KTM 79 n0d DUKE

There was no doubt about this re­sult. Ev­ery­one who has rid­den KTM’S 790 Duke has loved it, for its sim­plic­ity rather than tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion. And 3000 miles later we still love it…

BIKE (UK) - - KTM790DUKE - By Hugo Wil­son Pho­tog­ra­phy Ja­son Critchell

CUE FAN­FARE, DRUMROLL and dry ice. Bike’s Bike of the Year 2018 is KTM’S sen­sa­tional new 790 Duke. It may not be es­pe­cially in­no­va­tive, though the par­al­lel twin cylin­der en­gine is all new and a mas­ter­piece of com­pact pack­ag­ing, plus the elec­tron­ics are a marvel for a sub £10,000 mid­dleweight. And it’s not open­ing up new mar­ket sec­tors, in­stead it’s caus­ing Tri­umph and Yamaha deal­ers sales anx­i­ety. The reason this bike wins Bike Of The Year 2018 is that it is such a com­plete and com­pelling pack­age of per­for­mance, han­dling and us­abil­ity, and its fun­da­men­tals are so right. Praise the lord it’s light, ag­ile and bril­liant, un­in­tim­i­dat­ing fun. KTM have es­tab­lished 180 ki­los and 100bhp as the new bench­marks for mo­tor­cy­cling bril­liance. Ev­ery­one who’s rid­den our long term test bike has come back gush­ing in their praise, and ea­ger to ride it more. We have al­ready cov­ered 3000 miles on our long term test bike. It’s not per­fect, but we know where the rough edges are. This is what we’ve found…

‘The KTM’S dirt bike her­itage means the 790 is su­per ag­ile and re­sponds to in­puts through your feet as much as your hands’

En­gine and trans­mis­sion

Hit the starter but­ton and the 790 Duke’s en­gine fires up with a flat, harsh bark from the stain­less ex­haust. It sounds fit. It is fit. On our dyno it’s putting out 101bhp at 9000rpm and 63 lb.ft of torque at 6500rpm, at the back wheel. This al­most ex­actly matches KTM’S claims. Our tame en­gine ex­pert, Jamie Turner, Pro­fes­sor of En­gines at Bath Univer­sity was im­pressed. ‘I like the way there are no real dips in the torque curve, just two plateaus at 6000 and 6500rpm. It must feel good go­ing from one to the other.’ It does. Tak­ing it easy you short shift be­low 6000rpm, but let the en­gine spin past that and the revs rise quickly and the Duke re­ally starts to shift. The lim­iter cuts in just be­low 10,000. This flex­i­bil­ity is use­ful. On a tight, challenging road you can use a higher gear than might oth­er­wise be the case, roll into cor­ners us­ing en­gine brak­ing and then get back on the throt­tle with­out chang­ing down. It’s an easy bike to ride quickly. At Rock­ing­ham cir­cuit, on Bike’s ex­cel­lent road bike only track­day, you could go faster and stay more re­laxed by leaving the bike in a taller gear too, in al­most any cor­ner. This is an all-new en­gine from KTM, and their first par­al­lel twin. Jamie is im­pressed with the eight valve, dou­ble over­head camshaft pack­age. ‘The use of two bal­ance shafts en­ables solid mount­ing. The 75 de­gree crank pin in­ter­val is to get it to sound like their V-twins. This will give some resid­ual sec­ond-or­der force as well as sec­on­dorder cou­ple, so the slight vibes prob­a­bly come from there.’ Slight vi­bra­tion is vis­ceral, not in­tru­sive. Af­ter a brisk 180-mile run all my dig­its were work­ing nor­mally. There’s more. ‘The 790 ap­pears to run on petrol vapour,’ as­serts con­tribut­ing editor Mike Armitage, who used the KTM on his 80-mile com­mute. ‘Rid­ing as fast as I dare on B-roads achieves high 50s to the gal­lon, and it’s easy to get over 70mpg. Cruise and you get over 80. Stag­ger­ing.’ Down­sides? The low speed fu­elling is coarse and ir­ri­tat­ing in town. You end up us­ing more clutch than you oth­er­wise might, and knock­ing it into neu­tral and coast­ing to traf­fic lights. The fu­elling is­sue also man­i­fests it­self in fluc­tu­at­ing en­gine speed at a con­stant throt­tle. This is of­ten an is­sue for Euro 4/5 com­pat­i­ble bikes. ECU maps are com­plex, and take a while to per­fect. I’d hope that the 790 will get an up­dated map at its first ser­vice, and at sub­se­quent ones (which hap­pens at 9300 miles). Rain mode im­proves things slightly and might be where town dwellers end up. The clutch is light and pro­gres­sive and the gear­box is sweet too, and the quick­shifter comes as stan­dard. ‘The quick­shifter is one of the best – light, ac­cu­rate, works dawdling and thrash­ing,’ says new bikes editor John West­lake. Jamie is im­pressed with the pack­age. ‘This looks to be a good case of state-of-the-art en­gi­neer­ing be­ing ap­plied, which is what I’d ex­pect from KTM. There’s noth­ing stand-out, and the sole unique sell­ing point is the crank pin in­ter­val.’ And from the sad­dle, last word on the en­gine goes to John. ‘The en­gine is a frisky, char­ac­ter­ful de­light. I got straight off a 1199cc Su­per Ténéré and the KTM felt so much more perky in the midrange and top-end I had to laugh – how could some­thing with just 799cc be this peppy? The bike’s light weight ob­vi­ously helps (it’s nearly 100kg lighter than the Su­per Ten), but even so… And I love the way the ex­haust crack­les when you wind it on. It’s hard to imag­ine get­ting bored of this mo­tor­cy­cle.’

Han­dling and ride

Ac­cord­ing to West­lake, the joy of the 790 Duke’s han­dling is ap­par­ent be­fore you even start the en­gine. ‘Wheel­ing it out of the garage it feels the same size as a 390 Duke, and not much heav­ier (it’s ac­tu­ally only 30kg more). That makes such a dif­fer­ence to ev­ery­day life – U-turns, slow fil­ter­ing, in-shed ma­noeu­vring… they’re all a dod­dle.’ It’s ab­so­lutely true. The KTM’S light weight and dirt bike her­itage mean the 790 is su­per ag­ile and re­sponds to in­puts through your feet as much as your hands. Keep­ing a loose grip on the bars has never felt more nat­u­ral. In­crease the pace and the 790 feels just as good. The bal­ance of rid­ing po­si­tion, ge­om­e­try and grip make the han­dling neu­tral and in­tu­itive. Bike’s art editor Paul Lang rode it at our Rock­ing­ham track­day. ‘It holds its line beau­ti­fully, but if you want to change the line mid-cor­ner then it’s no bother. The flick­a­bil­ity is quick and pre­cise.’ All this praise is tes­ta­ment to the fact that get­ting the ba­sics right is more im­por­tant that of­fer­ing a zil­lion ad­just­ment op­tions. All you can fid­dle with on the 790’s sus­pen­sion is the rear preload. That may lead to is­sues if you are re­ally push­ing on bumpy roads. ‘Hold the bars too tight while squirt­ing down a wind­ing lane and the front end gets a tad wrig­gly,’ says Mike. ‘The han­dling is as perky as the en­gine,’ agrees John. ‘I never had any sta­bil­ity prob­lems, though the pres­ence of a steer­ing damper sug­gests it might get frisky on a bumpy road.’ Brakes are good too, as Paul found at Rock­ing­ham. ‘Two fin­ger brak­ing was a joy as feed­back from the front tyre was fan­tas­tic.’ Again, light weight pays div­i­dends. KTM will doubt­less re­lease an R ver­sion of the 790 fea­tur­ing up­rated and ad­justable sus­pen­sion, but part of the charm of this bike is its sim­plic­ity so there’s a risk that ‘im­prov­ing’ it might have the op­po­site ef­fect.


The four rid­ing modes are con­trolled by the back­lit left­side switchgear. Street, Sport, Rain and Track. The three base lev­els de­liver as you’d ex­pect, with grad­u­ally re­duced lev­els of trac­tion con­trol in­ter­ven­tion. There is slight im­prove­ment in the glitchy low speed throt­tle re­sponse in Rain mode, but for road use we stuck with Sport the whole time, ex­cept for mo­ments of silli­ness when we went with Track mode. The set­tings re­vert to last used when the bike is restarted. Track mode is cus­tomis­able, of­fer­ing re­duced lev­els of TC, ABS and anti-wheelie. Or they can be turned off com­pletely. There’s also a launch con­trol func­tion (which is funny once, but also kinda point­less) and a Su­per­moto func­tion that turns off the ABS on the rear wheel; skids and wheel­ies will al­ways be fun. Bosch’s lean an­gle sen­si­tive sys­tem is mas­sively re­as­sur­ing. Ex­cept for com­edy in­ter­ludes we left all the safety nets in place. It’s not in­tru­sive. Even on track.

No mis­tak­ing it’s a KTM

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