A new motorcycle for a new decade. The 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is just the third generation of the LC8-engined ‘BEAST’ since the bike was created in 2014. The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R was presented and tested by international press for the first time in and around the Portimao race circuit in Portugal in early February and here – with the help of the bike’s originator – are four reasons why THE BEAST had the experts growling…
1 – is the desired position in the Naked bike market segment, and the newly-reshaped LC8 v-twin is No.1 for weight-to-performance with a hefty 180hp and 140Nm of torque on tap. KTM has squeezed more power but significantly dropped the kilos. This evolution came from a brave decision to get radical with KTM’s most extreme expression of a street bike. “We said: ‘let’s make a clean cut and start with a white sheet of paper’ and the end result has been amazing,” said Product Manager Adriaan Sinke. “A great big v-twin engine really defines what this bike is all about; that character that no other engine can provide,” he adds. “The peak figures are a lot but I’d rather talk about how the bike harnesses the power. The street is not a predictable environment so you cannot always go into a corner with the right amount of RPM and with this LC8 you have so much flexibility. There are bikes that deliver their power and their torque at much later levels: we believe that this [instant torque] is the definition of what the SUPER DUKE is all about. It doesn’t matter what gear you are in; you are always in the right one to pull yourself away. You don’t need to be sitting at some crazy high RPM to be able to overtake traffic.”
KTM is using words like ‘ultimate Naked bike’ to encapsulate the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R, and the experience of riding it that is both comfortable and confidence-inspiring thanks to refined handling but also pulse-quickening and fiercely capable at speed, as demonstrated by the smiles and antics of riders after six twenty-minute sessions around the Portimao circuit.
For the motorcycle’s creator, Hermann Sporn, his fourth SUPER DUKE (he led the 990 project in 2005) continues to fulfill the definition of what a Naked bike should be, certainly in KTM’s vision of extreme, purity and performance. “When can you really enjoy a superbike on the road? It is pain to ride one, literally,” he reasons. “In the hands, the leg, the seat, the damping was too harsh. Those bikes are made for the racetrack and they are really good where you need the maximum power and want to find the limit. The big advantage with the SUPER DUKE was the huge amount of torque, and it was easy to ride, more comfortable and gave you a better view in traffic.”
“Naked bikes are more forgiving: you can use any gear and change the line and that’s not always possible on a sports bike,” he adds. “The front end is really secure and now it has the same kind of feedback as a superbike where riders can get on the gas and slide out of the corner. You can also brake very deep and know where it will slide. You have that sensitivity from the new frame and that also helps for the street and avoid bumps and altering lines. We spend a lot of time working with WP to improve the front fork and the shock absorber. We made a lot of comparison tests with other suspension suppliers and motorcycles and said: ‘we need to be right at the top level’. I believe now we are better. I wanted the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R to win comparison tests!”
2 – years. That’s how long Project Leader Sporn and his crew needed to overhaul KTM’s flagship model. It was also a spell in which they had to deduce how to improve what was already a very appealing and attractive motorcycle. The LC8 boasted a rock-solid base. Sporn knew there were gains to be had in other areas.
“As soon as the ’17 version was presented we were working on this one,” he explains. “We had a meeting and talked about the behavior of the bike and how we could – and would like – to make it better. We were able to look at each and every part and totally separate the concepts, in fact, the only parts we kept from the chassis of the old bike was the rear axle and the adjuster. When we wanted to redefine the engine that meant a lot of small details and we wanted something lighter, faster-and-easier shifting.”
“One of the things we wanted to keep was that easy handling; everybody knew it was an easy bike, even for a non-experienced rider,” he adds. “It was important to keep this and improve it. It was also important to maintain the ergonomics of a road bike, so for the rider that wants a trip over the mountains is not going to be uncomfortable. That meant looking closely at the seat, and again the comfort.”
“We had those references but knew there were more places to look,” he goes on. “One was the feeling with the front wheel, and with a completely new frame, we could make a large step. From our calculations we saw that we had to go much higher with the torsional stiffness. We are using the engine to help us with the frame in this respect. We had three times more torsional stiffness compared to the older SUPER DUKE and it made the feeling ‘safer’: you can notice it immediately. It is faster and more stable to turn in and holds the line even over bumps and on the brakes.”
“We knew we had to do something better on the rear too. People knew the old SUPER DUKE was a cool wheelie machine but we calculated what would be the right amount of anti-squat behavior to hold the motorcycle more in its position. To do this we raised the engine and we spun it a bit backward and increased the center of gravity. In the beginning, we were testing on the track a lot to find the best solution: why would we do that when we are not making a race motorcycle? It’s simply because when you are riding near the edge you then know what will happen. We had the possibility to move the swingarm pivot higher and we played around with the stiffness of the chassis with the variances of tube and wall diameters and thickness. We have different engine mounts. We were looking for the best compromise to find the best feedback. In the end, the frame is shorter and stiffer swingarm, and we have a completely different shock mounting. On the old SUPER DUKE, we had a direct mount on the swingarm with higher compression you did not have that many possibilities. Now we have the linkage you have much more travel on the shock and this helps you to control the damping behavior. These main changes to affect the riding behavior.”
Fast forward to the EICMA show in Milan in November 2019 and the covers come away from the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R and Sporn’s vision becomes public.
9 – Could be for the fact that 90% of the motorcycle is fresh; the 2020 incarnation is no mere makeover. A strong element of the new range of attributes is a revitalized electronic package with the ability to engage 9 levels of traction control in Track mode. The Rider Aids and engine management capabilities are part of the large modern heart of the SUPER DUKE with Motorcycle Traction Control, Motor Slip Regulation, Lean angle ABS, Supermoto ABS, and a 6D lean angle sensor (side-to-side, forward-and-back and drift) among the filters through the ride by wire throttle that are enhanced to give the rider a close and more sensitive feeling of what is going on with the bike.
The ability to tweak and explore the different ‘shapes’ of the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R on the narrow Portuguese B roads and then around the grippy expanses of Portimao illustrated the versatility and fun factor of the motorcycle. Helping analyze and sharpen this aspect of performance was former MotoGP™ rider Jeremy McWilliams. The Northern Irelander’s input was particularly useful for the TRACK mode (alongside the default STREET, RAIN & SPORT) where that 9 level of traction control comes into play: 1 being a very limited quantity for slick tires on a track and 9 the equivalent of rain setting. The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R was tremendous, stable and slidey fun at 4 around Portimao.
“The idea was to come up with new software that will allow more connection between the bike and the rider,” explains McWilliams. “It’s new logic. With our nine-channel TC and track mode, we wanted to make that riders who are at a high level are happy to use traction control rather than switch it off. There is little point in having the feature if riders want to disengage it because it was interfering with their ride. You can use traction control to full power in the wet and then drop it down to between 3-6 for, say, the A-group riders.”
“With these bikes now you have to rely on traction control to make everything safe but you also want to enjoy the ride. We wanted people to have the feeling that you are accelerating as fast as you possibly can without – what our R&D guys call – ‘hold back’, so you can play around with that. Sport mode is designed to be level 4; anything below is for race track and slicks.”
Fear not though. The KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is not being smothered by cutting-edge bike tech. “Electronics progress and much more is possible but at the same time I think we have to be careful not to go too far with it, especially for this type of motorcycle,” says Sinke. “we worked on making the bike better and more fun and more accessible. We should not be taking things away. The motorcycle should be central, and the electronics should be peripheral to help you enjoy the bike more.”
0 – zero fat. KTM has ‘doubled-up’ in various aspects of the 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R. How? Well, the styling and looks convey the ethos of the brand while also serving an acute design purpose. The components that create the aesthetics are made with the same function/form duality. “If you can design a part that is functional and make it visible and look nice then you don’t have to cover it up,” reasons Sinke. “It means less parts and you can save weight.”
An example: the subframe. “The first part is cast aluminum – which we use on several other KTMs, which is very light – but the cool and interesting part is the rear end: it’s composite and not a plastic cover,” he says. “It is actually the load-bearing part and where the passenger sits, has their footpegs and also the number plate. Everything bolts onto it and there is no need for brackets and extra parts: it means we can again save weight. The composite part of the subframe weighs 900 grams and can hold 1000kg. It’s incredibly strong and incredibly light.”
The 2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is slim, compact and striking. It’s in the heavyweight division but looks and moves like a robust lithe pugilist. With some of the KTM PowerParts accessories – an array was on display at Portimao – then it becomes even meaner (credit as well for the blue/orange paint job that is a classier look compared to the Beast 2.0). “The bike is ‘in-your-face’ and that is our brand in every possible way,” smiles Sinke. “If you park this bike by the side of the road little boys run-up to it. It turns heads. It looks cool, it sounds cool, it feels cool.”
The minimal design is countered by a raft of impressive detailing. The improved LED headlight now houses the central air-intake, there are new handlebar switches next to the position-adjustable and high-res TFT display (KTM’s best and clearest dash yet), new tank shape, WP APEX suspension and specially-designed Bridgestone S22 tire resists the power and augments the positive traits of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R. The wheels are CAD-crafted and molded for more ‘dieting’ and the thorough approach to weight-loss even applies to the construction of the plastics. “It’s a small thing but the central part of the plastics is thinner – you don’t need the same thickness throughout because they don’t have a load-bearing capacity and we were able to save more grams,” says Sinke.
The beauty of THE BEAST is that the motorcycle can appear and feel like something so raw but then also offer all the facilities and options a rider could ever want to suck-out the very best of the ultimate Naked bike.