2007 KTM Street Bike Intro
What's Angry, Orange, and Fun to Ride?
The riding position gives you a choice of riding styles.
You can ride it either Supermoto/dirt-track style, staying in the seat and pushing the bike down and away from you in turns, or by hanging off and dragging a knee like a roadracer. Either way, the Superduke turns with a linear, precise feel that while not lightning-quick, is still as fast as you need, which indicates exhaustive chassis development to me. As the day continued the 990 stuffed me full of confidence, with the Dunlop D208 tires never slipping or loosing feel, and I started to go faster and faster as I slowly regained my hibernating racetrack mojo.
This intro was track-only, but I did mange to sneak off for a brief ride around the complex, riding at street speeds to see what the bike is like for more relaxed riding. It lacks wind protection, and the seat is pretty hard and narrow in front, but overall the bike feels as light and compact as a naked standard should, with minimal vibration at cruising speed. When a twisty road comes up, the Superduke is more than ready for it, and the balanced riding position means you can ride it all day -- as I did -- and not feel beat-up or tired before the sun goes down. That's the mark of a great street bike. It's a fast, compact, stable and great-handling roadster not unlike an Aprilia Tuono or Triumph Speed Triple. Is it worth 14 gees? For the right person -- and I think there's enough of you out there to buy all the Superdukes KTM will bring to the States -- this is the perfect bike. Fourteen grand is less than what many pay for a head-turning lifestyle icon, with an added bonus: no chopper or cruiser is anywhere near as much fun to ride.
There were still two new bikes to try -- will this living hell ever end? -- so I rode the new 990 Adventure next. Riding this bike on a racetrack was surprisingly fun, feeling surprisingly similar to the 950 Supermoto, which I also was able to ride. The main differences are the more-comfortable seat, less power (although it still gets up to 100 mph in a hurry) and heavy-feeling steering from the narrow 21-inch front tire and longer wheelbase. Still, this bike was stable -- with a minimum of pogo effect from the suspension -- and had good (albeit two-piston caliper) brakes. The small windscreen provided decent wind protection, but was hard to see through if I tucked in behind it. I think an 80-90 mph cruising speed is probably this machine's sweet spot on the highway.
When it comes to the twisties, everybody at the intro was noticeably slower on this bike than the other KTM twins, but I think it's still capable of a street pace that would hand R1200GS riders --as well as most other riders -- their collective hats. I don't know exactly what KTM did to make this bike more street-oriented, as the suspension travel is the same as the 950 Adventure's, but it definitely felt firmer, more stable and better on pavement. Tire choice might be a factor; they gave me gobs of confidence, despite being skinny, semi-knob dual-sport rubber. So this bike will be a good companion on tarmac, and based on our experience with the 950 Adventure in 2005, in the dirt it will be eat-my-dust time. Well, maybe not my dust, but somebody with marginal competency in the dirt.
...the balanced riding position means you can ride it all day -- as I did -- and not feel beat-up or tired before the sun goes down.
The bigger bikes were faster, but the 690 might be more fun on a racetrack or tight, twisty road. I love street-going thumpers, and was looking forward to riding a well-sorted high-performance single. The orange bike held no disappointments. It has a high seat and tall bars, but once rolling, the 690 feels light, yet solid and stable. The suspension is great for a bumpy track like Streets, with plenty of travel to soak up bumps, but it's well-damped. And the motor, while feeling weak compared to the 120hp Superduke, (and what doesn't compared to a liter V-twin?) was good enough to get up to some pretty good speeds, even on The Streets' short straights. I went out for a couple of sessions with a journalist of equal abilities and we had a ball chasing each other around the track, discovering our strengths and weaknesses in various turns and corners. Frankly I don't like taking turns on the street at more than 100 mph, and this bike will easily get up to those speeds, while feeling solid and stable. At lower velocities, especially on very bumpy, twisty pavement, a skilled rider will probably go faster on this bike than just about anything else.
That's what would make the 690 a great streetbike, even though it has some flaws. I found the seat high, narrow and hard, and it's also totally lacking in wind protection, but the light weight, smooth, flexible motor and outstanding suspension and brakes would make anyone a better rider. At eight or nine grand, it's no budget first bike, but those well-heeled riders looking for a first street bike -- especially those of you who are taller or coming from the land of
the dirtbikes -- would be better off buying this bike than a frontline Japanese middleweight sportbike. You'll learn more and have more fun. And if you're an experienced rider looking for a fun Supermoto for inner-city terrorizing, you'll love every minute.