‘Once you’re di­alled in, it’s ad­dic­tively sub­lime’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Andy David­son STAFF WRITER

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.

Su­per Duke SE: shrink­ing vi­o­lets need not ap­ply

The Spe­cial Edi­tion Duke packs 16 orangy ex­tras over the stan­dard model Dash is the same as base model but SE gets or­ange re­serv­ior tops There’s an or­ange top yoke too Rac­ing-style brake lever guard

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