1290 SD R Challenge: The Ride

Earlier in the year, four very lucky people who had put themselves forward for a free-to-enter competition were picked and given the privilege to ‘borrow’ a KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R for the majority of the year to compete in a series of challenges. The purpose of this contest? When the dust settles and the tyre smoke drifts away, one of them will still be holding the keys to their KTM and get to keep “The Beast” forever.

Four riders from four countries with four different riding needs and expectations have the chance to find out if this single machine is single minded. With many kilometers on roads and race track, in various conditions and completing the various challenges, these riders now give you their opinion on all aspects of the character of the 1290 SUPER DUKE R.

It won’t be long until we have our winner. Who will win? That’s up to you …


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Jay Marriott (AUS)
It has actually taken me over a month to be able to get the bike on a decent set of twisties and really get to grips with the performance on the curves – and I can say that it was quite impressive.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of weight. Don’t get me wrong – it still feels pretty bulky after my KTM 690 DUKE – but compared to my old R1, it is much lighter and more confidence inspiring in the curves. I felt that I could really get off the side of the thing, or if I wanted I could sit upright and counter steer in all but the tightest of corners.

The suspension, that I could only describe as firm after all the straight line highway riding I’d done, felt pretty good once the bike was leant over. As most Australian roads are terrible, I was happy with how it kept the front end planted even over shoddy asphalt mid corner. While commuting I often wondered if my spine had come out after a nasty stretch of road, but in the corners it felt great.

The other thing that struck me was the engine braking. After making the move from two-strokes to big four-strokes I’ve become a big fan of engine braking. And the 1290’s engine braking feels like I’ve jumped on the anchors on a lesser bike. And when you grab the right lever on the 1290 SUPER DUKE R it feels like hitting a wall!

From the first time I saw the prototype of the 1290 SUPER DUKE R I was absolutely blown away by its looks and design. It manages to look fast standing still and it’s hunched forward stance seems like a menacing challenge. It’s only when you throw a leg over the bike you realise that its looks bely it’s ergonomic design and comfortable riding position. It took me very little time to get comfortable on “The Beast” and, as a taller rider, I was very impressed by this.

My road riding experience so far had been pretty much limited to 1000cc inline fours and my last powerful road bike was a 2007 R1, which I though went pretty hard.

My experience with twins was limited to a few test rides; I found them to be lumpy low down in the rev range, hard to get going, and not much use for everyday riding. I have to say my bad opinion of twins is now gone.

I believe the massive power of the 1290 SUPER DUKE R means that hesitation down low in the rev range is pretty much gone. It’s not that it is particularly happy idling along low revs, but with the power and torque on tap as soon as you twist the throttle the thing just goes. As the revs climb it continues to pull like a freight train. The first time I got to really unleash the power, I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear like a loon.

Performance & Safety
The performance so far has been pleasantly surprising. For a naked bike I have found it stable and lacking at wind buffeting at rather brisk speeds, and when I get my not inconsiderable weight over the front to keep the wheel down the acceleration is enough to have me smiling like crazy and laughing whenever I think about it for days after. I have put some long kilometers under my belt, ridden in horrible Melbourne rush hour traffic, rain, wind and even managed to enjoy myself for a day on some dry twisty road, which was absolutely amazing. Even when approaching a 40 km/h corner with the anchors thrown out and the back wheel jumping around I’ve not been slightly worried.

Which leads into the safety. With all of the available rider aids to keep things in line, I was happy to let my girlfriend ride it in the rain on the first day that I had it. If that doesn’t say enough for the safety of the bike then nothing does!


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Baron von Grumble (UK)
Overall – I’m impressed. Feels very agile and nimble on the move, you can really manhandle it in the corners and flicks through left/rights really well. I actually find it easier and safer getting knee downs on this bike than any of my other supersports bikes.

The suspension is a little soft at the moment, which sometimes can cause the bike to run wide on corner exit – but that’s nothing a turn of a screw can’t fix. I’d also upgrade the steering damper to a fully adjustable one as the stock unit can’t quite cut it when you are on a mission.

I love the way this bike has been designed to be what it is – rather than a chopped up supersports bike which you see in its naturally perceived competition (S 1000 R, Tuono, etc). It feels built for purpose.

The design is super aggressive in its looks, but actually far from it when it comes to rider comfort. I’m 6ft 3in and too tall for most bikes, but this feels perfectly suited to me.

I like the clock design that it still has an analogue rpm counter. I like the ergonomics of the tall tank, which shields legs from the wind, and I like the super-bright LED’s in the headlight – other roads users spot you form miles away, which is a very good thing.

I do have a minor issue in that the mirrors do not fold in. So tight town riding becomes a pain squeezing through small gaps in the traffic.

Wow. I love the power and the delivery of it on this machine. It has the most immense torque which overflows when you pop the throttle, but at the same time it feels smooth and buttery, very controllable and in a bizarre way – safe. There is nothing more to say – incredible.

Performance & Saftey
There is no argument that this is a performance bike to its core. It is and to have that mind-bending power in a package which keeps a watchful eye on you is something KTM should be proud of. Some say the electronics are too intrusive – I say for 95% of us normal people, they are perfectly balanced between intrusiveness and freedom. And, you can always turn them off.


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David Schönhoff (GER)

The DUKE’s handling is absolutely perfect. Whoever rides a 1290 SUPER DUKE R rides a motorcycle suitable for every type of trip. And when I say suitable, I don’t just mean acceptable; I’m talking about best ever values when riding around town, on country roads, in the mountains or on the racetrack.

I would particularly like to mention the absolutely comfortable riding position when riding on the edge. Many manufacturers attempt to find a compromise between sporty riding and a comfortable riding position, which often only works in theory, resulting in practice in something desired rather than mastered. The SUPER DUKE R is different. Even tours as long as 1000 km in one stretch are no problem whatsoever. After dismounting, you feel as if you’ve ridden nowhere near that distance; bum, wrists and back are subjected to minimal stress, so even riders at the heavier end of the scale can enjoy sporty touring with the SUPER DUKE.

As everyone knows, a superbike is often the first port of call for those seeking fast, sporty riding. However, even the shortest trip can quickly turn into a nightmare due to wrist problems or neck pain. Those seeking an alternative here need look no further than the SUPER DUKE. Its performance credentials are not only comparable with that of superbikes, but also better in many respects.

The handling is so ingenious, that I could almost say that even a beginner would be able to control this motorcycle. Only the tremendous power sets limits here for beginners. It probably makes sense to select rain mode (restricted to 100 hp) for the initial period.

The standard handlebar fitted to the SUPER DUKE is very comfortable; the rider’s wrists are well positioned and the length of the handlebar allows playfully simple steering into corners. Slight pressure on the handlebar and the SUPER DUKE drops in smoothly. This is naturally underlined by its low weight of only 179 kg. Swift mountain switchbacks – where superbike riders need to work really hard – are child’s play for the 1290 SUPER DUKE R.

Even with its factory settings, the SUPER DUKE’s chassis enables ultimate precision. Chassis optimisation is not really necessary, even for advanced sports riders. The bike rounds every corner with pleasure, even allowing track/line to be corrected within the curve.

Take a look at the 1290’s extreme performance data and you’ll think it’s a practically uncontrollable monster. But KTM convinces us otherwise. Incredible power, yet totally straightforward handling in every situation. A DUKE for EVERYONE! No matter how tall or short, fat or thin. The 1290 SUPER DUKE R is a “Beast” totally suitable for everyday use! But beware, at 200 km/h it gets a bit windy.

The design of the 1290 SUPER DUKE R may appear typical for a naked bike, but it’s absolutely unique. I think two words encapsulate this precisely: brutal and sexy. The bike shows what its got. The striking, two-tone, tubular frame conceals as little as possible, allowing the engine to be seen in all its glory.

No matter where you take this motorbike, it’s an absolute eye-catcher. Where it’s nowadays practically impossible to tell one Japanese superbike from another and you’re simply one of many, with the SUPER DUKE you’re the not. First topic of conversation at every biker stop.

Now we come to the aspect of the 1290 SUPER DUKE R that everyone’s talking about: its power! Here we have 1300cc and 180 hp casually combined to produce a sensational 151.6 Nm on the test bed. That’s absolutely incredible! Just take a look at the torque specifications for other motorcycles that you thought were fast.

The SUPER DUKE is so damn fast onto its rear wheel that you often need to pinch yourself. Not just in 1st or 2nd gear – no, even in 3rd and 4th gear – the bike accelerates so quickly off the mark that the smallest bump in the road launches the motorcycle upwards. This is naturally a hell of a lot of fun for experienced sports riders who can control it.

Fortunately, there’s a perfectly tuned yet disengageable traction control system on hand, which also acts as wheelie control and returns the motorcycle quickly to where it belongs. Namely, with two wheels on the road.

The big twin-cylinder engine is the ultimate weapon in the mountains. Even in lower rev ranges in higher gears, it’s child’s play to accelerate the SUPER DUKE out of the corners.

Where free-revving, four-cylinder bikes already need to shift back down to make optimum use of their power, the bike can be swung quite comfortably in 3rd or 4th gear through the mountains, where it still has enough in reserve to leave black streaks on the tarmac.

The DUKE is so immensely powerful that there are few motorcycles in its class that would have the remotest of chances in a direct comparison. Accelerating from 0 to 200 km/h, you can feel the incredible power of the engine. It is catapulted forwards so brutally that it feels as if you’re traveling through a tunnel and everything else around you becomes irrelevant. Before you know it you’ve forgotten the speedo and get a shock when you realize how much speed you’ve built up, even with the slightest of throttle movements.


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Matteo Bonamici (ITA)
From the spec in the press folder you’d expect something fearsome, a bike that is, perhaps, with its not exactly short wheelbase, difficult to ride. Instead, you hop on, slip her into first and she simply amazes you. Great handling, disarmingly fast going into the corners (you’re often at the apex before you expect it), the bike attacks every bend with unexpected swiftness yet also remains stable at high speeds. Nimble changes of direction are possible at any speed, and we can’t help but think that the design team wanted this to be a practical, fun road bike, not just a denizen of the track. There is some wobbling when the riding gets more physical at high speed, but it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Since I weigh in at 97 kilos, on the track I ramped up the monoshock pre-load by a turn to increase ground clearance and improve handling going into the corners.

What amazed me most was the bike’s versatility: it lets you roam the roads, almost forgetting about the gears, but when you get it on the track it’s almost as thrillingly responsive as a sports bike.

The lines are unmistakeable, a KTM from head to toe, impossible to mistake for any other bike: essential, tense, prickly and with top-drawer tech specs. In my opinion, you either love it or hate it. As is the Austrian brand’s wont, the 1290 SUPER DUKE R has a tubular space frame, caging the hugely powerful twin-cylinder engine, which is ready to roar at the first twist of the throttle. In short, it embodies the slogan KTM’s been using for years: READY TO RACE.

Given its “premium” category and considering the brand’s offroad heritage, you might expect a bit more in terms of finishing touches. But as soon as the gaze shifts, for example, to the suspension/brake department, everything else is immediately forgotten. Impressive 48 mm forks and a fully adjustable WP monoshock with high and low speed compression damping settings. Perhaps the only failing is the lack of pre-load on the forks, but in all honesty I’ve never felt the need to alter it, a sign that the default setting is already good. Those hard to please can, of course, reach for the PowerParts catalogue. Let’s take a look at the brakes. This Austrian naked provides the very best the market has to offer, with top-of-the-range Brembo M50 monoblock calipers (a rarity usually reserved for high-calibre sports bikes such as the Ducati Panigale and Aprilia RSV4) working in union with a Brembo pump and Magura clutch, both radial and adjustable. Summing up, the superb specs are completed by an awesome monoshock swingarm and two gorgeous Y-spoke wheels.

Another pleasant surprise is the riding position. More or less perfect whatever the situation, never tiring, not even after endless miles of touring, with just the right seat-footpeg-bars triangle, a reasonable amount of weight on the wrists and a comfy yet not too squidgy seat. Given the segment, of course, what’s missing is a bit of aerodynamic protection, but things can soon be set straight with a few aftermarket components.

I was also impressed by the excellent dash: it offers every piece of information imaginable, from air temperature to remaining mileage and oil temperature. It also has two trip computers with all the above info plus the option of personalising the display just as you want it.

Let’s talk about the heart of “The Beast”: the 1300 cc twin-cylinder that puts out 180 hp and, above all, 144 Nm of torque. These are scary numbers, as are the barely eight seconds needed to reach 200 km/h. Yet thanks to the outstanding electronics of the Keihin control unit and the perfect Ride by Wire response, on the road any fear vanishes in an instant. The engine is super-smooth (I happened to drop below 2500 rpm in third while riding through some tight hairpins and accelerated out of them without any trouble at all) and responds to throttle twists gently. So, the Beast is there, but it can definitely be tamed.

Together with the exceptional traction control, the above makes road riding a problem-free joy. If, instead, you decide to twist the throttle more aggressively, that’s a different matter. There is massive engine oomph as you accelerate out of the bends, constantly stretching your arms, and the front wheel wants to point skywards all the way into third gear. Luckily, the MTC keeps it all under control. To enjoy the muscular engine in full, though, the place to head for is the racetrack, where you can unleash all of this super-naked’s pent-up horsepower. Going for it aggressively, in fact, means you can end up riding into the corners at unexpectedly high speeds. And if you’re in the wrong gear? No worries: the bike powers you out of the bend as if the mistake had never been made. Summing up, the engine is just about perfect, ‘kind’ on the road but ‘beastly’ when the situation calls for it. Fuel consumption was just 6,5 l, lower than I would have expected for a twin-cylinder of this size.

Performance & Saftey
A glance at the tech specs indicates this is the category benchmark. Tests demonstrate that all the expected horsepower is there. However, the competition isn’t too far behind. What the data can’t describe, however, is the incredible ride this twin-cylinder from Mattighofen delivers. It’s not so much the acceleration – stunning in itself – as the fact that you can exit the corners in any gear, even the wrong one. The bike doesn’t bat an eyelid and carries you out of the bend with eye-watering vehemence, offering good acceleration even at low revs. When conditions let you twist the throttle wide open, the 1290 SUPER DUKE R is a source of endless thrill, calmed only by the constant flashing of the adjustable gear-change indicator on the dash. Here, the music moves up a tempo: the more sharply you twist the gas, the ‘beastlier’ she becomes and, in that case, watch out, because that front wheel just wants to climb higher and higher. With all that horsepower, effective electronics are a must, and KTM has risen to the challenge. They’ve opted for three ride modes , plus an equal number of MTC settings, a choice that makes predominantly on-road use even more appealing.

RAIN limited to 100 hp.
STREET full power but a more forgiving throttle response.
SPORT full power and direct throttle response.

Personally, I’ve never felt any need to shut down the MTC. Even on the track with the tyres starting to disintegrate, it kicks in softly, never abruptly, and without the dash light I wouldn’t have known whether it was enabled or not.

For the ABS the 1290 SUPER DUKE R mounts the all-new Bosch 9M. Like the MTC, it can be disabled, yet also has a Supermoto setting that restricts its action to the front wheel so you can drift a little into the corners (if you’re that good).

1290 SUPER DUKE R Challenge

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