As far as KTM 1290 Super Duke R reviews go, this is slightly special. I grabbed the keys to his lordship’s steed and the look on his faultlessly sexy, chiselled face was one of ‘don’t fucking crash it’. You’ve heard of the saying, ‘win it or bin it’. Well, Baron won it and flung it, but it’s all worked out dandy. All the bumf here…
It took me a while to fall in love with the new Super Duke R. Jeremy McWilliams and the hype surrounding the launch was partly to blame, what with KTM teasing us with ‘The Beast’ in all its blisteringly sexual prototype form. Of course, the road-legal version was much diluted and didn’t look half as decent or appealing.
It’s not quite the beast we all expected, although the production bike is still über involving and grabs you by the bollocks like no other supernakeds does. And I’m struggling to think of any bike that dissects Her Majesty’s highways or manically surges from A to B like the 1290 can.
For starters, the motor is violently addictive. After the lumpy bottom-end and chain clatter relents (as per all twins), all hell breaks loose as the midrange threatens to launch you skywards, and there’s a decent parameter of revs to play with until the redline. When it’s primed, the 1290 is as fast as anything – ok, maybe not an H2R, but that’s cheating. If you could keep the front wheel planted to the floor, this thing should nail a 2.5s 0-60mph.
Some purists bemoan the electronics but the SD-R’s suite satisfies both safety and performance aspects. The brutality of the direct power delivery sometimes requires neatening at either end: nailing the throttle in the first few cogs without anti-wheelie isn’t quite on the euthanasia listing but just a whiff of throttle in 4th gear and a hint of a crest will provoke mischief. If you want to go fast, the system will make you faster – on the road at least.
The SD-R fuels beautifully with a peachy throttle response and is super-easy to ride at less committed speeds, aided by the balance of the bike. Even the engine braking control is bang-on, though we could never chuck refinement into the KTM’s superlatives inventory. The only real downer in the powerplant’s arsenal is the gearbox, which is still sometimes clunky, mechanical and awkward during upshifts.
I think the Super Duke R has been unfairly criticised by some (Baron included) when it comes to circuit sorties. The previous model was so damn good on the track and the new bike suffers from monstrous weight transfer (and stability) issues, but let’s not forget that it’s a thoroughbred, bespoke naked bike with zero racing connotations. It was born to whisper utter naughtiness and filth into your ears, grab you by the gonads and gallop relentlessly from corner to corner, and stunt with the best of them – which it does, like James Bond on meth. 10/10 so far.
None of the weight transfer misdemeanours are evident on the streets anyway. The WP’s set-up is quite soft and bump management is perfectly acceptable. At mediocre lean angles, it’ll destroy some fully-faired brethren and changes direction with serious pace courtesy of sharp geometry and leverage from the ‘bars. So long as the front-end is weighted, it’ll steer with awesome precision: charge into a bend, slam on the stupendous Brembos and carve sweet arcs all day long. Things can get a little squirrelly when you really start to push on, particularly over gnarly bumps, but you have to be tramping on.
As far as the mods go, most of them are aesthetical pleasures and sure-fire tart klaxons, like the onslaught of carbon fibre and Power Part levers. Some are more advantageous, like the front-end of Baron’s SD-R: those billet triple clamps and the ‘racing’ WP steering damper tidy up the nose of the previously wavering 1290. It’s far more fluid, not to mention superiorly stable, and the deprived steering circle can be forgiven for the fact you can now pin the throttle without wondering if you’re going to make it home for tea.
KTM owners will be all too aware of the magic ‘dongle’. This little nugget of pleasure allows personal rider mode preferences to be stored, rather than having to dial in a computer game cheat into the switchgear every time the ignition is cut. If you’re simply pootling along during a commute, life without the dongle is never an issue. If you enjoy pulling 4th gear mingers and impersonating John McGuiness, it’s a pain in the cock. Either way, it’s a cheap mod and shouldn’t tarnish opinion of the 1290.
The ‘comfort’ Power Parts seat is also a winner. As it says on the tin, it’s much nicer on the botty for longer hauls and actually feels lower – which should please some, as the 1290 is one tall, gangly mother funker. And the Renthal Fatbars offer a racier stance to the previously relaxed Super Duke R, setting attack mode and giving more natural cornering aggression.
Would I buy one? Yes, although £14k is too much money and I’m struggling to fund an upgrade to 3-ply toilet roll over the conventional 2-ply. KTM’s imminent MotoGP involvement should filter down to the road range in the coming years and we should get to benefit from the final product, and a gearbox that copes with quickshifters. Dynamically, it may not be as clinical and ultimately rapid as a Tuono V4, but the Super Duke R provides incredible thrills.
Full video coming soon…