Beast 3.0

KTM 1290 SDR test by Wayne Vickers

I get the feeling that the KTM 1290 Super Duke R launch was kind of a big deal to team orange. They’d spent a week in prep’ at Portimao making sure the track bikes were run in and set-up nicely – and that the road loop had a solid mix of conditions.

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Jeremy McWilliams was on hand, as was Chris Fillmore, helping us get the most from our track time. Alex Hofmann turned up later too. KTM head of Product Adriaan Sinke and the bike’s Project Leader Hermann Sporn were on the ground – and on the bikes as well. Our time in Portugal would be a slick, seamless event – with the emphasis on fun.

KTM SDR Launch
The KTM fellas know how to have a good time….

Speaking of Portugal, I can see why it was chosen as the destination. Their roads and drivers are pretty ace, courteous to a fault almost, and speed limits are widely regarded as a guide. The weather is absurdly mild – I mean it’s 20 degrees in winter for god’s sake – the Portimao track is just brilliant and Portuguese tarts are divine. ‘Pastel De Nata’s’ you heathens. Little custardy bundles of joy that the Aussie contingent on the launch took what can only be described as an unhealthy obsession towards. 

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R at Portimao

Given that this is one of their 1290 flagship road bikes, it’s clear that KTM have put some serious effort into what they’re dubbing BEAST 3.0.

15 years after the first 990 Superduke (and a full 26 years after the first Duke 620 was introduced – can you believe it?), KTM themselves describe the third major iteration of the 1290 as a purpose designed sports-bike that’s great on the track, but not a naked race-bike. It’s an interesting distinction that points to the effort that’s gone into ensuring it maintains focus on real world performance, but not at the expense of ridability.

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

I raved long and hard hard about the last model in my long term review here. Stupidly fun, comfortable and effortless performance. It didn’t mind a wheelie either. So I was having trouble imagining how much could they actually improve it in one model. Turns out… quite a lot.

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

It’s basically all new. Hermann tells me that the rear axle assembly is carried over, but pretty much everything else is changed. As in.. everything. With an aim to push the performance bar even higher – and yet retain the accessibility and comfort. ‘Purity’ and ‘Simplicity’ were recurring themes. They’ve spent plenty of time working on reducing weight, and doing some serious tweaks to geometry. 

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

It runs a lighter frame that’s actually three-times stiffer than the previous one. And no, it isn’t an RC8 frame – it’s new. It holds the engine 36 mm higher to improve corner exit and front end feel. The rear sub-frame has ditched the old trellis design in favour of a new extruded aluminium unit that also uses a trick bit of carbon-composite as a stressed member. The sub-frame alone has shed a kilo-and-a-half and it can support 1000 kg of load, apparently. Could come in handy if your pillion has been throwing down those tarts I mentioned earlier..

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

It has a brand new swingarm with the bracing moved from above to below, and it now runs a shock linkage instead of the direct mount set-up from last year. This enables them to run a shock that has significantly more travel, contains more fluid and offers more feel. Which is why everyone else also runs shock linkages…

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Combined with the revised swingarm pivot point, it reduces rear squat under hard acceleration which was one of the major goals. It’s now 15 per cent stiffer and it’s lighter (picking up a theme here?). Foot-peg positions are adjustable. As are the brake and gear levers. You can even adjust the pressure and throw length of the gear lever – and switch to race pattern shift by moving one bolt. And it’s designed in a way that the lever position stays exactly as it was. Clever design work focussed around the rider.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R in the hills of the Algarve

Despite the geometry tweaks, the seat and riding position is surprisingly even more comfortable than I remember the old one being, and the tank has a new shape. Giving up two-litres of fuel capacity (down to 16 L) in order to house a 2.6-litre larger air-box that now incorporates a genuine ram air system entering between the split headlights for improved performance at high speeds. That ties in with an additional set of top feeder injectors ahead of the intake for better fuel atomisation at higher velocities. 

KTM SDR Launch
Air-box has grown much larger at the expense of fuel tank capacity

New 48 mm WP forks up front complete the suspension components and are now fully adjustable. Bar position is slightly lower and further forward than previously and can be adjusted through a range of 22 mm. Their focus on the rider seems to be evident by the fact that they’ve included recommended suspension setup details under the seat. Nice touch. We were running those settings for both the track and road sessions. They work. They work just fine…

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Five spoke alloy wheels are new at each end. Designed with some input from AI they’re.. you guessed it, lighter and stiffer, and hold the new top spec’ Brembo Stylema stoppers at both ends. 320 mm up front and 240 out back. These are pretty much the top spec’ that mortals can get their hands on and are radial mounted monoblock numbers. They’re teamed up with an updated 6D lean angle sensor cornering ABS system that includes a ‘supermoto’ setting which ignores all other inputs other than the front rotational sensor. The 6D part refers to the sensors detecting drift now, in addition to fore-aft and left-right movement. Those same sensors are used for TC as well. When used in combination with a deactivated Wheelie control, it means backing it in under brakes, stoppies and wheelies are go. I’ll just leave it in that setting thanks very much.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
Wayne doesn’t mind a wheelie…

More work has gone into the engine in terms of shaving weight from almost everything, including a new one-kilogram lighter exhaust that is Euro 4 compliant, and even Euro 5 ready for when that kicks in. The crank-cases have had 800 grams taken off them and overall the bike has dropped six-kilograms.

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Remember that this thing now makes 180 odd horsepower (an increase of 3 over the previous model) and 140Nm of torque. It’s a monster. 100 Nm from 3,000rpm.. 120 from 4,500… Shove feels almost limitless. And effortless at the same time. Worth pointing out that all of that comes with 15,000k service intervals – so it’s not a highly stressed bit of race kit.

The Pankl gearbox too has received serious tweaks, resulting in a smoother, shorter throw. The optional quick-shifter proved a must have in my book. Fast, direct and light, it worked just as well on the track under full load in both directions as it did on the road when cruising around. And the slipper clutch has also had some tweaks that have resulted in improved feel. New clutch plates and rotated plates specifically aimed at improving low speed engagement. I like. 

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

The final piece of the puzzle is in the electronics and interface. The new TFT dash and switchgear, with dedicated TC adjustment buttons (yay!) that are also used for cruise control and an array of new switchgear. I’m happy to say that the operation of traction control and modes is a big step forward on what was a tedious process previously. That being said, I’d probably leave it in the one setting most of the time and just adjust the TC up and down through the 9 stages. Easy peasy. 

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

The other thing I really liked is two new dedicated ‘preset’ buttons located to be used with your thumb that allow you to access your own custom presets and quickly toggle between them without diving into the main controls. So you’d probably end up running one with a wet set-up (higher TC setting, full ABS, lower engine braking, wheelie control on?), and a standard dry set-up. I felt that the track settings worked just fine on the road personally. And the rain, street and sport modes all appeared to have some level of anti-wheelie control by default that I’d prefer wasn’t there. Because, wheelies.

Starting to get the idea that it’s essentially a new bike? It is! Over 90 per cent new!

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Our morning ride session started with a foggy but basically dry Portimao circuit. Not the best way to learn a new track that has a seemingly endless succession of blind corners, crests and serious elevation changes. But Chris Fillmore obliged by towing us around for the session showing us the lines. He’d earlier recommended some settings for us: Track mode, SuperMoto braking, Wheelie control off, TC around 6 and throttle set to street. He knows what he’s doing as they were pretty much bang on. I preferred the throttle in street mode as well and would leave it there all day. Turns out it’s preferred by Pikes Peak winners and mortals alike. 

The fog lifted for our second session and by the third I was starting to feel comfortable and could really start to appreciate the new found stability and control. You can use the torque to pull higher gears than you might think.

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Let me walk you through a lap.

Across the start-finish line you’re nudging towards 270 km/h, which feels about as fast as you’d want to go on a naked bike to be honest – you really are hanging on pretty hard.

The track then drops away and then you put those new Brembos to work and bang it down two as you tip into the fast right hander. The brakes were faultless all day by the way. Zero fade – great lever feel and super strong. Clip the almost blind apex while back on the gas and let it run out wide so you then sweep back into turn two as one corner.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
Wayne feels his way around Portimao on the 2020 KTM 1290 SDR

Down another one for the tight right hander – yes I was taking it in third – in fact I wasn’t dropping below third for the whole track. No need – the torque just pulls you effortlessly out and fires you at the next corner. Tip it onto the right knee and feed the power on, making sure to stay right to get a better entry for the next left – a blind uphill corner that both tightens a little and flattens at apex. The bike felt great on the change of direction here. A little like coming into turn 11 at Phillip Island (but steeper), which is one of my favourite corners. Loads of feedback from both ends and barely a wriggle from the bars during weight transfer. The side to side flick done with minimal effort. Considering there’s a dirty big 1301 cc engine underneath you – that’s an impressive feat. 

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
Wayne feels his way around Portimao on the 2020 KTM 1290 SDR

That’s followed by a short straight, long enough to wind it right out to the redline in fourth before dropping it back to third as the track drops down into the left-hander. A little off-camber on entry, but flattening out on exit as you let it run right out to the kerb before tipping back into the blind left hander at full noise in fourth.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
Between turns 3 and 4 is good for wheelies!

This next four or five corners of the track was probably my favourite section. Only as you crest the hill do you get to see the upcoming double right hander. Down to third, peel it in and give it another burst of throttle before getting hard on the picks and running it right out to the left kerb before tipping it into the tight right hander. Keep it no more than mid-track on exit, the track now rises again and crests before you. Front comes up in third, and again in fourth and your wheelying over a blind crest that drops away massively into the first of two bowls. If you were parked trackside at that spot you would have possibly heard me squealing and hollering inside my helmet as I went by each lap – even over the roar of the big twin. Mad. Brilliant. The next left is almost flat-out and then the track rises up into a blind double right hander that you enter in third at mid-track, and stay wide to take the two as one corner.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
Did I say wheelies!

Back down into the second bowl with a little wheelie and if you get the line right you’ll hit the bottom in fourth, peeling into a full throttle left-hand sweeper that climbs its way back up to the top of the hill. So many times I’d run in there and realise I had more grip available as I could turn the bike in sharper than first thought. Step up Wayno. Out wide for the entry into the third gear left-hander and then get set-up for the first of two right-handers that build speed onto the front straight. 

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

The first is a blind double apex, a little like a mirror image of turn-two at Phillip Island. Out to mid-track, mid corner before spotting the exit and winding on the throttle. Up to fourth and you’re barreling into the last blind right-hander at decent speed as you crest the hill mid-corner and the track drops away quite substantially. A little heart in mouth stuff here as you plunge down the hill, cranked over while piling on more throttle as you drift it out to the exit. Griiiiiiiiiip. Up into fifth as you crest the rise at the start of the straight and the front comes up again under full noise at well over 200 km/h and you fire down the main straight.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

Any vision you have seen from Portimao, onboard or not, doesn’t do the elevation changes any justice.  It’s a blast. And the blind corners only add to the challenge. Dare I say more fun than any other track I’ve ridden. And I don’t for a second think that the bike didn’t have a fair bit to do with that. The beauty of the Portimao track was that it showed just how easily the bike can be ridden hard. It’s flattering and confidence inspiring at the same time.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

While I’m certainly no McWilliams, I wasn’t exactly hanging around, yet not once did I feel like I was either wanting more – or getting untidy as my lap times progressed throughout the day. And my concerns about the bikes all new geometry spoiling the fun when it comes to wheelies were unfounded as you can see by the pics… It’s still a doddle. 

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R with the trick bits..

In the fourth session I got to sample one of the ‘track bikes’ with a bunch of power parts thrown at it. Oh my. The full Akrapovic Evo system had me at hello and bellowed a much nicer bark that didn’t prove obnoxious on the go. It’s lighter again over the standard set-up (of course!), and with the mandatory re-tune, it liberates even more power and torque.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R with the trick optional exhaust

The track bikes also came with the new triple clamp, adjustable rearsets and Apex Pro adjustable steering damper. And it was fitted with slicks as opposed to the already excellent Bridgestone S22 Battlax tyres on the other bikes. The fact that the track bike didn’t feel radically different to the standard bike shows just how good the standard bikes are. That said, the track bike set-up was obviously better again. Just… more. More grip. More feel. Slightly pointier geometry for even better agility, but still super comfortable. Sometimes more, really is more.  

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R with optional exhaust

After lunch, where our brains had taken some time to process the preceding few hours of awesomeness, we toddled off with Hermann for a road loop. I love the fact that the guy who is responsible for the direction of the bike rides like he does on the road. Trev tells me that all the KTM crew go like cut cats and he’s no exception. He likes to loft the front too. Good man.

KTM SDR Launch
KTM crew know how to have fun

The road loop was a nice mix of fast flowing bends and tighter blind corners as we wound our way out to a little seaside cafe for a coffee break and a chat. It’s obvious that the 1290 SDR is an everyday proposition. It would rip as a commuter too in my opinion.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

After an hour-and-a-half of hard track riding (not including breaks), and I’m guessing another two-hours of road riding I certainly wasn’t ready to call it a day. You could load it up with luggage and set off into the sunset on it without an issue.  

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

On the road it proved just as good a thing as I expected based on the track time. Super comfortable, stable, yet nimble – and that engine. Oh so torquey. I found myself sitting back a little further on the road with my butt touching the rear seat pad occasionally.

KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

I wonder what the track bike geometry with the power parts head stem would be like on the road. I also wonder if you’d get away with running the Evo exhaust on the road. I reckon you nearly would… Oof. I need a moment.

KTM SDR Launch
Wayne one wants one just like this…

While I didn’t really get the time I’d usually get on my long term review to go through all of the settings (ok fine – I was too busy enjoying myself riding), I’m very much looking forward to doing that in a few months when they land in Oz ,which should be April apparently.

So where does that leave us? 

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R with optional exhaust

Well the new Super Duke R has moved the game on again. Its lighter, stiffer, gives more feedback, is more refined, has higher levels of performance and is even easier to ride than ever.

I reckon it’s slightly less prone to wave the front in the air due to the improved squat control, but don’t panic – it’s still happy to cut loose and point to the sky when you want it to. Despite being undoubtedly more refined, it hasn’t lost its soul.

KTM SDR Launch
It is still a KTM in every way and Ready To Race

Hopefully KTM Australia price it competitively, and realistically I think the quick-shifter and track modes should come as standard kit as opposed to being options. If they get the pricing right – they’ll have a line of potential buyers longer than the queue out the front of Pastels de Belem. 

And I’ll probably be amongst them… Yep. I reckon it’s that good. 

Obrigado Portugal.

KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R with optional exhaust

Why I like it

  • Even better than the old model in almost every way (and that was a ripper)
  • So, so easy to ride. Bulk fun. This is what a sports-bike should be
  • A seemingly endless supply of torque from the epic 1301 cc engine
  • Ultra stable yet nimble, plenty of feedback from both ends with grip for days
  • Still happy to be a bit of a loon
  • Much improved switchgear including direct controls for tc and presets (yay!)
KTM SDR Launch
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

I’d like it even more if….

  • It should really have the quick shifter as standard
  • Pity about the fuel range being slightly reduced. Hard to quantify what the range will equate to in real world conditions. KTM say 300 ish?
  • @Hermann – you need to develop that clip-on fairing kit we talked about please for those of us who’d like to take it onto faster tracks like Phillip Island. I don’t need payment for the idea – just send me one, stickered up like the motogp bike. Ta 😉
KTM SuperDukeR Launch Wayne
2020 KTM 1290 SuperDuke R

KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specifications (2020)

Engine
Engine Type 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
Displacement 1,301 cc
Bore / Stroke 108/71 mm
Power 132 kW (180 hp) @ 9,500 rpm
Torque 140 Nm @ 8,000 rpm
Compression Ratio 13.5:1
Starter / Battery Electric starter / 12V 12Ah
Transmission 6 gears
Fuel System Keihin EFI (Throttle body 56 mm)
Control 8 V / DOHC
Lubrication Pressure lubrication with 3 Eaton pumps
Engine Oil Motorex, SAE 10W-50
Primary Drive 40:76
Final Drive 17:38
Cooling Liquid cooling
Clutch PASC™ slipper clutch, hydraulically operated
Ignition / Engine Management Keihin EMS with RBW and cruise control, double ignition
Traction Control MTC (lean-angle sensitive, 3-Mode, disengageable, Track mode optional)
Chassis
Frame CrMo-steel trellis frame, powder coated
Subframe Cast aluminium / Composite
Handlebar Aluminium, tapered, Ø 28/22 mm
Front Suspension WP APEX, Ø 48 mm
Rear Suspension WP APEX shock absorber
Suspension Travel Front/ Rear 125 / 140 mm
Front Brake 2 x Brembo Stylema four piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mm
Rear Brake Brembo two piston, fixed caliper, brake disc Ø 240 mm
ABS Bosch 9.1 MP 2.0 (with cornering ABS and SUPERMOTO ABS)
Wheels Front / Rear Cast aluminium wheels 3.50 x 17″; 6.00 x 17″
Tires Front / Rear 120/70 ZR 17; 200/55 ZR 17
Chain X-Ring 525
Silencer Stainless steel primary and secondary silencer with two catalytic converters
Steering Head Angle 64.8°
Trail 106 mm
Wheelbase 1,497 mm ± 15 mm
Ground Clearance 160 mm
Seat Height 835 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity 16 litres / 3.5 litres reserve
Fuel Consumption 6.17 l/100 km
CO2  144 g/km
Dry Weight 189 kg
KTM SuperDuke R

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