It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to see that the Streetfighter class is predicated upon all the great anti-social behaviors in motorcycling. Wheelies, backing it in, canyon terrorizing, and track day ripping fun are all crucial components to the repertoire of a well-rounded naked bike.
With those traits in mind and since its inception, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R has been hoisting its wheelie-emblazoned version of the Jolly Roger, carrying on that time-honored tradition of bad manners.
There is an honesty in a machine that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s like adult entertainment; dress it up however you want, but we both know why you’re here, and we’re not judging you (we are).
The 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R makes no bones about what it was designed to do, with nearly every aspect of it being conducive to collecting tickets as if they were merit badges. But this year, engineers have worked to make it an even more pointed, and sporting weapon than ever before.
The Beast 3.0 is nearly a complete revision when compared to its predecessor released in 2017. Featuring an all-new stiffer steel-trellis frame, new suspension, updated electronics, a bit more power, and a slightly revised riding position, the new Duke R promises to make up for any deficits felt on the racetrack without compromising its renowned streetability.
To see if those promises were kept, I headed off to the Algarve region of Portugal to ride Autódromo Internacional do Algarve—colloquially known as Portimão. Made up of 15 exciting, dynamic corners, the 2.915-mile Portimao circuit has a reputation for working both rider and machine, making it a favorite stop on the WorldSBK calendar.
The racetrack only reveals a partial picture. To see the entire masterpiece, I spent the morning exploring the rolling hills of the Portuguese coast. I even checked out picturesque beaches of Sagres.
Mentioning the moniker Super Duke R conjures up one unavoidable association—torque. The 1301cc LC8 75-degree V-twin has built a legacy on otherworldly amounts of low-end grunt combined with top-end power. Its 180 horsepower at 9500 rpm and beastly 103 ft-lbs of torque at 8000 rpm will nearly peel the paint from your lid.
For those keeping track, an additional three horsepower are being reported, despite the engine being architecturally identical to the last iteration. The forged pistons, crank, DLC coated finger-follower drivetrain, bore, and stroke return.
Performance gains are a result of the redesigned intake through the center of the headlight and airbox that creates a ram-air effect when pushed at track paces. Also, top-feed fuel injectors and more powerful coils have allowed engineers tighter control of fueling, giving rise to improved emissions and throttle response. Lastly, larger 54mm and 60mm headers are responsible for expelling more spent gasses, while also utilizing a dual catalytic converter solution—one under the engine and another stuffed in the muffler that meets Euro 5 standards without quelling its brutal bark.
This isn’t your average vibratory V-twin, no sir. The 1290 Super Duke R spools up quick as you like, sending the digital tachometer flying, gifting the rider all that ludicrous power linearly and predictably. Counterbalancers make it a smooth affair, unless you’re becoming acquainted with the rev-limiter. Roughly 86 percent of the available torque comes online at a low 4500 rpm, and while the studly 1290 might be perceived as a one-trick pony, it isn’t.
On the city streets, this beast will heel and pleasantly putt around town without laboriously lugging along, as if it is coughing up a piston through the airbox when at slow speeds. Another dash of civility comes in the form of redesigned clutch plates that improve disengagement at low rpm, making the feel at the clutch lever much less grabby.
In the canyons, the LC8 twin is brilliant, letting you settle into the broad powerband and casually work the throttle without having to fiddle with the shifter often. The gearbox now features a machined splined shaft, in combination with bronze and copper coatings on the shift forks. Equally important is a shorter shifting stroke that only adds to the improved experience over the 2017 model.
Once on the circuit, The Beast reveals the full breadth of its power. The front wheel lofts with ease, and riders may question the integrity of their skeletal system as all that torque compresses them into the saddle. As exciting as that sounds, the critical aspect of the Super Duke R is its tractability. All that power becomes manageable, allowing riders to virtually catapult off the apex, galloping full sprint down the front straight at Portimao at 160 mph. The engine, in short, is a peach.
The revised, optional Quickshifter+ system is a noticeable improvement compared to prior model years. Kill times have improved in either direction, eliminating lurching that would often happen at lower speeds. Now, it’s excellent on and off the circuit.
Helping riders keep all that ridiculous power in check is a full-suite of electronics, that now boasts a 6-axis Bosch IMU, formerly five-axis, that has refined ABS and TC intervention. Importantly, the new algorithm integrates slide control into the equation.
The Super Duke in standard trim features cornering Road ABS, lean-angle-detecting traction control, wheelie control, and heated grips. Three preset riding modes of Rain, Street, and Sport adjust electronic intervention and the throttle map accordingly. No parameters can be changed when in these modes.
Rain quells the throttle noticeably and jacks up the rider aids, making it a good pairing for our damp, foggy riding experience in the AM. Street backs those assists off and livens the throttle, which works quite well when touring the canyons. Sport wicks it all up a bit and extends the leash considerably, letting you loft the front end as your leisure. Go a little too high and it’ll step in, but you can have more than your fair share of fun. Road ABS runs in the backroad of all preset riding modes. The optional Track throttle map is sharp and circuit-focused.
Our test units were equipped with the optional Tech Pack ($750), which includes the Track Pack, adaptive brake light, Motor Slip Regulation (MSR), and the Quickshifter+. The Track Pack is crucial for anyone doing track days, as it unlocks the Track and Performance riding modes. This gives riders the ability to change throttle maps, TC levels with the nifty new paddle-buttons on the left-hand controls, disable wheelie control, activate launch control, and engage Supermoto ABS.
To KTM’s credit, the options are simplified, and everything you’ll want is combined into the Tech Pack. In previous years, these were all individual upgrades, and it became costly. Still, direct competitors such as the venerable Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 and Ducati Streetfighter V4 don’t nickel and dime consumers for features such as quickshifters or the privilege to adjust settings.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s discuss how the rider aids work. Road ABS maintains cornering support, and pairs with the preset riding modes well. It will keep you out of trouble, although I found that it could be overly conservative at times, even when on the street. On track, it triggers in hard braking zones, but it can be ridden around.
Supermoto ABS mode disables ABS in the rear, as well as pitch detection and cornering support, leaving the front with basic ABS only. It worked flawlessly at Portimao, allowing me to trail brake as deep as I’d like, step out the rear as far as I can manage (not far), and, overall, offers the best braking experience. Of course, a mode as unrestricted as this puts a lot of emphasis on the rider’s technique, as the safety net is reduced.
On a motorcycle with this level of sophistication, I would prefer seeing an intermediary ABS mode—one that is more sporting than the Road ABS and retains cornering support, and not as demanding on the rider’s skill level with the nearly unrestricted Supermoto ABS mode. That type of solution helps riders with less experience ease their way into more aggressive track riding, without cutting the nannies down prematurely.
When in Track or Performance mode, riders can adjust TC levels as they see fit, and this is another point where KTM has made vast improvements. The nine-level TC cuts power without restricting drive excessively. Bumping down from 9 to 1 is progressive, letting you incrementally extend the leash and tailor the motorcycle to your comfort.
I found that with the Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 tires we used at Portimão, TC level 5 or 6 allowed me more than enough leeway to do a bit of sliding on hard-driving corner exits, working the new slide control function, while also imperceptibly stepping in when necessary. For reference, levels 1-3 are recommended with race rubber only and, boy, do they mean it.
MSR, which is an electronic supplement to the mechanical slipper clutch, is disabled in Track mode. Essentially, it varies the amount of engine braking. When pushing hard on the track, it’s best to have a static rate of engine braking, especially when decelerating aggressively.
Wheelie control has two settings—on or off—and on the Super Duke R, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. When I asked KTM 1290 Super Duke R Project Leader Hermann Sporn why WC lacked more nuanced settings, he explained that he “loves big wheelies” and ruminated on the importance of big wheelies.
On a track like Portimão, with several fast, blind crests where the front naturally lifts, wheelie control will step in and curtail your exits, depending on how hard on the gas you are. If you’re going to hit the track, turning it off is encouraged, and while that sounds intimidating, it isn’t.
The Super Duke R doesn’t snap up to noon instantly, thanks to all that tractable power. With good throttle and rear-brake control, disabling WC is the way to go. Also, it’s the only way to appropriately do “big wheelies,” as Mr. Sporn intended.
Where the 2020 Super Duke R makes another noticeable and incredibly positive departure from its predecessor is the all-new steel trellis chassis. Keen readers will notice that additional support mounts have been placed towards the front of the LC8 engine, creating a noticeably stiffer chassis and dramatically improved front end feel. KTM engineers utilized larger diameter, thinner-walled steel tubing to create a frame that is 4.4 pounds lighter than its predecessor, while also being three times as stiff.
Now, the Super Duke R can be ridden like your average superbike, loading up the front end on the brakes and pitching it into the exciting turns of Portimão with all that newfound confidence. The Beast digs its proverbial front claws in and sees you on your merry way.
That’s only one piece of the handling puzzle. An all-new swingarm was designed that raises the pivot point by 5mm, in addition to being 15 percent stiffer. It also paves the way for shock linkage, as opposed to direct connection, as shown on prior generations. KTM’s intention with all this was to improve handling and anti-squat properties, which they’ve done in spades.
All those new upgrades create a Super Duke R that is far more pointed and faith-building that ever before. IT lets riders get on the gas earlier and finish the turn while on the gas, thanks to improved mechanical grip, as well as handling traits.
Three millimeters of offset is added to the new triple clamps, altering the geometry further. The lengthy wheelbase has increased 0.6 inches to 58.9 inches, and the rake has stretched 0.7 degrees to 25.2 degrees.
To overcome those sizeable figures, the LC8 engine has been lifted 38mm in the chassis, raising the center of gravity with a significant positive result. The new Super Duke R is quicker on its feet, transitioning quickly, allowing it to get on and off the edge of the tire with an agility that previous models never displayed.
Helping cushion riders from all the rough stuff is a new, fully adjustable 48mm WP fork and a fully adjustable piggyback-reservoir WP shock. You read that right, a Super Duke R has spring preload adjustment on both ends, for the first time. WP engineers have gone the extra mile and machined recesses for the springs to keep them from rattling around while riding, improving the actuation. Also, the shock now features separate damping circuits, ensuring that its behavior will stay more consistent as the oil heats up while under heavy load. To cap it all off, it even comes with a remote preload adjuster.
When on the street, the WP suspension can be softened up to deal with the rigors of the road, while proper damping rates keep The Beast 3.0 on the straight and narrow. On track, it’s more of the same—the suspension can be tuned to a taut setup, giving you all the support a rider of my skill level can ask for when in hard braking zones, and enough confidence in the rear end to lean on the TC.
Don’t let my lavish track praise mislead you; it’s still an awesome street bike. The stiffened chassis has sacrificed some comfort in the name of sporting prowess, but it isn’t offensive to the derriere, wrists, or spine. The revised chassis has made the Super Duke R far more planted in every scenario.
Many chassis changes are afoot this year, but we should also point out that the R is looking a little trimmer around the waist, tipping the scales at 462 pounds with a full tank of fuel—about 10 pounds lighter than before. Nearly every component has had grams trimmed from it. The engine required new cases to accommodate the revised chassis. In doing so, engineers took the opportunity to reduce their thickness and optimize oil routing, shedding roughly a pound from the package.
New forged alloy wheels have been brought into the fold, offering lighter weight and greater strength. The Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 tires have been beefed up for this application. Specifically, the rear tire uses the same carcass found in the race tires. The front remains a 120/70, while the rear has grown to a 200/55. In practice, they’re an excellent sport tire and communicate the road to the rider well.
Braking received a healthy upgrade with dual Brembo Stylema calipers clamping onto 320mm floating rotors. Coming as a surprise to no one, the top-shelf Stylema calipers help bring the Super Duke R to a halt in a hurry, while also offering loads of feel at the lever. In the rear, a dual-piston Brembo caliper grasps a 240mm disc, giving you a helpful wheelie control device.
The plastics feature an ingenious design, wherein thicker plastic is used in high-stress areas, and thinner plastic in less crucial areas, shaving grams from the whole kit. Perhaps the most apparent weight savings strategy was ditching the trellis subframe and going with a two-piece solution that uses aluminum and composite materials. It’s something we saw KTM do with the 790 Duke, and good to see it here. We also lost a half-gallon of fuel capacity in the trimming process, but The Beast still has considerable range.
Aiding in the sportier direction is the revised riding position, with the handlebars lower and pushed forward to shift more weight to the front end. Still, the Super Duke R is one of the most comfortable in its category, as it offers the roomiest accommodations with a par-for-the-course 32.9-inch seat height. If you’re a taller rider, the Super Duke R has one of the best seat-to-peg ratios for legroom. Even better, the handlebar can be adjusted forward nearly an inch. The 4.2-gallon fuel tank has gone under the knife and now offers more support for the rider, on or off the track. It’s something we can all be glad to have, as it reduces fatigue.
KTM outdid itself by working on the rearsets, allowing owners to raise or push the footpegs back. Also, the shift lever can be put in a long- or short- throw position. Lastly, it can be switched to GP shift by moving one bolt. Those features score big points with me. I also noticed that I didn’t drag the toes of my boots or the rearsets, as I did with the previous iteration.
In 2020, we’re also seeing an all-new full-color TFT display working in conjunction with new hand controls that are far easier to use while in the saddle. The dash looks the business, while also improving the layout options. Also, Bluetooth connectivity allows you to pair your device and take calls or receive turn-by-turn directions when using the KTM My Ride Navigation app (an $8 option, seriously).
Of course, with KTM, you do have a slew of KTM PowerParts to choose from, and I rode a built-up race bike with all the shiny orange goodies thrown at it. More sporting rearsets (I’d buy those), track-oriented fork cartridges, a shock with additional ride height that increased tip-in rates, a full Akrapovič exhaust system that adds 10 horsepower, and Bridgestone Racing Battlax V02 slicks make the beast downright ferocious.
Thanks to enhanced grip and quicker handling, the PowerParts speced-out Duke R feels like The Beastmaster. It most likely wouldn’t be too comfy on the street, but dearie me, on the track, it’s a hoot and a half.
When you push everything through the filter, the only conclusion that one can draw is this—the 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R has made marked improvements on all fronts. Yes, I’ll have to wag my finger at the $750 option for adjustable electronics and an up/down quickshifter, so it’s best to go into this knowing you’re going to spend it.
It’s a motorcycle that has become more ferocious on the track, while never forgetting that first and foremost, it is a street bike. In prior years, the Super Duke R relied on sledgehammer like strength to bully its way around. Now, it’s mastered all that power, becoming a beast that can pirouette, on or off track.
Photography by Marco Campelli, Rudi Schedl, et al.
- Helmet: Arai Corsair-X
- Suit: Mithos RCP-18
- Airbag: 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 1290 Super Duke R Colors:
20201290 Super Duke R Price:
- $18,699 MSRP
2020 1290 Super Duke R Photo Gallery