KTM Super Duke 1290 - KTM calls it Duke, but as I always say, bikes are more female than male, so let's call her Duchess. She is maybe a bit royal blood, but not from the royal castle. More from the mansion somewhere in the outskirts - she is a bit naughty, a bit like I-cant-be-punished kind of girl.
Before the ride, I didn't think I would even like Super Duke. Mostly I'm prejudiced about having all that electronics in motorcycles: traction control, wheelie control, angle sensitive ABS and so much more. One thing that has always captivated me about motorcycles is that the rider is as important or even more important than the bike. If you want to do fun stuff, to be fast, you need a good rider. Richard Hammond once wrote in the Top Gear column that you need a bike to take you places, but the bike needs you to stay upright in traffic stops, together you create magic. With all these electronics you can be a complete ass and get away with it. You can open up the throttle all the way and it won't wheelie out from you, you can hit a corner and pull the front brake as hard as you want and it won't lock up the rear wheel. So it's like an average guy marrying a duchess, you will be out shined all the time.
Secondly, I didn't like the looks of it. This is just my opinion, but it looks a bit ugly, at least at the front end.The rear end with its single-sided swingarm and skinny saddle looks amazing, but the front... It's a bit surrealistic, for a kind of acquired taste, I would say.
Thirdly this bike with the Akrapovic titanium exhaust costs 18000 Euros!!! For a naked motorcycle??? Especially if it's ugly...
Everything that's about to follow proves that you can't buy a bike by at looking spec sheets and pictures, you need to ride it. Like always I will test the KTM 1290 Super Duke both in the city and on highways, on short and long runs and even touch a few gravel roads.
To be honest, this lady took 5 minutes to change my mind. I turned out from the dealership towards downtown. It went like this: lane split through traffic to the front of the traffic light. As soon as the light turned green, wheelie away until needed to brake for the next traffic light. Like a ballet routine. The engine pulls like a monster (193hp, Akrapovic is extra 13hp) and you have to work hard to keep the front wheel down. And that's not even the best part. The best part is the noise. This glorious noise. This Akrapovic together with this V2 is like... I think the word that I'm looking is Godly. Even if you are not a motorcycle person and you don't want to ride it, find a dealership and let them start this bike for a second. If it does not make your heart run a bit faster, you don't belong on this page. I could write a whole chapter about this noise. Now mind you, this Akrapovic titanium full exhaust does cost 2500 euros, which is same money as older used bikes, but believe me, it's worth every penny. When you accelerate, it bangs like a fully automatic machine gun, and when you brake and close the gas, it bangs small after blasts like radioactive popcorn in the microwave. And then if you hit city limits and have to slow down from sixth to third gear it hits about ten small blasts of blue flame with every gear like a thundercloud from a distance. And if you accelerate hard, it bangs two louder ones like screaming "Get out of my way, you peasant, can't you see I'm coming!" It's just glorious.
Obviously, the city is where this girl belongs - lane splitting, doing wheelies, burning rubber and general hooliganism - that's what it's for. Streetfighter at its best.
Duchess is a hyper naked so not really long distance cruiser, but she can handle longer trips quite well. Maybe it's that weird front end, but somehow it manages to guide the wind away from you. I own the previous version of the Superduke, the 990, and past 160 km/h (100mph) it started to push you backward and as it was skinnier from the back and the saddle was flat, you really didn't have anywhere to hold on. With this one, you can feel that they spent a fair amount of time of bikes development in the wind tunnel. Even at speed past 200+ km/h it feels okay.
The suspension is pretty firm; you do feel every bump if you are not on smooth asphalt. It's weird that KTM did't use their electronically adjustable shocks here that they do have on their adventure bikes. Also cruise control and heated grips are missing. BMW does have both on their ultra naked and Beamer is still about 3000 euros cheaper.
So I wouldn't like to make cross-continental trips with it, but a longer run on the weekend with your mates is easy.
Honestly, I can say now I was wrong about electronics. Properly set up, so it would not babysit you, but would intervene when the shit has hit the fan, is amazing. I had a moment when turning onto the main road. The sun was directly into my face and I didn't see a freshly resurfaced pot hole, that was covered with loose rubble. When I accelerated, the back end stepped out. Before I could even realize what had happened, the traction control brought the rear back. Maybe I could have saved it, maybe not. When I owned 1000 cc Suzuki GSXR, I felt it was like a dragon, amazingly powerful, but I was always afraid it would bite my head off. With this one, you have like an extra guardian angel looking after you. When it's dark, cold and the road is wet, you are so much more calmer knowing you have traction control. When it's warm and dry, just switch it off. I do have to say it's annoying that it turns back on every time you turn off the ignition, but hopefully, it will be changed with next software update. So what's fun is that when you buy this motorcycle, you can honestly say to your wife that it's one of the safest motorcycles in the world, maybe leaving out the part that it's also one of the most powerful ones at the same time. And to argue with someone about whose skills were important in getting perfect lap times - yours or the bikes – is like arguing with your wife who worked harder during an amazing sex.
So your friends might question if it was the bike who just did this amazing wheelie or was it you. They could also think it's too expensive or ugly. But after three days on this bike, you really don't care what others think! Super Duke 1290 is just incredible.