2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Editor Score: 94.75%
Engine 20.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.5/10
Brakes 9.75/10
Instruments/Controls5.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.75/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.75/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score94.75/100

As soon as you begin mentally mapping the featureless layout of the Losail International Circuit, it gets dark, the floodlights come on and the track layout changes in a surreal manner. A desert haze drifts through the infield, and in addition to remembering if the approaching corner is the slow left one or the fast left one, you’re also now looking through faceshield glares and the occasional glimpse of you passing your own shadow. Steadfast among all these nocturnal distractions is the familiarity of the Super Duke R’s performance, its booming exhaust note, and that deliciously torquey V-Twin.

The Beast 2.0 is the next-gen super-nasty naked from KTM – an upgraded version of what is arguably the most dominant naked streetfighter this side of an Aprilia Tuono. Messing around too much with a model already in possession of the class mantle is a way to either ensure continued dominance or to self-sabotage by delivering unpopular changes. Thankfully, KTM seems to have chosen the better route of polishing the rough edges of its flagship model, while also gifting the SDR with a variety of useful electronic upgrades, thus avoiding any fall from grace such as what happened with Suzuki’s SV650 to Gladius misfire.

1290 Super Duke R

The 2017 Super Duke R is obvious by way of its new headlight, tank shrouds, and (lack of) rear bodywork. The headlight is fashionable as well as functional, the split design allowing for airflow through the center to help cool the LED lights, reflectors and light control units.

Changes to the 2017 model were reported in our November preview of the Super Duke R, so having now ridden the bike, let’s focus on the performance and usefulness of these upgrades. And to begin we go right to what we love most about the SDR, its 75° V-Twin LC8 engine.

A compression ratio bump of 0.4 (13.6:1 vs 13.2:1), new pistons and exhaust system reportedly gives the SDR a claimed increase of four more horsepower, while KTM says torque remains the same at 104 lb-ft of torque. Having no 2016 model with which to make a direct comparison, it’s awful hard to say if this minor increase can be felt, and that’s largely because of how powerful and user-friendly last year’s engine was already known to be. What we know for certain is beneficial is the extra 500 rpm the Twin has to spin up to. This gain in over-rev allowed a few sections of Losail to be taken in a single gear, whereas the 2016 SDR most likely would have required an brief upshift before arriving at the corner.

1290 Super Duke r

The 500-rpm-higher rev ceiling was realised by virtue of new titanium intake valves, working in conjunction with shorter intake tracks and a new intake resonator. An added benefit is an engine that’s willing to spin-up faster while smoothly delivering gobs of torquey, forward thrust. KTM also claims better fuel efficiency for the 2017 engine.

Sticking with performance we move on to what are the performance highlights of the 2017 model: Electronics. Cornering-ABS (C-ABS) was actually introduced on the 2016 model, but deserves mention again. EiC Kevin Duke and I tested this technology earlier this year on a specially equipped 1190 Adventure and came away convinced of its safety advantages on the street. Also integrated into last year’s model were traction control and ABS, but these were tied to the selectable ride modes with preset parameters and no way to adjust for personal preferences other than switching them off. For 2017, the base model SDR comes with selectable ABS with two modes, Road and Supermoto, as well as Off.

The Road setting keeps ABS and C-ABS functional at both wheels, and it works best at street speeds and braking forces. For the track you’ll want to switch to the Supermoto setting as it turns off ABS at the rear wheel, C-ABS altogether, and allows for much more aggressive front-end braking. The difference between the two settings is night and day. Forgetting to check which brake setting the bike was in before leaving for session two, I promptly returned to the pits thinking something was wrong with the front brake, only to learn it was in Road mode and not Supermoto. Switching to Supermoto solved the problem, which was the only issue I experienced with the SDR during the entire track session.

1290 super duke r

After an initial outing in Sport mode, I switched to Track mode with Track throttle sensitivity, Supermoto brake selection, and kept anti-wheelie engaged most of the time. In Track mode, TC is adjustable on the fly via the familiar left-handlebar-mounted controls. Track throttle sensitivity seemed smooth as butter, without the abruptness oftentimes associated with aggressive R-b-W throttle settings.

Further personalization is realized with the purchase of the optional Track Package, which includes Track ride mode (in addition to Street, Sport, Rain), the option to disengage the anti-wheelie function, Launch Control, adjustable traction control, and a choice of Street, Sport or Track throttle sensitivity. Switching off the anti-wheelie function enables the hooligan in most riders, but even with anti-wheelie working the SDR will loft the front wheel into a shallow wheelie when powering out of corners (see main image).

The SDR’s Bosch traction-control system worked fine on the previous model Super Duke R, but the added benefit of adjusting the system to account for changing track or tire conditions is a function we’ve been fond for years. The SDR system works quietly in the background, keeping things from getting out of hand (which is easy to do when cranked into a corner on a bike with this much torque) with the only indication it’s working being the flashing light on the instrument cluster.

1290 super duke r

Engage Launch Control. Hold the throttle wide open, release clutch carefully, keep the throttle pinned or the system disengages. It takes a while to force yourself not to roll out of the throttle when the front end starts lifting.

The other optional package is the Performance Pack that includes the quick-shifter+, the motor-slip regulation (MSR), and smartphone integration known as KTM My Ride. First and foremost is the quick-shifter+ that makes rapid-fire upshifts easy, and auto-blipping downshifts just as easy. It’s a technology that once you’ve ridden with it in a track setting, it’s hard going back to not having it. The Losail experience proved the track-worthiness of the SDR’s quick-shifter+, but how the system functions in a street-legal environment is yet to be seen. If, like other quick-shifters, the system proves to be fussy at anything less than full throttle, the system can be shut off for better use of the clutch via the traditional lever.

According to KTM, some of the functions (Quickshifter+, MSR, My Ride) can be purchased individually. Prices for the packages or individual items, however, were not available at press time.

1290 super duke r

The new full color TFT display is informative, functional and attractive. The information displayed changes when switching to the optional Track mode. During our short street ride I had no problem with legibility even though I was wearing both sunglasses and a tinted faceshield. Note the adjustable handlebar settings.

A new electronic feature that comes standard on the base model Super Duke R for 2017 is cruise control. Located on the left handlebar just above the traditional switchgear, the system requires at least third gear be selected to be operational and will maintain speeds between 38 and 120 mph. The system went untested during this press launch, but we’ve sampled other KTMs with cruise control, and we expect the SDR’s to function as well as those. What remains to be seen is how easily reachable the buttons are or if there’s some other idiosyncrasy giving us reason to complain.

1290 super duke r

New handlebars are 20mm wider, 5mm lower and have been placed 18.5mm further forward. The more aggressive positioning was welcomed during our track ride but remains to be seen if the new positioning makes longer street ride less comfortable than its predecessor. Note the lack of an ignition switch. The new Dukester goes keyless with a remote fob.

Chassis dimensions, curb weight and the estimable Brembo monoblock M50 calipers remain the same as before, but KTM did see fit to change the WP shock and fork. The shock comes with a stiffer preload setting (which is adjustable), while fork spring rates were increased slightly. The new fork also boasts the separation of compression and rebound damping into the left and right fork legs, respectively (this was already an attribute of last year’s fork).

On the track the new Super Duke R felt very much like the old Super Duke R. By itself, it’s an incredibly formidable motorcycle, but without any geometry changes to this new version, we expect the SDR to feel slightly less nimble when ridden in the company of some of its more agile competitors. Again, this is no revelation, as in previous shootouts it’s been well documented that the SDR owns the longest wheelbase and most relaxed rake/trail numbers. But for the common street rider occasionally taking his Super Duker to a trackday, does it matter? Not at all. My recommendation is to install KTM’s available rearsets, because you may run out of ground clearance on the track with the stock units. And don’t worry too much about decreased legroom as the SDR has room to spare.

1290 super duke r

The new Super Duke R rolls on Metzeler M7 RR rubber. During our Losail trackday, the tires proved up to the task handling the Duke’s immense amount of torque, while providing excellent grip.

A one-day track outing usually isn’t enough to proclaim anything definitive about any motorcycle. Except maybe this one. New features such as cruise control, upgraded suspension and a few more horsepower will certainly help the base model SDR stay competitive in future shootouts. Outfitted with the optional Performance and Track packages, there’s little doubt of any other naked streetfighter giving the Super Duke R much competition except for it Italian nemesis, the Aprilia Tuono (which also enjoys some upgrades for 2017).

2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R
+ Highs

  • 500 more revs on an already stellar engine
  • Track/Performance Pack with full electronics adjustability and quick-shifter
  • Cruise control
– Sighs

  • No electronic suspension
  • Performance and Track packages are optional, not standard
  • MSR is nice, but making it adjustable would be better

At $17,999 the 2017 SDR’s MSRP increases $600 over the 2016 model ($17,399). Add the two optional packages (the combined price we’ve been told will come in under $1k), and you have the most awesomest streetfighter currently available for less than $19k. The only suggestion we have for KTM to improve upon the Super Duke’s current iteration is by including the two optional packages as standard equipment and outfitting the SDR with semi-active electronic suspension for the $18k MSRP.

SDR alpinestars

Riding Gear: Alpinestars GP Plus leathers, GP PRO R2 gloves, SMX-Plus boots

2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specifications
MSRP $17,999
Engine Type 1301cc, 75° V-Twin, DOHC, eight-valve
Bore and Stroke 108mm x 71mm
Fuel System Keihin EFI (R-b-W throttle body 56mm)
Compression Ratio 13.6:1
Valve Train DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Horsepower 177 hp @ 9,750 rpm (claimed)
Torque 104 lb-ft @7,000 rpm (claimed)
Transmission 6-speed
Final Drive Chain
Front Suspension WP-USD 48mm fork
Rear Suspension WP shock absorber
Front Brake Dual Brembo Monoblock four piston, radially mounted caliper, brake disc 320mm
Rear Brake Brembo two piston, fixed caliper, brake disc 24mm
Front Tire 120/70 ZR 17
Rear Tire 190/55 ZR 17
Rake/Trail 65.1°/4.21 in
Wheelbase 58.3 in
Seat Height 32.9 in
Curb Weight 468.2 lbs (measured 2016 model)
Fuel Capacity 4.7 gallons

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  • spiff

    It’s about time Tom.

    • Old MOron

      “It’s about time Tom.”
      I think I figured out what our MOrons are up to. They’re building up a stockpile of stories, and they’re going to set them to be released on these pages automatically while they bugger off for the holidays. There’s the Death Valley bagger shootout, the naked-bike comparo that’s currently rattling around in T-rod’s head, and probably a bunch of other stuff, too.

      • Uh, I landed after a 16-hour flight Friday at 2pm. The review was up less than 24 hours later. I think that’s pretty damn timely! 🙂

        • Old MOron

          And it’s a fine review, too!

        • spiff

          Nope. Late.

        • Old MOron

          Hmm, your timely report on the SDR notwithstanding, it does seem like you MOrons are hoarding your shootouts. JB teased the naked bike shootout “that’s currently rattling around in Tom Roderick’s head” just over a week ago, on December 2nd. And he teased the bagger shootout waaay back on November 23rd.

          Oh well, I don’t blame you. You guys need to keep the side fresh while you enjoy holiday leave.

  • Proheli

    As a Ducati SFS owner (someone with experience in this market segment), I have no idea why you guys continue to compare the SD-R and the Aprilia Tuono. The Ape obviously isn’t naked, is obviously a track bike that has been “lightened” for the street, its OBVIOUSLY 3/4 fared as is easily proven by its ability to run quickly and smoothly in the 130-140 speed ranges, and its sitting position, while not jockey-style cramped, is once again 3/4 Superbike. The SD-R is obviously a ROAD BIKE. Comfy, easy, and FUN is the main descriptor. So, saying the SD-R “loses” a shootout with the Tuono, or depending on the review then vice-versa, starts to show you guys are missing the party. Each bike fits perfectly into what it was designed to do. Now its just a matter of matching up rider needs.

    • Born to Ride

      While I agree with you that a tuono is truly just a quarter faired superbike with a handlebar, the bike does compete directly with Mr. Duke for the same customer. Would you prefer that we didn’t get awesome comparison tests of bikes that aren’t exactly alike, but accomplish the same purpose?

      • spiff

        Proheli makes a good point. Two bikes for to types of riders. MO and the like are supposed to compare them, and show us the differences so we can decide. Overall I think they do a decent job at it.

      • Proheli

        Okay, let me back up. I actually really appreciate M.com and the reviews that they publish. In fact, I probably look at this site everyday. That’s all very true. Still, the Tuono rides mostly Iike a faired bike, yes because of the Ergos are race bike derived, but to our point, because the basics of deflected airflow are all in place, even though the mill is still halfway visible. It belongs in this superbike category, it rides like a comfortable superbike, like a Honda CBR. It’s got probably the most useful engine of all the superbikes, and for anyone but a real racer, you’re average Tom Dick or Harry is going to be faster around the track on a Tuono than if they were on a full superbike. The SD-R is a modern standard, and there is no way to make it more than that. You sit up. And there is No wind protection. FZ-10, Ducati Monster, ad infinitum, it’s a sit-up performance standard. The Ape Factory Tuono has a dozen bikes in its proper category, and so does the SD-R, and they’re all different bikes. If you’re a racer, or you believe in performance over comfort, you get the Ape. If you need more comfort, rather than continuos easy speed, you get the Duke. Both awesome, not that similar.

        • Born to Ride

          I’d argue the point that the Tuono has race-inspired ergonomics. I have actually ridden both bikes, and while you definitely lean forward more on the Tuono(maybe not anymore?), I found the saddle to be more comfortable, and the engine FAR smoother over its whole rev band. I think I could ride a Tuono all day without tiring out, highway and canyons. The SDR put my hands and feet to sleep after 30 minutes on the freeway, and its monstrous torque was equally as arm-pump inducing as it was boner-inspiring when ridden with aggression for a solid 20 minutes. Granted, I am not particularly used to triple digit torque output, and armed with such power I may have overrode my physical limitations trying to melt the tires. This kind of bike will do that to you…

    • lennon2017

      I hear you, I get your point(s), but all of these bikes are road bikes. They’re road legal, emissions tested (unless someone with little to no concern for pollutants de-cats) bikes. YOU and a smattering of others like you may “use them for what they were intended,” but any cursory browse of Clist at any time of day will tell you all you need to know (in sample size, yes) about what manufacturers aim to give to buyers and what buyers get out of what they get from manufacturers. “Race-inspired and -derived” technology that then gets “low miles, never abused, Akrapovic Akrapovic Akrapovic, tail tidy, commuter/weekender that spends the off season in bed with a battery tender.” So compartmentalization’s great, but it’s really more about price (high or low), exclusivity, and what one wants to wake up to until the next hotness whose potential will hardly ever be tapped. What they were designed to do is make enough people salivate and spend to do it all again next year.

    • Steve Cole

      Let’s not be silly. If what you were saying is true, then the RSV4 wouldn’t exist. I can spend all day in the seat of a Tuono and ask for more… and it’s easy to ride on a twisty road compared to any superbike. Definitely not the same kind of thing, and having had a run-in with the SD this year on the Dragon I would say that it and the Tuono are a pretty good match on the road.

  • Born to Ride

    I like the old dash better. Had the perfect setup, digital speedo, big analog tach, and a separate panel to dink around with the electronics. I mean, I get it, it was chunky and looked industrial, but it was so perfect from a utilitarian standpoint. I guess when you are trying to sell your product as the most premium of its class at the most premium price, it can’t appear as if you spared any expense.

    • spiff

      It would have been cool if they included an analog tach.

      • It’s not a race bike, and the broad, seemingly endless spread of torque makes a tach next to useless. I hardly even looked at it. And, personally, I very much like the stylized look of the new TFT display. Best one I’ve seen yet.

        • Born to Ride

          Well that big pulsing V-twin ain’t gonna let you forget what speed the engine is running at anyways. Not like its a Triumph triple where you look down and realize you’ve been cruising at 90mph in 4th gear for the past ten miles.

          • I forgot to mention that when the gear you’re in matches the TC setting, it’s a little confusing until you remember which number is what.

          • Born to Ride

            Then it’s a Good thing that motor gives you the choice of 3 gears for any given corner.

    • Prakasit

      I am not on board with the TFT display trend either. Direct sunlight is still a problem no matter how much improved they say it is. Improved over other TFT, yes. But not over analog or LCD.

      • Born to Ride

        Thanks man, I was starting to think I was the only Luddite left holding out for the analog tach these days.

    • Steve Cole

      I, too, prefer an analog tach and don’t relish these new dashes. It’s a cost-saving measure, I believe, as much as a technology thing.

  • Old MOron

    The SDR has always been out of my price range.
    But you sure make it seem desirable.

    • Born to Ride

      They don’t hold their value. My local Ducati dealer has a 2015 with less than 2k on the clock for 13,795$. I would bet money that I could get it for 14.5 or less out the door, and that is from a dealership. Private sale ads list them for 13 grand all day long. Just wait a few years and pick up a barely broken in one for 5-6 grand less than the OTD price at the KTM dealer.

      • Old MOron

        That’s sound advice, but I bought a 2016 S1000R for a good price. Prolly won’t need to buy another bike – uh, ever.

  • JMDonald

    There are a number of bikes in this segment. Nothing like stating the obvious. That being said all one needs to know is what one likes. Half faired fully faired nekked high hp high torque electronic goodies and all that. I am drawn to the upgraded suspension versions vs the standard versions. Like I would notice the difference. It hasn’t stopped me so far so why be rational at this point. This bike is in my top ten. Did I mention torque spread? Torque is king.

  • Larry Kahn

    2006 Wee-Strom, nakedized/streetfighter-ed, ugly, 100% dependable, fast enough to get dead or arrested, no one’s gonna steal it, salvage title, 225+ mile range, smooth and comfy, bought for $2K seven years ago. But this KTM is nice too. Hey Tommy.

  • John B.

    Great article Tom. The bike sounds phenomenal. Last year’s model is selling at a $2,600 discount where I live, and that’s a great motorcycle for the money.

    • spiff

      Yup. I am trying to figure out how I can pull off a new bike this year, and I really want this one. Right now a 2016 left over and the possibility of an FZ-10SP are options I wasn’t considering a week ago. I don’t think a price hike and charging for optional electronics is cool. Close to a 10% price increase. That is out of line for a bike that at its core got refined and an electronic upgrade.

      • spiff

        The $600 increase would be acceptable if they included the semi active suspension (as Tom mentioned above). Can’t deny I am let down.

        Also Tom mentioned the thought of adjustable MSR. I like that. Right now I don’t use the rear brake when entering a corner. I lean on the slipper to get loose in. The problem is that I run out of gear on exit. It would be cool to be able to tailor the MSR, but the adjustment may not be I the right direction for me. Need to think about it.

        • spiff

          The more I think about it I don’t think they should be charging extra for the software either. Tom was correct in the article.

          • The more I think about the fact that the price hike should have included to the two optional packages, the more I think I should lower its Value score.

  • spiff

    Tom, you mentioned in the article that the C-ABS is new for 17. Didn’t the 16 have it?

  • Deadhead

    Out of all the newly updated super nakeds I think KTM have done a sterling job and as for the UK the price hasn’t changed unlike the Tuono which has had a huge increase. Not a fan of the TFT clocks otherwise the rest of the changes are impressive..oh I’d like the black model to have a little more colour!

    • spiff

      I was wondering what the orange and white frame would look like with the black plastic.

      • Deadhead

        The black one needs the orange frame, I get why they changed it because the current model has that colour scheme. I like the grey/orange/white except for the white rear frame section. Nothing is perfect and it wouldn’t put me off buying one.

  • John B.

    Has any motorcycle MO reviewed received an overall score higher than 94.75?

    • Old MOron

      As a matter of fact, yes!
      It was John Burns’ review of the H-D Street 750.

      • John B.

        I know you’re joking OM. John Burns gave that bike a 75.5%. http://tinyurl.com/htnbtk6 Troy gave the R1 a 94.5%. http://tinyurl.com/h87q7t9. Other motorcycles received these scores: BMW S1000RR (92.3%), BMW S1000R (92.3%), BMW S1000XR (92.75%), Panigale 1299 (91.55%), Previous KTM Superduke 1290 (94.0%), KTM 1290 Super Adventure (92.75%), and Aprilia V4 1100 Factory (90.0%). MO should maintain a Top 10 List based on these numbers. I have not found any score above the 94.75% this year’s Super Duke received. Release the white smoke through the chimney. We have a new Pope!

        • Old MOron

          Yes, but the recurrent praise that insinuated itself in JB’s prose is worth 94.76% at least.

  • Scott Campbell

    With so many look alike bikes, the SD 1290 and especially the 2017 headlight, makes this the most distinguishable bike out there. Some of these discussions remind me of Lamborghini vs Ferrari. The vehicle is a tool and the driver makes the difference. For most mortals, buy the bike that you enjoy admiring and of course riding. You are unable to use full throttle anyway unless your on a racetrack. I have a 2016 SD1290GT. Nice to have a place to lock your gear up when stopping for lunch. The semi active suspension is definitely worth the upgrade. The bike is fast enough!

  • Batscat

    Such an ugly front end kills it for me.

  • Old MOron

    Hey T-rod, your first paragraph is a gem. Tell us more about riding around Losail at night.

  • Michael Mccormick

    For $19000 and all the tech I’ll be happy riding my R3, CB 1100 and Genuine Buddy 170i. After 10 years of riding I you figure no bike does it all and you only have so much to spend. A different ride or two in your garage beats one Superbike. I spent $15000 for the three. Variety rocks. Apples and oranges and all that

    • Kevin Duke

      I admire the variety in your collection! However, there’s something to be said for the ability to do 80 mph power wheelies, which, I think you’ll agree, are difficult on a Buddy. 🙂

      • Michael Mccormick

        True, but I can get both knees down simultaneously at scooter track days! Try that on your Super Dooper KTM

        • Kevin Duke

          Awesome!

        • Kevin Duke

          Awesome!

  • spiff
    • Kevin Duke

      No, we aren’t! Thanks for the tip. Apparently the appeal of T-Rod’s stories know no bounds…