Reign of the Super Duke

Kartikeya Singhee
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Testdrive The KTM 1290 Super Duke R is a versatile and stimulating motorcycle that can be enjoyed by just about any rider, anywhere, writes Kartikeya Singhee

The promotional teaser video for KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R had smoking tyres, wheelies and slides played against a tough and cruel rumble of 177bhp. Impressed as I was, I decided to find out for myself what this beast was all about and headed to Spain for a test ride. The testing was done on roads that looped over mountains, on a cunning race track and even in the cautions of city traffic and bland motorways.

First impression — the Super Duke R looks weird enough to make a virtue of it. Blame it on the LED bars in the headlamp or the panels around them that project downward like pincers. The odd-looking instrument cluster has been lifted straight from the Adventure and fits awkwardly into the scheme of things. Except for the big tank extensions and the cowl at the tail, there are no other panels on the 1290. The single-sided swingarm is a welcome indulgence on this hard-nosed motorcycle. My test bike was cloaked in an extra shade of menace thanks to the all-black treatment, except for a part of the precision-cut trellis frame, which was bright orange. However, as I hopped onto the saddle of KTM’s Beast, the oddities stopped. The 1290 chattered soothingly once the engine came to life with a deep sonorous rumble. The 835mm saddle height didn’t feel uncomfortably tall either. The reach to the wide handlebars wasn’t overly sporty and the footpegs were placed perfectly for many kilometres in the saddle.

Every interaction put me further at ease; the hydraulically assisted clutch was pleasantly light; first gear clicked in with a smooth and positive click. So, within the first 10km I grappled with an idea — could it be possible that this street naked bike, despite its brawler attitude, was actually quite domesticated? What of the seemingly humourless motor? The 75-degree V-twin is essentially a bored and stroked version of the motor seen on KTM’s superbike, the RC8. Further tweaks include a revised combustion chamber that assists the dual spark plugs to boost combustion efficiency.

KTM has also peeled off weight wherever possible. The pistons, even though bigger than the ones on the 1190, are almost as light as the ones used on the 990 motor. Ride-by-wire technology, engine modes and traction control have made this an engine you like to sink your teeth into, and not vice versa.

Even at the ordinary pace we started off at, the Super Duke R’s engine surprised with its smoothness and the ease with which you could exploit all its power. The V-twin motor was characterful, pulsing amicably when prodded for more grunt. It responded convincingly enough below 4000rpm and vehemently above it. The motor can be tailored to your tastes with predetermined modes – Sport, Rain or Street. In Rain mode, power is limited and the throttle response is softened drastically. In Street mode, the engine reacts with a hint of modesty to light throttle inputs. However, crack the throttle wide open and the Super Duke R’s electronic brain quickens the responsiveness and also puts every bhp at the command of your right wrist.

On the open road, getting to 180kph was a matter of a few seconds. KTM claims a 0-200kph time of 7.2sec, which is at par with superbike levels of performance and certainly feels that way. If this KTM attacks straights, it mauls corners! The Super Duke R snarled up the mountain with authority. Initially, the 9800rpm rev limiter caught me off guard around some corners, but choosing the right gear thereafter wasn’t a bother. The superb chassis, with its strong WP forks and directly linked monoshock, let the big KTM flow smoothly from corner to corner. The 1290 tipped in and held its line assuredly. The race track gave me the perfect opportunity to push hard.

Except for lower tyre pressures, the Super Duke R was completely unchanged from its street guise. On the track, hanging off this street naked motorcycle felt completely natural. The dual-compound rear tyre offered extra grip from its softer shoulders, allowing me to put the power down with confidence as we exited tight corners. Light on its feet, the KTM flicked through chicanes and remained rock-steady through 170kph sweepers too. Any doubts about the brakes were also cleared rapidly when I left the braking till late on one cliff-lined corner. As I squeezed the lever with a hint of panic, the two floating 320mm Brembos with four-pot Monobloc calipers bailed me out with their phenomenal bite.

The feel at the levers remained communicative even as the Bosch ABS worked unnoticeably in the background. When in the mood for fun, you can use the Supermoto mode, which lets you lock the rear wheel, to slide it into corners, or you could disengage it completely.

The safety net of Bosch’s traction control system made the going safer and tidier still. Wheel speeds, revs, the gear in use and lean angle are monitored constantly, and if anything goes awry, the traction control system adjusts the throttle to cut power delivery. The traction control intervention varies depending on the selected riding mode. Even in Sport mode, it resulted in a smooth, almost imperceptible nudge in the right direction. If you are in the mood for it, you could switch it off completely and master the prodigious motor with your right wrist.

The KTM 1290 Super Duke R delivered all the thrills expected of it without any tetchiness. The 1290 is essentially a versatile, punchy and stimulating motorcycle that can be enjoyed by just about any rider, just about anywhere.




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