The magic of the Beast: We go for a ride
Okay, I haven’t been mauled by the Beast. However, I’m still going to light an orange candle or maybe two would be fairer. The first to thank some heavenly force for my ‘survival’ and a second in honour of all those at Mattighofen who have created these gasoline-powered ‘beings’ from steel, rubber, aluminum and a chemisty of elements of which I have no idea but am very happy that they exist! For a year the beast has been haunting us as a prototype and we’ve had teasers and appetisers through all channels; smoking tyres, wild wheelies and drifts. You name it. Now the production run of the 1290 Super Duke R is complete and comes with that sharp animalistic appearance, concussive power and a functional range that is quite unexpected.
I had actually made up my mind to ask for a Beast straight away as the infomation meeting started in Spain at the hotel but then quickly realized that it was better to leave it. There are so many departments and sections that deal with engine, chassis, electronics, design and other magical stuff that it would be wise to first have a crash-course; for want of a better phrase.
I also want to say that development, speed and power engineering at KTM have reached a level worthy of admiration when you look at what has been recently dished up: the Freeride 350, Adventure 1190, 390 Duke, the 690 R, the E bike, the first ABS evolution, which is called MSC (and has been developed with Bosch), the 125 Duke with ABS, plus the constantly optimised off-road range and that sporty emphasis across the spectrum. It is a constant blow-by-blow assault but apparently this is the right way to inspire and tackle a declining market and continue to grow.
And so now this: a naked bike with 180bhp, 189kg dry weight, smarter electronics, suspension and handling, swingarm, brakes and a world-class design to die for. In the beginning, the path to a successor for the 990 Super Duke was laid out by establishing a series with the Duke 125, 390 and 690 all providing a sturdy and reliable basis. The engine of the 1190 RC8 R seemed an appropriate platform on which to further add 100 ‘cubes’. Not because it was necessary but because the idea seemed simple. More power is always good and this wasn’t the subject of a long discussion at KTM.
The first prototype jumped out at you with a huge wheelie from the experimental workshop in a video that was a definition of the adjective ‘teaser’ and from which the Board of directors at KTM was immediately enthusiastic to green light development and serial production. Concept and style would be trimmed to uncompromising sporty performance as a kind of high-end product to set new standards in the naked motorcycling segment.
So…it is successful?
The new 1290’s heart beats at 180bhp, flashes at 144nm of torque at 6500rpm on the chain and is simply the most powerful naked engine in the world. It has more bore and stroke than the RC8 R; new pistons and a new crankshaft plus larger throttle. Dual ignition, six-speed gearbox, slipper clutch and two balance shafts are still on board. Ride-by-wire throttle and electronic ‘mumbo jumbo’ adjustable, Traction Control (rain, street, race) and ABS (with street or supermoto mode) are also included, both systems can be switched off. The 1290 Super Duke R is not simply a Superbike shed of clothes and with a few plastic parts thrown on. The tubular frame is designed specifically for the naked bike with an upright seating position. The steering head is elevated, weight distribution and rigidity including flex, are different. For tight traction the new swingarm is extra long and this is thanks only to (‘ciao to Italia’) the 75 degree Twins that leave plenty of space.
The front end introduces new upside-down forks from WP with an open cartridge system. The novelty of this kit is that the right fork leg handles the rebound damping and left the compression damping. The rear hinged WP monoshock is also fully adjustable. The finest Brembo monobloc calipers are bolted on and have access to 320 discs with of course rear clasped double pistons.
Brand new Sportmax2 tyres, that were developed in conjunction with Dunlop, are mounted on the airy wheels. The front tyre is the first in the world to be produced with a wound steel belt and brings benefits of handling, stability and comfort. So far, this radial technique was common on rear wheels with all major manufacturers.
Practical detail solutions surround the pleasant little Super Duke package: Fatbar handlebars, pleasantly laidout dashboard, an ergonomically elaborate seating position slender footrests with adjustable shifters and brake levers, headlights with LED daytime running setting, a 2-into-1 exhaust and 18 litre tank. Everything is fine, loving and perfectly finished.
The test drive through the Andalusian countryside was an epic experience that has met and exceeded expectations at the same time. The 1290 Super Duke R is such a strong vehicle with fun in abundance. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling of this motor but I’ll have a go: Gut-wrenching, arm-pullingly punchy and with increasing speed that doesn’t cease from idle right up to 9,500 with the shift light flashing away.
At the same time the beast is imposing at a moderate pace. When cruising and negotiating traffic it simply pushes ahead with civility and good manners; no funny business, no hiccups, no random pulls on the chain. The interaction between the engine and electronic fuel injection is poetic. At the midrange from 3,000rpm decent speed and output for urban obstacles, roundabouts or tight corners is possible.
In short whoever can take the Beast off its leash and explore countryside will get all that they ask for and all that they want. Those in towns or city sprawls – or simply in less of a hurry – can enjoy the throbbing twin refinement, the legendary speed bandwidth and outstanding sensitivity.
The chassis is not fazed by any of this. The Super Duke 1290 is light-footed switching curves, stable at any speed and a dream when cranked over. There is remarkably little pitching motion upon application of the gas despite reasonable suspension travel (front 126/156mm rear). The Brembo brakes deserve special praise as they build powerfully and smoothly. The springs ironed not only the odd spot on our dream curvy roads but also some bumpy paths with little asphalt and and let the world’s press marvel at the finesse of the Beast.
ABS (Bosch 9m +) and Traction Control have evolved and trimmed. Even the sound of the crisp, short engine note produced on the right side is more than fine though the meaty silencer is positioned low by the swingarm. The beast really roars at high speeds; class!
The seating-position geniuses have decided that an upright posture and narrow handlebar ‘Fatbar’ best suit the handling, which is amazing for a light-footed 1300. The Super Duke R can be squirted through curves with delight, no matter the pace. Wind protection was really not an issue on the highway. What it’s like at speed over 200 km/h remains to be seen , because the beast is almost untapped but at least there will be also a variation on a flyscreen as part of the accessories catalogue.
Speaking of accessories…those wanting to tour with the 1290 Super Duke R can slap on a tank bag, panniers and saddle box through the Power Parts Accessories range. Those brave enough to take the Beast on the track can find a glut of Akrapovic goods and other compliments.
Bottom line? The bike has turned out to be a dynamic, fun, well-equipped motorcycle with a balanced chassis. If you ask me there is nothing here to fear. On the contrary the fun factor is mega and more than amazing. The beast can efficiently rage but it can also be tamed. The first 1290 Super Duke Rs should be arriving in dealers just before Christmas in orange or black and at a cost of 15,495 euros.