I might be in a bit of strife. This is one of two bikes that I’ve lusted after over the past few years, and after riding it for a couple of weeks I like it a lot (incidentally the other is Yamaha’s thoroughbred R1 I recently sampled).
Actually… it’s more serious than that, I want to have its babies. I’m seriously starting to wonder if I can make room for another bike in my shed and scratch up the coin for one. It really is that good.
Settle down Wayno, let’s go through this bit by bit and tell the good people why it’s so damn good…
I’m a big fan of the styling to start with. It’s aggressive and purposeful without being too over the top. I even like the headlight treatment. In the metal it’s a nicely balanced design.
In the white colour scheme shown here, the orange paint on the trellis frame highlights this feature even more and accentuates the overall angular based look. Loads of nice details and angles to take in while you’re standing around thinking about your next ride…
Sitting on board is not actually what I thought it would be. I figured it would have a fairly aggressive riding position to match the styling, but it doesn’t. The 1290 Super Duke is actually quite upright and surprisingly natural.
A really comfortable position with a super comfortable seat – again, not what I expected. My buttometer approves. And that funky headlight is positioned nice and low so that its hidden from view completely, so you see nothing forward of the dash. It’s a very dirt bike-esque view which makes the bike feel shorter than it is.
There’s nothing in the way of showing off that engine. 1300ccs of thumping V-twin goodness. It’s actually the largest capacity V-twin I’ve ridden – and the most powerful.
175 horses and 140 Nm of torque, delivered with such little fuss that is frankly astonishing. No matter which way you slice it, that’s a whole lot of shove. Yet far from being a wild animal that needs containing, this thing can be ridden around town and cruised about on with ease.
And then the next minute you can go dial up warp power if you want to. That’s the genius of it to me. It’ll do whatever you want it to, and not break a sweat. Roll about on standard mode at low to mid revs and relish in the seamless torque. Or stick it in sports, turn off traction control and give it its head.
I didn’t ride the earlier models to qualify the ‘Beast’ moniker, but my old TL1000S took a shit-tonne more concentration compared to the big Super Duke. Just grip it and rip it.
Proper fast acceleration? You bet. Double tonne exiting high speed corners while pulling like a superbike. Ahuh. Fifth gear wheelies? No problem.
It’ll lift the front in third without the clutch if you want. It proper hauls. The more upright riding position and the fact that there’s no front screen to deflect the wind makes it feel fast too. That’s the bit I especially like.
On a fully faired race rep with your weight fully forward, you need to be doing double ton numbers to feel like you’re getting along at a decent pace. No so on this, which is a plus for me. A bit more wind and the need to hang on a lot more due to the more natural ride position makes it feel like you’re actually doing the speeds you’re doing.
There’s no doubt it’s electronically hobbled in the first few cogs, which some folks will sneer at and start babbling about the good old days of full analogue motors, but it makes it dead easy to ride around town.
It’s deceptively quick too as a result as you’re more likely to get on it harder with confidence. Fuelling is amazing. The engine doesn’t cough or hiccup ever down low like you’d expect a big powerful V-twin to do.
It does have a nice pop on the over-run when you get up it which adds to the drama. I love it. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t feel like a high comp – high power engine either. The revs fall back down slower than you’d expect from something that makes 180 ponies and it doesn’t have the ‘big twin’ compression off throttle that you’d expect.
So rolling off the gas and setting the bike up for a corner is a doddle. Even with the stock pipe and can it sounds tough too. With a proper open pipe they sound bonkers.
Surely it sucks the juice down? Range can’t be that great can it? Actually it’s pretty good. Over 350ks if you’re not being a complete lunatic. I could see 500 or 600 km days being pretty easy going on the 1290 Super Duke to be honest.
The box is awesome too. No quick-shifter, which was a bit of a surprise, but it’s not really needed. Excellent clean shifts, up and down even without the use of the slipper clutch. And that clutch has a nice progressive feel in the hand too. I found myself instinctively dragging a little clutch on hard down-changes, but that’s to make me feel comfortable. It doesn’t need it.
The 65 degrees steering head angle is steep enough, which I was reminded of when I dropped down the first particularly long wheelie and it gave a bit of a wriggle. Nothing too dramatic as it would have been tamed somewhat by the steering damper no doubt, but enough to make me take notice.
It only did it once – so I must have come down on a bump or a cats eye or something. That steering angle doesn’t translate to any nervousness on the go, but it does give it a nimbleness that belies the bike’s weight.
In fact, far from being just a wheelie bike, the big Super Duke loves the twisties. It feels just sublime on its side and is far more nimble than you might expect from a big 1300cc V-twin with an enormous crank. I reckon it’s just about the perfect modern road-sports bike chassis to be honest.
Now it’s obviously not as nimble as something like an R1. But it’s not as nervous either, or as much hard work. And way, way, way more comfortable. For eight or nine-tenths riding which is about the limit on the road – it’s bang on. You’d never out-run one in the twisties regardless of what you were on.
The brakes are great too. Dirty great big 320 mm Brembos that offer plenty of power and feel. They feel right on the money for the package which, by the way, comes in at a claimed 195 kilos dry. It washes off speed well – and the lean angle sensitive ABS throws some more confidence your way to drag the picks in a little deeper towards the apex.
All helped by some quality WP suspension at both ends. I had not even bothered too much with the dials on the fully adjustable 48mm forks (left fork is compression, right is rebound), or the shock, which has controls for rebound and both high and low speed compression. Out of the box it was near perfect for me.
Trev tells me that some fella by the name of Jezza McWilliams has final sign off on chassis set-up and suspension and traction control and stuff on most of the bike KTM road bike. He must know what he’s doing that bloke.
So styling, comfort, engine, brakes, chassis, suspension are all mega. There has to be something that could be improved?
Well the fuel range meter has the same issues that the 790 Adventure has. It’s a little all over the place when it gets down to the last tenth. I nearly ran out of fuel (it was coughing) on day five. So that’s not ideal.
The default dash display has room to show the remaining range but shows ambient temp instead. I don’t need to know that. I already know if its warm, cold, or bloody cold. Use that space to tell me something useful instead please.
And the TC and ABS sensors seem to throw a hissy fit during the aforementioned shenanigans. Almost every time I dropped the front wheel from a proper fifth gear wheelie – the dash lit up like a Christmas tree.
The sensors seemingly lose their shit as the front wheel speed increased by a whole lot in the space of a few metres… It didn’t affect the ride at all, and sorted itself out when I turned it off and on a few times to reset it. So…
The adult in me thought it was a bit annoying. But the child in me started seeing it as a goal to be achieved each ride. Akin to an achievement award from KTM. The child in me generally wins, but I reckon a software update could be in order.
Final thoughts? I think you get the gist by now. This is probably the nicest modern sports bike I’ve ridden. Engine is epic. Handling is damn near perfect for road charging. And if wheelies are your thing, just get one already. Like I said earlier, I’m in trouble. I have a new benchmark.
If anyone has tips on how to convince the missus that a third bike in the shed is a really good idea then please let me know. As soon as possible.
Wayne loves all things motorsport, but lives for two wheels. Mountain bikes, dirt bikes, adventure bikes, road bikes, race bikes, the lot.
An ex riding coach and road racer wannabe who simultaneously ran out of talent and money. Rides about a million kilometres a year and has been known to enjoy an occasional wheelie.
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