In case you haven’t heard, we here at Motorcycle.com really like the KTM 1290 Super Duke R. I mean, we really like it. Its 1301cc V-Twin is beyond brutish, with a chassis more than capable of supporting that engine both in the canyons and the track. What’s more, its relatively upright ergos are plenty comfy for the daily commute to/from work, school, or a leisurely weekend cruise. So far, it has proved itself as king of the hill in the stacked Super Streetfighter category, as it beat out the BMW S1000R, Ducati Monster 1200S, Kawasaki Z1000 ABS and MV Agusta Brutale in part one of our Streetfighter Shootout. It backed its victory with another win, this time topping the S1000R (again) and nudging the Aprilia Tuono V4R APRC ABS off the top of the Streetfighter hill in part two of our Streetfighter Shootout. The bike’s so good, we named it our 2014 Motorcycle of the year.
However, since our nominations, yet another contender to the Super Streetfighter throne has emerged. Better still, this one comes from the American heartland. East Troy, Wisconsin, to be exact. The EBR 1190SX embodies everything we love about this class of motorcycle: a big, powerful engine, agile chassis, minimal bodywork and ergos that won’t break your back like a full-fledged sportbike (we’re old, deal with it). At $16,995, the EBR is only four dollars cheaper than the almighty KTM, and even though it’s a first effort from Erik Buell Racing, we felt it to be a worthy challenger to the Super Duke R. So, we pit the two against each other, mano-a-mano.
If you’re curious about all the specs and details about both bikes, click the links above. For this test, we’ll focus on how each bike performs against each other. Joining yours truly in this contest is our very own John Burns. This mashup of the youngest and, well, shall we say, most mature of the MO staff should give a unique insight about how the two stack up. Ultimately, however, both Burnsie and I came to the same conclusion.
We start in the area that matters most: the engine. The EBR, and its 1190cc, 72-degree V-Twin might have started life as a Rotax mill years ago, but it bears repeating that the engine in the 1190SX is all EBR now. Buell bought the rights to the engine from Rotax, massaged away the Austria, rubbed in some Wisconsin, and came up with a unit that, in our tester, pumped out 156.0 peak horsepower (to the wheel) at 10,700 rpm and 83 lb.-ft. of torque on the MotoGP Werks dyno. You might be surprised to see that the EBR, despite suffering a 111cc displacement deficit, actually makes 3.5 more horsepower than the KTM and its 75-degree, 1301cc V-Twin’s 152.5.
Look closer and you’ll see the EBR’s power advantage isn’t much of one at all, and only appears at the very top of the rev range. Everywhere below that point and the Super Duke properly trounces the SX, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering its bigger engine. Where those extra cc’s are really felt is in the thrust department, and this is where the KTM shines. Delivering an absurd 94.1 lb.-ft. of torque at its max, the EBR’s 83.0 lb.-ft. doesn’t even come close. Because of this, “The KTM’s easier to ride because it’s already making over 90 ft-lb of torque at just 6600 rpm,” says Burns. “The EBR’s smaller engine never makes that much (though 83 ft-lb is still a sh**load).”
While the numbers tell an important story, getting them out on the road reveals the KTM’s true advantage: refinement. Where the EBR would occasionally hesitate at slow-speed, on/off throttle movements, like one would typically experience in normal street riding, the Super Duke R was the embodiment of smooth. Every degree of wrist movement is met with an appropriate amount of power application.
In a word, it’s simply beautiful. Isn’t it funny how we’re now comparing bikes with throttle cables (EBR) to the standards set by computerized throttles (KTM)? Seems like not too long ago it was the other way around. JB says, “Around town, the EBR is a little surgey at low rpm, but not a problem above 3000 rpm or so. It’s a big high-performance Twin, you can’t lug a Panigale around town either can you?”
But of course, let’s not forget about the power, because both bikes have it in spades. Get greedy with your right hand on either bike and your head is sure to snap back. The 1190SX roars with an intensely guttural intake snarl as it inhales air, while the the 1290’s booming exhaust note lets the world know it means business. By any measure the EBR accelerates hard, unless it’s being compared to the sheer thrust of the KTM. “Sure [the EBR] is down on torque next to the Super Duke. So is every other bike on the planet,” Burns says. “The EBR still launches you out of corners like few other motorcycles.”
Both bikes come equipped with slipper clutches, and they work well when coming hot into a corner. Rowing through the six cogs is generally slick on both, but the EBR feels a bit notchy in the first two gears. Both bikes also feature traction control, the 1190 with 21 different settings (including off), though we never needed it thanks to the fresh Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires, the same ones fitted to the Duke. The KTM’s TC, meanwhile, only has three settings (four including off), which are tied into the Duke’s three power modes (Sport, Street, Rain). We kept it in Sport (read: fun mode) and because the rear Pirelli on our bike was shagged from a previous trip to Chuckwalla, Burns noticed more than a few occasions where the computers saved his bacon when he got greedy with the throttle: “Just mash the gas and let the tire and the pavement negotiate through the computer. What could go wrong?”
If the KTM wins the engine battle, the EBR fights back in the handling department. With a 22.4-degree rake, 3.8 inches of trail and 55.5-inch wheelbase, when you compare it to the KTM’s 24.9-degree rake, 4.2-inch trail and 58.3-inch wheelbase, the Austrian machine almost feels truckish in comparison. The KTM also tipped our scales at 468.2 lbs. with a full tank of gas, almost 20 lbs. more than the EBR (448.6 lbs.). Combine these factors, and it’s no surprise the 1190SX flicks from side to side with the greatest of ease. “With stiffer suspension, shorter trail and less weight, you can really dive into corners deeper on the Buell, and the stiffer springs give it a shade more front-end feel also,” says Burns.
Sure the Duke might appear a tad lazier than the EBR in the twisty stuff, but judged by any other measure the KTM is anything but. Wide bars give it good leverage to toss into turns, and when all else fails, add in the massive torque advantage it has and it can afford to give up a little on corner entrance. Says JB, on corner exit, “the Duke uses its torque to re-open the gap at the exits; it’s really like Jorge Lorenzo style vs. Nick Hayden transported to the street, high cornering speed vs. slow in and fast out. On the street, of course, the latter is probably more conducive to a long and happy life.”
Another Buell trait is his innovative thinking. The 1190SX continues the trademark fuel-in-frame technology along with the massive 386mm perimeter front brake and 8-piston caliper. A steel-braided brake line helps provide a positive feel at the adjustable lever, and while braking power and feel is no doubt strong and impressive, the M50 calipers and 320mm discs adorning the KTM are simply astounding, combining more power than the EBR’s brake with superior feel. It’s almost unfair, really, but it gives the Super Duke R a clear advantage in the stopping category.
Both the 1190SX and 1290 Super Duke R are more than capable of tearing apart your local canyon road. However, both models are street bikes first and foremost, and therefore need to be judged on their all-around usefulness.
From an ergonomic standpoint, the SX is literally the 1190RX fully faired sportbike sans bodywork and with the addition of a handlebar. Yes, the bar puts less of a lean on the upper body, but footpegs remain untouched, which means your feet are noticeably higher and further rearset than on the KTM. A 32.5-inch seat height is only marginally shorter than the KTM’s (32.9 inches), so that’s basically a wash, but the overall package is considerably more compact, as if your head is directly over the front tire.
Live with the EBR, and you notice the heat emanating from the side-mounted radiators. While the minimal cowling does its best to move the hot air the puller fans are blowing away from the rider, in reality it ends up blasting the rider’s legs. It’s actually pleasing on cooler days, but on hot ones it’s downright brutal.
Then there’s the noise. The EBR makes a mixture of pleasing and, well, not so pleasing sounds. Those aforementioned fans are in the latter category. They’re loud, and unless the bike is completely keyed off, they’re blowing seemingly all the time. However, they’re offset by the unique high-pitch squeal of the chain idler on decel, or as Burns calls it, the “little Stuka dive-bomber whine.” It’s cool, unique and different. We like it.
Steering sweep is shallow on the 1190SX, but really isn’t noticed much unless you make numerous U-turns like we do for photo shoots. Otherwise, it gets mileage in the mid to high 30s in normal use. Not great, but acceptable. Meanwhile, the KTM returned 40 mpg.
The KTM’s ergos? I’ll let John explain. “The Super Duke feels like settling back into Tom Roderick’s easy chair after you’ve been working at your stand-up desk for a few hours. Ahhhh …” The pegs are low and forward, seating position is comfortable, and yet it’s still ready to tear up any path in front of it.
John continues, “I like all the EBR’s mechanical noises and goings-on; it feels more like a race bike where not much effort has been diverted to creature comforts or aesthetics, probably because it hasn’t been. The Duke in comparison actually feels a bit sanitized. You can look at the EBR’s `rawness’ as a demerit, but I kind of like that part of its personality. If I had to ride one three hours to Chuckwalla, I’d rather ride the KTM (and I did once, it wasn’t bad), but if the drone to get to the fun is an hour or less, the EBR is not so bad. It does buzz more through the handlebars at 5000 rpm and 80 mph. The KTM has a better seat and better suspension for casual, sport-touring use.”
Still King of the Hill
We knew it would take a mighty effort to push the KTM off the top of the hill, and this test simply reiterated how impressive the Super Duke R is, as it won all but two of the categories on our MO scorecard. However, for a first effort the EBR is no joke. It handles with the best of them, and a capable rider will thoroughly enjoy getting the most out of that chassis.
Though the KTM is our favorite, in the end, it comes down to what’s already in your garage. Here’s JB: “It sort of comes back to, is this going to be an only bike or one of a few? If you’re only having one, it would have to be the KTM because of its ride-by-wire refinement, greater comfort (heated grips!), ease of use and in general broader performance envelope. But if you already have a general-purpose bike to ride most of the time, and wanted something a little more bombastic and unique to ‘act out’ upon now and then, maybe do a track day or two, this EBR is a great and deserving descendant of the outrageous, thumb-in-the-eyeball-of-authority Erik Buell legacy. Two middle fingers up.”
Brutish V-Twin Streetfighter Comparo
Super Duke R
|Quality, Fit & Finish||82.5%||92.5%|
|EBR 1190SX||KTM 1290 Super Duke R|
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled 8-valve, 72º V-Twin,||Liquid-cooled, 8 valve, 75º V-Twin|
|Bore x Stroke||106mm x 67.5mm||108mm x 71mm|
|Horsepower||156.0 @ 10,700 rpm||152.5 @ 9000 rpm|
|Torque||83.0 lb.-ft @ 8100 rpm||94.1 lb.-ft @ 8200 rpm|
|Fuel System||Electronic fuel injection||Electronic fuel injection|
|Front Suspension||Fully-adjustable Showa inverted Big Piston Fork||WP Suspension 48mm inverted fork with adjustable compression and rebound damping|
|Rear Suspension||Fully-adjustable Showa monoshock||WP Suspension monoshock, fully adjustable|
|Front Brakes||Single 386mm perimeter rotor, 8-piston inside-out caliper||Dual 320mm rotors with Brembo M50 monoblock 4-piston calipers and ABS|
|Rear Brakes||Single 220mm rotor with 2-piston caliper||Single 240mm rear rotor with 2-piston caliper, ABS|
|Seat Height||32.5 in.||32.9 in.|
|Wheelbase||55.5 in.||58.3 in.|
|Rake/Trail||22.4 º/3.8 in||24.9º/4.21 in|
|Curb Weight||448.6 lbs||468.2 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||4.5 gals.||4.7 gals.|