2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Review | Track and Road Test

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R track review

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Review | The Beast 2.0 Lives

The rise of the naked sport bike in the mid-2000s created an impressive technological and horsepower arms race between motorcycle manufacturers, and in 2018, it almost seems as though the naked class has reached its zenith.

Now, we know that isn’t true—a brave manufacturer will come along and push the red-line further, but as it stands the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is trading blows with its most direct competitor, the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R track review

We haven’t had our gloves on the venerable Super Duke R since we flew to Qatar in late 2016, so it was high-time to see where the Super Duke R stood in 2018. Our Super Duke R traversed the better part of California multiple times and became our test machine at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II tire review. Over the course of a few months, I came to know the Super Duke R quite well.

Unchanged for the model year 2018, the KTM Super Duke R received its last major update in 2017. Visually, the changes were apparent, but the Austrian brand had cooked up plenty of other performance fixings to pair with what our eyes would be feasting on.

Undeniably, the centerpiece of the 1290 Super Duke R is its 75-degree 1301cc V-twin LC8 powerplant, and it underwent some appreciated refinements. Titanium valves boast a revised face design, and 10mm shorter intake accommodates a bump in compression from 13.2 to 13.6:1, teasing out an extra 500 rpm over its predecessor. On the spec sheet, the SDR flexes an additional four horses, totaling to a claimed 174 horsepower, along with a staggering 104 ft/lbs of torque.

KTM engineers aimed to soften the rough edges of the massive V-twin, improving its effectiveness, smoothness, and versatility. A beefed-up crankshaft was introduced to quell the LC8’s vibrations, while resonator chambers within the cylinder heads optimize the air/fuel mixture to encourage fuel efficiency. These changes, and a 4.75-gallon fuel, give the Super Duke R an impressive range, even when being flogged on the circuit.

The motor in The Beast 2.0, as KTM has dubbed the SDR, will roar to life when given the slightest hint of an opportunity. Thanks to those updates, you’ll be making even greater use of the massively broad powerband.

The 1290 Super Duke R’s powerplant leads something of a Jekyll and Hyde lifestyle. Below 6000 rpm, the Super Duke R’s massive twin engine is remarkably amicable. It allows you to chug along in slow-rolling traffic without any hiccups from the Ride-by-Wire throttle or fueling. It makes for a curiously friendly experience when partaking in the antithesis of what the Super Duke R set out to do—commuting.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R for sale

Above 6000 rpm, the Duke’s personality begins to transform and something that all motorcyclists need to experience. Lie, beg, borrow, or steal your way onto the saddle of the SDR because it is indeed one of the crown jewels of performance V-twins.

When in the canyons you’re likely to be hovering in the same gear or two, rarely fussing about with needless shifting. No matter the gear or rev count, rest assured that you’ll be able to use that claimed 104 ft/lbs of torque to lunge out of the apex.

Out on the circuit is where you can truly explore the Super Duke R’s powerplant to its fullest potential, and it feels just as at home there as it does on the street. Cresting over the turn one at Laguna Seca, I’d often be approaching speeds of 140+, and The Beast 2.0 still had plenty of oomph to pull harder. I didn’t. Even better, picking the bike up from slower corners is terrific, thanks to that smooth, predictable power delivery.

Our test unit had KTM’s Performance Pack, and it is $400 well-spent. The package includes KTM’s Quickshifter+ system with clutchless upshifting and autoblip downshifting. Banging up through the gear box is incredibly smooth, while the autoblip feature is best used when riding aggressively; lower rpms can make it a hair abrupt.

Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) is included with the Performance Pack—an electronic rear wheel slip control supplement to the engine’s mechanical slipper clutch used during corner entry.

When I think “sport bike” I don’t think “comfortable,” but that’s what the Super Duke R is. Its 33-inch seat height, and narrow chassis allows me to almost flatfoot with my 32-inch inseam. Engineers widened the bars by 20mm, lower them by 5mm, and pushed forward 18.5mm in the 2017 update.

The new handlebar would suggest a more aggressive posture in comparison to its predecessor. Yet, the 2018 KTM Super Duke R remains on the sporting side of a neutral riding position, with no excessive knee-bend.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R test

The spacious cockpit allows riders to shuffle from side to side quickly. When it’s time to point the SDR back towards the garage, it isn’t an excruciating affair. Even after several 350+ mile days in the saddle, I couldn’t complain about discomfort beyond what a ride like that brings.

The downside to spacious accommodations is that the ground clearance is reduced – something that’s primarily noticed on track. At high lean angles, you’re more likely to scrape boots and hard parts because the rearset is lower to the ground to allow for greater comfort.

Compounding that issue is a more extended reach to the footpegs, making it a little difficult for me to weight the outside peg as much as I like during corner exits on track. If a Super Duke R were to find its way into my permanent stable, I’d opt for the KTM PowerParts adjustable rearsets or run some aftermarket options.

For taller riders or those with longer inseams, the 2018 KTM Super Duke R is most likely the best option for you when it comes to comfort. Other upright naked machines on the market, such as the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100, have much more aggressive riding position and far less legroom.

The Super Duke R’s 58.3-inch wheelbase does flaunt the most lengthy wheelbase in class, which contributes to its impressive stability in many situations. The SDR is an intuitive machine that takes direction well. It has no qualms with being on the edge of the tire, while also delivering plenty of feedback through the steel trellis frame.

When the pace wicks up to something that most would describe as spirited in the streets, the SDR is steady with a 58+ inch wheelbase and less-than-aggressive nearly 25 degrees of rake. Yet, transitioning the Super Duke R’s roughly 470 pounds from side to side is a snap in those tight mountain chicanes.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R specs

All those characteristics are aided by the 48mm WP inverted fork with fully adjustable damping. Oddly, spring-preload adjustment is not available on the fork. Out back, a fully adjustable WP shock takes care of suspension duties.

During the last update, the Super Duke R suspension did get an overhaul, moving to slightly stiffer spring rates and new damping components, effectively making the SDR a bit tauter. It’s noticeable on the street and appreciated, keeping the bike balanced and seesaw-free. The WP suspension soaks up impurities, big and small, without putting any discomfort into the rider or chipping away at the confidence of Sunday warriors.

Of course, the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R does need to hit the track. Given the chance, you’d be crazy not to give it a whirl. When you do, you’ll find some helpful baseline suspension settings under the seat to get you started.

On the circuit, the Super Duke R has a little bit more difficulty keeping the chassis on the straight and narrow as it does on the street. In slower turns, where you’re piling on the brakes then leaning on the bike’s incredible torque during exit, I found that it predictably wallowed slightly mid-corner slightly. In those moments, the feedback from this machine shines through, good or bad—you always know what’s happening.

When the suspension was loaded, for example on the exit of the corkscrew at Laguna Seca or in high-speed corners, the SDR’s stability returned promptly, suggesting that The Beast 2.0 prefers to have its suspension loaded evenly.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R review

With a stiffer suspension set up, I do not doubt that these issues will be resolved. There’s plenty of proof as KTM’s own Chris Fillmore (a former AMA Superbike racer) and Rennie Scaysbrook of Cycle News have piloted the KTM Super Duke R in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on a couple of occasions with great success. Of course, KTM PowerParts offers competition level suspension at an additional cost.

Electronically, the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R has a competitive set of safety features on tap. Lean-angle-detecting traction control, cornering ABS, cruise control, Supermoto mode, and optional Motor Slip Regulation (for reducing skidding from downshifts) are available.

The caveat to all of this is that without the optional Track Pack, owners won’t have any adjustability beyond two ABS settings (1,2 and off) and Supermoto mode – traction control adjustment is unavailable with the base model.

For an additional $300, the Track Pack will give you access to a Track mode on top of the available Sport, Street, and Rain riding modes. It will also unlock launch control, allow wheelie-control to be disabled, and enable throttle response selection within any riding mode. More importantly, you’ll be able to tune traction control intrusion with nine levels of adjustment—a function only available when in Track mode.

Fortunately, our test unit came equipped with the Track Pack, and I was able to test all these features. I’d argue that the adjustability is worth having, especially if conditions change while on track, or the standard Metzeler Sportec M7 RR tires begin to drop off. However, other motorcycles in the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R’s price range do not make the customer pay for basic electronic adjustability.

All of these electronic aids are accessed with help from the fresh, full-color TFT display that was brought in with the 2017 update. In direct sunlight or at night, it’s perfectly visible.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R LED lights

The 2018 Super Duke R will pin you into the saddle in a flash, and to help keep things looking fresh and unscathed, the SDR employs Brembo M50 Monoblock calipers up front, clamping onto floating 320mm rotors. Feel at the lever is as you’d expect from M50s—great and with ample stopping power to match.

In the rear, a dual-piston Brembo caliper works in conjunction with a 240mm rotor. Modulating the rear brake is easy as can be, giving the rider lots of control when trail braking, keeping the chassis settled or when the front wheel inexplicably raises skyward – a strange problem that all riders of the Super Duke R seem to experience.

It can’t be stressed enough—the star of the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R show is the short-stroke V-twin engine. We get lost in the unwavering power and ego stroking that only absurd torque figures can provide.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R black

We won’t ignore the fact that KTM has put another banger of an engine. We can still acknowledge what an incredibly versatile bike the 2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R can be, despite what hair-raising numbers might be on the spec sheet.

There aren’t too many motorcycles in this class that can offer comfort, performance, and utility at these levels, while making compromises that don’t chink its track armor to any significant degree. As a street bike, it’s tough to make any kind of meaningful argument against the SDR; it’ll have all the engine, chassis, and thrills you’ll ever need.

Photography by Barry Hathaway, H. Mitterbauer, et al

Riding Style – Track

Riding Style – Street

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specs


  • Type: 75-degree V-twin
  • Displacement: 1301cc
  • Bore x stroke: 108 x 71mm
  • Maximum power: 174 horsepower
  • Valve train: DOHC, 8 valves
  • Transmission: 6-speed w/ quickshifter (as tested)
  • Clutch: Hydraulically actuated wet multiplate assist-and-slipper clutch
  • Final drive: 525 X-ring chain


  • Frame: Chromoly trellis
  • Front suspension; travel: Fully damping adjustable 48mm inverted WP fork; 4.9 inches
  • Rear suspension: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable KYB piggyback reservoir shock; 6.1 inches
  • Tires: Metzeler Sportec M7 RR
  • Front tire: 120/70 x 17
  • Rear tire: 190/55 x 17
  • Front brake: Floating 320mm discs w/ Brembo Monoblock 4-piston calipers
  • Rear brake: Fixed 240mm disc w/ Brembo 2-piston caliper
  • ABS: Two-channel Bosch 9.1 MP


  • Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
  • Rake: 24.9 degrees
  • Seat height: 32.8 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 4.75 gallons
  • Estimated fuel consumption: 42 mpg
  • Curb weight: 470 pounds (approx.)

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Colors:

  • Black
  • Black/White

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Price:

  • $18,699 (as tested)
  • $17,999 MSRP

2018 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Review