KTM 1290 Super Duke R

KTM Super Duke R on the street

Don’t believe the Super Duke R puts out mountains of torque? This used to be a straight road.

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.

KTM Super Duke R wheelies!

When a motorcycle truly makes you happy, there’s no greater expression of this joy than lofting a big wheelie.

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.”

KTM Super Duke R on track

Transitioning from left to right quickly is not where the KTM shines. However, the Super Duke R makes up for this with the ability to place it wherever you want it with pinpoint accuracy.

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.

KTM Super Duke R on the street

For a motorcycle that looks as aggressive as the Super Duke R, its comfortable ergos are a pleasant surprise. There’s plenty of room to scoot fore and aft on the saddle, and the footpeg placement offers generous legroom.

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.

KTM Super Duke R beauty

It would make us incredibly happy to be greeted by one of these each time we walk into our garages.

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.”

-Troy Siahaan

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  • JMDonald

    Of all the available motorcycles these bikes will always be on the top of my personal list. When I think about riding I think of these machines. It is a great time to be alive.

    • Will

      Considered all 3 and wound up buying a leftover 2013 Tuono V4 which offered a $1,500 rebate. OTD including taxes, etc. was $12,900 so I think I got a helluva lot of bike for less than 13k. That V-4 engine is motorcycle Viagra and I was still excited four hours after the ride home from the dealership (do I need to call a doctor?).

      • Kevin Duke

        No doctor required! Sounds like you got a great deal!

        • Will

          That’s good to know. I’m sure my condition is not covered by insurance.
          I also test rode the S1000R and Z1000. I was kinda disappointed in the Kawasaki (too buzzy, short-geared & frenetic feeling) but I thought the BMW was outstanding overall. I didn’t find its engine as buzzy as some have reported and the suspension offered a near magic carpet ride-like experience. Only thing I didn’t like was a clutch that engaged late in the lever travel (but an easy fix w/ quick twist of adjustment screw).
          Here’s a quick take on S1000R vs. my Tuono V4R:
          BMW has more linear powerband that pulls smartly from the bottom / Aprilia powerband feels more layered & really starts to stonk as it enters the lower midrange.
          Navigating the S1000R’s display is much easier / Tuono’s is not very intuitive or user friendly.
          Aprilia wins hands-down in engine character although the BMW is surprisingly raucous for an I-4 – it features a nasty intake snarl and spits on overrun.
          Summary: you only live once and I rolled the dice on the Aprilia over the BMW (saving over $2k made the decision easier). I have a gut feeling that if I had rode the Super Duke R I would have lusted after it but still settled for the much cheaper Tuono.
          P.S. – the actual MSRP of the fully-loaded S1000R is $15,445 including the $495 Destination charge. Dealer fees (Handling, Documentation) could easily add $500 or more so it helps to be a savvy negotiator and try to get the dealer to eat the fees and work off the price of just the bike itself. I was able to get the dealer down to $14,700 + tax/tags on the S1000R before I chose to go w/ the Touno.

          • Bob

            I had a V65 Magna; it was my favorite bike. The V4 rush to the redline and the exhaust howl through a 4 into 1 Kerker produced instant testosterone. I rode the wheels off that bike. The V4 is an awesome motor.
            I would like to see the Honda 1200cc CrossTourer come to America. Enjoy that Tuono!

  • Old MOron

    Since these bikes are all awesome, and since they’re all better than I am, I guess I’d buy the one that is least expensive or easiest to maintain.
    Perhaps you gentlemen (ahem) can add scheduled maintenance to your score card. The bike with the least frequent maintenance would score highest.
    Anyway, I enjoyed the comparo. Keep up the good work.

  • Ser Samsquamsh

    Gas mileage isn’t a huge concern probably but the range on the Tuono seems pretty minuscule at 20mpg. That would be really annoying having to stop every 5 minutes. I have a VFR and the v-4 sounds awesome buts a lot of heat on you and drinks gas. maybe that’s just the engine format?

    I tried out the Super Duke after your last video and was pretty shocked how comfy it is. I was expecting the bike to rip my head off but it’s so controlled plus it looks like it could take a pothole without cratering. It’s a bit pricey but it looks amazing to me.

    The BMW is a bit weird looking but the cruise and heated grips would be seriously handy around where I live.

    I was going to replace my bike with a ninja 1000 or the new VFR 800 but both of these super nakeds are uber tempting.

  • Old MOron

    Okay, previously I had only read the narrative, as I was at work. But I just watched the video on my lunch break. Well done, guys. Very, very well done.

    Having said that, I gotta do some MOronic taunting.
    The haircuts, what’s up with the haircuts?
    T-Rod, you lightened your locks. What’s next, Blondie, a boob job?
    Duke, I’m sure that haircut was real cool when you were in high school, but that was a while ago, wasn’t it?

    • Kevin Duke

      I guess we’re doing okay if the biggest knock on our production is our haircuts!

  • Shlomi

    Ok so I’m debating between two bikes the Duke and the BMW.
    I ride B roads which are narrow, and bumpy, speed range is 40-80 MPH. I get that BMW has the better suspension as I can switch from sport to comfort when the road gets too bumpy, I get that the BMW is more nimble, lighter, and agile. I get that the Duke will be able to ride on the torque wave which means less gear changes, riding position on the Duke seems more comfortable as well.
    What’s the better bike for me? I currently ride Multistrada 2nd generation which performs well on the roads I ride. However, the Multistrada is a bit heavy, soft, and slow to steer when the pace become brisk.

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      I noticed that the wind blast on the KTM was very manageable. There was basically no buffeting or neck strain under 80mph.

      • Price Action Guru

        Did they ever release the fly screen the pictured it with?

    • For the last few years when asked the question, “what bike would I buy for myself,” my answer has been Multistrada. The answer to that question now is Super Duke R. Does that help?

      • Price Action Guru

        Since you have previously liked the Multistrada as the bike that you would buy for yourself, I am interested hearing your thoughts on comparing and contrasting the Multistrada 1200 vs the Super Duke R.

        One may say they are not the same bike, but you appear to have liked them both very much, so hearing your thoughts may be enlightening.

        And like Shlomi, I too have a Multistrada 1200, and I have been shopping for a nake/super naked.

        • The Multi has been, and still is, one of the best motorcycles for combining performance, comfort, and long-distance capability. The Super Duke R gives up a lot of long-distance capability (no hard luggage, cruise control or fairing protection), but what it lacks in long-distance capability it makes up for in the performance category. Comfort is a wash between the two. Admittedly, I’m a big fan of liter-size V-Twins and I just can’t get enough of KTM’s 1290 powering the SDR. Also, for me, I’ve been loving the Multi for years now, and it’s time for a change and the SDR is that change. If, however, you’re desiring travel and touring over track day performance, the Multi remains the better bike.

          • Price Action Guru

            Thanks for the feedback.

          • Shlomi

            Tom thank you very much! When I bought the Multistrada I had dreams for cross states trip….reality happens and day rides of 200-300 miles is all I can do now. How is the KTM build quality? Does it fit $20 OTD price tag?

          • There were no negative comments among the editors in regards to quality. I’d go as far as to say it’s equal to anything on two wheels from Germany, Japan or Italy. I still think the $17k MSRP is kinda steep (especially compared to the S1000R) but I’d be willing to bite the bullet and pony up. Or, be patient and wait for that repo unit or the divorce-forces-sale used example with 600 miles on the clock.

          • Shlomi

            Tom this is great feedback. I get your passion about the KTM. I owned the Duke 690 prior to the Multistrda, and still miss that character. What I don’t miss is the roughness and all or nothing attitude. I couldn’t ride it less than 100% all the time. I hope the SDR is as hard core, but also allows slower pace when I’m not in the 100% mood. Thanks again, this been very helpful.

  • enzomedici

    I would pick the BMW S1000R because Aprilia and KTM dealer support are pretty much non-existent. Plus, the gas mileage on the Aprilia is horrendous. You would lose any race because you would be gassing up while everyone else rode by.

  • Mr. J

    what road is that guys??

    • Kevin Duke

      The’re in the hills around Malibu.

  • Auphliam

    I have to say, this shootout series has been one of the most interesting/captivating I’ve seen on MO. Well done, boys.

  • Price Action Guru

    MV Agusta Brutale 1090RR or Corsa should have been in the final comparison.
    In my opinion, like the Aprilia Tuono V4R, the Brutale is a race bike with handlebars.

    Perhaps written a follow-up article on how the Brutale stacks up against the final three??

  • John B.

    Really great work guys! When I attended the Dallas Motorcycle Show last Fall, I spoke at length with a high level BMW executive who was responsible for setting the S1000R’s U.S. msrp. He spoke enthusiastically about the S1000R and provided very interesting information related to the S1000R’s development. Near the end of our conversation he stated that he believed the S1000R is the best bike in this class (no surprise there). He added, however, that he thought the KTM SD was the only other super naked in the S1000R’s class; especially with respect to manufacturing quality. He said I should buy the KTM if I decided not to buy the BMW because it (the KTM) is an outstanding motorcycle. In fact, he praised the KTM so much that I wondered whether a BMW-KTM merger were feasible. He felt the Z1000 was a good choice for people who wanted to spend less money, but felt the Aprilia lacked manufacturing consistency….. As a 6’3″ rider with chronic back pain, I would choose the KTM because comfort is the critical factor for me. PS – I did not notice the presenters’ hair. I imagine being a public figure is not all it’s cracked up to be….

    • Vaibhavsharmacantuserealname

      Its the same with ktm CEO Stefan Pierer. He recently went on in an interviiew how he loves the bmws and will want ktm to be at top in europe till 2020, while bmw should be second and huskies the third.

  • Craig Hoffman

    KTM is on a complete tear in the off road market for quite a while now. It seems they are making real inroads in the pavement market as well. If this keeps up, everybody is going to be riding orange.

    KTM and the Euro companies in general are alive. I wonder a little about the Japanese. Some interesting bikes from Japan here and there, but it is like they really lost something during the great recession.

    All useless theorizing about corporate psychology aside, make my hooligan bike a KTM please. 🙂

    • Piglet2010

      There are several KTM models that interest me (Freeride E, 450 SMR, 690 SMC R, 390 Duke, 690 Duke R, and RC390), but guess what – not one of them is imported to the US. So I will look elsewhere.

      As for the Japanese, they could almost care less about US and even Europe – South Asia is where the sales volume is. The US is probably the worst per capita motorcycle market in the developed world, and in most of the country you will mostly find people who buy huge cruisers as Lifestyle Accessories™.

  • Steve Cole

    I still prefer the Tuono. But that’s because I love the motor and the take-no-prisoners way the bike works.

  • Holy Kaw!

    Great article. I’ve been trying to figure out my favorite here as well, I agree, not easy.

    For me it’s between the KTM and the BMW because I don’t like “peaky” High Performance engines on a Motorcycle if I’m trying to go fast around corners… (the “old” Tuono would’ve given the KTM a good run… as far as Fun goes at least)

    The BMW was one of those “What would be cooler than a naked based the S1000RR?” thoughts I had that became reality, I was excited! Cruise control and integral heated grips did nothing to reduce my drooling (the other gizmo’s are fine but wouldn’t be selling points for me unless “free” which to their credit BMW effectively did). It’s performance is Far beyond my capabilities, I thought it looked great in Red. The BMW is a Fine Motorcycle.

    The KTM showed me that an “older” 6’2″ Guy can be – comfortable – on a High Performance Motorcycle. The KTM makes me want to go ride it, it’s FUN (I know, all Motorcycles can be Fun but I think some are “Funner” than others). Torque is a Beautiful thing. I have some questions about the KTM’s reliability, without basis. I guess the KTM will take the flag but it’s as close as one of the recent Moto 3 races.

    The KTM (in Red) with a modest fly screen/quarter fairing, cruise control and heated grips would qualify as a “Perfect” Motorcycle IMO.

    PS “What would be cooler than a naked based the S1000RR?” A 2015/2016 ZRX1400 with a top shelf chassis, heated grips, cruise control, in Red 😉

    It’s nice to see that the bikes carry enough fuel for a decent range.

  • Steve Cole

    I don’t know why people think the V4 puts out a lot of heat. It puts out less heat than my track GSXR does and also less heat than my V60 Tuono did. And it’s a LOT cooler than my old 1050 Sprint ST. I have a RSV4, mind.

    I’d still buy the V4. It’s always entertaining.

  • The BMW S1000R reminds me so much of the BMW 2 series. Such a magnificent experience to hear their engines and see them make their turns…

  • bj

    Great review.
    KTM is the bike to own but the BMW is a good bike and good value. Doesn’t quite do anything as well as the KTM, or look as good but it is feature packed, cheaper, a good bike and deserves scoring to showcase that.

  • Jaybo

    Your poor yanks. Aprilia don’t seem to trust you squids with the full output engine. My Australian version is putting out 167 at the rear…..
    Reading the article, and comparing the scores don’t add up… The V4 was everybody’s favourite engine, but got the lowest score….? Was this manipulated to give the newer bikes leg up? It’s definitely the reason I bought mine. And the electronics package. Being able to dial in my slides at track days, like a GP star is worth the price of admission right there…

    • Kevin Duke

      The Aprilia’s engine is sweet, no doubt. But take a look at the dyno chart and try to find any point at which it outperforms the others. And the fuel-saving electronics strategy is a PITA when riding around town.

  • DH

    Good job on the shootout boys. Bought a ’14 Tuono and can’t stop giggling inside of my helmet. If you think the V4 is intoxicating with its stock exhaust, try it with an aftermarket pipe. Highly recommend the SC-Project CRT. Sounds like the spawn of a Shelby AC Cobra and a P51 Mustang WWII fighter. Besides, which of your cul-de-sac neighbors deep down inside, in places they don’t like to talk about, really don’t want to hear the sounds of MotoGP? It’s clearly better than Pavarotti.

  • Avery Buda

    For a shorter (5’9″) rider who would be doing very little track time if any at all, what would be the better bike out of these three? I understand the KTM is fitting for larger riders but how does it fit a smaller rider. Also which bike has better ergonomics between the s1000r and superduke?Thanks to anyone who can clear up any of these questions for me

    • TroySiahaan

      I’m an inch shorter than you and fit both the BMW and KTM well. The KTM is very comfortable, IMO, for an everyday street bike. What makes it comfy for tall folks (upright bars, lots of legroom) doesn’t deter it in any way for shorter folks like us. I’d stop short of calling it a sport-tourer, but it’s pretty darn close.

      • Avery Buda

        Thanks a lot for the help you answered all of my questions.

    • Kevin Duke

      If a lower seat height is a major consideration, the BMW’s is the closest to the ground and is by a considerable margin easiest to manage by short legs. And if you might never get on a racetrack, also consider the Z1000 and Monster.Try them on for size at a dealer to find out how they fit you specifically.

      • Avery Buda

        Thanks for the help! I’m not in love with the looks of the z1000 but I will be sure to check out the monster.

  • Antman325

    The old Aprilia 1000r twin is preferred over the V4 by a lot of guys I have talked to. More torque and better range. Maybe its because I own one too : )

  • supecoop

    Even at the premium price with all the goodies, luggage is still extra? Why? Oh right, because they can.

  • DCGULL01

    Wow, I came to this shootout because I’m interested in the Tuono V4RS ABS, and, what a great write up! I believe that picking ‘the best’ may have been one of the most difficult processes encountered, ever. But, I’m now convinced that a Tuono is off the table (for me) due to the heat & cramped quarters. But, with a sale & a discount, $2k is a significant motivator, along with the sound, the electronics package & awesome quickshifter. I ride distance tho, and, comfort is a genuine priority.