KTM690 Duke

Fast Bikes - - CORE TEST -

It’s safe to say the KTM was one of the sur­prises of this test. Not to us hard­core journos, but to those who thought just one throb­bing pis­ton be­tween their legs would never be en­tirely suf­fi­cient. The Duke looks quite or­di­nary in this stan­dard guise, lack­ing the Gucci ap­peal of the R model, but packs just as big a punch in this com­pany and of­fers some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the mid­dleweight sec­tor.

The 690 is unique in many ways. Firstly, it’s the only note­wor­thy sin­gle-cylin­der on the mar­ket (save for its brother from an­other mother, the Husky 701) and sec­ondly, there’s no mis­tak­ing its mo­tard DNA. It’s the tallest on test, dressed in MX-style ’bars and levers, and even the stubby, feath­er­weight clutch ac­tion points to­wards KTM’s mud­plug­ging her­itage. Close your eyes, and you could well be Jef­frey Her­lings. With the same switchgear and sim­i­lar dash to that of the 1290 Su­per Duke R, plus some classy touches, there’s a sense of ma­tu­rity in the cock­pit. That soon goes out the win­dow when the throt­tle is pinned.

Don’t be fooled by the highly skilled jock­eys in the pho­tos: ride it like a con­ven­tional sports­bike and it’ll pun­ish you, much of which is down to the mo­tocross er­gonomics and rub­ber pegs want­ing to touch down all too eas­ily. Sit up­right and ef­fort­lessly work the ’bars, and you’ll be re­warded with brisk steer­ing and wa­ter boat­men re­ac­tions, which makes B-road thrash­ing the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment. It’s only when you hang o ff like a Gareth that the sus­pen­sio on protests and that rammed-agai inst-a-wall ge­om­e­try be­comes re­dun­dant.

This is a bike that’s been de­signed to work within these pa­ram­e­ters, sus­pen­sion in­cluded. Lash­ings of travel and a plush ex­e­cu­tion from WP mean you’re rarely left winc­ing over bumps and swells. It’s beau­ti­fully pro­gres­sive too, which adds some el­e­gance to an other­wise ram­pant ride. The Duke is all about b d dash­ing hi into it cor­ners s on the brakes, scrub­bing off speed and fir­ing it out. Point and squirt, a bit like So­phie Dee (don’t let your kids see the Google re­sults). Less is more when it comes to the Duke. Mir­ror­ing the engine, KTM de­cided that just one side of brak­ing was re­quired, and even the ab­sent M50 of the R model isn’t missed when hoof­ing on the an­chors.

Smooth­ness and re­fine­ment aren aren’t t usu­ally words as­so­ci­ated with a sin­gle-cylin­der mo­tor, or KTM for that mat­ter, yet the

Duke con­veys less vibes (at cer­tain revs) than some four-pots on test. Af­ter nearly 25 years of mono-pot de­vel­op­ment by a com­pany that makes the fastest mono-pot GP en­gines in the world (Moto3), it should come as no sur­prise, al­though that sel­dom crosses your mind dur­ing a thrash.

There’s a su­per­nat­u­ral knack of de­liv­er­ing instant power what­ever the dash reads, be­ly­ing its 70bhp and con­vey­ing twin and triple-es­que power. And there’s a tan­gi­ble sweet spot be­tween 5,000rpm and 7,000rpm, but that shouldn’t stop you short-shift­ing as top-end power cur­tails very lit­tle be­fore its 9,000rpm lim­iter. Like the Ducati, un­der 3,500rpm is chain-clat­ter­ingly point­less aboard the 690, and we’re hop­ing the lat­est gear­box tech­nol­ogy de­buted on the Su­per Duke R and GT fil­ters down to its smaller sib­lings, as the 690’s ’box can of­ten frus­trate with a lack of pos­i­tiv­ity.

It does all the naughty things in abun­dance, as you’d ex­pect from a KTM. Even the pre­vi­ously faff-wor­thy tog­gling to ad­just TC and ABS has be­come rel­a­tively easy when com­pared to the lat­est of­fer­ings, which made play­time that much eas­ier to in­dulge in. The 690’s the per­fect lit­tle brother to the 1290.

What a lovely stone wall.

Small but mighty, the KTM proved a right laugh.

Take a bow.

If you like ’em nar­row...

The base model only packs one front brake.

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