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.
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,