KTM 790 Duke review: The smooth rider

The 790 leaps into corners with minimal effort   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

KTM’s first big motorcycle for India, the 790 Duke, is finally here; but it has been priced higher than most were hoping. Then again, this is a KTM, so game-changing price or not, the 790 Duke is bound to be one intense ride. The question is: will it be special enough to justify the price?

There is reason to believe that it will be, the moment you take a look at it, because the 790 Duke looks purposeful in its presence. KTM wants this bike to be the lightest, most precise tool in the box and the design reflects this. Whatever body panels the bike does wear, look lethal sharp and features like the tall fuel tank, edgy extensions, upswept exhaust and chunky swingarm add character. The rear, however, looks quite bland and I wish the 390-style LED headlight and mirrors had their own identity. Still, the overall effect carries the trademark KTM-style aggression and quality levels are quite good as well, especially in areas like the TFT display and the adjustable brake levers; both different from the 390 Duke.

This motorcycle is quite compact; and you feel that the moment you sit on it — it feels almost as narrow as a 390 Duke. At the same time, I find that the riding position is quite spacious; and while the ergonomics are reasonably sporty, neither the foot pegs nor the handlebar are extreme in their positioning. The 825mm seat height may put some off, but the slim factor makes it a little easier to get one’s feet down.

KTM 790 Duke review: The smooth rider

It isn’t easy to get an 800cc motorcycle to feel this svelte around the waist, and KTM has made a couple of very interesting decisions to achieve this; starting with the frame. The 790 doesn’t use a trellis frame. It is still built out of tubular steel, but is a smaller, seemingly simpler unit with two spars on top and using the engine as a stressed member. The result is an 8.8 kilogram main frame, while the smart-looking aluminium subframe is just 1.7 kilogram per side.

The 790 also stands out for being the first-ever KTM to use a parallel-twin motor; another decision taken for size and packaging advantages. There is also the advantage that parallel twins are cheaper to both produce and maintain. This 8-valve DOHC motor displaces 799cc and runs a high compression ratio of 12.7:1, which helps it put out 105hp and 87Nm of torque. The power figure is the lowest in the segment, but the torque figure is almost class-leading.

KTM 790 Duke review: The smooth rider

The motor is smooth and very enjoyable to wring out. It makes a fairly loud and angry sound, while the short gearing only serves to further exaggerate the 790’s superb low and mid-range punch. You have to be quick with chasing gears through the 6-speed transmission, especially because the engine charges into the red line at just 9,500rpm. Out on Bajaj’s test track, the acceleration through the tight sections was intoxicating and the bike topped out at about 230kph, which seems close to what the actual top speed would be.

Thanks to the lack of weight, it is no surprise that the 790 leaps into corners with minimal effort and it changes directions lightning fast as well. The good news is that this doesn’t come at the expense of stability, partly because this bike has among the longest wheelbases in its class. It also helps that there is a steering damper which helps prevent the handlebar from getting too loose and wild.

KTM 790 Duke review: The smooth rider

The WP suspension offers only preload adjustment for the rear shock; which is a bit disappointing, but the set-up is nicely balanced. The bike should be decently pliant on the street, but on the track, the 790 is such an enjoyable toy. When it is time to slow down, the J.Juan brakes work well, with good bite progression and feel. It is a similar story with the Maxxis tyres, which are capable in the dry and don’t feel like a compromise on the track.

As for the electronics package, you simply won’t find a more comprehensive or sophisticated set of assists on any motorcycle at this price. The first three riding modes (Rain, Street and Sport) are preset, but Track mode allows you plenty of customisation. Within the mode, you can tweak the throttle response and disengage the wheelie control, which makes first-gear power wheelies a regular affair. There is even a launch control system, but what I liked most is that you can shift between nine levels of traction control in track mode, using just the up/down arrow buttons on the handlebar, even when on the move. There is also a bi-directional quickshifter, which works quite well, and 790 also uses an IMU, so the traction control system is corner-sensitive, as is the ABS. If you like, the rear ABS can be deactivated, but the entire system can’t be turned off.

KTM 790 Duke review: The smooth rider

The turning radius is quite tight, the clutch is light and the engine’s low-speed manners seem far smoother than the 390 Duke. With 185cm of ground clearance, it should make the speed-breaker immune as well. What remains to be seen is just how hot things will get for the rider and pillion in city traffic.

For now, the 790 has exceeded my expectations. As for the price, yes it certainly isn’t as affordable as we hoped, but the 790 is not locally manufactured and it comes to India as a CKD, with minimal localisation.


Engine: 799cc, parallel-twin, liquid-cooled

Max Power: 105hp

Max Torque: 87Nm

Gearbox: 6-speed

Kerb weight: 187kg

Ground Clearance: 185mm

Seat height: 825mm

Fuel Tank capacity: 14 litres

Front Brake: 300mm dual discs

Rear Brake: 240mm Disc

Front Suspension: 43mm USD fork

Rear Suspension: Monoshock

Front Tyre: 120/70 R17

Rear Tyre: 180/55 R17

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 4:34:12 PM |

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