KTM Duke 690

Motorcycle.com  650 comparison photo shoot

Which leads us to our second-place finisher, on our Scorecard, by less than a third of a percent. The KTM Duke 690 is already the priciest bike here, at $8,999 in stock form, but for quite a bit more “as tested,” with KTM’s Factory Services suspension work: $1,349.99 for the fork and $749.99 more for the shock, both fully adjustable. Did we need that for street use? No. In fact, those of us who’ve ridden both appreciated the stock Duke’s comfort/performance balance, although it can be overwhelmed by weighty and red-misted riders. But the re-valved Duke was the only one KTM had for us to borrow, and we’re really glad we did. We knew the Duke would be a blast to ride on the mountain, but we came away also impressed with how real-world practical a motorcycle it is.

Motorcycle.com  650 comparison photo shoot

Stock suspension or not, you can’t not love the small Duke (little bro of our 2014 Motorcycle of the Year) when the road is anything other than straight and level, and it’s not so bad even when it is. The Duke’s biggest advantage is that it’s 43 pounds lighter than the next lightest bike (FZ-07), at just 360 lbs., and it’s a full 115 lbs. lighter than the NC700X.

The Duke’s big counterbalancer can sometimes make you forget it’s a Single.

The Duke’s big counterbalancer can sometimes make you forget it’s a Single.

Even though it’s a Single in the company of Twins and displaces but one cubic centimeter more than the Yamaha, that doesn’t keep it from making comparable power and torque. As a matter of fact, 46.87 foot-pounds of twisting force at 5500 rpm is the most here. You do give up a little low-rpm grunt with the Duke, which doesn’t like to pull much below 3000 rpm — but clutch pull is superlight, and fanning it a little, MX-style, really just adds to the Duke Experience, as does shifting up through the super-slick six-speed box, then taking advantage of the clutch’s slipper function on the way back down.

“Holy crap,” says Troy, muttonchops fluttering with excitement. “When it comes to twisty roads, the KTM simply can’t be beat. Super flickable, launches out of corners, but only if in the right gear. Very impressive for a Single. If I had a canyon road in my backyard (I kinda do, actually!), I’d pick this bike over a sportbike.”

Once above about 3k rpm, all is forgiven and forgotten: 62 hp at 7600 rpm is like no Single you’ve probably ridden. Dual-plug ignition, each plug with its own map for max combustion efficiency, and ride-by-wire give it excellent manners and throttle response.

The dirtbike ergos are great on the tightest backroads, where you find yourself sticking a foot out rather than a knee down, and the wide aluminum bar gives ultimate confidence. “While the other bikes in this test need to be, in varying degrees, coaxed into corners,” says EiC Duke of the Duke, “it dives eagerly for the inside of each turn.”

Motorcycle.com  650 comparison photo shoot

As you’d expect, the special suspension on our test bike allows it to be made to work for any size rider, and the Duke deals with bumps, ripples and hard braking better than any other bike here. Having said that, our previous experience with the standard suspenders on the base model was also positive; the stocker’s actually a bit more compliant for everyday riding, although its damping is a little weak for heavy, aggressive riders.

The faster you go, of course, the less well the Jeremy McGrath ergos work, but the Duke’s even surprisingly not bad on the freeway flog home. The little boat-style reverse lip windscreen above its instruments punches a small hole in the wind for your torso, and the engine’s counterbalancer is highly effective. Tingles come and go at various road speeds, but seldom enough to bother any but the most finicky vibraphobes.

2013 KTM 690 Duke Review + Video!

Some of us love the wide plushness of the Duke’s seat and that the bolster on back of it helps balance out the windblast: Some feel a bit locked in and don’t like it so much. Seats are very personal aren’t they? Anyway, Tom of Roderick, whose buttocks tend to be the tenderest of the MO crew, says the Duke is surprisingly comfortable over long distances even for taller people. If it’s middleweight naked touring you had in mind, the Duke is not your best choice of the group. The NC700X is. But it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

There’s a lot of information crammed onto the Duke’s LCD panel, but you can ignore most of it.

There’s a lot of information crammed onto the Duke’s LCD panel (when it’s switched on), but you can ignore most of it.

+ Highs

  • Least weight, most torque
  • Great suspension and brakes, including ABS
  • Best ergonomics for urban use
– Sighs

  • Less fantastic as speed and distance increase
  • Too nice for everyday use?
  • Nobody’s home below 3000 rpm

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  • IslandTosh

    I know the title says “Naked Twins”, but seeing that there’s an outlier for each word in the title, I’d have liked to see how the Honda CBR650F would do against these bikes.

    • I agree Tosh, but we went the democratic route and I was out-voted. (I also thought the Versys 650 shoulda been in there.

      • dustysquito .

        The Versys definitely would have fit the group here. Same engine but with more comfort makes it damn near a no brainer – especially with the new versions not being butt ugly.

        • IslandTosh

          Right on about the Versys too guys. Those new models shown at Intermot are definitely way better to my eyes than the current model too.

  • ChainsawCharlie

    This ad will close in 26 seconds
    I guess I am not watching that then.

    • Andrew

      god forbid you give advertising dollars to the company that gives you a motorcycle magazine with videos for free.

      • ChainsawCharlie

        Ads are fine, but not 30 sec videos that you can’t skip.

        • Because you can’t spare 30 seconds out of your unbelievably busy and obviously ultra-important life to see the free content? What do you do when an ad comes on TV? Blow up the television?

        • Chris_in_Kalifornia

          Simple enough, do something else for 30 seconds. I fixed myself a hamburger (already cooked but hey).

      • Crickets

        Actually the ad revenue for video triggers on starts, so MO gets the cut either way. The lame part is that the advertiser is allowed a 30 second play for the money and people are either forced to watch it, or pause it.

        The user experience in most new forms (see: video) advertising is quite poor and will eventually adapt to user feedback as time goes on, but much like commercials on TV, we’re going to have to watch them if we want the programming for awhile longer.

        BTW, the FZ was an easy pick without even reading the article. Surprised the buzziness of the highstrung KTM wasn’t talked about more. It’s a fantastic bike, but is obnoxious droning on a freeway.

    • jerry mander

      Perfect time to go grab some Doritos!

  • Auphliam

    Pet Peave Alert: Why does the Ninja dash have to say “Clock” right above the time display? There’s not some other kind of moto-related data displayed in hours/minutes, amirite?

    • dustysquito .

      While the Ninja’s dash doesn’t have anything else that would look like a clock but not be one, my bike has Ride Time, Accumulated Ride Time, and Lap Timer functions built into the dash as well as a clock, so having it remind you which one you’re on is handy.

      • Auphliam

        Ah, good point.

  • ‘Mike Smith

    Great comparison guys. The only thing I wish y’all would do is some drag racing on these things. Quarter mile times, 0-60, 0-100 times would be as appreciated as any other stats already listed.

  • sundogmtn

    I like your format on the videos of open discussion which help cover almost every possible aspect. It will help sell bikes. What I find missing to help the individual buyer is what consumer groups have provided for decades, reliability ratings. If you are a new rider you likely won’t be doing your own mechanical work and that would be very expensive these days.

  • George Herbert

    Its to bad the US gets screwed on the NC700/750 platform. even here in Canada we get the X and S versions, ABS standard without the auto trans.

    • denchung

      Honda Canada also introduced the 750 engine with the 2014 model year while the US is still using the 700.

      • Goose

        And you can get the NC750 with ABS without the DCT and without the stupid linked ABS found on the 700. The NC750 would still have finished last in this test but Honda has lost a sure NC750 sale (me) with this idiotic embargo on the improved NC.

        • denchung

          If new documents from the California Air Resources Board are any indication, it looks like American Honda will stay with the 700 engine for 2015:

          • Goose

            Honda marketing slogan “Preventing sales since 1963”.

            One other thing, the 750 isn’t just a bigger engine, the new bike is better in nearly every way. Besides the bigger motor and ABS without the DCT you also get an improved transmission, better instruments, improved seat, second balance shaft, etc. for a few hundred dollars more. I’ve read Honda’s logic is the 750 will cost more. That didn’t seem to bother them when they raised the price of the 700 by $800 without making any improvements. They’ve about driven this customer away.

          • American Honda is a little bit stupid sometimes. And then sometimes they do the right thing, like bringing the VFR800/Interceptor to the US. How well did that sell?

          • Goose

            Honda marketing slogan “Preventing sales since 1963”.

            One other thing, the 750 isn’t just a bigger engine, the new bike is better in nearly every way. Besides the bigger motor and ABS without the DCT you also get an improved transmission, better instruments, improved seat, second balance shaft, etc. for a few hundred dollars more. I’ve read Honda’s logic is the 750 will cost more. That didn’t seem to bother them when they raised the price of the 700 by $800 without making any improvements. They’ve about driven this customer away.

  • DickRuble

    Who in the riding group weighs 270lbs? Needs to trade the motorcycle for a bicycle and the doritos for some soy beans.

    • Yea he does!

      • john burns

        250 of it is heart though. Other 19 lbs 12 oz of brains. Rest reproductive organs.

        • Still a good three ounces more than your own bitter little man.

    • Chris_in_Kalifornia

      So I don’t see your picture up there. I was 360 pounds for a long time but I rode anyway. Reasons aren’t important, Your bigotry is not acceptable. Tried everything to lose weight. Gastric Bypass finally allowed me to lose 130 pounds and keep it off but some can’t even do that. It’s not always the person’s fault. Depression era parents who force you to eat everything on your plate gives you a pretty permanent eating habit. I’m GLAD they have someone on there who can give a perspective from a heavier person.

  • Kenneth

    Thanks for the thoughtful and comprehensive review, MO, of widely-appealing bikes for the cost-conscious (I will be new bike shopping next spring). The only missing ingredient for me is — not here yet: The new Versys 650. ‘Anxiously awaiting that coming review. By the way, I appreciate a straight-on, side-view photo of each tested bike with a normally-sized rider mounted, to see its ergonomics.

    • DickRuble

      Normally-sized? Where? I didn’t see any of those..

  • Old MOron

    After all the excitement of Intermot, I was kind of having withdrawals.
    MO comes through in MO style! – fluttering mutton chops, tender buttocks, and all.
    Highly informative and very entertaining at the same time. Well done, MO.
    I can’t wait to see these bikes at the Long Beach show.

  • Reid

    The FZ-07 is unquestionably the best bike in the test, given the price. The Duke is just too expensive. If its pricing were in-line with the FZ (even FZ-09, for that matter), I strongly believe it would win this test.

    • DickRuble

      though the Duke is what I’d rather ride in town…

      • Reid

        The Duke is an exceptionally good bike. I bought one. It wasn’t cheap though lol

        • DickRuble

          Post a picture..


    Congrats to the Duke 690 for it’s runner up finish. It’s my favorite bike of the group because KTM extracted maximum power from a single cylinder. Also, it’s the most expensive, but it has the most attractive frame. So much so that KTM doesn’t resort to the cheesy trick of trying to hide the frame beneath plastic molded to look like an alloy frame (God, I hate that!!!).

    Hope you bring back the Duke and FZ to test alongside the Ducati Scrambler when it arrives!

  • Andrew Capone

    I really want a lusty thumper in the fleet, and the Duke is the obvious choice. I’d have to repaint the thing, KTM psychedelia doesn’t do it for me. But I really dig that thing.

  • Luke

    Even thought I’m not as heavy, I appreciate the comments from the bigger guy in the field. It might be a good idea to list the height weight of all the reviewers. I’m 200lbs, and 6’1″ and I sometimes feel like most motorcycle reviewers are a good 5 inches shorter and 50lbs. lighter.

    • Ditto. I’m 6′, 240lbs WITHOUT gear. Seems like many reviewers are light/thin and height-challenged? Is that the right way to say that? I dunno.

      • Chris_in_Kalifornia

        I wish I was 6′ and 240. I’m 5’6″ 240 also without gear. And I lost a bunch too. Loved my 04 Vstrom. I’d rather have a brand new 04 Vstrom than any of these.

  • Old MOron

    Okay, I finally watched the video. Well done, gents.

  • Backroad Bob

    “even the losers are winners”. Sounds like the New America. JB, you’re a classic. More, please.

  • Paul Cypert

    As an aside dealerships were practically giving last year’s Dukes away. Around 6K OTD was not unheard of….

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    What the NC700 needs is a supercharger. Hmm. I wonder if a big smog pump off a late 70’s luxury barge would work…

    I saw a supercharged GL1200 Honda a long time ago, built by a machinist. Looked stock, wickedly fast.

  • DCGULL01

    This just validates my theory that the FZ-07 is the everything bike for everyman (and woman!). I love the comparison though- it really shows how choppy this market segment is- proving that every manufacturer is aiming for a slice-rather than the whole pie! Like Suzuki’s SV- Yamaha’s FZ-07 will still be in the hunt in over 10 years, when the current crop is tested again. Middle-aged buyers (silent majority that have/spend money) have been ignored until the “lil’ Yamaha that could”, but, now we can do what we do: do our own services, and- tinker with accessories, like we love too. This will change, highlight- elevate this segment- and, all manufacturers will want some- so, our world is going to get better and better for the next few years!