If there was ever a doubt that KTM is ultra serious about building streetbikes, the last couple of years have crushed those reservations. Street products are the Austrian company’s fastest growing segment and now account for almost 50 percent of its sales. By the end of 2013, KTM’s total annual production will reach almost 110,000 units, surpassing the likes of BMW.
Tripling market share in four years didn’t happen by building boring products. Cycle World staff favorites such as the 690 Duke R, the incredible new 1190 Adventure/Adventure R (already available in Europe), and the not-yet-released-in-the-U.S. 200 and 390 Dukes are responsible. But KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R is sure to be the company’s flagship streetbike. This 1301cc naked V-twin sportbike redefines the word hooligan and will surely give the Aprilia Tuono V4, Ducati Streetfighter, MV Agusta Brutale and Triumph Speed Triple more fight than they can handle.
If bigger is better, then the 1301cc, 75-degree twin is the best LC8 ever. KTM claims 180 horsepower and 106 foot-pounds of torque, and all that oomph is supremely usable thanks to an advanced electronics package with three drive modes and sophisticated lean-angle-dependent traction control. KTM took the 1195cc twin from the RC8 and increased the bore from 105.0 to 108.0 mm and the stroke from 69.0 to 71.0. Each of the four-valve heads features twin ignition for optimal burn, and larger Keihin 56mm throttle bodies deliver fuel and air.
The Super Duke R’s international press introduction was held in Estepona, Spain. Day 1 was spent exclusively on the street, while Day 2 included a morning of lapping at the Ascari Race Resort outside of Ronda. It didn’t take long before I bought into KTM’s claims of performance. While a couple of pulls on the Cycle World dyno will truly determine the accuracy of KTM’s claims, there’s no doubt this engine is a beast. Torque production is impressive, while the low flywheel mass makes the engine snap toward its 10,500 rpm redline with instant aggression.
ON THE ROAD
Our first morning’s ride included an ascent up a fast and twisty road from the Mediterranean into the mountains. With so much torque available, frequent shifting isn’t necessary, but after experiencing the wonderful action of the 1290’s six-speed gearbox I found myself doing so purely for entertainment. As the roads tightened up, the exits only became more fun. With the Super Duke’s MTC active and the drive mode in Sport, the rear tire is allowed to spin a bit out of corners, but never enough to risk getting sideways. With TC completely off, the bike was far less of a handful than I anticipated. Excellent fueling combined with very linear power production made traction easy to find. Turning off MTC has one significant benefit: It allows big honking wheel stands, whereas with the system on, it only allows low-floating power wheelies. Street mode allows the same level of power output, but uses more conservative MTC settings and delivery. Rain mode provides impressive acceleration, but with the most aggressive level of TC intervention.
If the engine is impressive, it’s the chassis that allows you to exploit all the Super Duke R has to offer. Easily the most notable trait of the 1290’s chassis is its excellent front-end feel. A huge 48mm fully adjustable WP fork combines with the stiff laser-cut and precision-welded chrome-moly steel trellis frame and stout single-sided swingarm to provide very communicative handling. Even on roads with less-than-ideal grip, the limits of traction were easily detectable. Overstep those bounds slightly and the Bosch 9ME ABS keeps the awesome Brembo brakes from getting you into trouble. Despite a fairly long 58.3-inch wheelbase and a less-than-ultra-steep 24.9-degree steering head angle, turn-in is impressively quick, while steering is totally neutral and predictable. The ultra wide tapered aluminum handlebar provides significant steering leverage but never makes the front feel twitchy. Dunlop’s new Sportsmart2 tire was profiled specifically for the 1290. At standard pressures, grip was good; lowered a bit, the bike really worked well on the polished asphalt roads of Spain.
AT THE TRACK
As a streetbike, the new 1290 Super Duke is impressive, but we needed to unleash its inner demons at the track to find its real potential. The Ascari Race Resort is a racetrack fantasyland. A wide variety of corners emulates signature turns from tracks around the world, and the ultra-fast, fifth-gear back straight really got my attention. The acceleration to 150 mph, followed by braking into the second-gear chicane, was eye-opening, especially for a naked sportbike. All told, this engine truly has it all, with top-end performance that’s more than a match for the bike’s bottom-end grunt.
Handling, too, proved perfectly suited to lapping, once the street-oriented Dunlops were bled down to track pressures. But to show us the true potential of the 1290, KTM track-prepped four bikes with Dunlop N-tech slicks, some KTM Parts accessories and an Akrapovic exhaust claimed to increase power to 192. With the added grip, the Super Duke felt far more Superbike than Streetfighter; it was one of the most entertaining bikes I’ve ridden on a track.
Although the KTM 1290 Super Duke R has lots of impressive individual traits, I am most impressed by how well they work together. The engine is definitely the cornerstone of the machine, but complemented perfectly by the sophisticated electronics and great chassis. And the bike has a very high level of polish and refinement, something KTM streetbikes lacked in the past. Those days look like they are over for the Austrian company, as proven by the 1190 Adventure and the Super Duke R, two bikes that show KTM is capable of competing with the giants of the industry and perhaps stealing their thunder altogether.
The 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R will be available in two colors: matte black or the orange shown here. Expect the bike to arrive in U.S. dealerships in late February. Pricing is expected to be announced in December at the Long Beach, California, International Motorcycle Show.