We’d kind of written Royal Enfield off as a niche builder of weird bikes for weirder people, but 1.4 billion Indians can’t all be wrong. Five years ago RE enlisted the help of Harris Performance in England to build the frame for its pretty little Continental GT (which sadly contained a really old Single left over from colonial days).
A year later, Royal Enfield just bought the storied British chassis specialist, engineered a brand new 647 cc parallel Twin to insert in its frame rails, and expanded its works in Chennai, India, to one of the biggest in the world. In other words, RE is not fooling around. Also, it knows how to build a good product: Hire (or buy) the right people and turn them loose.
When the cafe raceresque Continental GT and Interceptor 650 appeared at the EICMA show two years ago, we were bowled over by how well turned-out both bikes were but skeptical that RE could deliver the goods for under $7,000. In fact, it’s selling most of them for under $6k – and for that money you get an astoundingly fun, easy-riding, economical and even sporty motorcycle that goes, stops and turns anything but antique.
Brasfield wrote upon returning from the launch of both bikes last year: “I’ll say again that I was surprised by the quality of the engine powering the Interceptor 650 and the Continental GT 650. Nothing, not even the Himalayan, had prepared me for the smoothness in terms of both vibration and EFI that I encountered during my two days of riding.”
The chassis is right there, too, along with the brakes, suspension and ergonomics of both bikes. Whenever the confused Boomer wanders up to to ask where all the inexpensive, fun bikes of the ’60s went, we’re lately pointing directly to the Interceptor and Continental GT 650s. When a bike becomes that influential in our minds, it’s clearly time for a MOBO. So, in one of this year’s easiest categories to negotiate, the title of 2019 Best Value Motorcycle goes to the Royal Enfield Interceptor and Continental GT.
Motorcycling is going through a period of phenomenal change. Think how recently ABS was a rare luxury on two wheels. What about traction control? It was largely unobtanium until the last few years. Now, electronic rider aids are allowing motorcyclists to explore performance riding at levels of safety that would have sounded like science fiction not too long ago. While it’s no surprise to see flagship motorcycles receive the best of the best gadgetry, it’s something else for a motorcycle in the price range of the KTM 790 Duke to feature so much performance-enhancing technology.
Consider the rider aids that KTM included in the $10,499 790 Duke. First, there are the four ride modes thanks to the ride-by-wire throttle. Track mode allows the rider to vary throttle response and choose one of nine levels of traction control plus disable the anti-wheelie feature. In addition to KTM’s Power Assist Slipper Clutch, which reduces clutch effort and prevents wheel hop caused by back-torque during aggressive downshifts, the electronic Motor Slip Regulation system opens the throttle bodies to further prevent rear wheel chatter under hard deceleration. Heck, there’s even a Supermoto Mode to turn off the rear ABS.
KTM’s first parallel-Twin engine looks small enough to be one of the company’s Singles, but cranks out a healthy 96.2 hp and 59.9 lb-ft of torque. To keep the power boiling, the Duke’s Quickshifter+ allows for clutchless up- and down-shifts, and is positively intoxicating. Finally, there’s the five-axis IMU that can save your bacon both under acceleration and deceleration in the form of lean-sensitive traction control and cornering ABS. That’s a lot of techno-wizardry to cram into a $10,499 bike.
Naturally, corners had to be cut somewhere. While good enough to work for roughly 84.6% of 790 owners, the Duke’s suspenders are non-adjustable WP units. The J.Juan brake system works fine, but a set of aftermarket pads helps with the initial feel at the lever. Some riders complain about these cost saving measures, but if desired, these components can be upgraded much easier than electronics can be grafted onto a motorcycle.
So, for bringing top-shelf electronics into the realm of the everyman’s sporting motorcycle, the KTM 790 Duke is this year’s Best Value Runner-Up.