KTM 1290 Super Duke R
I enter this test coming from a unique perspective. Since I missed the first go-round of naked streetfighter testing, I came back to my fellow colleagues badgering on about their lust for the KTM 1290 Super Duke R. Words like “Oh my god,” “incredible,” and “amazing” were heard more times than I can remember. I wasn’t sure if everyone was testing motorcycles or had simultaneously lost their virginity. Weirdos. Either way, I wanted to reserve judgement until I could throw my own leg over the mighty KTM. When I did, I understood what all the fuss was about.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Auto Club Speedway, where we tested this time, is the polar opposite to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (where Part 1 took place) in terms of track layout. Where CVR is tight with relatively little shifting, ACS is long with a few tight chicanes thrown in. The left toe sees a lot more action, and it’s one of the few places a literbike can actually wind out sixth gear. This exposes both the strength and weakness of the KTM.
Its strength, as we’ve noted before, is the sheer amount of twist it puts down to the ground. As Duke notes, there’s “immense power on tap, feeling especially monstrous while roaring down the infield straight and powering onto the gigantic front banking. The grunt is so incredible, I began to feel sorry for the literbikes it made fade in the rearview mirrors.”
Unfortunately, with all the shifting involved, the lack of a quickshifter – something the other two came equipped with – was a big detriment to going fast. This issue really came to light powering through Auto Club’s Turn 4, a long left sweeper requiring a short shift while leaned over. Balancing the throttle blip while being careful not to drag your toe on the ground while simultaneously flicking an upshift required more concentration compared to the BMW and Aprilia. Sure, a perfect shift was possible, but there was a greater margin for error.
ACS also revealed another weakness not seen at Chuckwalla: the KTM’s sheer size. “While the Super Duke R shined at flowing tracks like Ascari and Chuckwalla,” says Content Editor Tom Roderick, “the hard-braking, quick-transitioning chicanes of Auto Club Speedway exposed the chinks in the Super Duke’s armor. The KTM is simply a girthier bike than the other two and rewards stability over flickability.” Kevin agrees, noting the SDR “feels clumsier and bigger in the tight chicanes.”
While I concur with both Tom’s and Kevin’s assessment, I personally appreciated the accuracy of the KTM’s chassis, though I’m stopping short of calling it the best in the bunch. The suspension, too, responds well to changes. After some significant tweaks to the damping between sessions, Duke came back much happier. “The Super Duke R is so much better after the suspension adjustments, with much improved control of both ends,” he said. Despite this, Duke reported some scuffing of the pegs, something Tom and I didn’t experience.
What is the best of the bunch, however, are the Super Duke’s Brembo M50 brakes. The same stoppers seen on the Ducati 1199 Panigale, their impressive performance carries over to the SDR, with Duke praising its “major-league power with ultra-precise modulation abilities.”
On the street, we still love the KTM’s sweet engine, and the lower speeds means the lack of a quickshifter is less of an issue. Torque is king on the street, and the SDR’s 96.5 ft-lbs made it the ruler of this domain. In the twisty bits, we could be lazy in our shifts, comfortable in the knowledge the gobs of torque would pull us out of any situation.
My praise for the precise chassis solidified itself during our street ride, since I felt as though I could place the Super Duke R anywhere I wanted. Combine this with the ultra-communicative M50 Brembos, and the KTM gave me a level of control the Aprilia and BMW simply couldn’t match. But notice I never called the KTM agile.
The slower speeds of a street pace also allowed me to realize something I didn’t pay particular attention to at the track: its supremely comfortable ergonomics. “The SDR has that sit-in, familiar feeling that makes it easy to ride fast, but it’s also comfortable for anything from commuting to light touring,” says Roderick. “Its upright riding position is more reminiscent of an adventure-touring bike than it is a streetfighter.”
Duke agreed, noting, “The Super Duke might be the best solution for big/tall riders who decry that sportbikes don’t fit them.” The rider triangle is roomy, and the seat has a surprising amount of cushioning.
When it comes down to it, a motorcycle is supposed to excite your soul, and that’s exactly what the KTM 1290 Super Duke R achieves. Very rarely does a motorcycle deliver the same amount of joy to us jaded motojournos as we experienced during our very first time on two wheels, but the Super Duke R does such a thing. Every time. Sure, our own ScoreCard will say the BMW is the winner, but look closely, and it’s only because the KTM’s $2000 higher price tag hurt its objective scoring. Look at all three of our subjective scores and you’ll see the KTM takes the win. Duke even goes so far as to rate it, “one of the best motorcycles on the planet.”
Tom, meanwhile, sums up our thoughts best. “In our two previous streetfighter shootouts (the 2014 Super Naked Street Brawl and 2014 Super Streetfighter Smackdown) I struggled with spending more money on the KTM that offers less technology than the BMW. No cruise control or electronic suspension for a bike costing $2k more? After having had the KTM in the garage since those two articles were written, I’ve come to understand one thing: The Super Duke R is a motorcycle that makes me want to go for a ride – something I can’t say about all the motorcycles I test.”