2014 KTM Super Duke R Review - First Ride

Tom Roderick
by Tom Roderick

The nicest "Beast" we've ever met

Turn off the switchable ABS and Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) and KTM’s new 1290 Super Duke R slips, slides, wheelies and stoppies just like in the promotional video released a few months ago (certain skillset required). Leave these two rider aids on, however, and the “Beast” (as KTM affectionately refers to it) is as genteel as a 1301cc V-Twin boasting 180 horsepower and 106 ft-lbs of torque can possibly be.

2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Editor Score: 94.0%
Engine 20/20
Suspension/Handling 15/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.5/10
Brakes 9.75/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.75/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9/10
Value 8/10
Overall Score94/100

THE COMPETITION: 2014 Aprilia Tuono V4R ABS – First Impressions

KTM’s goal was, in fact, to bestow the 1290 Super Duke R with user-friendly ridability and versatility while also delivering more performance than any naked sportbike currently on the market. “A new level of smileage,” explains KTM’s Thomas Kuttruf.

To achieve this goal of grinning aggression KTM massaged its LC8 powerplant, festooned the Twin with their best electronic rider aids and mated the package to a chassis composed of a new trellis frame and single-sided swingarm, fully adjustable WP fork and shock, low-pressure-cast wheels and top-of-line Brembo M50 calipers.

The 1290 Super Duke R is a serious naked bike weapon, but the Beast is easily tamed as long as the electronics are kept turned on. Switching off ABS and MTC unchains the beast.

The result? A new hooligan that leaves Triumph’s Speed Triple wishing it had another cylinder as the KTM steps into the ring as the number one contender to the Aprilia Tuono V4 R’s king hooligan crown.

TRIPLE THREAT: 2012 Triumph Speed Triple R Review

Engine & Engine Management

While the modified LC8 engine doesn’t spin up revs as quickly as an 1199 Panigale Twin, the minimal flywheel effect keeps things exciting. Rowing the gearbox to keep the engine in the thick of its torque curve between 6000 to 8000 rpm is recommended. Redline is at 10,000 rpm.

The twin-cylinder heart of the Beast is more than just a transplanted RC8 R engine. Prior to Super Duke R duty KTM engineers increased both bore and stroke from the race bike’s 105mm x 69mm to 108mm x 71mm giving the SD-R a 106cc engine capacity upgrade to 1301cc. In an effort to increase low- and mid-range torque intake ports were reduced in size from what’s in use in the RC8 R. The result is a claimed 106 ft-lbs of torque @ 6500 rpm – a 40% increase in torque over the RC8.

Pistons are three millimeters larger in diameter but 47 grams lighter in weight. A slipper clutch reduces engine braking and lightens lever pull of the hydraulically actuated clutch. Throttle bodies were enlarged from 52mm on the RC8 R to 56mm on the Super Duke R.

Controlling all this internal combustion chaos is a Keihin engine management system operated by a ride-by-wire (RbW) throttle. The outcome of KTM’s efforts is faultless EFI mapping and precision throttle control. Mild to aggressive throttle inputs are processed and delivered to the rear wheel in measured, smooth application. Throttle abruptness is nonexistent. Even in the most aggressive Sport setting of the Super Duke R’s three ride modes (Sport, Street, Rain) the system optimizes the enormous amount of torque on tap and delivers it to the rear wheel in a silky forward rush of excitement.


The ride mode Rain setting limits bhp to 100, softens power delivery and limits rear wheel slip to minimal. Street mode moderately increases rear wheel slippage and unleashes all 180 bhp with quicker throttle response compared to the Rain mode while the Sport mode delivers the engine’s full potential (while still being metered by the Keihin engine management system) and allows the rear wheel to power slide (within reason).

Coupled with the switchable Bosch MTC system the rear wheel never gets too out of line. The system, however, is not customizable to rider preference. In KTM’s words, MTC reduces “the amount of slippage to the level determined to be the optimum by the current ride mode selection.”

So, besides turning MTC off a rider is stuck with KTM’s pre-programmed settings. Assuming owners of this bike to have the knowledge, skills and wherewithal to make their own decisions regarding MTC settings we think KTM should allow more adjustability with its MTC system, like the Tuono V4 R’s handlebar-mounted +/- paddle selectors.

The Super Duke R’s ABS is also switchable and boasts the added function of Supermoto mode that, like the company’s Adventure model, allows the rear wheel to lock and slide while maintaining functioning ABS on the front wheel. Operation of the electronics package mirrors that of the Adventure model with the same left-handlebar-mounted selection module and instrument cluster.

We really liked the instrument cluster’s “Favorites” screen. The customizable screen allows a rider to organize the information according to what is deemed most important, most often adjusted, or any other configuration you choose. From this screen a rider can also select and adjust the displayed settings.

For the most part MTC and ABS function transparently in the background providing a confidence-inspiring safety cushion but also an exhilarating experience that doesn’t detract from the thrill this high-torque, big-Twin provides. We did notice that while ABS remains off when using the killswitch to stop the bike, MTC always defaults to the on setting.


The Super Duke R is exciting in the corners by virtue of its relatively low 446-pound (approximate) curb weight and superbike-style handebars. Side-to-side transitions come fast and easy, and the bike holds its line on the street or track with sportbike-like precision. A new chrome-moly steel trellis frame and handsome single-sided swingarm maintain the SD-R’s stability at top straight-line speeds or in fast sweeping corners.

MORE DUKE-NESS: 2013 KTM 690 Duke Review – Video

The inverted, 48mm WP fork separates damping duties by having the left fork tube tackle compression while the right dampens rebound. Both are adjustable via a finger twistable knob atop each tube. At the rear a WP shock provides rebound and low- and high-speed compression damping. Like KTM’s dirtbike’s, the shock’s preload is adjusted by loosening a polymer locking nut and manually turning the spring.

WP racing suspension and adjustable footpegs greatly increase cornering clearance. The race-prepped Super Duke R boomed with a full Akrapovic system that claims a 12 hp increase over the stock exhaust. These and many more go-fast additions are available via KTM’s Equipment catalog.

With wide superbike-style handlebars leveraging the Duke on the steet or track comes easily. Maintaining a quick street pace is almost an afterthought while the SD-R’s track riding competency will certainly shame more dedicated sportbikes. The footpegs and shifter began grinding as speeds and lean angles increased when circulating the Ascari circuit in southern Spain, but adding some preload and stiffening the WP components will help keep hard parts from grinding.

Front wheel stopping force is provided by a pair of Brembo’s stellar M50 calipers and 320mm discs. Initial bite on the street is fierce, demanding a measured one- or two-finger pull on the adjustable lever. On the track is where the M50s shine, quickly and consistenly slowing the SD-R from crazy fast track speeds.

From our hotel in Estepona, Spain, we rode approximately 50 very curvy miles to the Ascari Race Resort where we lapped aboard both the stock and a race-prepped 1290 Super Duke R. After lunch and a photo session we retraced the 50-mile trip back to our hotel. If asked to get up the next morning and ride to Paris instead of fly, I gladly would have accepted – the new Super Duke R is that comfortable, competent and versatile.

When it comes to KTM’s claim that the new Super Duke R is the “most potent naked bike in the world,” Aprilia can certainly raise an eyebrow and simply reply, Tuono V4 R. With a more complete electronics suite and a proven track package taken directly from its WSBK title-winning RSV4, the Tuono will not easily be knocked off its perch atop naked bike mountain. But this is fodder for a future shootout, which will take place as soon as Super Duke Rs arrive stateside in late winter to early spring.

Oh the places you’ll go! Accessorized with some soft luggage from KTM’s Powerparts selection and the Super Duke R morphs into high-performance mileage-gobbler. Yeah, it’s seriously that comfortable.

One thing’s for sure, the 1290 Super Duke R is a bike you can comfortably ride to the track, flog around all day at high speed, embarrassing wannabe heroes on their repliracers, then ride home without changing a thing. And then take a multi-day sport-touring trip the following weekend. How many motorcycles can claim this kind of versatility? As long as KTM keeps the price reasonable (which should be announced in early December), the Super Duke R is poised to take up residence in a lot of garages.

+ Highs

  • Versatile
  • Unintimidating
  • Wicked comfortable fun

– Sighs

  • Restricted electronics customization
  • Any color as long orange or black
  • Slightly wide at tank/seat juncture
We missed the wheelie photography session, so here’s a gratuitous wheelie shot from KTM’s stock photo collection.

2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specs

Engine75° V-Twin
Bore x stroke108 x 71 mm
Horsepower180 hp @ 8870 rpm (claimed)
Torque106 ft-lb. @ 6500 rpm (claimed)
Compression ratio13.2:1
Fuel SystemKeihin EFI
Final driveChain
Frame typeChrome-moly steel trellis
Front suspension48mm inverted WP fork
Rear suspensionWP monoshock
Front brakesBrembo M50 calipers 320mm discs
Rear brakeBrembo two-piston caliper 240mm disc
Front tire120/70-17
Rear tire190/55-17
Wheelbase58.35 in.
Rake / trail65.1°/107mm
Seat height32.3 in.
Weight (without fuel)417 lbs. (claimed)
Fuel capacity4.75 gal.
ElectronicsRbW, ride modes, MTC, ABS
Color choicesBlack & Orange / Orange & Black
Tom Roderick
Tom Roderick

A former Motorcycle.com staffer who has gone on to greener pastures, Tom Roderick still can't get the motorcycle bug out of his system. And honestly, we still miss having him around. Tom is now a regular freelance writer and tester for Motorcycle.com when his schedule allows, and his experience, riding ability, writing talent, and quick wit are still a joy to have – even if we don't get to experience it as much as we used to.

More by Tom Roderick

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4 of 17 comments
  • Jng1226 Jng1226 on Oct 25, 2013

    Any educated guesses on what it will cost? I'm new to the brand so don't have a clue but am definitely interested. I was thinking I was going to get a Ducati Hypermotard SP 821, but if this is the same money ($14,995), that is a hell load of motor. But I wonder if the Hypermotard will be just as much fun, or even more so, with its long travel suspension and even higher bars?

    • See 1 previous
    • Michael Michael on Mar 13, 2014

      $25K in Australia... which is a few grand more than a Hypermotard which is about $18.5K (an SP is about $22K).

  • Ktmmansam Ktmmansam on Jan 16, 2014

    Need part numbers for exhaust system please!