KTM 1290 Super Duke R Review | ‘Maximum Smileage’

KTM 1290 Super Duke R weight
2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R

2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Test

The specifications of KTM’s new Super Duke R certainly hint at something special: 416 lb. (claimed) curb weight; 106 ft.-lb. of torque, Bosch Ride-By-Wire fueling, Traction Control, and ABS. All of it wrapped in a sexy trellis frame carried by top-of-the-line WP suspension.

The Brembo radial brakes are powerful and have plenty of feel; the suspension is firm enough to keep the chassis stable in fast corners, but it’s also compliant enough to soak up some pretty ugly surfaces.

We tested the bike at the International Press launch in Malaga, Spain. The comfortable ergonomics made riding all day—two days running—a pleasurable affair rather than a painful one.

I talked extensively with principal test rider Jeremy McWilliams (ex-MotoGP 250cc class race winner), and learned of the exhaustive testing process that this bike went through until it was right. The resultant attention to detail is down to KTM’s dedicated test riders and a staff (from President Jon-Erik Burleson down) who are, almost without exception, accomplished racers and riders themselves — so they know what we want.

The motor is a liquid-cooled, 75-degree V-twin that displaces 1301cc. The additional 100 cc over the RC8 motor comes from a 2 mm longer stroke and a 3 mm bigger bore. Both motors have identical valve dimensions and interestingly, the Super Duke’s compression ratio is slightly reduced at 13.2:1.

Peak horsepower is a claimed 180 that comes around 8,870 rpm, although the rev-limiter cuts in at 10,500 rpm. The motor’s power is transmitted via a back-torque limiting slipper-clutch to a smooth shifting, six-speed gearbox. I was a little disappointed that no quickshifter is offered, but that criticism is one of omission, and not of anything that comes with the bike.

The engine is strikingly under-stressed. At cruising speed it simply lopes along, delivering a pleasantly low, whirring exhaust note from the single exhaust canister, and yet it reacts instantaneously on demand, delivering some 22 ft.-lb. of torque at only six percent of throttle opening. At 80 mph in sixth (top) gear, the engine at 4,000 rpm feels as though it is barely turning, and frankly, at that speed sixth gear feels almost too tall and as though I was lugging the motor. Owners will no doubt drop the engine sprocket by one tooth to compensate.

The Bosch fuel mapping can claim credit for the flawless throttle connection, but the enormous power is delivered so smoothly, and the brilliant chassis handles so neutrally, I simply didn’t have a clue how fast I was going. I doubt this defense will hold up in court, so buyers beware: this is one deceptively fast motorcycle.

A peak torque figure of 106 ft.-lb. (claimed) is absolutely amazing and now takes sport bikes into three-figure torque output. That figure is some 40 percent more than KTM’s own Super Duke 990 (no slouch itself as I’m sure you know) and when you consider that a GSX-R 1000 outputs around 82 ft.-lb. and the awesome Ducati Streetfighter 1098 an even more impressive 85 ft.-lb., you will start to understand why the Super Duke R moves the game into a completely different ballpark. Plain n’ simple, the Super Duke R has a hitherto unmatched power-to-weight ratio among production street motorcycles.

So the Super Duke R should be a cantankerous, difficult to ride, herky-jerky machine; indeed, KTM itself refers to the bike as "The Beast." But despite being a wannabe Bad Boy, the Super Duke R is cleverly sanitized without being reined in. Although an expert level machine, it's easy to ride, and it's easy to ride very fast.

The Bosch electronics offer a choice of three riding modes: Sport, Street and Rain. The modes give progressively softer power delivery, and Rain mode reduces power to about 70-percent of maximum. The choice can be toggled through easily on the fly, via the buttons on the left handlebar. Although there is a noticeable difference between them, the Sport mode delivered such impressive conditioned power that in the end I just left it there no matter what the surface conditions were like.

Traction Control is included, however there are no variables available to the rider; the TC is either on or off. I never felt the TC kick in, however on track at Ascari, the rear end would push out slightly on slow corner exits and yet it never got out of control. I assume that was the TC doing its thing, very unobtrusively.

Naturally the TC also acts as a wheelie control; as the front comes up, the TC detects the slowing front wheel speed, and therefore starts to take the edge off the power. That’s not to say you can’t wheelie with the TC on because you can; however the wheelies tend to be relatively conservative, and therefore eminently controllable. The TC's "off" setting should really be named "Hooligan" mode, because as you might imagine, that’s exactly what it is.

The Bosch 9ME combined ABS is also part of the electronics package, and likewise it works extremely well. Despite the Spanish roads being in generally good condition, earlier in the mornings the dampness left a few slippery patches. While braking for one roundabout, I definitely felt the ABS cut in and pump the front brake lever a little.

Otherwise, the Brembo radial brakes behaved impeccably. The ratios have been well sorted, so the brakes have a relatively soft initial bite, but a dramatically powerful grip that works nice and progressively the harder you squeeze. I screwed up royally on my third lap of Ascari and approached a blind corner way too fast and ultimately ran into the gravel. If you don't mind a bit of swearing (apologies up front on that) you can watch my humiliation video by clicking here.

Fortunately, I kept the bike upright and no damage ensued, but McWilliams later told me that I could have simply clamped down with all my might on the brake and the ABS would have saved me, stopped the bike in time and enabled me to turn in. It takes a lot for me to develop that level of trust, but I do believe him.

The chassis is a chrome-moly trellis painted in KTM’s signature orange. It wraps the extraordinary motor well, and the level of stiffness vs. flex is very well sorted. Using the best suspension that WP offers, the rear shock has high/low speed compression damping, as well as the usual rebound and preload. The 48mm front fork separates the compression and rebound damping into each fork leg so the functions don’t interfere with each other.

Considering the amazing diversity of roads and track we rode on, the suspension behaved impeccably, and although firm, it soaked up some pretty gnarly bumps without ever feeling harsh or over-stressed. In handling terms, the Super Duke R is blissfully easy to ride. My confidence in the front was absolute, and the bike turns quickly and efficiently without feeling nervous or twitchy.

Some of the credit of course goes to the new Dunlop Sportsmart II tires which work very well on this machine, and the KTM feels neutral and confidence inspiring. McWilliams confided in me that in testing, the Dunlop tires blew away the competition with longevity over twice as much as one competitor, and far superior grip to anything else they tried.

Ergonomically of course, the KTM is well appointed. The tapered aluminum handlebars are at an ideal shoulder-width, and the seat is comfortable enough without being the plushest I’ve tried. Placement of the footrests is ideal for my 6' dimensions, and although they are certainly in a sporting position they weren’t so uncompromisingly agonizing that I couldn’t walk at the end of a long day. I never managed to touch them down on the street, despite feeling that I was carrying some decent lean angle at times. But on the track I did manage to ground them a couple of times in fast corners. But all in all, I was extremely impressed how what must surely be a somewhat of a compromise position, actually gave excellent ground clearance as well.

Such is KTM’s confidence in the comfort of the Super Duke R, an accessory package of hard luggage is available from KTM as well as a plusher seat and so on, ready to equip the Super Duke R for full sport-touring should you want.

No two ways about it, the Super Duke R is a truly astonishing motorcycle that does everything exceptionally well. The amount of thorough testing by highly accomplished riders clearly ironed out any quirks before the bike was launched, and that commitment from KTM will pay huge dividends both in outright sales numbers and in satisfaction for the buyer.

Within its design parameters the Super Duke R does everything very well, and unlike most jack-of-all-trades, this motorcycle seems to have mastered them all as well. This is an unbelievably impressive machine that is so deceptively fast my only concern is for my license; but this is no beast.

2014 KTM Super Duke R Specs:


  • Engine type: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°
  • Displacement: 1301 cc
  • Bore/stroke: 108/71 mm (4.25 x 2.79 inches)
  • Power: 132 kW (180 HP) at 8.870 rounds/min
  • Starting aid: Electric starter/12V 11.2Ah
  • Transmission: 6 gears
  • Engine lubrication: Pressure lubrication with 3 Eaton pumps
  • Cooling system: Liquid cooling
  • Clutch: PASC slipper clutch, hydraulically operated
  • Engine management/ignition: Keihin EMS with DBW, double ignition


  • Frame: Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated
  • Handlebar: Aluminum, konifiziert 28/22 mm
  • Front suspension: WP-USD 48 mm
  • Rear suspension: WP-Monoshock
  • Front brake: 2 x Brembo four piston, radially bolted caliper, brake disc 320 mm
  • Rear brake: Brembo fixed mounted two-piston brake calipers
  • Brake system: Bosch 9ME Combined-ABS
  • Chain: X-Ring 5/8 x 5/16"
  • Steering head angle: 65,1°
  • Wheel base: 1482 ± 12 mm (58.34 inches)
  • Ground clearance: 140 mm (5.51 inches)
  • Seat height: 835 mm (32.8 inches)
  • Tank capacity: 18 l (4.75 gallons) Unleaded premium fuel (95 RON)
  • Dry weight: 189 kg (416.6 lb.)


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