Par­al­lel uni­verse

Back in 2015 KTM teased us with the drop dead gor­geous 790 Duke Pro­to­type. Three years later it’s fi­nally here – but is the ‘Scalpel’ sharp enough to cut down its naked mid­dleweight ri­vals?

Motorcycle Monthly - - Launch Report - Words: Carl Stevens Pho­tog­ra­phy: KTM

It’s been a long time com­ing, but KTM has been pretty busy since it whet­ted our taste buds with the prospect of a class defin­ing mid-ca­pac­ity hooli­gan. Build­ing ground up bikes al­ways takes a while and thanks to KTM’s me­thod­i­cal ap­proach – that has seen the 790 kit­ted with more new fea­tures than you can shake an or­ange stick at – it’s easy to see where the time’s gone.

Ditch­ing the sin­gle cylin­der lump of old, the Aus­trian mar­que has added an­other cham­ber into the Duke’s mix. And thanks to a suc­cinct de­sign and some snazzy com­po­nents such as forged pis­tons, dual bal­ancer shafts, a painstak­ingly honed cylin­der head and pre­cise valve tim­ing, the com­pact and light­weight twin-pot’s de­liv­ery dwarfs the still avail­able 690’s out­put with a claimed 105bhp and im­pres­sive 64lb-ft of pulling torque.

Even if you’re one of those die-hard KTM sin­gle cylin­der fans and are strug­gling to di­gest this change in small-bike pow­er­house di­rec­tion, you’ll hope­fully be able to take com­fort in know­ing the brand has main­tained that rau­cous deep Barry White-es­que tone that we’ve come to love and ex­pect from Dukes. This is thanks to a 75˚ crank off­set and 435˚ fir­ing or­der, mim­ick­ing the bark and bril­liance of the big bad 1290 Duke. KTM has even an­gled the ex­haust sys­tem to de­liver the en­gine note to your ear with more vigour.

On the sub­ject of ex­hausts, I know a lot of peo­ple are dis­ap­pointed with the pipe’s lo­ca­tion (the pro­to­type had a jaw-drop­ping Mo­toGP un­der-seat style when it was un­veiled to the world in 2016) but while the pro­duc­tion-ap­proved can doesn’t match up to the pro­to­type’s vis­ual draw, its po­si­tion­ing does per­mit space un­der the seat for the bike’s elec­tronic nerve cen­tre and air­box. Every­thing about the KTM is built with pur­pose at heart, from the way it’s styled to the way it han­dles, the way it makes its power to the way it makes you want to wind its throt­tle to the lim­iter.

Yep, it’s a pretty cal­cu­lated ma­chine and the same goes for its stressed mem­ber steel chas­sis and load bear­ing rear sub-frame. With han­dling and agility be­ing so vi­tal to a mid­dleweight, KTM has gifted the 790 high qual­ity sus­pen­sion in the shape of WP forks, which, al­though they aren’t ad­justable, have a pre-de­fined set­ting that is claimed to suit ev­ery type of rid­ing (and a broad range of rider weights), cou­pled with a WP preload-ad­justable shock and hid­den KYB damper to save you from tank slap­ping your way to in­fin­ity and be­yond. To keep you sunny-side-up, an­other first for KTM is its de­ci­sion to head down the Maxxis tyre route. Sports-tour­ing Maxxis Su­per­maxx ST rub­ber has been de­vel­oped specif­i­cally for the bike.

On top of all the me­chan­i­cal good­ness, the 790 comes with an im­pres­sive set of elec­tron­ics that has, es­sen­tially, been taken from the flag­ship Su­per Duke. Fully ad­justable trac­tion con­trol, a power as­sisted slip­per clutch, ride-by-wire throt­tle, ad­justable cor­ner­ing ABS, plus a quick­shifter and blip­per lead the tech­no­log­i­cal charge, with four dif­fer­ent rider modes of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent pre-de­fined lev­els of power and throt­tle re­sponse (Track, Sport, Road, Rain) all change­able at the flick of a fin­ger. There’s wheelie con­trol too, plus a launch con­trol sys­tem.

Hav­ing made my way out to a swel­ter­ing Gran Ca­naria for the model’s glitzy launch, the time even­tu­ally came to cock a leg and kick off the in­evitable joyride. A short and slow jaunt was the first or­der of the day, but not be­fore I’d had the chance to take in the bike’s low seat height (it’s even lower than the 390 Duke’s) and its low weight feel – at just 169kg wet it’s def­i­nitely no looka­like sport­ster.

The su­per­moto-es­que toy made my hob­bit-like frame feel im­me­di­ately

at home and I was pleased to see a de­cent size seat, some tall mounted han­dle­bars and low(ish) pegs. With the mo­tor boom­ing and the 790’s dash lit up like a Christ­mas tree, I scrolled through the rider modes and slot­ted it into ‘Street’ mode.

The mo­tor’s ini­tial throt­tle pick up still felt sharp and punchy through the bike’s slick op­er­at­ing ride-by­wire sys­tem. It may have only been a half-hour trek down a high­way and through vil­lages but I in­stantly got a feel for the 790 Duke, which proved play­ful on de­mand and con­tain­able when tootling. Hit­ting the mo­tor­way was my first real chance to per­form a speed test, so I got the mo­tor singing and found the bike’s straight line speed and sta­bil­ity to my lik­ing.

Get­ting back on some smaller roads, we hit a load of slow stop-start sec­tions, which weren’t to the KTM’s lik­ing. Dawdling along, the mo­tor did feel a bit lumpy, with the only cure be­ing to throw more revs into the mix and run a gear lower than you’d ex­pect. Switch­ing to Rain mode im­proved mat­ters some­what.

The 790 Duke might have shone while be­ing well be­haved, but be­ing ragged was where it was hap­pi­est – as I soon grasped hav­ing knocked mine into Sport mode just in time for a 70-mile stint on daz­zlingly twisty roads no wider than a kart track. This was where the Duke’s sub­lime chas­sis came into its own, of­fer­ing the kind of change-of-di­rec­tion rate that you would ex­pect from a shop­ping trol­ley.

The bike was carv­ing cor­ners with min­i­mal ef­fort. You could re­ally feel the ben­e­fits of the 111,111 man hours (yes, that many) that’ve gone into build­ing this bike and, as we swept ef­fort­lessly through third gear flow­ing twisties there wasn’t any soft wal­low­ing or head shak­ing nas­ti­ness to write home about, not even when we hit one sec­tion that was rid­dled with hair­pins and short straights.

It was here that I re­ally got a taste for the en­gine de­liv­er­ing what it does at its best. The throt­tle in­stantly picked up and the torque just cat­a­pulted me out of bends. I soon learned that as fast as I could throw gears through the slick op­er­at­ing ’shifter, the Duke’s mo­tor was more than ea­ger to con­sume them and throw revs and pace back my way.

In gen­eral, the whole bike was per­form­ing very well on the roads, in­clud­ing its four-pot

“I found the 790 the per­fect tonic to my de­sires for more – more power, more agility, more fun. It sure ticked all my boxes.”

stop­pers that were do­ing a good job of haul­ing the 790 up on de­mand, al­though if you’re go­ing to be fussy the ini­tial bite could’ve been a lit­tle bit sharper.

I am also a fan of the slip­per clutch and au­to­blip­per, which per­formed in tan­dem like troop­ers as I stamped down three or four gears at a time, en­cour­ag­ing the best kind of pops from the can on tap. Fair play to KTM, it hasn’t just bolted on elec­tron­ics, the fac­tory has given the 790 a con­sid­ered ar­moury, which in turn feeds a huge amount of con­fi­dence to the rider.

To step things up a level, KTM had or­gan­ised a track work­shop at Cir­cuit De Mas­palo­mas. It was here that I got the chance to un­leash Track mode. No mat­ter how good a bike is on the road, the track will usu­ally weed out any is­sues, yet as soon as I got out and gave it some stick, the 790 Duke felt stag­ger­ingly good.

I’d been look­ing for­ward to this but I se­cretly had two stan­dard reser­va­tions about the spec of the bike: the non-ad­justable forks and the Maxxis rub­ber. Hap­pily, those fears were un­jus­ti­fied. Not only did the tyres per­form a treat, of­fer­ing great grip, feed­back and agility, but the sus­pen­sion of­fered im­pres­sive sta­bil­ity through the faster bends and of­fer­ing loads of feel and con­fi­dence at full lean in the cor­ners.

But it wasn’t just the han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics that grabbed my fancy; the mo­tor won me over too. This bike’s not stupidly pow­er­ful, but the way it de­liv­ers its torque and lin­ear power is ad­dic­tive.

I al­ways found the KTM to have the power I de­sired on tap, and to be eas­ily ac­cessed too – even with the trac­tion con­trol turned off. The power would surge through from 3000rpm and keep pulling up to its 10,000rpm lim­iter.

I was hav­ing a lot of fun on the bike and the plea­sure con­tin­ued when we switched the race track for the Ja­panese-style Mo­t­o­gymkhana course, where the sheer agility of the pack­age was brought to the fore. The course was marked out in an in­sanely tight man­ner, but it was noth­ing the Duke couldn’t han­dle.

It’s in­cred­i­ble just how nim­ble the 790 is even with the long wheel­base, which is mainly down to hav­ing a steer­ing head an­gle of 66˚ and 98mm of trail – a clever move from the Aus­trian brand to have an ag­ile bike with­out com­pro­mis­ing sta­bil­ity.

This might sound like tosh but it’s might­ily im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing the Duke is ac­tu­ally 65mm longer than the Street Triple, yet is one of the eas­i­est bikes I’ve ever rid­den to get from side to side. Clever stuff.

Of course, a bike will al­ways have com­pro­mises, yet KTM has done an ab­so­lutely crack­ing job of cre­at­ing an im­pres­sive and fun pack­age. For un­der £8500 you get a ridicu­lous amount of bang for your buck, but how would it stack up against the com­pe­ti­tion? Does the ‘Scalpel’ gen­uinely cut the Street Triple from the mid­dleweight throne?

Is it user-friendly enough to lure new rid­ers away from the likes of an MT-07? Is it re­ally that much bet­ter than the 690 Duke? They’re all tough ques­tions to an­swer, but what I will say is that with the 790 you get a unique ex­pe­ri­ence. It will suit some rid­ers a treat, while oth­ers will hate it.

But for me, I’m def­i­nitely one of the for­mer. Hav­ing spent last year blitz­ing around on the 390 Duke, I found the 790 the per­fect tonic to my de­sires for more – more power, more agility, more fun. It sure ticked all my boxes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.