WORLD FIRST TEST KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R SE
‘Once you’re dialled in, it’s addictively sublime’
e love special editions. There’s always something, well, special about them. Specials usually mean more power, more class or more goodies. But before you spit out your morning Frosties at the thought of more power – there aren’t any changes to the 1290’s absurdly punchy V-twin engine in SE guise.
Instead, the Special Edition Super Duke comes loaded with exquisite extras from KTM’S bulging and eclectic Power Parts catalogue, including an Akrapovic exhaust, beefy triple clamp, wavy discs, adjustable brake and clutch levers, lever guards, ergonomic rider
Wand pillion seats and protective casings and covers (16 components in total). It also boasts a new colour scheme. Add them all up individually and you’re looking at £2605.88. The Special Edition Duke is £15,999 while the standard machine is £14,149. That’s a saving of £755.88, not including the special paintjob that seals the deal.
The standard 1290’s seat isn’t uncomfortable, but KTM have given the SE a new ergonomic seat anyway, complete with matching pillion seat. It’s now 20mm higher, and despite the mean look and hunched-over-the-bars riding position, the Duke is all-day comfy. After a solid day in the saddle it’s impressive to note that nothing aches or hurts, apart from the muscles that pull your mouth into the demonic grin that accompanies every mile!
Bling and extra orangeness aside, the real USP of the Super Duke is still how it makes you feel; that torqueladen engine pulsing you between corners with an urgency that could easily overwhelm the unwary. In fact, ‘overwhelming’ should be the bike’s official tagline – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes less so.
The first thing that strikes you with the 1290 though isn’t the bonkers engine, it’s the vagueness of feel from the front end. It’s an impression that eventually fades – assuming the tarmac’s dry, it’s much worse when wet – but it’s definitely there. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the original Aprilia Tuono, which also felt desperately anaesthetised at the bars. The Duke isn’t quite in the same league, but at all speeds there’s an alcoholic fog shrouding the front tyre’s feedback with a vagueness that inspires a dose of additional care. It’s an oddly useful trait, initially protecting you from the full aggression of the motor until you’re more confident of the front tyre’s intent.
Once your brain has learnt to interpret what you’re feeling through your gloves and backside, the problem switches from a fear that you’re blindly overloading the front, to the inherent problems (and fun) caused by it always being unloaded. Any throttle aggression drives its nose into the air like a dog detecting sizzling sausages on a distant barbeque – which is fine when you’re intentionally having fun, but requires a deft hand, or compete reliance on the excellent electronics, if you’re simply trying to push on. It’ll even lift off the throttle in fourth.
Drive from the rear end, and the connected feel at the throttle, are both fantastic – but the standard tyres are regularly overwhelmed by the torque, stiff suspension, and sharp geometry.
On a less aggressive bike Dunlop’s Sportsmart2 is a perfectly reasonable choice, but KTM have dropped a clanger in making it OE on the Super Duke R. The traction control light-show is fun
to watch, but we much prefer seamless grip and sharp feedback. Even after 40 minutes of fast-paced riding, the engine’s sheer mumbo will still push the front or spin the rear if you’re harsh with your inputs. They don’t ruin the ride, but I’d replace them immediately if I’d just bought the bike.
When it does manage to get the power down, there are few more glorious motors. Its outright pace is phenomenal, driving you forward with enough gusto that you’ve always got to think that little bit further ahead. On the road you’ve got to keep one eye on the big digital speedo, too. Three figures are surpassed with such ease that even the wind pressing against your chest won’t convince you that you’re hustling too hard. Once you’re dialled in to the feel of the 1290, it’s addictively sublime.
Get off the throttle and onto the brakes though, and some of that vagueness returns. The initial bite from the big Brembos, and soft first inch of the stroke from the fat fork, sees the nose dive hard before the fork starts to offer any firm support. Once it does, the feel at the lever isn’t as deft as you’d hope for, and once again you’re left guessing as to the front tyre’s intent.
But none of these niggles are enough to dull the fun. There’s a fluidity and brutal grace to the Super Duke R, and it pulls off a clever duplicity where it’s also all-day comfortable, doesn’t adversely impose its nakedness on your neck muscles, and feels versatile enough in town, on country roads or the motorway that there’s no doubting this is pony with more than one trick in its nosebag.