2016 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT - WHAT I’VE BEEN RIDING

An unsolicited and unofficial review

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
Few sport tourers are as comfortable at lean as the GTScott Sorenson

Out of all of our picks for this year's 10 Best Motorcycles, none riled up readers more than our picking the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT as the best touring bike. Commenters whined that its lack of things like a shaft drive, top box, or real windscreen meant it wasn't a real touring bike and that it shouldn't have beaten other bikes we've loved this year like the BMW K 1600 GTL. We'd managed to get our hands on the first press demo unit and I'd yet to swing a leg over it, so I called dibs as soon as we'd finished our 10 Best presentation so I could spend some time on it.

"What I've Been Riding" is a new segment for editors who may not have already written about a certain bike to toss their personal opinions in. Because it's fun for us, hopefully interesting for you, and a great way to create some more discussion around the stuff you're asking us about. The bottom of the page will give you links to things like first ride reviews, comparison tests, dyno runs, and other content we've run - all of which gets the broad-based and objective evaluation techniques you've come to expect from us. If you're dying to check out the specs or have a more technical question, we'd suggest perusing those before getting upset that these "reviews" don't contain our normal, rigorous efforts.

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
The 2016 KTM 1290 Super Duke GTCourtesy of KTM

Disclaimer: I'm both a KTM fanboy and a fan of touring on sport bikes made comfortable. I mean, I did just write about how I turned a Hypermotard SP into a touring bike after all. I didn't want to ride this bike because of my love for the Honda Goldwing or Yamaha FJR 1300, nor was it for the sake of science and objectivity. I wanted to ride it because I thought I was going to love it and I thought this would be a really fun way to show you all why our choice for 10 Best was the right one.

Unfortunately for me, our unit was so new (they got us one early so we could have it for the presentation) that it hadn’t even had its break-in service and it was limited to 9,000 rpm for the first few days. Fortunately, my commute from the girlfriend’s house to work is about 55 miles, which meant hitting 700 miles wouldn’t take long (and I had a little more something to look forward to while I dodged cars on the 5 freeway).

I arrived at KTM HQ early Friday morning with 760 miles on the clock, and the satisfaction of knowing I’d orchestrated my week well enough to get the bike sorted and a full free day to go play the next day. My first week on the bike, spent almost entirely lane splitting on the freeway, had gotten me incredibly excited to see how the bike would perform in the canyons and on a longer day. The motor was begging to be woken up, and the “sport” suspension mode just pleaded to be pushed further. I was a big fan of this motorcycle.

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
At home, even when you're far from homeScott Sorenson

Saturday morning, I met with a few buddies at Deus Ex Machina in Venice, California for a light breakfast and some coffee. From there, we headed up the coast for a bit before plunging up into the canyons to hit a series of roads I ride often when testing. Some are tight and bumpy, others long and sweeping, and few bikes are completely home in all of it. The GT, and its wonderfully stiff suspension, struggled quite a bit in the bumpy stuff, but hid its size well in anything tight. Switching to the street and comfort settings didn't help to soak up road bumps much either, turning it more into somewhat of a springboard. Once we hit smoother and more open pavement, the big Duke began to shine.

We hit the coast again and made our way up the 1 into Oxnard, where we continued north to Ventura and the 33. Unlike Malibu, the 33 has almost no decreasing radius turns and much smoother pavement. The roads in Malibu were annoying enough that I hung back with my friends and didn’t push hard, but Ojai was a different story. Ojai was made for bikes like the 1290 Super Duke GT, and I made full use of its recently unleashed power and all of its available lean angle.

My body weight in burger formSean MacDonald

Once we crossed over the hill, we stopped by my favorite burger spot for a gut bomb before continuing even further north on the 33 so we could ride the Hudson Ranch Road across Mount Pinos back down into Gorman. From there, we hopped onto the 5 down the grapevine and I rode the 100 miles home in 109 degree heat.

The thing is, by the time I’d gotten home I was pretty sure I was ready to give the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT back. Let me explain.

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
The 2016 KTM 1290 Super Duke GTCourtesy of KTM

The Super Duke GT really does just feel like a Super Duke with a few mods to add some range and carry some things, but those things don’t make it much of a tourer. Yes, the power is incredible and the fueling is perfect. Yes, the suspension (in sport) is awesome and the handling is unbelievable. The bike simply just falls into corners.

BUT, the seat is incredibly uncomfortable (I normally love their hard seats), the engine cooks your legs (and the new tank blocks any cooling wind), the windscreen doesn’t do much (and moving it up or down does nothing), and the vibrations in the slippery pegs are jarring. By the time I got home, my butt was on fire, my neck hurt from wind buffeting, and my feet were numb from the vibrations. More importantly, I was dying to get off it.

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
Don't let the bags fool you, this isn't your dad's touring bike.Scott Sorenson

This isn’t to say it’s a bad bike, just that I would so much rather buy a Super Duke and add some side bags and a windscreen than buy this bike. Because this bike isn’t a great tourer, the extra range of the bigger tank isn’t really necessary and I think the Super Duke is a much nicer looking bike. If your bike isn’t going to be great at the touring part, it might as well be the best at sport part.

I think KTM could do more or could give us a better sport touring bike than the 1290 Super Duke GT. I think it could a little more modified from the Super Duke to make it a little more long-distance appropriate. Until then, I’d buy the 1290 Super Adventure if I were looking for a sport tourer.

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