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.