There was a range of little details and fresh ‘oranges’ on the robust stand at the EICMA show last week but it was clear that the appearance and growl of the new 790 DUKE was firmly center stage. We spoke to Product Marketing Manager Adriaan Sinke on the prototype that everybody was talking about …
There is a perfectly kept ‘spot’ in KTM’s flowering street line-up for a bike like the 790. The prototype shown in Milan last week satisfied the company’s wish to plug a desirable gap between the 690 DUKE and the 1290 SUPER DUKE R and also achieved the intended effect: radical appearance, elevating advanced electronics, compact and lightweight and promising a memorable riding experience. Among upgrades to current models – all worthy of note – the 790 was a delectable new offering that perhaps created the biggest hum and buzz on the KTM stand since the original ‘Beast’ was unveiled at the same place four years ago.
It was curious to see people’s reactions to the uncovering and throttling of the 140db exhaust note by Moto3 World Champion Brad Binder. The show ‘smoke’ gave the 790 an extra ethereal feel. “The 800 market is one of the biggest and most important in the world and we wanted to enter it in the best way possible,” said Chief Sales Officer Hubert Trunkenpolz on the microphone.
“If you see and hear that bike then it comes across as very impressive,” says Adriaan Sinke. “It is obviously not going into production as it is but it gives a very good indication as to where we are heading with this project; it is pretty exciting.” Lukas Frey, Project Manager Street, nods in agreement, eyes sparkling.
The problem for the public, KTM fans, riders and potential customers of the 790 is the difference between the bike that has whet appetites on the EICMA stand and to what actually arrives on the dealer floor. The 1290 SUPER DUKE R is a pretty good past indication the eventual production bike will not be too dissimilar to the show model; a machine that made it to the plinth in Italy thanks in small part to the marvel of 3D printing.
“If you see the bike then it is clear that it cannot go into production; 3D printed parts and items on it that cannot be made in serial production,” Sinke says. “Talking about homologation there is no way you can reach a standard with the way the bike currently is. What it does show is the overall shape and packaging and that it is a very compact bike and the components now are close to what they will be in production.”
Like the ‘The Beast’ the 790 comes across as an extreme form of motorcycle; designed both to provoke a reaction and also show how a Naked Bike can be sculpted and portrayed. Not for nothing has the inline twin been labelled ‘The Scalpel’. Is there a danger of going too far with a prototype? “It is a prototype … and they are meant to be wild,” says Sinke. “You have to show the world how crazy you can be. At some point someone is going to step in and add lights, mirrors, plate holders and other bits. But this is the essence of a motorcycle.”
“You have to challenge yourself and take the next step,” he continues. “I really enjoy working with Kiska [Austrian design agency] and so do a lot of the guys at the factory because they are always trying to push the envelope and go one step further. Craig Dent [Kiska Lead Designer] said recently that they are a little bit ‘naughty’ and they have very much their own view and take on KTM projects. An engineer is always problem-solving and a designer is always pushing the edge; that [combination] creates something special. This is what we have with Kiska and it really shows in the production bikes and in particular with the prototype.”
But it’s not just a static prototype. This bike can already be ridden. Hard. Lukas Frey took his baby for a couple of spins in its early development stages. “When you ride this bike, you notice how close we got to the initial brief: ‘Create a light, extremely nimble bike with really precise handling.’ And even though it has less power than the 1290 SUPER DUKE R, it has a much better power-to-weight-ratio than the 690 DUKE. It also feels very much like a V-twin in terms of engine character. That’s one of the things I am most proud of: it has an easy-going nature, but when you want to step it up and go ballistic, just twist that throttle and aim for the apex. Speed comes naturally to this motorcycle.”
KTM might say that the 790 is a large and valued (last?) part of the street catalog but is there a small threat that customers eying a 690 or 1290 might face a confusing choice come 2018 and when the 790 comes into being? Sinke is adamant: “No … I think they have their own customer groups. The 690 is also lightweight and precise but it is a single cylinder and a different kind of bike with a little less power. The 1290 could be the bike that riders aspire to and this [the 790] is the in-between step. To be honest we had that gap in our model range. We had a lot of success with our smaller bikes and then with the bigger bikes and the 690 … but there was a middle ground where we were not able to offer something to the street customer and I think this is the perfect way forward.”