SMOOTH IS FAST
Going faster is the answer
Review and pictures by Wahid Ooi Abdullah
While there are times when nothing seems to work, there are also time when it seems that everything in the universe is rightly aligned.
A few minutes after Leaving the BHP Karak petrol station, Deep Purple’s Highway Star, came on in the Cardo headset attached to my helmet.
The intro built up steam until Ian Gillian’s scream before the all the instruments crash in together with Ian Gillian’s frantic vocals. (Highway Star is considered the granddaddy of speed metal.)
“Nobody gonna take my car, I’m gonna race it to the ground
Nobody gonna beat my car, it’s gonna break the speed of sound
Ooh, it’s a killing machine
It’s got everything
Like a driving power, big fat tyres and everything.”
No matter if the lyrics say “car” but the the overall theme of the song alludes to a need for speed. Wait, no, make that the lust for speed.
When the first 1290 Super Duke R was released in 2014, it instantly became known as “The Beast.” 173 bhp, 144 Nm, lugging only 189 kg (dry). Yeah, plenty of sportbikes make that power or even higher, but this was a naked bike.
It earned its Beast moniker due to its proclivity of making even the most jaded journalists shake their heads in amazement (and fear). After all, it charged so hard ahead like being dragged along by a wild horse and of course, its preference to stand on its back wheel. This was the real “Prancing Horse”!
That fierce firepower was clearly demonstrated clearly when a journalist forgot to engage Launch Control. The bike flew out from under him with the front wheel in the air when he dumped the clutch. A Senior Editor of another magazine put it best when he said, “Giving the Super Duke R full throttle with the traction control off was like sticking a defibrillator to your chest just for fun.”
So here comes the 2017 1290 Super Duke R.
From the exterior, it marks KTM’s new direction in motorcycle designs, as the Austrian firm decrees to impart a sense of identity to their bikes. The new “mantis” headlight looks awesome, both fierce and beautiful, at the same time.
The headlamp itself is a work of art. It’s wide when viewed from the front but is actually thin from the sides. Look closely and you’ll find a channel between the two sides. This was designed in as an air duct to cool the fully LED headlamps, as there were complaints of the previous Duke R’s being too hot.
The (miniscule) bodywork and especially frame stills screams KTM, although they have been revised, too. A little more refined, yet still retaining the aggressive no-holds barred look.
I climbed on and found the seating position to be more accommodating than before. The handlebar was 20mm wider, 5mm lower, and 18.5mm forward. KTM designed it this way for the rider to hunker down when the speeds pick up and also address complaints of the old handlebar being too narrow. This also meant that the rider has more weight over the front wheel.
The tank seemed narrower and the seat was KTM-signature tall, but the ground didn’t seem too far away for my short inseam. I felt fully seated in the bike rather than being perched on stilts.
Tapping the keyless ignition button brought the LCD display to life. It’s compact in size to fit into the bike, unlike the one on the 1290 Adventure, so it only displayed the most necessary data such as the tach, speedo, Ride Mode. The rest of the comprehensive data such as tyre pressure, fuel range, and rider selected list called “FAVORITES” is just the flick of a switch away so no problem. It also has the Auto Contrast feature which automatically dims the display when you ride into a tunnel.
There’s so much character when the 1301cc, 75-degree, V-Twin fires up. There’s that accompanying rumble and mechanical noise as you feel those huge pistons rumble underneath you. I personally call it the Big Bore Fun Pump.
Truth is, KTM didn’t need to overhaul the Super Duke R, for it was the king of the supernakeds, but KTM isn’t one company to rest on its laurels and watch its rivals trip over one another while trying to keep up.
The priority was to make the engine more flexible and smoother, as evidenced by the “mere” 4-bhp gain. The Super Duke would’ve gained way more than that if it’d been all-out horsepower that KTM sought.
Firstly, KTM fitted the LC8 engine with resonator chambers similar to the 690 Duke’s. These chambers swirl the gases heading into the combustion chamber, which creates better fuel/air mixture and more efficient combustion, resulting in smoothness and fuel efficiency. The crankshaft was also updated to improve reliability and reduce vibrations.
Also new are titanium intake valves with a new face design to boost compression ratio. The inlet funnels are also 10mm shorter, raising the rev ceiling by 500 RPM. All these changes and more yielded 177 bhp and 142 Nm of torque, making the Super Duke R’s engine the most powerful KTM production bike engine.
I chose STREET Mode, because I personally prefer to get to know to a bike’s character before pushing it, just like how I would approach a stray dog. I pulled out of KTM Malaysia’s Lifestyle Showroon, gave the bike some throttle gingerly and… what the… it was super smooth!
I gave it more throttle when I hit the NKVE, fully expecting the bike to kick like it’s been injected with an entire tank of NOS but again, it was smooth all they way. Yes, it did pick up speed REALLY quick, the last two digits spun up so fast I only paid attention to the first digit but it didn’t try to take off like a mad dog.
Relating to the opening story, I decided to take it up Karak Highway the next day. This time, I selected SPORT Mode (no optional TRACK Mode on the demo bike) after I topped it off with RON 97.
The Duke R pulled through fourth, I’ve given up on keeping up with the speedo. Ian Gillian went on to sing,
“Nobody gonna take me head, I got speed inside my brain
Nobody gonna steal my head now that I’m on the road again
Ooh, I’m in heaven again
I’ve got everything
Like a moving ground, an open road and everything.”
Just as I reached the start of the series of turns that led to turn off to Genting Highlands and Karak Tunnel. We flew through the long right, the bike kept holding its line, and I didn’t even bother to roll out of the throttle as I flicked the bike to the left over the red speedbreaker lines.
Having tested the 1290 Super Duke GT, I found the Duke R to handle more “traditionally.” Unlike the GT which liked to pull deeper into the turn even when you added lots of throttle, the Duke R tracks through in a more linear fashion according to throttle openings and steering input i.e. add throttle and the Super Duke R tracks through on a wider arc.
Talking about steering, the Duke R’s was super precise. Aim for a spot on the pavement and you will hit. Side to side steering from full lean was almost a thought process. All it took was a steering input and the bike just turned in immediately.
But most of all was how the power was fed in. In no circumstance did the bike intimidate. The only barrier was your ability to tuck in as the bike goes into warp drive. The first indicator for me was when my helmet’s faceshield pressed against my nose, at well over… err… 110. Multiplied by 2.
Yet the bike flowed seamlessly through each bend, be it long, short, or decreasing radius. The wider handlebar translates steering inputs into seamless trajectory correction even at great speeds. There was also so much cornering clearance that trying to touch down your knees on public roads would be insane because you needed even crazier speeds!
I had planned to photograph the bike up at Bukit Tinggi on the return trip. However, the Super Duke’s LCD panel suddenly bleeped and flashed REAR TYRE PUNCTURE, as soon as I waved my thanks to the security guard.
Good thing I took it easy because the rear end went completely sideways in a hairpin! I parked the bike near a set of S-corners, shot a few pics and headed back down before it’s too late in the day.
Suddenly, it seems that Highway Star had turned into Love Hurts.
The rear Metzeler Sportec M7RR had lost its air completely at this point. The nearest petrol station was at Kampung Bukit Tinggi, nearly 20 km away.
But as I’ve said, even when it seems that the whole world is against you, the universe thinks otherwise.
I decided to switch to RAIN Mode, in order to put as little torque on the tyre as possible and stood on the pegs, and rode slowly down the mountain. It was at this point when I noticed how linear KTM has made the throttle response.
On certain bikes, especially with the advent of the ride-by-wire throttle, engine power would jump in suddenly from either a closed or partially open throttle position (when set to any “dry weather” riding mode). While in rain mode, there’s always a lag before the power comes on.
Not so for Super Duke R. Power take up was right there, and as linear as would be a (really powerful) carbureted bike.
I headed straight for the tyre pump as soon as I got to Kampung Bukit Tinggi and stuck in 300 KpA of pressure, then rode like the wind down Karak Highway towards Genting Sempah, while keeping an eye on the onboard tyre pressure monitor. The front tyre’s pressure started increasing while the rear’s kept dropping. (Who gets to review this feature? We did! Nyah nyah!)
I repeated the same procedure of inflating the rear tyre when I reached the Petronas station at Genting Sempah.
I nursed the bike all the way to Sunny Cycle. Why them? I’ve been a customer since the early 90’s because of their undying philosophy in repairing bikes the correct way, for example using a torque wrench to secure the wheel nut, instead of blasting away with an air wrench.
Anyway, Jin Seng fixed the leak and went out for a spin. He’s had plenty of racing and riding experience under his belt. He came back with a smile and remarked about how smooth this new model is.
Of course, these shenanigans wouldn’t have been possible without its superbly tuned suspension. As usual, KTM sticks with WP. The only shortcoming I detected was the rear shock kicking back quickly after hitting a bump, which pointed to lack of rebound damping. However, notes from testers who weighed more than 80kg found no such problem. No matter, 5 turns of the rebound damping adjuster would’ve solved it.
Also, the brakes were well calibrated. They weren’t just powerful but had plenty of feel and feedback, more importantly. There’s nothing’s worse than trying to slow down from supersonic speeds, only to find a wooden-feeling brake lever!
All in all, while the previous 1290 Super Duke R was addictive in the sense of trying to tame it and not letting it soil your pants, the 2017 1290 Super Duke R was addictive in its slightly more refined way in kicking everything else on the road.
I took the bike out for another highway blast the next day. The last fling before we part ways. As the song comes to and end,
“I love it, I need it, I bleed it
Yeah it’s a man hurricane
Alright, hold tight
I’m a highway star!!!”
I thought to myself, where the heck do I find RM 135,000???
|ENGINE TYPE||2-cylinder, 75o V-Twin, 4 valve per cylinder, 4-stroke, liquid cooled|
|BORE X STROKE||108 mm X 71 mm|
|POWER||177 bhp (118 kW) @ 9,750 RPM|
|TORQUE||141 Nm @ 7000 RPM|
|COMPRESSION RATIO||13.6 : 1|
|FUEL SYSTEM||Keihin EFI with 56 mm throttle bodies|
|RIDER AID||MTC (3-mode, disengageable)|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||WP 48 mm USD forks, 125 mm travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||WP single shock, 156 mm travel|
|FRONT BRAKES||2 x 4-piston Brembo Monobloc calipers, 2 x 320 mm discs|
|REAR BRAKE||1 x 2-piston Brembo caliper, 1 x 240 mm disc|
|ABS||Bosch 9.1MP Two-Channel incl. supermoto mode, disengageable|
|FRONT, REAR TYRES||120/70 ZR-17 , 190/55 ZR-17|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||141 mm|
|SEAT HEIGHT||835 mm|
|FUEL CAPACITY||18 litres, 3.6 litres reserve|
|DRY WEIGHT||195 kg|