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Published on August 6th, 2017 | by Boris

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KTM’s 2017 ROAD RAGERS – A TASTING PLATTER OF PUNCH AND PURITY

1290 Super Duke R (aka BEAST 2.0), 1290 Super Duke GT, RC 390 & 390 Duke

The 2017 Super Duke R

The 2017 Super Duke GT

The 2017 RC 390

The 2017 390 Duke

It was too much to process.

Two days was nowhere near enough time to truly and fully comprehend what was going on here.

But it was more than enough time to get a taste of what the Austrian powerhouse had grown in its orange orchard for 2017.

Ten exalted and spectacular minutes on the Super Duke R was actually all the time I needed to then go home and consider writing the review up. That I spent the rest of the day humbly hammering the monster around Sydney Motorsport Park’s aggravating South Circuit was just greed.

But I got it.

A short, traffic-rich fang out to Wallacia and back to Eastern Creek on the GT only served to whet my appetite for this panniered weapon. The sheer depth and ability of the GT could not be explored on such a brief foray, but they were so temptingly evident, I was making all sorts of plans in my head.

I got this one too.

And a quick run through Nasho and back to KTM HQ on the two LAMs beasties, the RC 390 and 390 Duke, did nothing at all to satisfy my curiosity for these hell-capable and smartly improved little bikes.

Yep. Got them.

Good job, KTM. There’s now nothing more I want or need to do than spend more time, do more miles, and let your shamelessly unique motorcycles take me to the Promised Land. Quickly.

This is exactly what a motorcycle tasting platter needs to do.

It’s like being teased by a really good stripper who lets you smell her perfume and maybe run your calloused hand over a thigh too smooth to be real – and who then leaves the stage never to be seen again.

I went home after two days all furrowed of brow and tetchy. Like a bloke who’s almost had a fight, or sex. Or something.

KTM has come out punching harder than ever in 2017.

That much was clear, and had been clear since I tried its adventure range HERE.

The factory is a dominant force in Enduro. It rules Dakar. It triumphs time and again at events like the Finke. It has begun to stamp its authority in MotoGP’s Moto3 and Moto2 classes, and it has a plan to shove its orange-coloured cat among the giant Japanese pigeons in the premiere class.

In the real world where I ride, lots of my friends have KTMs. Each and every one of those friends is a hard-core, long-term, faster-than-most motorcyclist. Canning rides his all-conquering Super Adventure quicker than I can ever believe. Daz’s pimped Super Duke is a constant companion over many thousands of kilometres, sometimes filling my mirrors, but most usually hammering ahead like the best cop-bait ever. Tim’s Super Duke is likewise almost impossible to catch, and Dan rode his old 690 to Ivanhoe and back in act of feral self-abuse I have yet to see repeated. Guy has one. Scrambles has one. Al wants one.

Hell, I’m a Super Duke 1290R customer if there ever was one.

There’s just something about them evil-looking sonsabitches.

There’s something about the whole brand…

What hate looks like.

Partly it’s the accursed look they all have, which has only been enhanced since some of the models have had that demon-pincer headlight/face added to them. You are always and forever up to no good on one of them. No way around it, and no doubt about it. Cheers, officer. I’ll just get in the back of the van. No need to beat me anymore. You might also want to go and flog those designers at KISKA who are responsible for much of the KTM look.

Partly it’s how good the bikes are at being…well, bikes. Really good ones mainly, and truly great ones occasionally.

Boneyard serious.

And partly it’s about a perception, engineered in some way because of KTM’s racing success and certainly deserved, that these are bikes for serious riders – riders who know what they’re doing and need a bike that knows what it’s doing as well.

Does this make me a little one-eyed? Sure. I’m an admitted fan of the marque.

Does this make me incapable of critiquing the bike or finding fault if there is fault to be found? Not remotely. You can love something and still think its underpants smell funny.

So let’s see what’s on the orange tree this year, shall we?

 

KTM 390 DUKE

You’re not yet 17-years-old. You’ve saved your lunch-money for a proper bike since kindergarten. You’d sooner eat your own liver than buy a Japanese bike to go with your new L-plate.

You don’t know what you don’t know, but in terms of cool, the 390 Duke is like an ice-block hanging out of a polar bear’s arse. This you do know and this is gonna get the bitches, for sure. You may not be able to take them anywhere on the back, but you could if going to jail didn’t terrify you so much…

This is what was going through my head as I angled the 390 through the Royal National Park. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun with something that weights 149kg.

The hill was steep, the surface rough. I did not die.

And it is certainly an improvement over last year’s model, which paid for its coolness by quality and comfort issues, and a rear shock that would to surrender like a Frenchman to riders who’d eaten too many pies.

This year, the little Duke has grown up a lot. The finish is much better, and I am hopeful the annoying little problems the old one threw up have been sorted. Time will tell, but KTM has certainly made an effort to raise the bar.

The shock no longer screams when man-sized men approach. KTM says it spent a fair amount of time working on the suspension, and whatever spells it cast have certainly worked. What’s not to like about USD 43mm WP front forks? It’s not any more powerful than last year’s, but the new suspension and Bybre (By Brembo) brakes, with the four-piston front now clawing at a 320mm front disc (up from 300mm), give it a new feel in the corners – especially if you’re pushing on a bit.

Oh look! A Highway patrol car!

Fuel capacity is up from 11 litres to 13.4 litres, you get adjustable levers and new handlebars, riding modes, a new bolt-on subframe (economically great if you crash it) and a 690-like lattice swingarm, a new two-piece seat that hates you far less than the old one (the riding position has also been improved and is more aggressive), that mad-evil headlight, and unique to its class, a big TFT full-colour dash with Bluetooth connectivity – yes, you will be able to pair your phone up to the bike and see calls coming in, etc.

The engine is hugely willing and kinda smooth and is happiest when you’re holding it between 6000 and 10,000rpm. It feels crazy light, but still sure-footed when you’re trying to string a few corners together. It’s not powerful enough to scare you, but there’s enough there to keep you puffing – especially if you’re in that age group that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, as I said. I do know, and I still liked the hell out of it.

This is certainly a class-leading LAMs bike and a substantial improvement over the last model.

SPECS

Engine: 373.2cc single-cylinder four-stroke

Power: 32kW at 9,000rpm

Torque: 37Nm at 7,000rpm

Frame: Steel trellis

Suspension: Front – 43mm WP USD fork / Rear – WP shock

Brakes: Front – Four-piston radially-mounted Bybre caliper, 320mm disc / Rear – Single-piston floating caliper, 230mm disc

Seat height: 830mm

Fuel capacity: 13.4 litres

Weight: 149kg dry

Colours: Orange with orange frame and wheels, and white.

 

KTM RC 390

As a child, I was always conflicted. Part of me wanted to race motorcycles and part of me wanted to grope girls. I was too young to realise the former would eventually lead to the latter, and certainly far too impatient to put in the hard yards I would need to put in to become a proper motorcycle racer. It was just as well. I was never to attain the uber-skills I would have needed to make a success of motorcycle racing.

But if you’re that way inclined, and you’re prepared to wait a bit and sacrifice a lot before you get your claws on them fine and fancy grid girls, then step this way, young man.

Shit beach. No girls. Going home.

This is the RC 390. Mechanically, it’s almost the same as the little Duke. It weighs a mere two kg less, carries less petrol (10litres) and sits lower, both in terms of ground clearance and seat height, and it doesn’t have the wonderful TFT dash layout.

Where it also varies a bit is in the rake and trail – the Duke’s steering head angle is 65 degrees and its trail is 95mm. The RC runs 66.5 degrees at the steering head and 88mm of trail, so it steers a bit quicker.

Its ergos are all track, but not so much you can’t bang around town. Remember, this is not a bike aimed at those with arthritis.

It’s also pretty much the same as the outgoing RC model, albeit with a new ride-by-wire throttle which works pretty well, and makes me feel all gooey in the sweetmeats because it’s all about Euro4 emission standards and all the anti-pollution, polar-bear-loving shit that goes with those rules. And those rules need to be complied with, so there it is.

This race-replica, for that is what it purports to be, was and maybe still is, the fastest sub-400cc supersports in the world – which is an important class for up-coming racers in Europe.

On the road and on the track, it’s directly aimed at Yamaha’s quite excellent R3.

Stupid bridge. Full of tourists.

So it handles really well, goes with an enthusiasm that belies is capacity – which is still more than any other bike in its class, and if you think that’s not important to a teenager, then you don’t know teenagers.

I’m thinking there are few teenagers running around KTM’s R and D building. They would have had some input into the design of the Duke, but it looks like they had the RC’s design brief all to themselves.

Stylistically, I thought it was a little awkward about the pointy end of the fairing, with the two recessed goggle-eyed headlights , but it’s profile is all MotoGP.

So I rode the street-oriented little Duke south, had lunch, and then road the more track-oriented RC back north.

I arrived at KTM HQ conflicted. Like a teenager. Both bikes were loads of fun to lash through bends. I liked the look and feel of the Duke, but I felt better pushing the RC harder, which has everything to do with the riding position.

And then we went underground.

Of course, ‘pushing’ and ‘harder’ are relative terms. Neither bike is going to terrify you with vicious acceleration. But both bikes will deliver the goods in terms of handling integrity.

What they will do is teach you throttle control, even more so than say an R6 – which is the king of Supersport and very much like a two-stroke in its power delivery.

You can brake deep and late on both of them, and the slipper-clutch feature works very well – letting you out of jail by opening the clutch a bit if the engine back-torque is too high and preventing back-wheel chatter under death-braking, and also increasing the clutch pressure under acceleration.

These salty little Austrian singles are all about keeping the revs up, and being smooth in your transitions on the seat as you’re putting the corners together – remember, they don’t weigh much, so if you’re riding like a ham-fisted hippopotamus, you’re not going to shine.

SPECS

Engine: 373.2cc single-cylinder four-stroke

Power: 32kW at 9,000rpm

Torque: 37Nm at 7,000rpm

Frame: Steel trellis

Suspension: Front – 43mm WP USD fork / Rear – WP shock

Brakes: Front – Four-piston radially-mounted Bybre caliper, 320mm disc / Rear – Single-piston floating caliper, 230mm disc

Seat height: 830mm

Fuel capacity: 10 litres

Weight: 147kg dry

Colours: Just the one – black-white, grey and orange with orange frame and wheels.

 

THE 1290 SUPER DUKE GT

I’ll get to KTM’s flagship mental-institution, the Super Duke R, in a sec.

I just want you to consider KTM’s sports-touring jobbie, the Duke GT, which is wholeheartedly based on the maniac R which lives at the top of the orange food chain.

But it’s a touring bike, OK? So it’s got panniers (they come standard), more wind protection, a bigger 23-litre petrol tank, a few less horses (the R has 177, the GT has 173), and a bit more torque (144Nm rather than the R’s 141Nm).

Rhinos running free. Both of them.

It also comes with Pirelli Angel GTs, Brembo M50 brakes, semi-active WP suspension, adjustable handlebars and screen, heated grips, cruise control, LED cornering lights, a big, comfy seat and a longer subframe for pillion happiness, and integrated pannier mounts.

So it’s exactly the kind of bike that will turn your brain into mush, your mouth into sandpaper, and your licence into scissor-bait, while you and your pillion remain comfortable atop all of your hard-luggage-encased gear.

KTM almost seems to reverse-engineer its big bikes – they load those amazing 1290 engines with evil Austrian steroids, then set about making sure everything behaves with electronics, while still giving the rider the kind of thrills only a mostly seamless marriage of computer technology and base wickedness can provide.

It’s a great way to build motorcycles, I reckon.

No, the bike is not two different oranges. The snapper was struggling.

Does your sports-tourer need an up-changing quickshifter, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, hill-hold control and motor slip regulation (KTM’s ECU will prevent rear-wheel lock-up and drift, by feeding in tiny bits of throttle when you’ve done something silly and allowing the rear wheel to keep turning)?

Of course it does. It also needs four modes of traction control – Sport, Street, Rain (reduces the HP down to 100), and the hugely amusing Off.

There is also lean-angle sensitive stability control, and C-ABS (Combined Anti-lock Braking System) with a Supermoto mode (on a Sports Tourer, heh, heh, heh…) that will allow the highest possible amount of front-wheel slippage and rear-wheel lock-up before high-siding you into orbit – or turn every damn thing off and talk to God.

Here’s the GT without panniers.

But everything is linked to everything, and you can set the GT up very nicely for yourself – just like the rest of KTM’s premium range of war machines. I did wish the GT carried the same coloured TFT dash found on the Super Duke R and the Super Adventure – and that will doubtlessly happen in the next iteration.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to chat to God. Our riding route on the launch was brief and heavily trafficked, so I experienced the GT as a mild-mannered, genial, well-muzzled and entirely obliging motorcycle.

It’s not so much a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s more like a wolf with a leather jacket and an electronic home-detention ankle-collar. And it looks like a fighting rhinoceros. There is nothing sheepish about its looks at all. It’s just got great manners – and the harder you push, the more well-mannered it gets. Because while it is happy to burble along placidly in traffic, when you pick Sports mode and dig your spurs into the rhino, it responds like a backhander to the face; albeit a backhander governed by always having your best interests at heart.

I actually liked the GT a lot. It was the first GT I had ever ridden, and I really wished I could have spent more time on it. A lot more time. Days and days, miles and miles, actually. It felt agile enough to pleasure me in the corners, comfortable enough to bang out the big miles, and practical enough to carry a lot of gear. But like I said, we only had a brief time on it at the launch.

I hope to remedy this soon. And I do need to chat with God.

SPECS

Engine: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°

Displacement: 1301 cm³

Bore: 108 mm

Stroke: 71 mm

Power: 127 kW

Lubrication: Forced oil lubrication with three oil pumps

Transmission: 6-speed

Cooling: Liquid cooled

Clutch: PASC (TM) slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated

Engine Management System: Keihin EMS with RBW, twin ignition

Fuel consumption: 5.99 l/100 km

Frame: Chromium-Molybdenum steel trellis frame, powder coated

Front suspension: WP Semi-active suspension USD Ø 48 mm

Rear suspension: WP Semi-active suspension monoshock

Suspension travel (front): 125 mm

Suspension travel (rear): 156 mm

Front brake: 2 x Brembo monoblock four-piston radial fixed calliper, brake discs floating.

Rear brake: Brembo twin-piston fixed calliper, brake disc

Front brake disc diameter: 320 mm

Rear brake disc diameter: 240 mm

ABS: Bosch 9ME Combined ABS (incl. cornering ABS and supermoto mode, disengageable)

Chain: X-Ring 5/8 x 5/16″

Steering head angle: 65.1 °

Wheelbase: 1482 ± 15 mm

Ground clearance: 140 mm

Seat height: 835 mm

Tank capacity: approx. 23litres

Dry weight: 205kg

Colours: Two. More orange and less orange

 

THE 1290 SUPER DUKE R (aka THE BEAST 2.0)

I do not believe there is a more evocative production bike on earth. From every angle the Super Duke R visually screams, paws at the ground and snorts “Bring it, bastard!”

And that’s all well and good, but if its abilities didn’t match its looks it would be just another lame-duck design exercise. There’s no point looking like a demon made of hate if you’re a butterfly made of fluff, is there? But in the Super Duke R’s case, its ability not only matches expectations, it exceeds them.

It is KTM’s King-Beast and it can do it all.

It’s like a chocolate factory. That I ate.

KTM even put that Beast tag on the cover of its brochure. Beast 2.0 it has called it.

So what has changed from last year’s model?

Well, it’s more powerful, more refined, more electronically enhanced, better suspended, and KTM claims it is the most potent naked bike on earth.

I cannot argue with that.

Oh, there’s a line I haven’t tried yet…

KTM has gone to great lengths to ensure the potency sitting between your legs is not the kind of potency that will send you weeping in terror to your mother’s arms.

The new Super Duke R is, as far as KTM is concerned, all about controlled and controllable aggression.

To prove this point, it let me spend a day hammering it around the tight and technically challenging South Circuit at Sydney Motorsport Park. I would have dearly liked to lash the Beast over the full GP circuit, but it was not to be.

And quite frankly, the full circuit may have terrified me too much. The Super Duke R gives no ground to anything in terms of performance and ability.

OK, electronics, do your thing…

The South Circuit ensured the speeds stayed relatively sane, and I got to concentrate on how the R handled and responded in a tighter riding environment.

Behold the numbers of the Beast.

It weighs 195kg dry, produces 130Kw at 9750rpm and 141Nm at 7000rpm.

I did several laps in just third gear. Did a few in fourth for shits and giggles, and a few in second, just for the hell of it. It was amazing.

The R’s combination of refinement and aggression is very bewitching, and hugely rewarding to ride. With every pulse of that astounding engine, the rider knows he’s sitting on something next-level special. Each time you open the throttle, the surge is breath-taking. The harder you crack it, the more you struggle to breathe. Ride it gently and it just does the job. Take it up a few notches and it’s good with that. Take it way past what you thought you could do and it’s perfectly at home doing that too.

Love it, love it, love it.

This is an astonishing motorcycle.

It looked well-mental and went much the same as it looked when it was launched to a salivating world four years ago, and it’s now been improved and, well… distilled, I guess, even further. It is a major update, for sure.

It looks even nastier with that KISKA-designed headlight-and-running-light arrangement, and even more devilishly pointy body work.

The engine now boasts a far wider powerband (thanks to a 10mm-shorter intake tract), titanium valves and new combustion chambers to go with its higher compression ratio of 13.6:1, and it mainlines its gak through vast 56mm throttle bodies. It even gives you 500 more rpm at redline.

The suspension has been firmed up front and rear and it sits on Metzeler MR7RR supersport hoops. The menu switches are backlit, the TFT dash is like the all-knowing, all-seeing Eye of Sauron, and you sit very much “in” it, hanging onto adjustable handlebars that are 20mmm wider and five mm lower – so you’re hunched more forward, loading up that front wheel, and feeling even more nasty and aggro than before.

It revs with an eagerness that has to be experienced to be believed, and responds to your input with an aplomb that validates all the effort KTM has put into developing its Lord-Daddy road-bike.

I tried some weird stuff with it. My confidence levels were very high and I was feeling salty.

The South Circuit is that new bit of Sydney Motorsport Park no-one likes all that much, and it takes a bit of getting used to, but you never really get used to it. The wide downhill hairpin left followed by an off-camber uphill right-hand hairpin challenges me every time. And by challenges I mean fucks me.

I take it wide, it feels shit. I take a tighter line, it feels shit. I try various combos and none of them feel right.

Even a monkey like me can get a wiggle on.

I want to take a jackhammer to it and beat the fool who designed it with the resultant lumps of bitumen. It’s a section that has no business pretending it’s a racetrack, but it makes for a superb testing facility for motorcycles like the Super Duke R.

On the R I tried lines I wouldn’t have dared attempt on other bikes, in gears that would be unthinkable. If you keep the R running over four grand, it’s already making more than 120Nm of torque – so pick a gear that makes you happy, even if it’s a higher one than you’d normally use, and just enjoy. The acceleration from four grand is stupid. Just stupid.

So I did that a lot because I like stupid.

It certainly might have looked messy, but somehow the bike absorbed my amateurish inputs and dealt with them. The clutch action is light, the change is sure and the fuelling so spot-on, you’ll forget the early days when that engine used to hunt like a hound looking for bunnies.

Like I said, KTM as applied itself to the Super Duke R with all its heart and soul.

So no matter what dumbness I tried on the Southern Circuit, the R always felt planted and sure, and while the road-racers on the launch had touchy moments on the stock rubber, I have nothing but praise for its grip.

It would certainly have been nice to give Beast 2.0 its head and see what wonders lived at the pointy end – but that is clearly a job for some deserted private road under controlled conditions sometime soon.

At the end of my day on the R, I couldn’t write the review. I struggled to articulate what I had experienced, so I let it sit untouched in my head for a while.

A few weeks passed and I rode a variety of other bikes, including Yamaha’s sensational MT-10SP, which is a direct competitor for the R. I rode last year’s Tuono RR, declared it to be the bike I would actually buy and die happy, because I thought it was better for my purposes than the old Super Duke R.

Controlled aggression and a fat bloke.

I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. I will certainly lasso the new Tuono RR when I get a chance, just so I can remember, but where Aprilia has sat on its hands this year, KTM has not.

This is a bike that above all else is easy to ride. Far easier than something with this kind of performance has any right to be.

It is electronically sophisticated, and while it is not idiot-proof (what is?), it has your back when things get dark and freaky. You can ride it as a placid commuter and rejoice.

You can tour on it with grace and joy (it’s thirsty, but I don’t care), because it will drone up freeways all day with its cruise control and heated handlebar grips on, and slay any and all corners you want to put in its way.

You can scratch on it like a bison plagued with fleas. Like, seriously.

You want to get your mental on? Oh please. The Super Duke R was designed for just that kind of thing. Pro-crazy is in its DNA.

And when you park it in the fading light, take a few steps and turn to look at it, and you absorb its evil face, its feathered tyres, its stupid orange highlights, its pitchfork-thrust bodywork, and the myriad precision details that make it what it is, there won’t be a doubt in your mind you made the right choice.

It is the complete motorcycle. With 15,000km service intervals.

What a time to be alive, huh?

BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE…

One of the 1290 Super Duke Rs available that day had been fitted with a Performance Pack ($799). That got you a superb two-way quickshifter, motor slip regulation (that’s the ingenious thing that prevents the back wheel from locking up by applying minute bits of throttle for you while you’re busy praying to Jesus because you’re in trouble) and Smartphone integration via the KTM MY Ride program.

Got another $599?

Then KTM is happy to load your R with launch control, a more aggressive engine map with a Track option, that will also turn your anti-wheelie stuff off.

Have you bought two of them and wish to race one?

Certainly, sir. KTM’s PowerParts are for you. Full Akro systems, race seats, carbon everything, adjustable rear-sets, wave discs…yeah, no-one’s fooling around here.

See for yourself HERE.

SPECS
Engine: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°

Displacement: 1301 cm³

Bore: 108 mm

Stroke: 71 mm

Power: 130 kW

Starter: Electric starter

Lubrication: Forced oil lubrication with 3 oil pumps

Transmission: 6-speed

Cooling: Liquid cooled

Clutch: PASC (TM) slipper clutch, hydraulically actuated

EMS: Keihin EMS with RBW and cruise control, double ignition

Fuel consumption: 5.57 l/100 km

Frame: Chromium-Molybdenum steel trellis frame, powder coated

Front suspension: WP USD Ø 48 mm

Rear suspension: WP monoshock

Suspension travel (front): 125 mm

Suspension travel (rear): 156 mm

Front brake: 2 x Brembo monoblock four-piston radial fixed calliper, brake discs, floating

Rear brake: Brembo twin-piston fixed calliper, brake disc

Front brake disc diameter: 320 mm

Rear brake disc diameter: 240 mm

ABS: Two-channel Bosch 9.1 MP ABS (incl. Cornering ABS and Supermoto mode Disengegable)

Chain: 525 X-Ring

Steering head angle: 65.1 °

Wheelbase: 1482 ± 15 mm

Ground clearance: 141 mm

Seat height: 835 mm

Tank capacity: approx18 litres

Dry weight: 195 kg

Colours: Black and some other colour that’s not black.

FOR MORE DETAILS, PRICES AND OPTIONS ON ALL FOUR MODELS, KTM’S WEBSITE IS HERE

My thanks to Irena and Ed at OZMC Leathers for the fabulous Italian-made all-kangaroo Gimoto racesuit and gloves.

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About the Author

is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.



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