THE £9k QUES KTM’S high-tech, high-spec and highly-priced 690 Duke R costs the same as the much-loved CBR600RR, but can it de­liver any­thing like as many thrills?

KTM 690 DUKE R v HONDA CBR600RR The mis­sion KTM’S new 690 Duke is the world’s most pow­er­ful sin­gle, and this £9149 Duke R ver­sion is one of the most ex­pen­sive. It costs about the same as Honda’s ever­green CBR600RR su­pers­port (the Honda is ac­tu­ally £150

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - Michael Neeves By Michael Neeves SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER

MCN Se­nior Road Tester Age 46 Height 6ft Ran a CBR600RR test bike back in 2003

Bruce Dunn

MCN Road Tester Age 50 Height 5ft 6in MCN’S dat­a­log­ging guru and res­i­dent stunt god

ine thou­sand pounds is a lot of money in any­one’s book. Spend it on a bike and you’ll want a de­cent amount of bang for your buck in re­turn, but can a sin­gle­cylin­der naked de­liver all you need?

On first glance it doesn’t tell the world you’ve just spent all that money on a bike. The KTM stands skinny like an or­ange skele­ton with barely an ounce of meat on its bones. You have to read the stick­ers on the seat unit to tell it’s the 690 and not the A2 li­cence-friendly 390 ver­sion – then search again for the ‘R’ de­cal to tell if this is the hot ver­sion.

Stood side- by- side with the £150-cheaper CBR600RR the Honda looks classier: it’s exquisitely built and with its swathes of body­work gives the im­pres­sion that you’re get­ting a whole lot more bike for your money.

But delve a lit­tle deeper into the KTM’S soul and there’s more to it than meets the eye. It eas­ily out-trumps the Honda in the spec depart­ment. It has fully ad­justable WP sus­pen­sion, a Brembo front caliper and mas­ter cylin­der, a full-colour dash dis­play, a ti­ta­nium Akrapovic end can, cor­ner­ing ABS, trac­tion con­trol, elec­tronic en­gine brak­ing con­trol and the strangest thing ever fit­ted to a play­ful KTM: anti-wheelie. For­tu­nately you can turn it off.

The Duke R’s pièce de ré­sis­tance is of course its mag­nif­i­cent LC4 sin­gle­cylin­der mo­tor. It oozes smooth and has a wide spread of power from 3500rpm all the way to its 9000rpm red­line. It’s an en­gine that thinks it’s a twin and has none of the short, sharp plod you’d as­so­ci­ate from a big sin­gle.

For this year the LC4 mo­tor has un­der­gone a big over­haul. KTM have in­creased the bore by 3mm to a shoe pol­ish tin-like 105mm di­am­e­ter and short­ened the stroke to 80mm, so it revs harder and pro­duces 7% more power. A claimed 73bhp is se­ri­ously im­pres­sive, and even more stun­ning when you think it only has to push 147.5kg (claimed and dry) of bike along.

Out on the road the 690 Duke R is ev­ery­thing you’d hope and ex­pect from the slightly bonkers Aus­trian firm. It

Nde­mol­ishes B-roads with as­ton­ish­ing speed, so much so that you have to rev the knack­ers off the CBR600RR to keep up. The KTM’S soft WP sus­pen­sion and light weight al­lows it to hover over road bumps and crests. It finds grip through its class-lead­ing Met­zeler M7 Sportec RR tyres and darts through flip-flops like a su­per­moto. Over on the Honda, with its stiffer, Mo­tog­pin­spired chas­sis, it’s harder to man­age on rough sur­faces and is ham­pered by its OE Dun­lop D214 tyres, which flat refuse to warm up in cold con­di­tions.

Not only is the KTM in­cred­i­bly fast from A to B, it’s a dod­dle to ride. That com­mand­ing, front-for­ward su­per­moto rid­ing po­si­tion, the plush sus­pen­sion, the docile power de­liv­ery and the piece of mind of trac­tion con­trol make you feel in­vin­ci­ble. Stick the elec­tron­ics in Su­per­moto mode and they dis­able the rear ABS so you can skid into cor­ners. Turn the TC off com­pletely and you’ve got one of the finest wheelie ma­chines this side of a Yamaha MT-07.

Punch the KTM hard off a cor­ner and it thraps an­grily, like a big mo­tocrosser and with no fair­ing to pro­tect you from high-speed wind­blast you get a huge im­pres­sion of speed. But away from the mad­ness the Duke R is roomy, com­fort­able and re­turns an easy 45mpg (one more than the Honda), so you can squeeze over 130 miles from its tiny 14-litre fuel tank.

But de­spite its play­ful­ness the 690 Duke R isn’t per­fect. The gear­box lacks pre­ci­sion and if you let the en­gine drop be­low 3500rpm it turns from smooth twin back into a clat­tery, old fash­ioned sin­gle. The rev-lim­iter is harsh and that fancy colour screen is an­gled al­most flat, so it picks up re­flec­tions and is hard to read. And for­get about know­ing what’s go­ing on be­hind you

CBR set the trend for un­der­seat cans in ’03

be­cause the mir­rors are a con­stant blur.

With its lack of wind pro­tec­tion the 690 Duke R is clearly more a Sun­day morn­ing trouser-trem­bler than a cross­con­ti­nen­tal cruiser, mak­ing it very sin­gle-minded. As fel­low tester Bruce Dunn sum­marises: “It’s a bit of a onet­rick pony, and at nine grand you’ve got to re­ally want a bike like this.”

So what if you spend your £9k on a CBR600RR in­stead? With its RCV Mo­togp styling, mass cen­tral­i­sa­tion, fully ad­justable sus­pen­sion and un­der­seat pipe it left the world in slack­jawed amaze­ment when it came out in 2003. It’s won count­less World and na­tional su­per­sports cham­pi­onships and still con­tin­ues to do the busi­ness on race­tracks around the globe today.

But nowa­days in­ter­est in sports­bikes has waned and for the su­pers­port class even more. Riders have got so much more choice now: bril­liant ad­ven­ture bikes, slinky cruis­ers, hip­ster ret­ros and mad nakeds like the 690 Duke R.

Su­per­sports bikes are cramped, peaky lit­tle track ma­chines, right? Well, no. 600s have gained an un­fair rep­u­ta­tion for these traits and more, but it doesn’t take long in the CBR600RR cos­set­ting sad­dle to re­alise it’s a class act.

The Honda’s in­line four-cylin­der mo­tor has a rich, creamy power de­liv­ery with enough grunt for nor­mal rid­ing with­out need­ing to buzz through the slick gear­box. The rid­ing po­si­tion isn’t as roomy as the KTM’S, but it’s per­fectly com­fort­able for a six-footer like me and I’d be happy to load it up and cruise across the con­ti­nent on my sum­mer hol­i­days, es­pe­cially with the ex­tra weather pro­tec­tion. Like the 690 Duke R it’s not too thirsty and re­turn­ing 44mpg, it has a 175-mile range from its 18.1-litre tank.

But of course, when you wring the CBR’S neck, it flies. It has three more cylin­ders than the KTM and al­though at 196kg ready to go it weighs a lot more, it’s a fair chunk more pow­er­ful, too. Honda claims 118bhp, but ex­pect around 105bhp on a dyno.

That ul­ti­mately makes the Honda a lot faster. You’ll eas­ily see 120mph on the KTM’S colour dash, but make that 160mph-plus on the Honda’s old black and white dig­i­tal dis­play. So if you re­ally want bang for your buck on the road and track (see track story), the CBR600RR is re­ally the way to go.

On the road the Honda drenches you with a glo­ri­ous sen­sa­tion of speed as its four tiny 67mm-wide pistons go be­serk inside the clockwork mo­tor. There’s noth­ing like thrash­ing a 600: it feels and sounds like you’re hurt­ing it, but you know it will sim­ply never blow up.

And of course, when you spend nine grand on a Honda, you get a Honda. Build qual­ity is ex­cep­tional; ev­ery­thing is bolted to­gether in well-honed per­fec­tion.

Com­pared to the KTM, the CBR600RR is the more grown-up, el­der states­man of our nine grand sports­bikes. It’s the bike that takes ev­ery­thing in its stride, from dis­tance rid­ing to track­days with­out com­plaint. It’s su­perb value for money.

With the KTM, it’s not so much what you get for your dosh, it’s the way it makes you feel. It’s not a sen­si­ble, prac­ti­cal bike by any stretch, but for in­tense thrills on scratchy B roads, few bikes get close.

‘The CBR gives a glo­ri­ous sen­sa­tion of speed as its four tiny pistons go berserk inside the mo­tor’


Rock­ing­ham Na­tional


1.7 miles


Bruce Dunn


Met­zeler M7 Sportec RR

SUS­PEN­SION Both ma­chines on stan­dard set­tings

Down bumpy B-roads it’s the KTM 690 Duke R that’s lead­ing the march

Full-colour dash se­ri­ously looks the part Keep that tacho nee­dle high to make it fly At home in its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment on track, the CBR600RR ex­cels thanks to its su­per­sweet chas­sis

– Road testers or cat bur­glars? You de­cide...

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