Longtime Companion: KTM 1290 Super Duke R

John Burns
by John Burns

Our 2014 Motorcycle of the Year still going strong after 6,000 miles

We took delivery of our KTM Super Duke R on March 26, 2014, and fought like rabbits for quite some time over whose garage it would reside in until its scheduled return. EiC Duke won, but being the benevolent despot he is, the wealth trickled down and around until the beautiful beast fell into my possession a few months ago. I haven’t complained about having it underfoot. As a matter of fact, the Super Duke might be the finest do-it-all motorcycle it’s ever been my pleasure to possess, living up to its award as MO’s Motorcycle of the Year.

At the bike’s launch in October, ’13, TR found out just how capable a track bike the Super Duke can be on this mildly race-prepped example.

Our first meeting was at MO’s 2014 Super Streetfighter Smackdown, in which it won a narrow victory over the BMW S1000R around Chuckwalla Valley Raceway and on the street, and, after multiple streetfighter shootouts, went on to become our official MOBOTY. According to MOISTR (Motorcycle Online Intelligence Service Tom Roderick), she was showing 2,445 miles on the clock when we picked her up; the odometer now reads 5,579, for a total of 3,134 miles. In our original test flog, the bike returned 37.9 mpg. In less frenetic everyday use, it often returns 42 mpg, giving it a range of over 180 miles (the plastic tank holds 4.7 gallons).

Meanwhile back in the land of the free, we were all agog at how civilized the thing could also be. Another crumpet, darling?

She should’ve had her oil changed at 620 miles and her screens cleaned; the official service manual says that’s not required again until 9300 miles (15,000 km) or one year. I can live with that, but only because it’s not my bike. The bike’s toolkit includes the smallish Torx bit and handle you need to release the oil filter cover and swap in a new one.

The long vertical window on the left side of the engine makes it easy to gauge the oil level and its color at a glance. Ours looks way past due for a change. Not a drop of oil has been added over the last 3,134 miles. The round silver thing under the clutch basket is the oil filter cover.

Valve clearances are also supposed to be checked at 9,300 miles, and after that only every 18,600 miles; everything sounds tight and clatter-free at this point. The complete service manual is here if you want all the details. Our local KTM dealer quoted us six hours for the complete 9,300 deal, at $85 per hour.

The rear tire’s got some more right turns left in it, but not many lefts. Stop & Go mushroom plug is holding station, a temporary fix only, of course.

The drive chain needs adjusting, but I have not adjusted it; my excuse is that I don’t have the special pin wrench you need to turn the eccentric axle. A whack with a punch would probably do it, but that would be crude. Anyway, chain and sprockets look fine in spite of complete neglect. Okay, the side plates are a bit rusty, my bad. At any given time I have three or four motorcycles hanging around – which is also why the Super Duke doesn’t have more miles.

Just as we suspected, the main thing about this bike that’s going to give your wallet a workout is rear tires; the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa is just about done, particularly on the left center portion of the tread, where the bike’s 96.5 foot-pounds of torque turns the throttle into your favorite crack pipe as you emulate Casey Stoner at every left turn. The tire’s already suffered one puncture. A Stop&Go mushroom plug has been holding fast for the last 500 or so miles. The beauty of the SDR is that its single-sided swingarm makes rear tire removal a cinch (if you have the right stand, at least). The front Pirelli has lots of miles left in it.

Brake pads don’t have an easy life on the Super Duke either: The front pads are only about 0.7mm from being down to their 1mm thickness wear limit, and the rear pads are similarly worn.

Converting all that velocity into heat isn’t easy on brake pads, either.

Aside from the holed tire, our unit has experienced zero problems, and thus far is keeping all its vital fluids contained. Yes, $17k is a lot of dollars for a motorcycle, but when it’s as broad-range capable as this one is, it begins to make sense. If Lockheed-Martin built it, it would probably cost several billion. Progress is going to continue, but the Super Duke seems like it could be destined to enter the pantheon of all-time great motorcycles.

John Burns
John Burns

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  • Cameronius Maximus Cameronius Maximus on Mar 06, 2016

    How do I go about scoring myself a job as a writer at motorcycle.com? That's not a clutch basket above the "round silver thing" - the clutch (and subsequent clutch basket) is on the opposite side of the engine! Duh!

  • Mike Breen Mike Breen on Mar 12, 2016

    What is it with Americans and oil changes?! Honest to goodness, it's insane the way Americans just completely ignore service schedules and keep making completely unnecessary oil changes? A bit of colour in oil tells you nothing at all. I see California has even launched a campaign to try and tackle this nonsense. I know two Americans and BOTH have their European garages completely baffled by insisting on their cars getting oil changes well before they are due. Both seem to have been brainwashed to the extent that they feel they are abusing their vehicles if they don't get the oil changes 4 and five times more often than required by the oil and engine manufactures. One garage refused to do it, so she went and found another! Nuts!