In his review of the 2016 KTM 690 Duke, Evans Brasfield gave the bike a score of 89.75%. That’s a strong score, to be sure, but I didn’t pay much attention to it since, frankly, I wanted to find out for myself. Well, I’ve finally had the chance to do so, as we’ve recently put the KTM up against the new Suzuki SV650, the Yamaha FZ-07, and a first-gen SV650 from 1999. That test will go up tomorrow, but in the meantime let me say that I concur with Evans’ rating. It’s a fun bike, but without giving too much away here in the opening paragraph, here are 10 features to like about the 2016 KTM 690 Duke.
10. Spacious seating
Unless you’re planning on competing in Sumo wrestling tournaments, I can’t imagine anyone complaining of cramped seating quarters on the 690 Duke. Even MO’s Editorial Director, Sean Alexander, who’s the first to admit he’s a large fella, liked its spaciousness. There’s plenty of room to move fore and aft, though a little extra padding wouldn’t hurt (not a problem, of course, if you’re of Sumo proportions…).
9. Wide bars
Maybe KTM has a surplus of MX bars lying around, or maybe the folks over there have heard me complain about bars being too narrow on a lot of naked bikes. Whatever the case may be, I’m glad the bars fitted to the 690 are nice and wide. This gives the rider leverage, making it easy (and fun!) to throw the Duke into corners. Just look at Evans in the photo above, lying the 690 down on his knee like it’s nothing. I bet the bars made it really easy for him. Hash marks are inscribed on the bar in case you feel the need to rotate it forward or backward within the triple clamp, but I was pretty happy with it in the stock position.
The 690 may only have a single disc, but it sure makes the most of what it has. That disc is a beefy 320mm unit, clamped by a radially mounted Brembo four-piston caliper being fed fluid through steel-braided lines. Braking power, accordingly, is strong and firm with good feel at the lever that doesn’t leave me wishing for a second disc. The middle Duke has defeatable ABS, too (and the R version gets cornering ABS and the awesome M50 caliper, but don’t get too excited because we’re not getting that version of the 690 in the U.S.). It didn’t get much of a test considering the perfect riding conditions we’ve had in SoCal lately, but it’s something I’m glad it has once the roads, or the weather, get crappy.
Even with the stock exhaust canister, the 690 Duke’s attitude comes through in its distinctive throaty wail – they don’t call’em “Thumpers” for nothing. I’m sure it’d sound even better with a pipe on it, but by how much? If it were mine, I’d even be tempted to leave the stock can, with its simple yet attractive brushed finish, alone. It’d be easier on my wallet, and my neighbors won’t get pissed off at me. Win-win. Of course, a motorcycle’s exhaust note is best heard instead of written about, so here’s the Duke wailing away on the dyno.
Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d care enough about a clutch to include it on a list like this, but here it is. Why? Because, in my opinion, the 690 Duke has one of the easiest clutch pulls I can remember. The lever is adjustable, as you can see in the picture (it’s the star-shaped knob to the right of the flash-to-pass button), but a single finger is all you need to pull it in. And it can do it with ease. After a long ride in hot temperatures, you don’t want to work any harder than you have to, and the ease with which you can use the Duke’s clutch make stoplights and traffic super simple to navigate. As an added bonus, a slipper clutch comes standard on the 690.
With a mantra like “Ready to Race,” it’s obvious KTM’s brand focus is on building capable, athletic, and sporty motorcycles. The 690 Duke is no exception. Its chassis and relatively cheap suspension components work well to instill confidence in its rider on a winding road. That combined with its 345-pound wet weight make it an absolute weapon around any tight track or stretch of tarmac. A competent rider aboard one of these could easily keep up, or even embarrass, a lesser rider on a liter-class sportbike on a tight stretch of road.
This one’s a two-part answer. KTM provided the 690 Duke with an elegant TFT display to relay all the bike’s vital functions to the rider. It’s a beautiful piece, without a doubt, and it’s included in this list because of its aesthetics. However, if this were a Top 10 Worst Things About the 690 Duke, the gauges would also be included. Wait, huh? Because even though the gauges are aesthetically pleasing, functionally, KTM missed the mark. Big time. The screen faces almost directly vertically, making it hard to see at a glance even in the best of conditions, and on a sunny day the glare is so bad it’s nearly impossible to see anything the displays are showing without using your hand to block the sun.
Ride modes, traction control, ABS, a nice-looking (albeit majorly flawed) gauge cluster, and a slipper clutch are among a host of techno-gadgets the 690 Duke comes with, and we haven’t even talked about the engine (that’s coming up). KTM packed a host of modern tech touches to the Duke for a very reasonable price. In the perfect riding conditions we experienced during our testing, we only activated ABS because we provoked it. I never noticed the Metzeler rubber showing any signs of exceeding its grip levels, so a thorough test of its traction control abilities will have to wait for another time.
To me, the performance provided by the KTM is pretty impressive for its $8,999 price tag. The 690 Duke’s hardware is enough to garner a spot on this list, but incorporating the software that it does for the price is also a worthy accomplishment. No doubt, the 690 isn’t for everybody, but say you come from a dirt background and want a backroad bomber that can also handle general commuter duties and still feel familiar to you. The 690 Duke could be that bike.
Here are the important stats surrounding the LC4 engine powering the 690 Duke: 70 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque at the rear tire. From a Single. That’s seriously impressive power from the 690cc Thumper, and it helps the 345-pound bike launch with authority once the throttle is turned. Better still, the bike’s dual counterbalancers do a great job keeping vibes under control. For the techy geeks who want to nerd out on all the changes KTM made to the LC4, Evans’ first-ride review covers it in great detail. Considering KTM gave the new engine more power, and a broader spread of it compared to its LC4 predecessor, all while meeting the strict Euro 4 regulations deserves major kudos.