The 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R has kicked off the year right with an extensive revision. KTM’s sportbike flagship comes out swinging with a completely new stiffened chassis, revised geometry, updated electronics, weight savings, and engine updates that tease out a few more ponies.
Dubbed The Beast 3.0 by KTM, the 2020 Super Duke R marks the third iteration of the Austrian brand’s beloved V-twin powered wheelie ambassador. Importantly, all the updates aim at making it an even sportier, track-capable weapon, without compromising its street readiness.
I packed my bags and headed off to the curvy backroads of the Algarve region in Portugal—plus a visit to the dynamic and demanding circuit that is Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, otherwise known as Portimão—to see what the 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R had in store. Without further ado, here are the Fast Facts.
1. The Beast’s 1301cc LC8 75-degree V-twin heart is stronger than ever, producing three additional ponies on the trot. If you enjoy gigantic, quick-revving, torque-rich V-twins, look no further—your chariot has arrived. The Super Duke R has always delivered those qualities in spades, and now promises a dyno-chart stomping 180 horsepower at 9500 rpm and 103 ft-lbs of torque at 8000 rpm, with roughly 86-percent of that torque accessible at 4,500 rpm. It’s buttery-smooth, linear, and comically powerful, yet maintains a civilized personality when cruising about town without the excessive lumpiness that twins of this size can develop. The monstrous V-twin wicks up without any hesitation, even when slogging along at city speeds, sending the rpm gauge flying as-you-please. The Duke’s massive low-end grunt quickly blends into equally brilliant mid-range power. Here’s the real kick in the saddle—it doesn’t stop raging until you’re shaking hands with the rev limiter.
2. Those performance gains didn’t come out of thin air—they are a product of being able to bring it in more efficiently, among other updates. If you want to create more power, you’ll need to draw in more air and fuel, then expel exhaust gasses more effectively, so that’s just what KTM did. To that end, a wholly revised air intake through the center of the headlight has been introduced, coupled with a redesigned airbox that creates a ram-air effect at high rpm. Also, top-feed fuel injectors and more powerful coils have allowed engineers finer control with fueling, creating much better response at the throttle. Meanwhile, larger 54mm and 60mm headers increase The Beast’s ability to eject gasses, while also making use of a dual catalyst solution. The main catalytic converter is under the motor, and a secondary unit is in the new muffler to beat emissions.
3. Several tweaks save weight and prepare the 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R for Euro 5 emissions standards. Internally, the Super Duke R’s architecture returns—piston, crank, titanium valves, DLC coated finger-follower cams, as well as the bore and stroke, are identical. However, KTM engineers worked hard to meet Euro 5 without compromising performance goals. They also took the opportunity to shave nearly two pounds from the overall weight of the engine by slimming the engine cases and optimizing oil routing, reducing internal friction. Also, a lighter-weight water pump is new. Tighter machining tolerances for the cylinder, piston, and piston rings have been introduced, in the name of meeting and respecting Euro 5 standards for consistency.
4. The six-speed gearbox and slipper clutch received a serious update. New for 2020 is the Pankl-built gearbox that now features a shorter shifting stroke and improved actuation. A new machined splined shaft, as well as new bronze and copper coatings on the shift forks, are responsible for the noticeable improvements over the earlier version. The new KTM 1290 Super Duke R shifts with precision and less effort than before. Better yet, the shift lever itself can be placed in a short or long-throw position, allowing owners a bit of fine-tuning. Feel at the clutch lever is light, and it isn’t nearly as grabby at lower rpm thanks to redesigned clutch plates that help with disengagement.
5. KTM’s Quickshifter + is an option, but I’d consider it mandatory. The updated gearbox deserves a round of applause, though the encore is reserved for the new up/down quickshifter featuring improved kill times and superior shifting across the entire rev range. Previously, the Super Duke R’s up/down quickshifter could induce lurching at lower rpm and wasn’t anywhere as refined. If you’re buying the new Super Duke R, make sure you get it.
6. The 2020 KTM Super Duke R supports a full suite of electronic rider aids and brand new six-axis IMU. One of the significant electronic updates for 2020 is the inclusion of a six-axis IMU (previously a five-axis) that improves how ABS or traction control engages while factoring slide control into the revised TC algorithm. The Super Duke R features cornering Road ABS, nine-level lean-angle-detecting traction control, cruise control, and heated grips. Launch control and Supermoto ABS are accessed through the optional track mode. Supermoto disables rear-wheel ABS, and removes pitch detection and cornering detection from the front. ABS is permanently on in front to comply with Euro 5. Also, Motor Slip Regulation, an electronic supplement to the mechanical slipper clutch, returns as an option.
7. Three ride modes are available on the 2020 Super Duke R. Rain, Street, and Sport are standard on your Super Duke R from the showroom floor. Each preset riding mode modifies the throttle map, wheelie control and traction control intervention. Rain offers the most subdued throttle response and heaviest rider aide interventions – perfect for damp pea-soup fog conditions we met during the start of our street ride. Street kicks things up a notch with noticeably snappier throttle response and suitable settings. Sport is crisp and athletic, with lower TC settings and a WC level that will let you loft the front end – not too high or it will cut power, but enough to extend your tentacles with your fellow cephalopods while in the canyons. The track throttle map is the most direct connection—it’s as aggressive as it gets.
8. The optional $750 Tech Pack includes the Track Pack, Quickshifter +, MSR, and adaptive brake light. This is the way the Super Duke R is meant to be experienced. The Track Pack unlocks Track and Performance modes, allowing riders to disable wheelie control and adjust TC on the fly with the new paddle clickers on the left-hand controls. Additionally, riders can change from Road ABS—which is used across all preset riding modes—to Supermoto ABS. Note that the Motor Slip Regulation is disabled in Track mode, or when Supermoto ABS is engaged. The two riding modes differ in that Performance mode will still display the KTM My Ride navigation, and cruise control can be used. If you don’t purchase the Track Pack, you’ll be stuck with the preset throttle, WC, and ABS settings. Depending on your comfort and skill level, it could be a necessity when hitting the track.
9. Enough homework—tell me how the electronics work already! Road ABS works well, but can be conservative at times, especially for a bike with this type of performance. I would like to see a more aggressive ABS mode that retains cornering support, acting as a middle ground between Road and the racetrack-ready Supermoto setting. Supermoto mode performed superbly, letting you trail brake deep without a hint of intervention on track. The TC is quite linear, allowing more wheelspin and slip as you bump down from level 9 to 1. I found level 5 most comfortable on track; it subtly reigned in power when I needed it, and gave me some rope when I wanted it while riding the undulating circuit that is Portimão. Levels 1-3 are recommended with slick tires, and I’d agree with that, as it lets the leash out.
10. To wheelie control or not wheelie control, that is the question. The Super Duke R is seemingly designed to do wheelies, as all that torque will quickly point the front wheel to the sky. On the street, I kept WC on, and Sport mode will let you loft over rises for a laugh. On the track, WC will restrict power and help keep the front end planted when cresting over the many massive hills throughout Portimão, as it’s intended to do. Although my wheelie game needs work, I was able to manage the Super Duke R’s gentle skyward rise between the throttle and rear brake. With WC off, I found my exits to be much stronger. Interestingly, the 1290’s WC lacks multiple settings like many of KTM’s competitors; it’s either on or off. The WC setting asks riders a pretty simple question: Do you want to wheelie or not?
11. An all-new, stiffer chassis has imbued the Super Duke R with greater track chops, without sacrificing street prowess. KTM engineers wanted more front-end feel, greater chassis rigidity, and improved handling—they got it all. Visually, the all-new steel trellis frame is a stark contrast to its predecessor, with additional bracing points towards the front of the engine, while also being 4.4 pounds lighter. Three millimeters of offset was added to the newly designed triple clamps, too. To improve anti-squat properties when on the gas, the swingarm was raised 5mm, in addition to being 15 percent stiffer. The shock also gets new linkage. The longest-in-class wheelbase grows 0.6 inches to 58.9 inches. Meanwhile, the rake has increased by 0.7 degrees to 25.2 degrees. Finally, the engine is 38mm higher, raising the center of gravity, giving the rider greater leverage to overcoming those sizeable geometry dimensions.
12. Those chassis changes have a considerable impact. From the moment we hit the street, it was apparent how much easier the Super Duke R steers and initiates a turn, even at low speeds. The stiffer chassis has traded some comfort in the name of stability, but that’s a compromise I’ll gladly make. When met with compression bumps and other inconsistencies, the Super Duke R is solid, gobbling them up and pressing on. All of that translates to the track, where the higher center of gravity makes it more agile, quickly getting on and off the edge of the tire. At the same time, the new swingarm improves mechanical grip dramatically and helps cornering when hard on the gas. The front-end feel is superior, letting you put your faith in it as you barrel into turn 1 from, slowing from 160 mph. In short, this chassis is fantastic.
13. Fresh suspension is aboard the Beast 3.0. A newly designed, fully adjustable 43mm WP Apex fork can be tailored to your needs, and for the first time on a Super Duke R, it features adjustable spring-preload. On the street, the damping is controlled and supple enough to hide most of the rough stuff. On the track, it’s more than up to some hard-braking zones, while also keeping front end confidence high. A physically larger cartridge sits in those fork tubes, while a new machined recess in the fork caps prevents the springs from jostling around, improving the actuation. The all-new fully adjustable WP shock has separate damping reservoirs and circuits to ensure consist behavior as the shock heats up. It also comes with a remote spring-preload adjuster. In practice, the shock performed admirably, helping keep the Super Duke R nice and tidy on and off the circuit.
14. The Beast hits the gym and cuts the fat. KTM engineers made it a goal to shave weight where they could. It wasn’t achieved by dropping weight from one part in particular; a few grams here and there all add up. It’s done in some smart ways, with the bodywork being thicker at stress points and thinner in less critical areas. Borrowing a page from the 790 Duke playbook, the Super Duke R’s subframe is now one lightweight unit of aluminum and composite materials, as opposed to the streel trellis subframe. The fuel tank also lost a half-gallon of capacity, further reducing the curb weight. Virtually all components from the frame, engine, suspension, wheels, have dropped a few grams. The result is a curb weight of 462 pounds, about 10 pounds lighter than last year.
15. Brembo delivers the goods once again. Up front, we have the coveted Brembo Stylema four-piston monoblock calipers clamping onto dual 320mm floating rotors. In the rear, a dual-piston caliper seizes upon a 240mm rotor. In practice, the feel at the Brembo lever is impressive and offers more than enough stopping power to halt The Beast in its tracks. The rear, which you’ll use on this bike, has great feel and can be used to tighten up lines or as wheel control.
16. The 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R gets some fresh kicks—it’s all-new wheels and tires for the orange machine. Redesigned alloy wheels are lighter and stronger, and have 120/70 and 200/55 Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 tires mounted. While they are Bridgestone S22s, Bridgestone developed the OEM rear tire specifically for this model, utilizing the same carcass construction from its race rubber to improve grip and feel. As far as street tires go, they communicate the information well and performed admirably on the track, session after session.
17. The Beast is still one of the comfiest in the class. In 2020, the sub-33-inch seat height returns, with the handlebar lowered and pushed forward slightly to put even more weight over the front wheel. The handlebar can be adjusted forward nearly an inch. Even with those changes, it’s still easily one of the most comfortable machines in its class. For taller riders, it offers a tremendous amount of legroom. New for this year are adjustable rearsets that allow riders to raise or push the footpegs back. You can also switch to GP-shift by moving one bolt, and choose from a long or short stroke on the shift lever. I never once found myself dragging toes, as I did on the previous bike. The 4.2-gallon tank is redesigned and offers more support when braking, which genuinely helps reduce fatigue.
18. A fresh five-inch TFT display and new hand controls await. The last Super Duke R’s TFT display certainly wasn’t bad, but this is clearer and displays information more thoughtfully. Importantly, new hand controls are much easier to use while riding, and KTM wisely included paddle buttons to adjust TC settings while in track mode. When in standard modes, those paddle buttons control your cruise control speed. There is Bluetooth connectivity and, when coupled with the KTM My Ride navigation app, riders will be able to see turn-by-turn navigation displayed, as well as answer phone calls, should they be utilizing an in-helmet audio system from Sena or Cardo.
19. The 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is a serious evolutionary step, and a welcome one at that. KTM engineers should pop the sekt, because the 2020 Super Duke R is now equally at home on the street or track. Previously, I lamented about the Super Duke’s softer chassis when pushed on the circuit and now, you won’t hear me say such a thing. It feels sportier, fiercer, and far more pointed than previous generations while retaining the streetable mannerisms that make it suitable for a weekend getaway, quick canyon rip, or track day. Beyond that, the updated TC is stellar. Do you like insane amounts of torque and power wheelies? Get yourself in the saddle of a 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R as soon as possible.
Photography by Marco Campelli, et al.
2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R on track has slicks and KTM Power Parts accessories.
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
- Suit: Mithos RCP-18
- Air bag: Alpinestars Tech Air
- Baselayers: VnM Sport Compression
- Gloves: Alpinestars GP Pro R2
- Boots: Alpinestars Limited Edition Victory Supertech R
2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Specs
- Type: 75-degree V-twin
- Displacement: 1301cc
- Bore x stroke: 108 x 71mm
- Maximum power: 180 horsepower @ 9500 rpm
- Maximum torque: 103 ft-lbs @ 8000 rpm
- Compression ratio: 13.5:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC, 4vpc
- Fueling: Keihin EFI w/ 56mm throttle bodies
- Transmission: 6-speed w/ optional clutchless shifting
- Clutch: Hydraulically actuated PASC slipper clutch
- Final drive: Chain
- Frame: Chromoly steel trellis
- Handlebar: Tapered aluminum
- Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable WP Apex inverted 48mm fork; 4.9 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted, fully adjustable WP Apex shock; 5.5 inches
- Wheels: 5-spoke cast aluminum
- Front wheel: 17 x 3.50
- Rear wheel: 17 x 6.00
- Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22
- Front tire: 120/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 200/55 x 17
- Front brakes: 320mm discs w/ Brembo Stylema Monoblock calipers
- Rear brake: 240mm disc w/ Brembo caliper
- ABS: Bosch 9.1MP 2.0
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 58.9 inches
- Rake: 25.2 degrees
- Seat height: 32.9 inches
- Fuel tank capacity: 4.2 gallons
- Curb weight: 462 pounds
2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Colors:
2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Price:
- $18,699 MSRP