from the engine was used to rocket the bike out of the bends, and the only thing keeping the two tyres planted on the tarmac was the electronics suite.
With a full complement of riding tech wizardry at its disposal, coupled with the fully adjustable WP suspension front and rear, the Super Duke R handled any corner it was thrown into, at above highway limit speeds, with aplomb. Having a bike that handles this well right out of the box, with no adjustment needed save tyre pressures, was quite delicious.
The fork rebound and damping are set in separate legs, while the rear shock absorber has both high- and low-speed compression damping circuits. We left the settings well enough alone, as it worked well at high speeds.
Bumbling around town in traffic, the compression damping was a tad too high, but we preferred to live with a slightly rough ride, forgiving the Super Duke R this fault as its behaviour when the going got fast was adequate compensation. However, if you do prefer that your Super Duke R handle both low and high speed fun equally well, you will need to spend some time fine-tuning the suspension.
Do note, though, there is a limit to how compliant you can make the suspension, as the Super Duke R is, after all, a naked sports bike. If you do want a slightly less hard-edged naked sports machine, the Super Duke GT will fit the bill, somewhat.
There is not a lot on the Super Duke R that is soft. This bike demands the rider’s attention, and rewards it with sublime cornering performance, front wheel in the air entertainment and humungous power delivery.
We did notice a difference between the 2017 and 2014 Super Duke Rs, in that the latest machine is rather more tractable at low speeds, especially in traffic and making tight u-turns. The stumble and splutter from the previous-generation Super Duke R is gone, and the throttle provides precise control below 5,000 rpm.
Not to say the low-speed fuelling is perfect, it still does cough and splutter occasionally, but it is very much less than before, and easy enough to ride around the issue without having to use large amounts of throttle opening. In any case, in Sport mode, power comes on with a rush at about 8,000 rpm, while in Road mode, the same rush is there, but power delivery is linear from about 5,000 rpm.
For cruising on the Super Duke R, the sweet spot is at about 140 to 170 km/h. At this point the vibration levels in sixth gear drop to reasonable levels, and it is somewhat possible to enjoy the ride, though the lack of a small windscreen tends to limit top speed.
Keeping to about 120 km/h, there was a buzz in the bars and seat, and we found it to be somewhat annoying. Thus, this is not the bike you go cruising about on, since its very reason for existence is to put a grin on the rider’s face.
Despite all its little foibles, the Super Duke R is very much a rider’s machine, and KTM has taken great pains to make the cockpit as accommodating as possible. The large LCD screen makes reading the numbers easy, something the multi-focal wearing author is grateful for.
Selection of the various ride modes, traction control, ABS controls and the such are easily accessed via the switches on the left handlebar pod, and a good thing about this year’s Super Duke R is that the settings do not default back to factory when the bike is switched off. This is a good thing, it is a pain having to reset everything – we know this simply because we go through it every week, on the average, with test bikes – and the menus on the Super Duke R are a little convoluted, requiring dropping down into various sub-menus for certain functions.
The review machine we rode came with the optional Performance Pack that adds KTM My Ride, which adds Bluetooth connectivity to the bike, and connection to the rider’s smart phone, as well as an optional Akrapovic slip-on exhaust. Also part of the Performance Pack is Motor Slip Regulator (MSR) that uses the ride-by-wire that limits engine drag torque during hard downshifting, and prevents rear wheel slip, combined with the slipper clutch.
Also included in the pack is the up-and-down quickshifter, which, on a bike like this, we would consider as being compulsory fitment. The Super Duke R’s V-twin revs hard, and redline shifting is hard if done manually.
Needless to say, we had great fun rowing the Super Duke R’s gearbox up and down the curves of Bukit Tinggi, and the bike, we would like to think, enjoyed the experience as well. Readers will have noticed that the bike is being written about as if it is alive, and we have to say, this machine has character.
After riding many different bikes across many different roads and racetracks, we know when a bike wants to have fun, and the Super Duke R does. Like many have written before, certain machines “talk” to the rider or driver, and the Super Duke R is one such machine.
This is both a bad and good thing, especially when you drop into a corner at some stupid speed, and the Super Duke R just shrugs its shoulders and says, “is that all you got, boy?” The bike gives as good as it gets, thus this means exercising a firm hand at the bars, and knowing what you are doing.
If you are a newbie, inexperienced rider, or just coming back to riding, the Super Duke R is not the bike for you, even if you can afford it. While all the electronics on the bike try to make things as safe as possible, 177 hp is not to be taken lightly, even by experienced riders.
Acceleration, roll-on torque and braking from the Monobloc Brembos can take the rider by surprise, if they are not used to it. Motorcycles are dangerous, and the Super Duke R, while not any more dangerous than any other bike, will not forgive mistakes that easily, especially when things happen at warp 10.
At RM118,000, including GST, the 2017 Super Duke R is a lot of money to be asking for a naked sports bike. Competition for the Super Duke R in Malaysia currently includes the Ducati Monster 1200 at RM119,000 and MV Agusta Brutale 1090 at RM93,000, both of which, while being down a little in the engine size and horsepower stakes, offer handling and comfort to match.
So, who needs a KTM Super Duke R? If you want to ride The Beast, there is none other. Power, looks and handling, with that awesome 141 Nm of torque on tap – you will not find a more entertaining naked bike in this class.
The thing of it is you will need experience and skill to get the most out of the 2017 KTM Super Duke R and if taking motorcycles to the edge scares you, may we suggest something else from further down the KTM Duke series? As for the author, let us just say the Super Duke R might make it to next year’s “to buy” list.