2019 KTM 790 Duke Review: A New Challenger Arrives

At long last, the 2019 KTM 790 Duke has arrived on American soil. The Austrian brand first teased US hooligans with its naked middleweight parallel-twin roughly one year ago. Since that time, we’ve impatiently been tapping our feet waiting for our turn to have a crack at it.

We threw a leg over the 2019 KTM 790 Duke and tooled around the well-used roads surrounding California’s Palomar Mountain, where we quickly came to know the Super Duke R’s feisty little brother and the verdict—it’s an absolute ripper. Without further ado, we’ll get to the Fast Facts.

1. The fiery 799cc LC8 parallel-twin engine powers the 790 Duke. It’s safe to say that KTM’s first foray with p-twin engines has been an absolute success with this spunky powerplant. Featuring a claimed 105 horsepower at 9000 rpm and 64 ft/lbs. of torque at 8000 rpm, the 790 has an exhilarating punch to it. It also provides massive amounts of tractability that riders from across the skill-spectrum will surely love.

2019 KTM 790 Duke lean angle2. Below 5k or so rpm, the 790 can lead a quaint existence in traffic, but where it thrives is anywhere above that 5k marker. Twist the grip and let the 790 spool up quickly, rocketing you in and out of any set of corners in its path. Good low-end, even better mid and great top end power makes this middleweight quite commendable.

3. There’s no buzziness here— just the sweet sound of well-tuned, highly-advanced engine. KTM engineers did a fine job of refining the all-new motor for a performance application. To keep the vibrations at bay, they made use of two separate counterbalancing shafts, which allows just enough viscera through to know that you’re riding a thoroughbred, without rattling the rider to death. A finger follower valve train was used to reduce rotating mass and overall weight, as were forged pistons and connecting rods—top shelf componentry for a middleweight.

4. The secret sauce of the 790 Duke is the 75-degree crank offset and 435-degree “big bang” firing order. The result of that recipe is a downright ferocious exhaust note and lively character.

5. The 2019 KTM 790 Duke’s slick six-speed gearbox is enhanced by the up/down quickshifter. The satisfying snick of working your way through this sporty gearbox would have had me singing its praises, but KTM has given the 790 Duke a nearly flawless quickshifter. The 1290 Super Duke R has prospective buyers ponying up extra cash for those goodies. Up or down, shifting is extremely tight, precise, and done with confidence. In long sweepers, when we were winding the engine out, I felt more than comfortable grabbing an upshift while on the edge of the tire without the fear of unsettling the chassis.

2019 KTM 790 Duke msrp6. A hooligan bike needs a slipper clutch, and the Duke doesn’t spare expense there. With all that fun you’ll be having with the motor and transmission, a slipper clutch comes in handy when we become a bit overzealous with our riding. Part of this component is the assist function, which makes the clutch pull quite light and eases the pain of traffic a fair bit.

7. An aggressive motorcycle with easy ergonomics is the key to any rider’s heart. What makes a bike like the 790 Duke a winner in the segment is its relatively comfortable spread. The narrow chassis and engine make the 32-inch seat height seem shorter than it is, which will undoubtedly help those with shorter inseams. Taller riders will appreciate the spacious legroom that doesn’t sacrifice cornering clearance on the street; I wasn’t dragging boots or footpegs in the canyons, but on-track with higher lean angles, I might. However, the exhaust does conflict with your heel, which you may or may not have an issue with, depending on your boot size. The firm seat is only an issue after straight lining for long periods.

8. KTM was once synonymous with steel trellis frames, and that has changed on the 2019 Duke. Chromoly steel tubing is still the material of choice and the engine is a stressed member to help reduce unnecessary weight. Other weight savings come in the form of the one-piece aluminum subframe. See the silver bodywork under the seat? Well, I was fooled, too, because that’s the actual subframe, which houses the airbox. KTM claims a dry weight of 373 pounds, when it should be quoting an accurate curb weight with its 3.7-gallon tank filled. Ready to go after topping off, it’s in the vicinity of 400 pounds.

9. Effortless handling is intrinsic to the 2019 KTM 790 Duke. The Duke carries its light weight incredibly well. With a roomy 58-inch wheelbase and steep 24-degree rake, the marketing department wasn’t lying when they referred to it as The Scalpel. It is, simply put. Unlike the 1290 Super Duke R, which savages its way through the canyon or track with raw power, the 790 Duke’s more approachable performance figures require a more exacting style. The 790 encourages you to carry your corner and exit speed—it’s something I’ll feel obliged to do until the sun drops behind the hills or the fuel runs out, thanks to how compliant and stable the bike is.

2019 KTM 790 Duke review10. WP Suspension keeps things on the straight and narrow. Up front is a non-adjustable WP 43mm inverted fork, working in conjunction with a spring pre-load adjustable, linkage-free WP shock. Despite that, the suspension works well. At lower city paces, the 790 Duke remains comfortable and nimble, making it something that’s more than just a one-dimensional sporting machine. When you take to the canyons to get your kicks, the Duke is more than up to the task of hard braking and even harder acceleration, keeping the chassis balanced. At this price point, I’d like to see adjustable suspension, but what we get works nicely.

11. A non-adjustable WP steering damper is standard on the 2019 KTM 790 Duke. Should things go south and a tank slapper starts, the steering damper will help alleviate that issue.

12. Maxxis Supermaxx ST tires are good for the street. Maxxis is known in the off-road world quite well, but we can’t say the same for its street offerings in the US market. I was pleased to find out that the 790 Duke’s Supermaxx ST tires allowed a quick and confident pace in the canyons. Sizes are 120/70 front and 180/55 rear, so you’ll have plenty of options once you go through the rubber should you not find it to your liking.

13. The chassis and engine work well, and so do the brakes. Offering more than enough braking power from 300mm rotors in the front, the KTM-branded four-pot radially mounted calipers are manufactured by J.Juan Brake Systems. J.Juan isn’t a household name, but take a look at the WorldSBK or Moto 2 paddocks—the Spanish/Chinese company knows a thing or two about stopping quick. Feel at the radial lever is progressive, with a soft initial bite. Additionally, the inclusion of steel-braided brake lines means you can expect consistent braking performance when you get some heat in them. In the rear, a two-pot caliper works in conjunction with a 240mm rotor, offering good feel and allowing modulation when correcting lines.

2019 KTM 790 Duke for sale14. Supermoto ABS is a thing. Yes, this deserved its own Fast Fact. Supermoto ABS allows you to disable ABS in the rear ONLY. Do you wish to back-in your 2019 KTM 790 Duke as if you were Chris Fillmore while he was winning the 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Middleweight class aboard this very bike? Well, with this you might be able to. Those who take their hooligan riding seriously will be clamoring to give this a shot.

15. The 2019 KTM 790 Duke has an impressive electronics package. Cornering ABS with Supermoto ABS, adjustable lean-angle-detecting traction control, adjustable wheelie control, launch control and MSR (Motor Slip Regulation is an electronic supplement to the mechanical slipper clutch, helping alleviate wheel hop on deceleration). On the street, the electronic aids work incredibly well over challenging roads found throughout the tar-snake ridden Palomar Mountain. The only time I felt the TC is when I hit some unexpected sand. With wheelie control engaged, I can still easily loft the front end over a rise when on the gas; if you want to put it at 12 o’clock, you’ll have to disable the function.

16. Four selectable ride modes are available. Choose between Rain, Street, Sport, and Track when behind the bars of the middleweight KTM. Rain reduces total power output and maximizes electronic intervention, while Street and Sport offer full power and reduce intervention accordingly. All three modes have wheelie control activated. To customize your ride, pop it into Track mode, where you’ll be able to adjust 9-levels of traction control, choose any throttle map and adjust wheelie-control. Track mode and MSR are options on the 790’s big brother – kudos to KTM for throwing those in. Pro tip: TC levels 1-3 are recommended to be used with racing slicks, not street rubber.

17. A full-color TFT display is easy to use and intuitive. It’s the same display found on the 1290 Super Duke R, with an identical interface. If you’re familiar with KTM menus systems, this won’t come as a surprise, and it’s simple to navigate without any instruction.

2019 KTM 790 Duke test18. The Duke family has been integral to KTM’s street lineup since 1994 when the Duke 620 first rolled out onto showroom floors. Since then, several permeations of the single-cylinder powered upright sport bikes have satiated those who have a hankering for wheelies in addition to wanting a competent all-around bike. The 790 Duke doesn’t stray from that well-beaten path of ticket-collecting-fun.

19. Stacked up in arguably the most hotly contest category—middleweight naked sport bikes, the 2019 KTM 790 Duke has shoved its way through the middleweight herd. The 790 Duke is angrily pointing directly at equally sophisticated bikes such as the Triumph Street Triple 765 RS and MV Agusta Brutale 800, while also being comparable to the Ducati Hypermotard 939—at least in spirit.

10.2 I said it once already, but it bears repeating: The 2019 KTM 790 Duke is an absolute ripper of a bike. With more than ample power, the 790 will be helping riders moving up get their kicks at higher speeds. Advanced riders will be leaning on every piece of electronic wizardry, completely in command of the power at hand. Having confidence in your bike is how you build up your skills, and that’s what the Duke does for anyone with the keys. Agility has been paired with everyday utility in a motorcycle that is as fun as it is practical. Sure, I’d like to have some meaningful suspension adjustability, but beyond that, KTM has unleashed a competitive naked middleweight machine within the segment.

Photography by Simon Cudby

Riding Style

2019 KTM 790 Duke Specs

ENGINE

  • Type: Parallel twin
  • Displacement: 799cc
  • Bore x stroke: 88mm x 65.7mm
  • Compression ratio: 12.7:1
  • Valve train: DOHC, 8 valves
  • Fueling: DKK Dell’Orto 42mm throttle body
  • Lubrication: Pressure lubrication with 2 oil pumps
  • Transmission: 6-speed
  • Clutch: PASC slipper clutch
  • Final drive: Chain

CHASSIS

  • Frame: Chromoly steel w/ aluminum subframe
  • Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable inverted 43mm WP fork; 5.5 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-free spring-preload adjustable WP shock; 5.9 inches
  • Wheels: Cast aluminum
  • Front wheel: 3.5 x 17
  • Rear wheel: 5.50 x 17
  • Tires: Maxxis Supermaxx ST
  • Front tire: 120/70 x 17
  • Rear tire: 180/55 x 17
  • Front brakes: Four-piston radial fixed calipers w/ 300mm discs
  • Rear brake: Twin-piston caliper w/ 240mm disc
  • ABS: Bosch 9.1 MP; defeatable

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Wheelbase: 58.1 inches
  • Rake: 24 degrees
  • Trail: 3.9 inches
  • Seat height: 32.9 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 3.7 gallons
  • Dry weight: 373 pounds

2019 KTM 790 Duke Colors:

  • Orange; Black

2019 KTM 790 DUKE PRICE:

  • $TBD

2019 KTM 790 Duke Review | Photo Gallery