KTM 1290 Su­per Duke GT

If you could only ride one bike for the rest of your life, the KTM 1290 Su­per Duke would be a great choice. It’s a naked, a su­per­bike and a tourer all in one.

Motorcycle Monthly - - Mega Mile Test - WORDS: Tony Carter PHOTOGRAPHY: KTM and Gary Chap­man

The cur­rent mo­tor­cy­cle world can be a puz­zling place. Oh, sure, if you want some­thing sporty – as in, track day sporty – there’s a plethora of fine mo­tor­cy­cles out there. Have you seen this year’s Yamaha R6?

You fancy some­thing more Ad­ven­ture-bi­ased? Step this way Sir/ Madam (delete as ap­pro­pri­ate). Any num­ber of bikes are up be­fore you for se­lec­tion. Big naked? Same deal. Big tourer? Yep. Loads of them. It’s what you’d call a smor­gas­bord of su­per bikes. And I don’t just mean su­per­bikes. I use the term to de­scribe just how all-round bril­liant about 90% of the mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cling crop is. These bikes are su­per. If you see what I’m say­ing.

But... and it’s a pretty big but... I don’t tend to live in a world where I want one bike to just go and do one thing. Aside from track­day spe­cials I want a bike that fits my mood. Tick­les my fancy. Sticks its metaphor­i­cal hand down the front of my kilt and shakes things about a bit.

Not pos­si­ble? Well, as it hap­pens, I’ve just rid­den across a whole chunk of Europe and found a bike that will re­ally (yeah, re­ally) do ev­ery­thing.

Where the KTM 1290 Su­per Duke GT re­ally scores is that it does what it does without the pomp and fuss you might ex­pect that comes in pretty bright or­ange, barks from 1000rpm like a drill sergeant on up­pers and has roughly 90% of its DNA di­rectly taken from that Juras­sic Park T-Rex.

No, this is a mo­tor­cy­cle that is just su­perb. It’s crafted. It’s punchy. It’s pli­able. It’s a bloody sur­prise. And most im­por­tantly, it’s a naked, a su­per­bike and a tourer all in one.

How this all came about...

Let’s put a bit of a timescale on all of this. A cou­ple of years ago I at­tended the first out­ing for KTM’s 1290 Su­per Duke R.

The bike was pre-launch hyped, prob­a­bly more than I think I’ve seen be­fore or since. That par­tic­u­lar bike, we were as­sured, was a beast that would rip your arms off and beat you with the bloody end if you so much as looked at it cross-eyed.

Af­ter a mem­o­rable ride up the Ronda roads in Spain and half a day blat­ting around the de­mand­ing As­cari race­track be­fore blast­ing back along the Ronda to base, I re­alised that the pre-hype had missed the mark a bit. The only time that this bike re­ally was a beast was if you turned all the elec­tron­ics off. Then it be­came fi­esty.

In usual trim how­ever, the R is a great road bike. It’s not scary or in­tim­i­dat­ing. De­spite the frowny face, trimmed back me­chan­i­cals and bare

The petrol tank on the GT is larger, too. Up to 23 litres from the R’s orig­i­nal 18-litre size. In short, there’s a tick­list that most of us have to make a mo­tor­cy­cle ab­so­lutely ideal. And the GT is the prod­uct of Aus­trian bike nuts fol­low­ing that list to the let­ter.

The GT even has the same light­weight wheels and where the R comes from the fac­tory fit­ted with out­ra­geously sticky Met­zler M7RR (tai­lor-made for the bike) rub­ber, the GT comes equipped with Pirelli An­gel GT hoops.

So, you’re a fac­tory and you want to do an ‘event’...

Let me tell you a tale. It comes from the launch of the Su­per Duke R. The massed ranks as­sem­bled for the morn­ing brief on the day of the ride. It was early o’clock and the few of us in­vited were sat in our leathers and shown screen­shots of route, bike etc.

“Now re­mem­ber,” said the KTM man stand­ing in front of us in his leathers, knee and toe slid­ers melted away from a pre­vi­ous out­ing. “This is not a race. We will take it steady un­til we get to the cir­cuit.”

He pulled a third gear wheelie be­fore we got out of the ho­tel grounds and rode like a devil all the way to As­cari, grind­ing away huge swathes of Span­ish Tar­mac en route. It was ter­rific. So, know­ing that, you can un­der­stand why, when KTM told me that it wanted to hold an ‘event’ for the GT, I was ex­cited and a touch hes­i­tant at the same time. An ‘event’ in KTM lan­guage usu­ally means some­thing spe­cial.

And so it was that the first time I swung a leg over the 2017 GT was at Mun­derf­ing in Aus­tria, a small town a few miles away from Mat­tighofen, which is the M in KTM. At the rapidly expanding KTM works in Mun­derf­ing I col­lected my mo­tor­cy­cle, along with a cou­ple of other rid­ers, one of whom was Aus­trian mo­tor­cy­cle jour­nal­ist Peter Schön­laub. Peter sorted out the route we were to ride. It took us from Mun­derf­ing to Re­sia in Italy. And what a route it was – fast sweep­ers, tight climbs and even a few miles without a solid road sur­face be­neath us, all un­der­pinned by not know­ing what was around the next cor­ner.

These roads re­ally un­der­lined how nim­ble and re­spon­sive the bike is. That fair­ing and screen might look ob­tru­sive from the out­side but on the back of the bike you feel as though there’s vir­tu­ally noth­ing be­tween you and any­thing whizzing by. For these sorts of roads I ditched the Sport set­ting and favoured Street mode on the power de­liv­ery in­stead and the same on the sus­pen­sion.

It felt very much like a day of riding on hol­i­day and the very se­ri­ously beau­ti­ful scenery needed savour­ing. Sport mode turns ev­ery­thing up to 11 and then throws it be­hind you sharpish, Street mode is still quick, but at a more man­age­able pace.

Even with both pan­niers fully loaded and a roll-top wa­ter­proof bag strapped to the top of them, the big KTM feels half its size. Light, quick-re­spond­ing and ef­fi­cient, at pace it han­dles with min­i­mal touch and in this en­vi­ron­ment the KTM was as easy to get on with as a faired 650. It im­pressed greatly.

Ar­riv­ing in Italy...

We’d been riding from Mun­derf­ing for some­thing like six or seven hours. On the ride down we’d of­ten blitz along a blis­ter­ingly bril­liant bit of road to then turn back on our­selves and do it again in the op­po­site di­rec­tion for the hell of it. Good stuff yes, but it took us time.

The fol­low­ing day we set off on a 220km-ish long round route around San Valentino and through the Swiss Na­tional Park with its in­cred­i­ble land­scape. This was fast in places – su­per­bike fast – and the nat­u­rally com­pet­i­tive na­ture of a launch (sorry, ‘event’) played out as we picked our way past lol­lop­ing lo­cals and can­ter­ing coaches packed with skiers in­tent on slid­ing down the sum­mits of the moun­tains we were col­lect­ing un­der our tyres like Top Trumps col­lec­tors’ cards. There’s Piz Nuna, tick. There’s Piz S-cha­lam­bert, tick. I fancy riding over the rise at Martina, tick. With this sticky rub­ber there is no need for the pan­niers or roll-top big bag, the KTM eas­ily slipped back into its R fam­ily roots.

And it took sur­pris­ingly lit­tle provo­ca­tion for the Beast to be with us again. A few prods at the su­perbly easy to con­trol switchgear put the bike back into full-on Sport mode, both in throt­tle and sus­pen­sion. A few more jabs with the thumb and the ABS is turned off. No longer was it the easy-go­ing bike that pro­pelled me from Mun­derf­ing to Italy the day be­fore; now we had a very dif­fer­ent mo­tor­cy­cle un­der us. It runs, romps and rocks the world with ev­ery twist of the throt­tle and a glo­ri­ously deep, quick ROWRRR from the ex­haust.

An­other as­pect of the GT that hadn’t re­ally played out un­til the pace rose was the bike’s quick­shifter. Yeah, I’m the same as you – quick­shifters are only needed on track, right? Point­less on the road? Nope. The quick­shifter only works on the up­shifts on the GT and to snick the next gear re­ally quick and cleanly you just keep the throt­tle open and toe up the box without dip­ping your right hand. When you’re on the gas and hus­tling the 1290 through ma­jes­tic bends at su­per­bike speeds, the quick­shifter feels very right in­deed.

Also, those wide bars. At higher speeds they work. They re­ally work. And this isn’t just a shot-in-the-dark by KTM. Do you know where the Aus­tri­ans made their mark? It was on the dirt and when you want to re­ally get a mo­tor­cy­cle to move, to re­ally get into a turn, wide bars and a more up­right po­si­tion help. That’s why you get the dy­namic on mo­tocross bikes. And the same idea re­ally works on the big 1290, too. At 228kg with a full tank of fuel, there’s not a huge amount of weight to man-han­dle around. KTM has re­ally de­liv­ered some­thing that is easy to live with for the ma­jor­ity of road rid­ers.

But where the KTM 1290 re­ally finds its mark in the higher-speed, sportier stuff is with the riding po­si­tion. It’s a per­fect mix be­tween BMW S 1000 R and KTM 1190 Ad­ven­ture. I’m 5ft 9in tall with a 28in inside leg and I’ve got to say that this bike felt like it had been made for me, even with the 835mm seat height. That might sound high, but in re­al­ity it’s based on a clever bit of er­gonomics that while on other bikes you might feel like you’re a tad pre­car­i­ous when pad­dling full-on Ad­ven­ture be­he­moths around (KTM’s Su­per Ad­ven­ture 1290, for in­stance,

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