FIRST RIDE : 2014 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE
i-Moto test rides the wildest naked bike yet: 180 hp, 143 Newton Meter (Nm) of torque, 190kg
Nickname the “The Beast,” and its blend of 180 hp, light weight, and raised one-piece handlebar sounds like a recipe for uncontrollable wheelies and general craziness. So I’m not surprised to find myself craving for more after the KTM 1290 Super Duke launch at Sepang International Circuit to ride it for a road test in the city and twisty road of Genting Highlandf and Bukit Tinggi, is not outrageous but a desire to know the Beast a little better. The “Hooligan” in me desires that. On both road and track it’s improbably well behaved—its smooth, perfectly metered throttle response and advanced electronics helping to make its ferocious performance remarkably controllable. It even generated a few rumblings of complaint that The Beast has been tamed, if not actually neutered—at least unless its wheelie-limiting traction control system is deactivated.
KTM certainly made a lot of effort to make this the most refined Super Duke yet. The power comes from a biggest version yet of the firm’s familiar 75-degree, DOHC V-twin. Increasing the 1,195cc RC8 R engine’s bore from 105 to 108mm and stroke from 69 to 71mm boosts displacement to 1,301cc. Cylinder head design is very similar to the RC8 R’s, but the Super Duke has bigger valves and shorter rods to compensate for its longer stroke.
The big V-twin’s maximum output of 180 hp at 8,870 rpm is impressive, but it’s the broad spread of torque that defines this engine. The latest 1,301cc version of the LC8 V-twin is not just a bored and stroked RC8 R engine. Numerous components, including the cylinder heads, cams, pistons, and crankshaft are all new to help produce a claimed 180 hp and 106 foot-pounds of torque.
The R-model’s chassis is based on a typical KTM-style chrome-moly tubular steel frame, this one holding a single-sided aluminum swingarm and with multi-adjustable WP suspension at each end. The 48mm inverted fork has separate compression and rebound damping adjusters, one in each leg, with plastic knobs that allow fine-tuning with no need for a screwdriver. Braking is by Brembo’s top spec M50 monoblock four-pot calipers biting 320mm discs and plumbed with Bosch ABS.
The remote reservoir-equipped WP rear shock works without a linkage yet provides excellent suspension action, absorbing both big and small bumps easily. High- and low-speed compression damping are adjustable, in addition to spring preload and rebound damping.data
Typically sharp and aggressive styling is unmistakably KTM, in either trademark orange or black. The view from the reasonably low seat (32.9 inches) is of an 1190 Adventure-style digital display with analog tach, plus a slightly raised and relatively narrow one-piece handlebar. There’s a fairly roomy riding position, and a choice of Street, Sport, or Rain engine mode via a press of your left thumb.
The 1290 Super Duke R’s instrumentation is much cleaner than previous KTMs, with the analog tach bracketed by two LCD info panels. The ride modes and info displays can be toggled via the four-button setup on the left handlebar switchgear.
But of course this bike wasn’t built for cruising, and at the first opportunity I took a deep breath, leaned forward slightly, made sure my right foot was over the back brake lever, and whacked open the throttle at about 50 mph in third gear. The KTM responded instantly and shot forward at a shoulder-splintering rate, hesitating slightly as the traction control kicked in but continued charging as I flicked into fourth and then fifth…and then all too quickly had to slow as I caught up with traffic. Not before the KTM had put 130 mph on its digital speedo however, still 40 mph short of its likely top speed.
On the way up a twisting hill road, accelerating from below 3,000 rpm in top gear still resulted in reasonably smooth and strong acceleration. It didn’t really matter what speed I was doing or how hard the engine was revving, the big, ultra-grunty V-twin motor simply catapulted the orange bike forward, scenery flying backward and exhaust bark rising and falling as I flicked through the six-speed box, which shifted very sweetly.
The forged pistons utilize Formula 1 design technology, with ultra-short skirts and internal bracing providing high strength with very light weight. Despite being 7mm larger in diameter than the 990 Super Duke’s pistons, the 1290’s slugs are 47 grams lighter.
Better still, the throttle response was so smooth, even in the most aggressive Sport mode, that the super-strong engine was easily controllable. KTM’s engineers have learned a lot since 2005 and the first Super Duke with its on-off power delivery. This bike’s ride-by-wire throttle control is excellent and is backed up by a traction control system that is seamlessly smooth as it very occasionally activates under hard acceleration out of turns.
Unlike some bikes’ systems, the KTM’s isn’t adjustable separately other than changing riding modes—the traction control cuts in more readily in Street than Sport mode and earlier still in Rain. That was fine by me, though more fine-tuning potential would occasionally be good. The system prevents the front wheel lifting, which maximizes acceleration but is frustrating if you want to pull wheelies.
The beautiful single-sided aluminum swingarm sets the 1290 Super Duke R apart from other KTMs, and the fat 190-size rear Dunlop SportSmart 2 tire ensures the bike’s prodigious power gets to the ground. Easily knee-down at most corners at will.
I can’t see most owners being too bothered, but it seems a slightly strange decision by KTM, especially as the Super Duke’s torque and sublime throttle response make it perfect for wheelying if you turn off the electronics. Doing so requires much button pushing, is best done at a standstill, and then of course leaves you without the undoubted benefits of traction control. At least keeping the front wheel down might help keep your license for longer—an important consideration on this bike.
The Super Duke’s torque and sublime throttle response make it perfect for wheeling if you turn off the electronics. Doing so requires much button pushing, is best done at a standstill, and then of course leaves you without the undoubted benefits of traction control. At least keeping the front wheel down might help keep your license for longer—an important consideration on this bike. The 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is no toy, with its 180 horsepower and scary 1,301cc displacement.
The beast can easily get out of control can be if one shows no respect for it with the most powerful traction control assistance to smooth things out.
The hard fact remains that this massive power lets the bike wheelie in any gear, which to control is not everyone’s piece of bread and to master this muscular machine, the rider has to follow its own rules.
If the engine is impressive, then the chassis more than backs it up. The frame is stiff enough and the suspension taut and well damped enough to keep that monster torque under control. On the road we used standard showroom settings, which were just about right for my 50 kg weight. The fork travel was generally sufficient to give good front-end feedback without being harsh, and the rear suspension travel didn’t come at the expense of a soft ride.
The huge airbox of the 1290 Super Duke R sits nicely ensconced between the frame rails of the KTM chassis. Note the triangular adjustment knobs on top of the fork tubes for easy alteration of damping without tools.
Even the KTM struggled slightly over a couple of sections of particularly bumpy road in the hills, suddenly feeling a bit nervous despite the WP steering damper. But mostly it was superbly composed, and it also handled the track sessions at the Sepang circuit with impressive control, after both ends had been firmed up to track settings. A naked bike with this much power could easily have been a tank-slapping handful, but it charged to an indicated 245 km/h with minimal movement of the bars.
The way the R-bike came barrelling round a flat-out right-hand kink, accelerating hard in fifth and just snacking into top gear before I had to shut off and brake into a tightening second-gear right-hander, was magical. But perhaps the bike’s most useful attribute was that breadth of torque. Even on the track it was happy to grunt out of turns with as little as 5,000 rpm on the tach—and a torrent of smooth, immaculately calibrated acceleration always available.
Perhaps inevitably there was a little bit of twitching when I used the stunningly powerful Brembo monoblock brakes into a couple of faster turns. But the ability to firm up the front in seconds with a tweak of those fork-top adjusters was welcome, and the Super Duke generally felt quick, agile, and stable enough to give just about any superbike a run for its money. Its standard-fitment Dunlop SportSmart 2 tires were retained for the track sessions and worked well at Sepang just as they had on the street and twisty hills.
The “Beast” probably is well behaved with TC on—its smooth, perfectly metered throttle response and advanced electronics helping to make its ferocious performance remarkably controllable.
Back in the real world for the ride down the hills of Bukit Tinggi with a Ninja 636 right on my tail, I could easily ride away the KTM and shows its respectability for a naked bike. Fuel consumption ranged from 210km for RM25 of fuel that went in for the 2 days of road test seems good for this 1,301cc, suggesting a typical range of around 150 miles from the 18 litre tank. The seat seemed reasonably well padded and caused no discomfort on a day’s ride with several stops. But pillion have nothing to hold, just need to grab the rider hard when the torque kicks in.
KTM’s typically comprehensive Power Parts catalog has plenty of useful accessories alongside the performance-boosting ones. Heated grips, ergo seats, and Hyperstrada-style plastic panniers will boost long-distance practicality. And there’s a long list of carbon-fiber and aluminum components as well as genuine performance parts, including brake discs, levers, footrests, crash protectors, and an Akrapovic pipe full sytem.
Also the KTM importer has a few more units of Super Duke touring edition, this touring edition has a compressive Power Parts accessories alongside the performance-boosting ones, ergo seats, and Hyperstrada-style plastic panniers will boost long-distance practicality.
That’s all very cool, but perhaps the most impressive thing about the 1290 Super Duke R is just what an exhilarating and refined bike it is in standard form. Perhaps its only real drawback, apart from the fact that it won’t stop you getting cold and wet, is that it’s far from cheap, costing notably more than its close rival the Tuono & the naked S1000R. That’s a drawback but shouldn’t detract from the impact of a stunningly fast, capable, and most of all fun-to-ride machine that justifies the considerable hype that has preceded it.
For more information on imported KTM CBU motorcycles and its authorised dealer please contact MOTONATION SDN BHD363K Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Gelugor, 11700 Penang, Malaysia. Tel: 04-6553435 Fax: 04-6576074 Attn: Mr. Kenny Lee / Mr Peter Tan RC Moto GearUp’s Helmet: HJC IS17 from NKS Distributor (KL) Sdn Bhd Suit: Kushitani Hamamatsu K0065XX from Kushitani Malaysia Genuine Club Boots: Alpinestar SMX Plus from Alpinestar Malaysia Gloves: Five Advance Gloves from NKS Distributor (KL) Sdn Bhd Adrian Su’s GearUp’s Helmet: Airoh GP500 Suit: Alpinestar Motegi Boots: Alpinestar S-MX 1 Gloves: