The 2-3-4 Sportbike Comparison
Let’s say you have $11,000 or so burning a hole in your pocket—or maybe you have the ability to borrow that much money on your dream naked upright sportbike. While you might think you know what you want, we want to complicate things by planting seeds of discontent in your head.
At the same time, we want to simplify the choice by differentiating these three distinctively naked 2019 sportbikes available for around $11k—the KTM 790 Duke, Triumph Street Triple R, and Suzuki GSX-S1000.
Yes, you can have your choice of an inline twin, triple, or four for about the same price. Let us help you decide which one is right for you, as there’s no “winner” for everyone.
The KTM 790 Duke has great low-end and midrange punch. Power builds in a tractable manner with a good portion of the midrange boost coming in around 5500 rpm, and pulls hard and quickly up to its near 10,000 rpm redline. The twin revs quickly and smoothly with power always available.
In the canyons, you’re more likely to be right in the sweet spot for power, letting you work the throttle and exit aggressively. There is the right amount of engine braking to help slow you down without making it jerky. You’ll hover in the 2nd to 4th gear range. With the up/down quickshifter, that doesn’t take much effort.
The KTM’s 799cc powerplant doesn’t have a rough feeling like some twins—it is smoothly sporting, while still sounding raw and mean. The Duke has power modes, though it lacks one that tames things down enough for smooth urban riding. On the upside, fueling is perfect, which is a big help in urban conditions.
Thanks to an extraordinarily flat torque curve, the Triumph Street Triple R encourages you to continue revving to your heart’s content. Although the 765cc motor has the least amount of torque of the three, it never feels like it.
The power builds in an undeniably linear fashion. There is a slight boost around 7k before it starts to flatten out at 9500 rpm, though power continues to build to the redline. There are no clutch-free shifting devices, so you have to rely on your left hand.
Fortunately, the slipper clutch has a light pull and good friction zone.
It’s no surprise that the Triumph Street Triple R’s motor sounds like a Moto 2 racer once the triple is wound up near its 12,600 rpm redline where the horsepower finally peaks. The Street Triple R has three power modes, plus a customizable mode, so you can dial in throttle response to your liking, making it a great urban commuter when not strafing canyons.
With its old-school inline-four feel, the Suzuki GSX-S1000 produces most of its power above 7000 rpm—it’s putting out 100+ horsepower from there to the 11,750 rpm redline. With that much power and the high rev ceiling, you can rev it out to the moon and rarely hit the rev-limiter as you enjoy a boatload of power before then. The displacement advantage of the Suzuki GSX-S1000 is real. From 3500 rpm to redline, the 999cc puts out more torque than the KTM and Triumph do at their peaks—yes, the high-displacement four out-torques the twin and triple.
Once in the canyons, with the amount of power on tap, you won’t have to do much. You can just roll the throttle on and off, usually staying in one or two gears in the slick close-ratio gearbox.
When necessary, shifting is fast and flawless thanks to the short lever stroke. Your left hand gets a bit of a workout, as the clutch pull is not light. Fueling, though improved from previous years, is not as smooth as we would like until we’re hammering on the throttle. There are no power modes, though traction control is adjustable. Fortunately, the soft bottom end and shrieking top end let you set the tone with your right hand quite easily.
HANDLING and SUSPENSION
The KTM 790 Duke is taut, agile, and light. Despite the longest wheelbase of the three, and rake a touch less aggressive than the Triumph’s, the Duke is always ready to dive into the corner.
The KTM provides excellent feedback through the chassis, and front end feel that coaxes riders into riding more aggressively. This motorcycle goes precisely where you need to. It can change lines without effort or chassis upset.
The KTM’s chassis stability—we credit the wheelbase—in combination with the engine has you getting on the gas as early as you can. The non-adjustability of the WP suspension is a black mark on the spec sheet, but it also does a good job of keeping the bike in line with well thought out settings. Your butt feels the bumps due to the Ready To Race seat and the lack of suspension plushness. Notably, the lack of suspension sophistication doesn’t upset the chassis. The narrowness and light weight of the 790 certainly help the handling.
Balance is what the Triumph Street Triple R is all about. Although it has the steepest rake, shortest wheelbase, and lightest weight, it doesn’t have particularly fast turn-in. It is by no means ponderous, though it waits for a bit more personal direction via steering inputs and body positioning. The Showa suspension is high-quality and fully adjustable—the most advanced units on the three motorcycles.
The Triumph Street Triple R is so balanced, it almost lacks personality. Instead, it takes on your ambiance, responding to your direction without enforcing a temperament of its own.
There is no doubt that the Suzuki GSX-S1000 is the heaviest and bulkiest of the three competitors—it’s a liter-class motorcycle, with four-cylinders. More substantial steering inputs are indicative of the weight, size, and the physical forces you are attempting to overcome. It is nowhere near as agile as the other two—in addition to its weight, the Suzuki also has the most relaxed rake and widest rear tire.
The additional rake is there to help handle the big horsepower that the Gixxis puts out. That stability is quite welcome mid-corner on choppy asphalt, and it rarely gets upset. To put a local spin on it, the GSX-S1000 masters the fast-paced Angeles Crest Highway, but resists a bit on the tightly wound Mulholland Highway.
While the KYB suspension is fully adjustable, it does not offer the erudite damping action of the Triumph’s Showa units. It is reasonably plush, and there’s no harshness, as the damping is good. If you value stability over agility, the Suzuki GSX-S1000 has your number.
There are some unusual choices in the tire department for these three motorcycles.
Triumph shod the Street Triple R with Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa tires—a great choice we all know, love, and trust. It’s a multi-compound tire that is beyond reproach. Give Triumph a clear win in this department.
Suzuki’s choice of the Dunlop Sportmax D214 is a bit baffling. The GSX-S1000 is a pretty high-performance naked upright, and those are closer to sport-touring tires. We didn’t have huge problems with them, though we may have had more confidence with the Dunlop Q3+ or Q4. If we were buying a GSX-S1000, we would take the D214s off immediately and save them for resale time.
KTM went with the very unfamiliar Maxxis Supermaxx ST—it’s not even in Maxxis’ US catalog. It is hard to complain about the performance of these tires, as we were able to ride the 790 Duke hard with confidence. Still, we think there are superior choices out there.
Here, we have a universal preference for the Triumph’s Brembo monoblock calipers and radial master cylinder. The feel is excellent, with a friendly initial bite leading up to outstanding full braking power.
The KTM’s store-brand calipers and matching pads have a long sweep before the initial bite happens, which is soft. While confident deceleration is never an issue, as there’s plenty of it, they lack the outright feel or power of the Triumph. There is still enough feel for hard riding, however, and we do trust them.
With the extra heft of the Suzuki, be prepared to use a bit more right-hand grip. The Suzuki’s Brembos are a lower spec than the Triumph’s, and the GSX-S1000 doesn’t have a radial master cylinder. The result is less feel and more effort required than either the KTM or the Triumph, yet still high-quality.
With a comfortable reach to the grips and plenty of legroom, the KTM 790 Duke would be one of the most comfortable of the three if the seat wasn’t a piece of plywood covered in pleather—a nod to KTM’s dirt heritage. It feels the lowest of all the bikes, even though it’s tied with the Suzuki for tallest. Regardless, the KTM is a good option for shorter riders because not only is it extremely narrow, the motorcycle is very light.
A sporting riding position that is a few steps back from supersport greets you on the Triumph Street Triple R. It is canted forward, and your knees bend closer to a supersport motorcycle than the other two. You sit atop the bike, and the wide handlebars are comfortable. From there, you can enjoy the super-comfy seat until the placement of the pegs starts to intrude on your joints.
Big and roomy, the Suzuki GSX-S1000 accommodates those who would want to stretch out a bit. The seat height is noticeable at a stop, though the perch is quite enjoyable on long freeway runs. The overall riding position is somewhere between the more-upright KTM and crouching Triumph.
DASH and ELECTRONICS
Being an all-new motorcycle in 2019, the KTM 790 Duke has an impressive array of electronic riding aids, along with a clean, simple, attractive full-color TFT dash to monitor everything. Its interface is easy to use, and you get a full suite of IMU-supported adjustable electronics.
Wheelie control and ABS can be turned off for the full hooligan experience, and throttle maps can be changed, too. The electronics especially help on the track, though they are a bit of an overkill for street use. WC draws power back over little rises and lets you loft the front wheel. For most of us, the twin isn’t powerful enough to necessitate wheelie control.
The Triumph Street Triple has the most adjustable and best-looking dash of the trio, though we wish we could force it to stay in the black-background configuration. There is no IMU, so you get less adjustability of the regular suite of aids than you would expect. Riding it as hard as we pleased in the canyons, the electronics stayed unobtrusive, which is exactly how we like it. A nice little feature is the self-canceling turn indicators.
When you get an inline-4 liter bike for the price of 800-class twins and triples, something has to give. One of those places is the dash and electronics. The aging LCD dash looks like a vintage Casio watch—not even close to being in the same league as the Triumph and KTM. The only adjustability is traction control, and you probably won’t want it on the most invasive of two settings—leave it on level 1.
PICKING YOUR WINNER
Twin: The KTM’s torquey engine is absolutely awesome. With its impressive handling and light weight, you are looking at a bike ready for the street and track—it’s just that good in the twisty stuff. The Duke wants to be ridden aggressively, and that makes it less versatile. It is quite clear that all of the KTM 790 Duke’s R&D budget went into the engine, chassis, and electronics, which is how a hardcore sport rider would want it. At $10,499, it is the least expensive of the three, and it feels like it.
Triple: The Triumph’s quality makes you feel like you are getting your money’s worth at $11,099. It looks fantastic, the fit and finish are high, it has a superb engine, handles intuitively, and has fully adjustable suspension. It isn’t as agile as the KTM nor as fast as the Suzuki, but the Triumph Street Triple R offers a balance between the two that is right for a large swath of riders.
Four: The Suzuki might seem antiquated in comparison to the KTM and Triumph, but you’re buying it for the motor, essentially. It lets you ride lazily, as you barely have to shift—just work the throttle and enjoy its insane top-end power. In exchange, you will spend more energy pushing it through the tight corners at pace due to its stability and weight. If you are a rider that would also like a fully reliable high-speed commuter motorcycle in addition to being blazingly fast on the right mountain roads, the Suzuki GSX-S1000 is ready to flex its muscles.
Photography by Don Williams
Riding Style (Arthur Coldwells)
- Helmet: Arai Quantum-X
- Jacket: Dainese Tuono D-Air
- Gloves: Dainese Guanto 4 Stroke Evo
- Pants: Dainese Misano
- Boots: Dainese Torque D1 Out Air
Riding Style (Kaming Ko)
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
- Suit: Dainese Mugello R D-Air
- Gloves: Alpinestars Supertech
- Boots: Dainese R Axial Pro In
Riding Style (Nic de Sena)
- Helmet: Shoei X-Fourteen
- Jacket: Spidi Bolide
- Gloves: Spidi G-Carbon
- Jeans: Spidi J-Dyneema
- Boots: TCX Roadster 2
|2019 KTM 790 Duke||2019 Suzuki GSX-S1000||2019 Triumph Street Triple R|
|Bore x stroke||88 x 65.7mm||73.4 x 59.0mm||78.0 x 53.4mm|
|Maximum power||105 horsepower @ 9000 rpm||143 horsepower @ 10,000 rpm (approx.)||116 horsepower @ 12,000 rpm|
|Maximum torque||64 ft/lbs @ 8000 rpm||78 ft/bs @ 9500 rpm (approx.)||57 ft/lbs @ 9400 rpm|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4vpc||DOHC, 4vpc||DOHC, 4vpc|
|Fueling||Del’Orto DKK 42mm throttle body||EFI w/ 44mm throttle bodies||EFI|
|Clutch||PASC slipper clutch||Assist-and-slip||Slipper|
|Frame||Chromoly steel||Twin-spar aluminum||Twin-spar aluminum|
|Front suspension; travel||Non-adjustable WP 43mm inverted fork; 5.5 inches||Fully adjustable KYB 43mm inverted fork; 4.7 inches||Fully adjustable Showa SF-BDF 41mm inverted fork; 4.5 inches|
|Rear suspension: travel||Linkage-free spring-preload adjustable WP shock; 5.9 inches||Linkage-assisted spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustable shock; 5.1 inches||Linkage-assisted fully adjustable Showa piggyback shock; 5.3 inches|
|Tires||Maxxis Supermaxx ST||Dunlop Sportmax D214||Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa|
|Front tire||120/70 x 17||120/70 x 17||120/70 x 17|
|Rear tire||180/55 x 17||190/50 x 17||180/55 x 17|
|Front brakes||300mm discs w/ 4-piston calipers||310mm floating discs w/ Brembo 4-piston monoblock calipers||310mm floating discs w/ Brembo 4.32 4-piston monoblock calipers|
|Rear brake||240mm disc w 2-piston caliper||240mm disc w/ Nissin single-piston caliper||220mm disc w/ Brembo single-piston sliding caliper|
|ABS||Bosch 9MP two-channel||Standard||Standard|
|DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES|
|Wheelbase||58.1 inches||57.6 inches||55.1 inches|
|Rake||24 degrees||25 degrees||23.9 degrees|
|Trail||3.9 inches||3.9 inches||3.9 inches|
|Seat height||32.5 inches||31.9 inches||32.5 inches|
|Fuel tank capacity||3.7 gallons||4.5 gallons||4.6 gallons|
|Curb weight||415 pounds (approx.)||461 pounds||410 pounds (approx.)|
|Colors||Orange; Black||Pearl Glacier White; Metallic Matte Black No. 2||Jet Black; Matte Aluminum Silver (+$250)|
|Price||$10,499 MSRP||$11,099 MSRP||$11,250 MSRP|