KTM 790 Duke, Suzuki SV650X and Zero DSR pile on the miles
1500 miles with KTM’S 790 twin reveal the Duke’s immediate hits and misses
It must have been ten laps into the trackday when I realised something a bit special was happening. And that was that, despite riding a relatively humble parallel twin with only half the power of a modern superbike, I was having a ball: more furious fun than I managed at the same circuit on a Honda Fireblade SP just a few months before.
It’s true. The 790 Duke can change direction faster, brake later and, on a pair of sticky Metzeler Racetec K3s, lean further than any other bike you can ride out of a showroom, certainly that I can think of.
What it lacks in brute force it makes up for with an easy-going lightness and a contagious sense of fun. It takes nothing, least of all riding round as fast as you can in circles, too seriously and using its blistering corner speed cheekily places itself in the way of more serious bikes for as long as it can. There’s just enough damping, immense feel and a neat package of electronics to help you maximise braking, lean, bravery… everything.
I don’t want to get carried away here. It would be swamped by the Blade and its bigger boy chums away from the torturous infield at Rockingham, whose hairpins and second gear corners are made for a light and torquey middleweight, but the 790 had made its point.
All this was on day two of my tenure of the KTM, and early impressions are that it’s a ruthless commuter, too. It’s ultra-slim like a single, so you ride with your knees all but touching, tucked in tight, and feel happy to point it at gaps so narrow you instinctively breathe in. Then it digs into roundabouts and clears off sharpish.
There are a couple of early misses too. The fuelling is abrupt and spiky at low rpm, making it hard to be smooth on a constant or off-to-on throttle, while my bike’s exhaust is already as orange as the tank, something I would be pointing out to my dealer were it mine.