REVIEW: KTM 1290 Super Duke R resets expectations

Publish Date: 
Feb 25, 2014
By Bruce Steever

TEMECULA, Calif. - Despite launching a well-reviewed range of 950-990cc bikes around the LC8 V-twin, KTM failed to make a significant impact with its first major foray into street bikes. There were several reasons, including a major recession and unprepared dealers; however, KTM is returning to the premium street motorcycle market in a big way.

Leading the brand is the latest version of KTM’s 1190 Adventure, which promises dominant off-road performance for the segment while packing significantly more performance and technology. But for sporting street riders, KTM’s engineers have taken the new motor and cranked up all the dials to create the new 1290 Super Duke R.

Like the 1190 Adventure, the new Super Duke uses an updated version of the LC8 power plant from the RC8 superbike controlled by a range of cutting-edge engine electronics. Unlike either of those machines, however, the Super Duke’s motor displaces 1300cc thanks to a 3mm larger bore and 2mm longer stroke. Despite the 108mm pistons’ size, new forging techniques reduce weight to the same as the 101mm pistons from the previous 990 Super Duke. Other superbike-level features include camshaft finger followers and piston pins coated in diamond-like carbon (DLC), flow-optimized crankshaft webs and KTM’s multi-function shaft sharing coolant pump, counterbalancer and oil scavenging duties.

What makes the 1290 special is a combination of controllability and refinement, especially for a motor claiming 180 hp at the crank. Driveability is assured, as KTM focused on reducing “cycle-to-cycle variation at partial load.” While it’s relatively easy to make a large engine produce plenty of power, KTM’s new twin also remains smooth and controllable for relaxed street riding at low engine speeds. Twin spark plugs per cylinder not only feature individual mapping but also each use different specifications. Twin oxygen sensors monitor each cylinder’s combustion. Intake ports, 56mm ride-by-wire throttle bodies, cylinder head design and camshaft profiles are all carefully tuned to maximize efficient combustion and minimize variations between each power pulse of the big engine.

The result is a high-compression V-twin that will run smoothly from under 2,500 rpm all the way to a redline just shy of 10,000 rpm.

Putting that power to the rear wheel is an advanced PASC clutch that functions as both a slipper unit on deceleration and an assist unit to reduce lever effort. Controlling the entire package is an advanced traction control system with riding modes. Using the ride-by-wire throttle, the 1290’s ECM provides impeccable control and confidence via one of the smoothest and most refined traction control systems on two wheels.

Equally advanced is the Super Duke’s chassis and braking system. The steel trellis frame is laser-cut and welded by robots for precision and mated to fully adjustable WP suspension front and rear, with the unusual linkage-less rear shock aping the Austrian firm’s dirt bike designs. Top-spec Brembo brakes offer amazing power and feel along with the security of the latest Bosch ABS and include a KTM innovation: Supermoto mode.

In addition to the ability to disable the ABS if the rider desires, Supermoto mode maintains ABS security for the front tire while allowing the rear tire to lock for slides and other antics. Dunlop Sportsmart tires and a WP steering damper keep the 1290 glued to the road and pointed in the right direction.

Finally, the rest of the details maintain the high level expected in a premium machine. Clear, intuitive gauges provide information and control of the bikes electronic subsystems. Despite a slightly tall package compared to some naked machines, the KTM is narrow and provides comfortable, adjustable ergonomics and a decent seat. Engine heat is unobtrusive, control feel is excellent and the angular design definitely gets attention wherever it goes.

KTM has not only made an immensely powerful naked sportbike with the 1290, but it’s managed to refine the package so well that it can easily serve as daily transportation for some. KTM’s accessory catalog supports this idea with three different accessory lines for riders looking to dress up the bike’s style, prepare it for racing or even turn it into a light sport-touring machine. With an entry price of $16,999, the Super Duke R is a premium offering aimed at riders looking for the ultimate naked sportbike, but thanks to advances in engine control and driveability, it also does much more.