What to do?
Chris finds the 1290 near-perfect; so much so, room for improvement is limited
IT’S THE PERENNIAL question for a bike journalist: “What’s the best bike you’ve ridden? What would you buy with your own money?” It’s a weird one, because the job demands riding such a huge variety of bikes for different purposes. I loved the Suter 500, but it’d be a shit commuter. I had great fun on a GPX250 in central London once, but I’d get my hat nailed on in the fast group...
But my KTM Super Duke long-termer is the closest I’ve got to a firm answer. Why? Because it absolutely suits me. I dearly loved my 2016 R1, but it was a bit small and focused to span the breadth of my riding – it loved the trackdays but not the mid-distance touring, or commutes in the rain. There were things that irritated me, too – linked brakes, fuelling, riding position... Putting those right soon adds to the bill, so it wasn’t the most convincing theoretical ‘forever bike’.
But I’ve seriously gelled with the KTM: I’ve ridden it more than any other bike I’ve either owned or had custody of, since I got a moped at 16 and spunked every last quid I earnt wearing a groove around Peterborough. It fits me physically and I find it comfortable, as much as you can expect from anything sporty. The big-twin torque delivers my sort of power. The chassis is good enough that it’s not disgraced or unsatisfying on a trackday, yet it’s getting on with daily commuting and longer runs without issue.
It’s genuinely hard to pick fault and seek improvements – I’m even reluctant to change the exhaust. Silencers are well-documented as nothing more than cosmetic (the cat chamber under the bike does most of the noise/emissions control), but full systems are obnoxious and touch-and-go for ‘noisy’ trackdays, let alone caning it on the road without drawing attention to yourself. Besides, John B’s 2014 bike already has the Akra, so we can already tell you how they work. Very well, is the answer... A moderately silenced de-cat would be of interest, but it doesn’t exist.
I was at Donington recently, where I saw a large group of 1290 R owners with fettled bikes. But when I looked closely, none were very radical, and I didn’t spot anything that screamed ‘must have’ – they’d all been tweaked for the track, and I don’t want to ruin it for road use when it’s a winning combo of fun and useful. A few seconds a lap won’t help me: there’s no prizes for trackdays. Though judging by some people, you’d think there were...
So I’m looking at simple, detail changes. I’ve started with a £158 tank bag. Dull, but the upright riding position means a rucksack fouls a tail pack of any size, so I’m trying to spread the load. KTM do a specific option that secures to the fuel cap. No arsing around with straps, and the plastic tank means magnetic bags won’t work. Bolt a fitting to the fuel cap, drill the bag (really!), fit the quick-release retainer. Sorted. It doesn’t have a clear map pocket or external pocket for coins/ toll tickets, etc, but it’s well made and unobtrusive.
The orange mob also sell a comfort seat – slip the original off, pop the new one on. It feels better, but next month’s 1200-trip will reveal more. They also sell a discomfort seat – a glassfibre race seat that I’ll try later on track for a simple, easily-reversible increase in feel.
Garmin’s latest Zumo 396 sat nav has gone on, too, though a neat fitting on the minimal Super Duke isn’t possible with the included parts, so I’ve ordered a better fitting to tuck it in. Whipping the tank and seat off for battery access and cable routing is easy: it’s far more logically assembled than a Japanese bike, down to the fuel hose dry-break connector being positioned so you can undo it without balancing the tank in the air with your other hand, as is usually the way...
That’s about as much as I feel it needs: next stop, the Alps for a long weekend. Then it’s getting some cosmetic tweaks, and KTM’s race suspension option is getting tested. I can always put it back as it was if doesn’t work out...
‘Whipping the tank and seat off for cable and battery access is easy’
Next stop: the Alps. If Chris can find his way out of Peterborough
Getting a neat fit for the Garmin required some home butchering of the supplied kit