We drove quite a few vehicles during the PowerTour 2019, consisting of both motorcycles and cars. While all of them were fun and engaging machines, there was a pair which seemed rather ominous and we mean it in the best sense possible. We are talking about two Dukes; KTM 790 Duke and KTM 1290 Superduke R. While the 1290 Superduke R should have been the one to look out for because of its nickname- wheelie-king, it was the KTM 790 Duke that we had our focus on. Why’s that? Let us explain.
Ever since the rumour of an 800cc parallel-twin Duke flooded the internet, it has been tingling our motorcycle nerve incessantly. When it was unveiled at EICMA 2016, it had left us floored because of how compact it looked and the amount of power it made! And then there was the fact that while most KTMs employ single-cylinder engines or V-Twins, the parallel-twin on the KTM 790 Duke was a breakaway from that tradition. And since then, we have been waiting for its arrival in India. Just today we stumbled upon rumours that the KTM 790 Duke has reached the Indian shores and it may be priced at INR 8.5 lacs (Ex-Showroom).
While the motorcycle may be here by the end of 2019 (or God knows when), we could not wait anymore and therefore, we decided to swing a leg over this middleweight hooligan in Dubai. And what’s better, as a measuring scale, we also brought along the KTM 1290 Superduke R in order to gauge if the parallel-twin Duke is really ‘The Scalpel’ it is being made out to be.
Starting with the looks, we do not even have to say anything. All the Dukes look radical and that is not a bad thing, at least not when it comes to KTM’s radicals. But the best part, according to us, is the subtlety with which the KTM 790 Duke pulls its radical act off. Look at it from the front, and without any further ado, one can deem it as a pure-blood KTM because of the LED headlights in that mean-looking shroud. But explore it from other angles and it’s… so compact. It does not look intimidating at all. The blinkers on the front are an eyesore though.
The sculpted tank, that peculiar sub-frame, the high-slung exhaust etc just ease into your eyes and soul in a way that the motorcycle immediately endears itself to you. The colours, both Black and Orange are dual-tone and without being overly enthusiastic, are pleasing to the eyes. In addition to the design, the build quality is top-notch too and everything on the motorcycle, from the switchgear to the rubber on the pegs, feels premium. Now, according to us, the motorcycle looks fantastic but then, other people’s opinions may differ because everyone has their own perspective and ways to look at things.
The parallel-twin dubbed as the LC8c is a first for a KTM. The folks at Mattighofen did consider a V-twin but the parallel-twin made for a more compact motor and with the KTM 790 Duke, the mission was to keep it as compact and lightweight as possible. The name of the motor, LC8c stands for Liquid-cooled 8-Valve compact! And what KTM was able to achieve is apparent even visually as the 790 Duke’s engine looks just a tad bigger than the single-cylinder unit employed on the 690 Duke.
KTM did not want the 790 Duke to lose the characteristics of its bigger V-twin siblings and that is why the forged crankshaft of the engine has the pins offset by 75° with a 435° firing order. That helps the engine mimic the sound and character of its bigger and rowdier siblings. Also, the LC8c unit has two counter-balancers; the primary one located down by the crank and another smaller one gear-driven off of the exhaust cam. This was done in order to make the engine as smooth and refined as possible as the engine is the stressed member of the frame.
KTM 790 Duke gets a slipper-clutch (PASC or Power Assist Slipper Clutch in KTM speak) which reduces the clutch effort in addition to preventing the wheel-hop caused by the reverse torque during aggressive downshifts. A special addition though is the Quickshifter+ which allows clutchless upshifts and downshifts! An inherent addition because of the above is a ride-by-wire system with 4 modes namely Rain, Street, Sport, and Track.
The electronics suite on the KTM 790 Duke is quite comprehensive too. An inertial measurement unit, traction control, cornering ABS, and Supermoto ABS, all coming together to provide the rider with the maximum amount of riding fun without compromising on the safety front.
The chassis is a tubular, chrome-moly steel frame that, as mentioned before, uses the engine as the stressed member. There is a bolt-on subframe too which is just… bare. KTM has stated that the above setup ensures the right amount of flex and feedback from the chassis. Among all the exquisite components on duty, the suspension is rather lacklustre (only relatively though). 43 mm forks at the front are not adjustable and the rear shock is preload adjustable. 300 mm dual-discs up-front, grabbed by radially-mounted, 4-piston KTM branded callipers manufactured by J.Juan, and the 240 mm disc at the rear, grabbed by a single-piston calliper, handle the braking duties.
Pushing the starter on the KTM 790 Duke is such a joy and it leaves one in such disbelief over the fact that the motor that just came to life, is a parallel-twin! It sounds so beautifully brutish and yet, mild. Blipping the throttle gives one an idea that this is one quick-revving motor. Clutch modulation requires minimal effort and it’s almost ironical that it is not used a lot after the launch because of the quickshifter.
Slotting into the first gear is crisp and it’s all Wunderbar afterwards. The motorcycle gets moving quickly and skimming through the gears is pure joy, be it upshifting or downshifting, because of the quickshifter. The noise from the exhaust and the engine remind one of some amazing oxymorons such as a beautiful racket. And if that isn’t enough, downshift quickly enough and you are greeted with that oh-so-loved patta-pat-pat-patt. We are in motorcycle heaven!
Coming to the performance from the engine, the LC8c makes 103 bhp of power and 87 Nm of torque. While the numbers may not seem all that impressive, it’s the realization of those numbers on the road that matters. And the 790 Duke does that beautifully. The torque is available from down low and motorcycle lunges forward with eagerness. The revs build up quickly and the power band of the 790 Duke is very linear. It pulls almost relentlessly to its 9000 rpm redline. We can just imagine how engaging a motorcycle it will be on the racetrack in Track Mode… Especially because it weighs just 169 kg dry!
The fueling is also spot-on and that stands true in all the modes. There is no hint of any jerkiness during throttle transitions no matter how abruptly you try to do that. That said, the motorcycle does feel a bit… edgy below the 2000 rpm redline but it’s all meadows and sunshine afterwards.
The best part? All the efforts from the engineers to keep this motorcycle as light and compact as possible pay off the most in the handling department. Because of being lightweight and possessing a sharp-ish rake, directional changes on the KTM 790 Duke are lightning-fast. Putting it into corners is deceptively quick and so is correcting or adjusting lines mid-corner. The poise and stability with which it goes around a bend is nothing short of magical. This motorcycle is immensely easy and fun to ride hard!
Many people might complain about the suspensions’ lack of adjustability but it is almost never felt. The factory settings on the KTM 790 Duke are so good that it never lets one feel the lack of adjustability. The suspension is very… progressive. It’s soft initially to absorb the undulations of the road and then gets stiffer to facilitate its fantastic handling mannerisms. With that, we’d like to add that if you want to do some stupid-fast laps around a racetrack, the adjustable suspension might be needed.
Brakes are generally good but because of the high standards set by the bike in all the other departments, they could use a little improvement. The only issue is the initial bite. There’s no lack of power in the brakes but it’s just that you need to grab a handful to unleash that power. The progressiveness and feel and feedback are admirable though. A reason for this could be to not intimidate new riders but still, a little more initial bite would have been welcome.
Ergonomically the KTM 790 Duke is very well set up and offers a good blend of comfortable yet sporty riding position. The icing on the cake is the adjustable handlebar which provides 4 different bar locations depending on the rider’s preference. The footpegs are also not too rear-set and overall the 790 Duke stays comfortable even after long hours in the saddle. The windblast due to the lack of a windscreen, inherent to naked roadsters, can be a bit of a bother on highways.
Overall, the KTM 790 Duke is a fantastic package and despite some stark differences from the rest of the Duke lineup, it is still everything a Duke should be. It’s powerful, nimble, handles like a dream and looks menacing. Now only if KTM is kind enough to let it loose on Indian roads…
Are we forgetting something? No, we are not because one does not simply forget the riding experience of a KTM 1290 Superduke R. Afterall, riding a motorcycle with 174 bhp of power, 141 Nm of torque and 195 kg of dry weight makes for a rather unforgettable experience. Like it is a tradition with all KTMs, the Superduke R has a sorted chassis, a comprehensive suite of electronics that make it a heck of tool on a racetrack. Its ability to go around a bend rivals one of the best handling motorcycles in the world.
The best part of a Superduke R is its… dual-nature. What we mean is that it is rather tame below 6,000-6,500 rpm but goes ballistic afterwards i.e. a sedate machine on the street and a beast when let loose. The only real gripe we have with it is the rather low ground clearance which sees one scraping pegs and the hard parts rather early.
The KTM 790 Duke is a really capable motorcycle and it is very well equipped to deal with the many rivals it has in the segment. We cannot wait to have our hands on it again but this time, we’d like it to be in India. The Superduke 1290 R, however, is a different beast altogether and though it already has a rival (and one is on its way), it is still one of the craziest naked you can get your hands on.