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…
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