KTM Duke 690

Motorcycle.com  650 comparison photo shoot

Which leads us to our second-place finisher, on our Scorecard, by less than a third of a percent. The KTM Duke 690 is already the priciest bike here, at $8,999 in stock form, but for quite a bit more “as tested,” with KTM’s Factory Services suspension work: $1,349.99 for the fork and $749.99 more for the shock, both fully adjustable. Did we need that for street use? No. In fact, those of us who’ve ridden both appreciated the stock Duke’s comfort/performance balance, although it can be overwhelmed by weighty and red-misted riders. But the re-valved Duke was the only one KTM had for us to borrow, and we’re really glad we did. We knew the Duke would be a blast to ride on the mountain, but we came away also impressed with how real-world practical a motorcycle it is.

Motorcycle.com  650 comparison photo shoot

Stock suspension or not, you can’t not love the small Duke (little bro of our 2014 Motorcycle of the Year) when the road is anything other than straight and level, and it’s not so bad even when it is. The Duke’s biggest advantage is that it’s 43 pounds lighter than the next lightest bike (FZ-07), at just 360 lbs., and it’s a full 115 lbs. lighter than the NC700X.

The Duke’s big counterbalancer can sometimes make you forget it’s a Single.

The Duke’s big counterbalancer can sometimes make you forget it’s a Single.

Even though it’s a Single in the company of Twins and displaces but one cubic centimeter more than the Yamaha, that doesn’t keep it from making comparable power and torque. As a matter of fact, 46.87 foot-pounds of twisting force at 5500 rpm is the most here. You do give up a little low-rpm grunt with the Duke, which doesn’t like to pull much below 3000 rpm — but clutch pull is superlight, and fanning it a little, MX-style, really just adds to the Duke Experience, as does shifting up through the super-slick six-speed box, then taking advantage of the clutch’s slipper function on the way back down.

“Holy crap,” says Troy, muttonchops fluttering with excitement. “When it comes to twisty roads, the KTM simply can’t be beat. Super flickable, launches out of corners, but only if in the right gear. Very impressive for a Single. If I had a canyon road in my backyard (I kinda do, actually!), I’d pick this bike over a sportbike.”

Once above about 3k rpm, all is forgiven and forgotten: 62 hp at 7600 rpm is like no Single you’ve probably ridden. Dual-plug ignition, each plug with its own map for max combustion efficiency, and ride-by-wire give it excellent manners and throttle response.

The dirtbike ergos are great on the tightest backroads, where you find yourself sticking a foot out rather than a knee down, and the wide aluminum bar gives ultimate confidence. “While the other bikes in this test need to be, in varying degrees, coaxed into corners,” says EiC Duke of the Duke, “it dives eagerly for the inside of each turn.”

Motorcycle.com  650 comparison photo shoot

As you’d expect, the special suspension on our test bike allows it to be made to work for any size rider, and the Duke deals with bumps, ripples and hard braking better than any other bike here. Having said that, our previous experience with the standard suspenders on the base model was also positive; the stocker’s actually a bit more compliant for everyday riding, although its damping is a little weak for heavy, aggressive riders.

The faster you go, of course, the less well the Jeremy McGrath ergos work, but the Duke’s even surprisingly not bad on the freeway flog home. The little boat-style reverse lip windscreen above its instruments punches a small hole in the wind for your torso, and the engine’s counterbalancer is highly effective. Tingles come and go at various road speeds, but seldom enough to bother any but the most finicky vibraphobes.

2013 KTM 690 Duke Review + Video!

Some of us love the wide plushness of the Duke’s seat and that the bolster on back of it helps balance out the windblast: Some feel a bit locked in and don’t like it so much. Seats are very personal aren’t they? Anyway, Tom of Roderick, whose buttocks tend to be the tenderest of the MO crew, says the Duke is surprisingly comfortable over long distances even for taller people. If it’s middleweight naked touring you had in mind, the Duke is not your best choice of the group. The NC700X is. But it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

There’s a lot of information crammed onto the Duke’s LCD panel, but you can ignore most of it.

There’s a lot of information crammed onto the Duke’s LCD panel (when it’s switched on), but you can ignore most of it.

+ Highs

  • Least weight, most torque
  • Great suspension and brakes, including ABS
  • Best ergonomics for urban use
– Sighs

  • Less fantastic as speed and distance increase
  • Too nice for everyday use?
  • Nobody’s home below 3000 rpm

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