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
MCN Senior Road Tester Age 46 Height 6ft Ran a CBR600RR test bike back in 2003
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’
Metzeler M7 Sportec RR
SUSPENSION Both machines on standard settings