Jeff Allen

Comparison Ride Review: 2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 vs. 2017 KTM Super Duke 1290 R

Italian muscle meets Austrian brawn in this battle of 150 hp naked bikes

True love. I had never experienced it until the day I first stepped foot in Italy. A perfect blend of romance, passion, and history, the region pulled me in quick and never let go. Day after day, I fell deeper, to the point where I couldn't imagine going home. This is the effect of Italian things. If you've ever traveled abroad, you probably know the feeling. And if you've ever ridden an Aprilia Tuono, well, you understand exactly where my inner Romeo comes from. Oh, Italy, you sure do know a thing or two about pulling on heartstrings!

Nearby, Austria isn’t exactly lacking in personality either. I’ve never been, but, oh, if the KTM 1290 Super Duke R doesn’t make me think that it’d pull just as hard. The question, then, if each of these bikes are a representation of the places they come from, where would I rather be?

2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTM
2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTMJeff Allen

To find out, we spent the dog days of a Californian summer putting each motorcycle through its paces on long highway stints, twisty canyon roads, city streets, and the daily commute. By no means was it as magnificent as bombing through the European countryside, but by the time we finished, we were pretty sure we found the love we were looking for.

The Tuono’s 1077cc V-4 powerplant has a way of pulling—okay, tugging—at your heartstrings from the moment it takes its first breath. It lets out a roar that is raw yet beautiful, and its riding characteristics are much the same. Throttle response is aggressive in Track Mode (which most of us opted for even during most of our street riding), but as long as you’re careful with throttle application, it doesn’t feel overly abrupt in slower sections of road. Around town, the Tuono’s engine works just fine, though the tall first gear requires dragging the clutch out if you want to leave a stoplight with any authority. The straightaways, however, are where the Tuono’s engine works best. Above 8,000 rpm, it builds speed like a pure-bred Italian superbike before finally tapering off at its redline of 12,500 rpm.

Super Duke R’s 1,301cc V-twin
The Super Duke R’s 1,301cc V-twin is downright impressive. The engine’s power delivery is remarkably smooth at initial throttle input, and the power becomes beastly as the engine passes the 5,500-rpm mark.Jeff Allen

The Super Duke's engine takes on the role of a dark horse in this love story because it's deceptively quick. Yes, for 2017 it has grown in displacement to 1,301cc and received a long list of updates—including a stiffened crankshaft, new resonator chambers on the cylinder heads for smoother power delivery, titanium intake valves to support a higher compression ratio of 13.6:1, 10mm shorter intake funnels that allowed KTM to raise the redline by 500 rpm, and a brand-new exhaust system—but the sound at first ring doesn't speak as passionately as the Tuono.

Instead, it sounds mellow—maybe even reserved—with throttle response feeling the same way. Initially, power delivery is very smooth and subtle, making the need for TC almost zero, but it's by no means weak. The KTM's engine is stronger than the Aprilia lower in the revs, making it a more usable powerplant in the slower sections of twisties or around town. At 5,500 rpm, however, the engine begins to lay down all of its beastliness. From there, its attitude takes a turn from relaxed to angry and wants to pull your arms out of their sockets until it comes time to grab ahold of the brake lever. That's the beautiful thing about the Super Duke's V-twin—it transitions seamlessly between a mellow commuter and full-blown rocket ship by the matter of a throttle turn.

2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR
2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RRJeff Allen

Equally impressive as the Super Duke’s powerplant is its chassis agility, which our testers unanimously agreed was its best handling trait. The KTM is light on its feet, especially in transitions where it has to flick from side to side, giving you the ability to flop between twisties with aggression. The downfall to its chassis is that it struggles to hold its line unless there’s heavy load on it, like in wide-open turns. If you’re stuck in a slower section of road, the bike pushes wide at midcorner and is nervous at full lean, making it difficult to find confidence to push its limits. Find a faster set of corners, however, and you’ll feel the chassis load properly, which helps the bike steer around the corner.

2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTM
2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTMJeff Allen

The Aprilia is much the opposite, being one of the most confidence-inspiring naked chassis that we’ve ridden, regardless of speed or conditions. It’s planted to the ground in a way that allows you to hit rough patches of road without the worry of it becoming unsettled while still being nimble enough to rip through tight sections of road and make steering corrections when needed. Side-to-side transitions are the only places the Tuono falls behind the Super Duke, but the difference is negligible when looked at next to the rest of the Aprilia’s advantages.

Brembo M50 calipers
For 2017, the Tuono gets upgraded with top-shelf Brembo M50 calipers and 330mm discs. The braking power is more than adequate, but an overly aggressive initial bite on the street hinders their true capability.Jeff Allen

Braking performance between the Aprilia and KTM are also varying, which is funny because both are fitted with Brembo’s top-shelf M50 Monoblock calipers and a Brembo master cylinder. Of course, the Tuono’s brake rotors are 10mm larger than the Super Duke’s (330mm versus 320mm), which helps outright braking power, but there’s more feel through the lever on the Tuono as well. The only drawback to the Aprilia is that an overly aggressive initial bite can make riding in traffic feel choppy and difficult to modulate if you aren’t gentle with the lever; but the package is still superior to that of the Super Duke. By comparison, the KTM’s brakes lack both feel and power, suggesting that aftermarket brake pads might improve all-around performance.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R
KTM 1290 Super Duke RJeff Allen

In defense of the KTM, the ergonomics package is quite comfortable, and a long day in the saddle is no problem because of its more upright handlebars and lower footpegs. Despite having a chattering vibration through the bars and pegs, and its WP suspension feeling as if it shudders over bumps instead of fully absorbing them, our testers agreed that it’s a more relaxing ride than the Tuono. The racy ergonomics on the Aprilia suggests the Italians designed the Tuono to be a superbike with an upright bar on it, which is great for canyon carving, but any lengthy straight-line stints will be taking a serious toll on your body. Seat heights are similar (33.5 inches for the Aprilia and 33.8 inches for the KTM), though the Super Duke’s square-shape seat makes the bike feel taller than it is, making stop-and-go traffic a hassle for smaller riders.

Of course, we have to mention the Tuono’s fuel mileage. Our measured average came in at 31 mpg, which had us scrambling for fuel around the 120 mile mark. Not the greatest, especially when the KTM’s average hovers right around 36 mpg.

Track:

Thanks to Southern California trackday company TrackDaz, we managed to sneak in a day of testing at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, where we put both the Aprilia's and KTM's qualities under a magnifying glass. With these bikes not exactly being designed with outright speed in mind, we punted doing a comparative lap-time analysis and instead focused on gathering impressions of their abilities and fun factors at the racetrack.

A lot comes into light about each bike’s electronics packages at the racetrack, especially their traction control systems. The Tuono’s Aprilia Performance Ride Control (aPRC) traction control system has eight levels of adjustment (plus off), with each mitigating wheelspin quite well. On a lower setting, such as Level 2 or 3, the system allows for enough rear-wheel slip to help pivot the bike around the corner but not so much as to keep the bike from driving forward. Like its superbike sibling—the RSV4—it struggles with consistency from lap to lap, which makes trusting that it won’t snap back on you an issue. The good news about the aPRC system is that it now includes a revised Wheelie Control function as well as a bidirectional quickshifter and Launch Control and Pit Limiter systems that all work quite well.

2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTM
2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTMJeff Allen

The Super Duke has many of the same features, but that’s only if you purchase KTM’s additional upgrades. The Performance Pack ($475.99) includes a bidirectional Quickshifter+, KTM My Ride (Bluetooth device connectivity), and an adjustable Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) system that controls the amount of engine-braking while entering corners. Also available is the Track Pack ($299.95) that opens up the TC system to nine levels of adjustment, enables the ability to shut off Wheelie Control, offers various throttle response settings, and adds Launch Control. The TC system impresses at the track, with it intruding just enough to keep the wheels in line and maintain momentum to consistently get off the corner lap after lap.

2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTM
2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTMJeff Allen

The handling characteristics of each bike are exaggerated on the racetrack, which unfortunately includes the Super Duke’s uneasy handling. Rolling to maximum lean on the KTM is quicker than the Tuono, as it was on the street, but it’s only advantageous if you are gentle with your inputs. Try to wrestle the KTM into the corner and the chassis will begin wallowing underneath you, often not settling down until you hit the next straightaway. Its struggle to hold a line continues on the racetrack too, with testers agreeing the KTM has to ride on the edge of the tire longer to finish corners than the Aprilia. In contrast, the same planted feel the Tuono presents on the street is equally as confidence inspiring on the racetrack, and the aggressive initial bite of the brakes that haunts the Aprilia on the street goes almost unnoticed.

Kent Kunitsugu

Kent Kunitsugu
Age: 56 Height: 5'7"Jeff Allen

As great a bike as the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 is (especially on the racetrack), I’d still pick the KTM if I were going to buy a bike like this.

Yes, you could buy the factory version of the Aprilia for the price of the KTM, but for the riding I’d be doing, the Super Duke fills the bill more readily. The Aprilia is a beast of an engine in the upper reaches of its powerband, but the KTM’s huge V-twin is much more responsive at the rpm and speeds you see on the street. And the agility of the Super Duke makes it more enjoyable at that pace as well. I’d surely be happier with the Tuono at a trackday, but those days wouldn’t be very frequent; for the street and canyon riding that would comprise the vast majority of its life in my hands, the Super Duke comes out on top in my book.

2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTM Stats
2017 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR vs. 2017 KTM StatsSport Rider

Michael Gilbert

Age: 21 Height: 5’7”Jeff Allen

In all honesty, I struggled falling for the KTM. There’s no question that it’s an extraordinary motorcycle, but it still has a few too many quirks for me to consider putting a big chunk of change down on one. And there’s that too; the Super Duke R already has a high price tag, and its optional Performance and Track packs set it over the limit.

The Tuono V4 1100, on the other hand, had me in love at first ride. It’s so close to being a stripped-down superbike, which is exactly what I’d want if I’m looking at entering the super naked category. The chassis package is solid, its engine is ruthless, and its electronics package has functions for everything you throw at it. Fun? Heck yes.

The Aprilia is what a naked bike should be.

Conclusion:

And so it comes time to decide—where will true love take me? The Super Duke R is an impressive motorcycle. Its engine can charm anyone with its delicate power delivery, yet it has hair-raising top-end horsepower. But there’s just something missing. I know that no love is ever cheap, but the additional costs of the Performance and Track packs needed to bring it up to speed with the Tuono makes falling for the KTM a tough sell. Sorry, Austria.

The Aprilia has it all. It’s fast, refined, and comes equipped with all the bells and whistles you can ask for on a naked bike. Its engine and chassis are balanced to near perfection—raw yet tamed, nothing else. Once you’ve had your taste of the Tuono, imagining anything else is a difficult thing to do.

Oh, Italy, how could I ever leave you?

Test Rubber: Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsa SC

Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsa SC
Pirelli Diablo SuperCorsa SCAmazon
  • The SuperCorsa SC's rubber impressed the Sport Rider testers with their durability, even in brutally hot conditions at the racetrack. The first drop in tire grip came after two sessions but stayed very consistent through the test.
  • Rear tire traction on the SuperCorsa is confidence inspiring, making you want to twist the throttle earlier and earlier in the corner.
  • Feel through the contact patch of the front and rear tires is nearly perfect, allowing you to know exactly what the bike is doing at all times.
  • The Diablo SuperCorsa SC has been the control tire of the World Supersport Championship since 2004.