2016 KTM 690 Duke - WHAT I'VE BEEN RIDING

Our review of the 2016 KTM 690 Duke after riding it for a week.

2016 KTM 690 Duke
The 2016 KTM 690 DukeSean MacDonald

On paper, the KTM 690 Duke should be a near perfect motorcycle. Or so I thought a few years ago when I stole my friend CJ Wilson's from his garage to go play for the day. Super low weight, super big single engine, comfy ergonomics, what's not to love?

"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.

2016 KTM 690 Duke Sean MacDonald
The 690 Duke eats pieces of road like this for breakfast.Bradley Adams

Vibrations. Vibrations are not to love. At the time, I called the KTM 690 Duke the closest thing I'd ever ridden to a surgeon's scalpel, which should have resulted in a glowing review. The only problem was that KTM's "ready to race" philosophy brought about zero attempts at vibration reduction and I couldn't stand being on the thing on a freeway for more than five miles. Yes, I'm both sort of a sissy and also very sensitive (and ticklish). No, there aren't many good riding roads within five miles of my house, which meant I couldn't really love the little Duke.

Then came last November, which meant new bike season, and a new 690 Duke was released (as well as the Husqvarna 701 Supermoto, which borrowed the old 690 Duke's motor). I wrote all about the new Duke's re-worked engine and second counter-balancer shaft, but I remained skeptical as memories of riding down the freeway with both feet off the pegs and my left hand off the bars haunted me.

2016 KTM 690 Duke Display
The 690 Duke's display in "night mode."Sean MacDonald

The 701 Supermoto launch came and went, and I was incredibly impressed with Husqvarna's ability to reduce vibrations through some additional rubber mounting and tinkering with the bikes timing. It's the first real (or actually good) supermoto offering in too long, and it actually isn't too miserable on the freeway. Naturally, I fell in love with the bike.

But then I rode the new 2016 KTM 690 Duke. Now, that there is a real thing. The new cylinder head, additional counter-balancer shaft, and more oversquare cylinder design dramatically reduce vibrations, increase horsepower by seven percent (to 73 hp), increase torque six percent (to 55 lb.-ft.), and give you 1,000 rpm more to play in. The Duke, while still noticeably a single, is almost shockingly free of vibrations and even the power gains are noticeable. I'm terrible at wheelies, but this thing made them a dream.

2016 KTM 690 Duke Sean MacDonald
Sean's happy place.Bradley Adams

Everything else we loved about the Duke remains. The sharp handling, the non-existent weight. The new instrument panel does wonders for making the bike not feel cheap, although it is nearly impossible to read in the sunlight. My only real issues with the bike come from the front brake and the fact that KTM won't bring the 690 R or its cornering traction control to the U.S, but I can't do much about the latter. The single 320 mm disc and four-piston, radially mounted Brembo caliper should be enough to do a decent job of slowing a bike this light, but I had several instances where it didn't come close to getting the job done - and even at times where I was riding at normal speeds in neighborhoods just trying to avoid cars jumping into the street. A new master cylinder and steel lines would be first on my list.

So now I'm torn. The 701 Supermoto is prettier, cooler, and turns me into even more of a dickhead - which is really fun. But, the Duke makes more power, handles the fast stuff better, has a nicer display, and is way better on the freeway. It's also over $2,000 cheaper at $8,999. Decisions, decisions.

2016 KTM 690 Duke
The 2016 KTM 690 Duke.Sean MacDonald

The 701 may have my heart, but the KTM 690 Duke might be the hardest bike to pass on in motorcycling right now. Because dank woolies and shredding canyons.

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