2019 KTM 790 Duke Review

A competent commuter with serious sporting capability.

Duke
The 2019 KTM 790 DukeJeff Allen

Flogging the KTM 790 Duke through undulating back roads justifies every marketing claim the Austrian company has made about the motorcycle's potency. A responsive chassis and pinpoint handling rip up asphalt—and rightfully support its nickname, "The Scalpel." KTM does performance, and this motorcycle proves it. But raw sporting capability isn't everything when it comes to the daily grind.

Shortly after first turning a wheel and long before the odometer clicking 4,000 miles, the middleweight Duke earned respect from the Cycle World staff as a competent companion for the day-to-day grind. From commuting to canyon carving, two-up rides, (cough) wheelies, and, um, city-street hooligan-ing, the 790 Duke has seen it all. And it does all well.

KTM 790 Duke
The KTM 790 Duke has an MSRP of $10,499.Jeff Allen

Nearly from the word “go,” the Duke’s 799cc parallel twin gained praise from testers for its tractable power delivery and butter-smooth nature in every riding condition. The combination of feathery clutch actuation, well-spaced gear ratios, and clutchless up- and downshifts makes tackling stop-and-go traffic less miserable, while a smooth initial power delivery at low rpm is followed by midrange rpm that packs enough punch to induce wheel-lofting euphoria. What’s more, the 790 Duke settles into highway speed in top gear at 5,000 rpm with enough steam in reserve to easily lunge past traffic and only miniscule amounts of engine vibration are felt through the controls above 6,500 rpm. Smooth. Cruise control, however, would be welcomed for long highway stints.

Analyzing power output recorded on Cycle World's in-house dyno, we can tell you the 790 Duke belts out 95.1 hp at 9,200 rpm and 58.2 pound-feet of torque at 7,900 rpm. Looking closely at the dyno charts reveals a remarkably linear power curve, which continuously builds power from idle until only 300 rpm below its 9,500 redline.

790 Duke wheelie
The KTM 790 Duke produced 95.1 hp at 9,200 rpm and 58.2 pound-feet of torque at 7,900. That’s more than enough for mid-ride hooligan-ing—with anti-wheelie mode turned off, of course.Jeff Allen

You’d be hard pressed to find fault in the Duke’s powerplant, aside from an abrupt on/off throttle mapping, which is exaggerated at low speeds. The 790 comes preset with three ride modes—Rain, Street, and Sport—which alter the engine’s overall power delivery and traction control intervention with preset settings. A fourth mode, Track, allows the rider to tailor the throttle response and TC settings to their liking, as well as the option to turn off anti-wheelie mode (uh, yes please) and enable a launch control feature. Toggling through throttle response mappings via the left handlebar switch gear and settling on the mild Street setting alleviates touchy throttle transitions in city-street conditions. The Sport setting remains in reserve for aggressive back-road riding, and Track is too abrupt for anything except, well, the racetrack.

The 790 Duke’s chassis lives for ideal road conditions. It’s nimble between the legs and carves through corners on the razor’s edge. Scalpel, remember? The thing is, the moment the Duke crosses rough pavement, its performance struggles. The WP fork is nonadjustable, which is worrisome for a motorcycle with a price tag upwards of $10,000, and struggles to cope with small chatter bumps. The initial part of the fork’s stroke is overly stiff, forcing the motorcycle to jostle underneath on these small imperfections, but it handles larger impacts with zero issue.

The Scalpel
The KTM 790 Duke earns its nickname of “The Scalpel” for its aggressive nature, but thankfully the rider triangle finds a happy medium of comfort and sporty riding position.Jeff Allen

Filtering rush-hour traffic to and from Cycle World's Southern California headquarters, the 790 Duke is a comfortable companion, despite a relatively aggressive rider triangle. Reach to the handlebars is low and long, yet doesn't induce uncomfortable wrist pressure, and legroom is adequate for my 5-foot-7 stature with room to spare for larger riders. During the press introduction of the Duke, I'd hoped that long hours would break in the saddle and ease the awkward pressure in the hamstrings, but my hopes painfully diminished even thousands of miles later. An aftermarket saddle could be in the shopping cart soon.

Nightfall illuminates positive features (pun intended) of the 790 Duke, including impressive LED lighting. The front headlight offers a breadth of lighting that reaches directly in front, but most significantly to each side of the motorcycle. Cornering lights? I’d argue the Duke doesn’t need them, the headlight reaches that far. Likewise, the TFT dashboard is easily readable after sundown, improving upon its lackluster daytime lighting in direct sunlight.

Daily grind aside, the 790 Duke is built with tire-scorching and hooligan-ing intentions, which is why the Austrians outfitted the motorcycle with a Supermoto ABS mode. Let the rear tire screeching begin. Riding in this mode disables ABS function at the rear wheel and turns off its Motor Slip Regulation system, which acts something like a corner-entry TC system by preventing rear-wheel lock through opening the throttle butterfly valves when the sensors detect imbalance in wheel speed. Supermoto ABS allows for the rear wheel to be locked and kicked sideways with the peace of mind that the front tire won't. Don't believe me? Follow the arcing skid marks into the Cycle World parking lot. It's an entertaining feature that keeps your ride home interesting and your neighborhood disturbed.

dual four-piston front brake calipers
The KTM-branded dual four-piston front brake calipers were developed in conjunction with J.Juan. The componentry offers strong power and feel, especially after some break-in miles.Jeff Allen

Speaking of brakes, it’s important to note that I’ve become more fond of their feel since attending the Duke’s press introduction. More break-in time and quality miles with the 790 offers better sensation through the lever under hard braking, improving the understanding of how much brake pressure is being used and how much is left in reserve.

Four thousand miles and hundreds of wheelies later, the 790 Duke has proved itself as a competent motorcycle for the daily grind, with the potential to tear asphalt at the change of a mindset and the flick of a couple switches. Trust us, the Duke adds a new element to a daily rider that few other bikes have.

790 Duke
It’s hard to resist hooligan antics aboard the 790 Duke. Believe me.Jeff Allen

2019 KTM 790 Duke Specifications

Price $10,499
Engine 799cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled parallel twin; 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x Stroke 88.0 x 65.7mm
Compression Ratio 12.7:1
Fuel Delivery Electronic fuel injection w/ ride by wire
Transmission/Final Drive 6-speed/chain
Front Suspension 43mm inverted cartridge-type WP fork w/ split-function technology; 5.5-in. travel
Rear Suspension WP, adjustable for spring preload; 5.9-in. travel
Tires, Front/Rear Maxxis Supermaxx ST; 120/70ZR-17 / 180/55ZR-17
Rake/Trail 24.0°/3.9 in.
Wheelbase 58.0 in.
Seat Height 33.0 in.
Fuel Capacity 3.7 gal.
Measured Dry Weight 391 lb.

CW Measured Performance

Horsepower 95.1 hp @ 9,200 rpm
Torque 58.2 lb.-ft, @ 7,900 rpm
Quarter-Mile 11.02 sec. @ 123 mph
0–30 1.29 sec.
0–60 3.24 sec.
0–100 6.88 sec.
Top-Gear Roll-On, 40–60 mph 3.17 sec.
Top-Gear Roll-On, 60–80 mph 3.49 sec.
Braking, 30–0 36.2 ft.
Braking, 60–0 133.7 ft.

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