KTM, the Austrian bike manufacturer best known for its fabulous
off-road title winning machines, has sets its sights on becoming
Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Although
a market leader in the off-road segment it has not up to now
had a road bike of any real note, hence the recent launch
of the 990 Superduke.
Not backward in coming forward with their
intentions, they stated quite clearly at the launch in Fuerteventura,
Spain that they intend to conquer the sports orientated street
segments. To do this they will launch bikes like the Superduke,
defined by their excellent performance to weight ratio and
While it may seem somewhat boastful, they
are far from being the new kids on the block! KTM have been
around since 1953 when Messer’s Kronreif and Trunkpolz
first opened a small factory in the Upper Austrian village
of Mattighofen, which had just 14,000 inhabitants. Taking
the first letter of each name and the village formed the brand
name. Two years later they dipped a toe in the water of road
racing, but it was to be the world of rough terrain that they
were to excel with over ninety world championship titles coming
their way over the years.
In 1964 they competed in the International
Six days Trial for the first time and ten years later Gennadij
Moiseev won their first Motocross World Championship for them.
But, despite their continued success, which included an Austrian
on an Austrian made bike winning a world championship, seventeen
years later they were bankrupt! They immediately reformed
a year later in 1992 as KTM Sportmotorcycle-AG under new ownership
and management. The focus was targeted solely on the off-road
products and two years later the new company had regained
the World MX500 Championship.
In 1998 they opened a new very modern factory
in the same Austrian town and by the turn of the new century
were dominating off-road sport. But in 2003 they entered the
world of road racing for the second time in the 125 GP class
and a year later had a win to their credit! When you consider
that the firm has just 1500 employees working in the factory
this is no mean achievement when compared to the size and
financial might of the opposition!
In fact in the year 2003/4 they sold a staggering
78,815 bikes - a rise of 9% over previous figures at a time
when other manufacturers are struggling. Therefore, the move
to street bikes looks like the result of some good strategic
was designed for KTM by Kiska Industrial design in Salzburg,
while Phillip Habsburg was in charge of the chassis and overall
development in-house. Thomas Rossegger took charge of the
engine and Forster Martin, the fuel injection system for the
In appearance the bike displays and aggressive stance that
looks like it is ready to take on any bike of whatever genre.
The traditional KTM tangerine colour adds to this look, but
the black option is slightly more subtle in its approach to
The sharp lines will not appeal to all and
tend to polarise peoples views into the love it or hate it
camps, but the same is true of many bikes on the market these
days. As with most bikes, fashion dictates that the bike has
two brushed stainless silencers exiting under the seat. These
are fed by a two-in-one exhaust header feeding a three-way
Sit astride the rather tall bike and you
realise the ergonomics have been carefully worked out. Your
hands immediately fall onto the new Renthal handlebars of
super-strong, tapered aluminium that been especially customized
for the Superduke 990. Your legs slot into the sides of the
plastic polyamide fuel tank which holds 15-litres of fuel
and also contains the fuel pump and pressure regulator. (The
tank is cleverly secured in position when it’s tipped
upward by suspension rams, for easy access to the engine when
it needs servicing.)
The Superduke comes just a year after KTM
launched their first twin cylinder motorcycle in the shape
of the 950 Adventure, but while based on it, is virtually
all-new. They have upped the capacity of the LC8 engine used
to power it to form the heart of the 990 Superduke. As you
would expect there is marked performance gain that comes from
more than just an increase in cubic capacity to 999cc and
improved fuel injection and engine management systems.
It is one of the lightest and compact twin-cylinder
motors on the market, weighing in at 58kg, or roughly one
–third of the bikes overall 179kg dry weight. The weight
can be further reduced by a whopping 15kg by making use of
the mainly carbon fibre performance parts already on the parts
shelves at the factory. Needless to say these are not cheap!
The cylinders have been strengthened to deal
with the larger bores which have very light pistons running
inside them to help reduce the oscillating mass. The head
has been worked on to deal with the 48mm injector bodies and
the thicker header pipe on the outlet side as well as a new
camshafts. At the bottom end the crankshaft has been changed
and a new six-speed transmission has been developed specifically
for the street.
The Keihin electronic injection system was
tailor-made especially for the KTM 990 Superduke. There are
two throttle valves per cylinder in the flow-maximized intake
ports. These ensure the perfect mixture preparation and optimum
torque progression in every riding situation. Lamba sensors,
a catalytic converter and secondary air systems ensure that
the bike meets all emissions standards across the world with
ease. Claimed output is 88kw or 120
HP at 9,000rpm with the maximum torque of 100Nm coming
So what about the rest of the bike? The completely
new, tubular space frame is similar in appearance to the 950
Adventure’s. However, its geometry, dimensions and tube
dimensions were specially designed for the needs of a super-agile,
high-performance street bike. Weighing less than 10 kilograms,
its light, chrome-moly construction offers extremely high
torsional rigidity that should guarantee safety, even at the
highest road speeds. At the back the swing-arm has a length
of only 575 mm and is constructed of tapered, extruded aluminium
to be very light and rigid in its construction. Opposite this
are 48mm WP USD forks that feature adjustable compression
and rebound damping, as well as a variable spring preload
and give 135-mm of suspension travel. The 160-mm of suspension
movement at the rear is again controlled by a White Power
unit. Directly connected to the swing arm, the WP mono-shock
features adjustable rebound damping and pressure damping is
adjustable for high and low speeds.
Any items not made in-house and bought in
are top quality items and there has been no cost cutting,
which means that the street price of £8345
is easily justified. KTM own WP, but they do not own Brembo
who supply the superb braking set-up. At the rear is a Brembo
single-piston, floating brake caliper with a 240 mm brake
disc, while at the front are two 320 mm discs gripped by a
four-piston fixed-calipers with four individual pads per side!
These are mounted to super-light seventeen-inch cast aluminium
wheels developed specifically for the bike by Brembo. The
3.5 and 5.5 rims are shod with sticky Pirelli Diablo tyres.
So on paper the Superduke has all the attributes
to be the top dog in the naked ‘Streetfighter’
class that is currently the fastest growing market.
But can it
deliver in reality? The answer is a resounding Yes!
You realise the moment you fire it up and
it instantly thunders its zest for life straight at your five
senses that this far more than an Adventure in street clothes.
The sound from the rear is superb and you will not need to
change the cans to get a sound as good as a Harley when pottering
Snick silently into first gear and feel the
punch from the motor and you just know you are going to have
fun. However, after riding it for a while you begin to realise
you have been making progress without fuss and drama and not
having to think about things. It’s almost a case of
the bike reacting to your thoughts, rather than your actions.
The gearbox is one of the smoothest on the market and it never
clonks when engaging first gear or misses a change. The new
clutch is light in operation and complements it well. Likewise
the fuel injection is well matched to the bikes power characteristics.
Every little twist of the throttle is immediately turned into
forward thrust, whether that be on the open road or around
town. The power is smooth and progressive from just a whiff
of throttle and there are no steps or glitches, all of it
is useable. It is almost like there is a telepathic connection
between the throttle and the rear wheel at times.
Despite its civilised nature, it will provide
a challenging ride on the open road and will top 140 mph providing
you are hanging on tightly to deal with the wind pressure
at these speeds. Take it onto a set of challenging bends such
as the coastal and mountain roads that abound on Fuerteventura
and you realise why the bike has been built. These are plenty
of bikes that can emulate it around town and on the open road,
but up the ante and the challenge and the bike really comes
into its own. Bends can be attacked with belief that nothing
can challenge the bikes ability to deal with them. Its quick-reacting
chassis ensures plenty of safety reserves in combination with
the superb braking provided by the Brembo's. The bike can
be thrown into either single bends or a series of
curves and it is always ultra-precise and agile.
you tweak the fully suspension into the sports mode settings,
the bike is almost uncatchable and will leave most sportsbikes
as mere dots in its mirrors until the roads open out again.
Set up like this it loses some of its comfort for normal riding
, but as the changes take seconds, it is no problem. This
is actually a bike that you could tour on and then unstrap
you luggage at the destination and then tweak the suspension
before going out to play! A tank bag is one of the options
already offered by the factory.
Night time use is not a problem as the headlight
is good enough to light the way even in the inky blackness
of the Canaries, if not good enough to wake up Spanish cab
As an overall package it is hard to believe
that this is the factory’s first attempt at a proper
street bike. It is very user friendly in every department,
has top notch handling and real world practicality, all wrapped
up in a quality package. The only real downside is it small
range dictated by the 15-litre tank and its lack of immobiliser
as standard. Although, to be fair, you can purchase a factory
alarm that just plugs into the existing wiring as an optional
extra. However, those small points aside this is a bike that
should tempt you away from the real head-down sports bikes.
After all 180+ mph may provide a rush that even this bike
cannot, but at a risk that is becoming unacceptable on the
road! Besides this is far more comfortable and a little cheaper.
Its direct competitors are bikes like the
MV Brutale, the Ducati S4R Monster, Triumph Speed Triple,
Cagiva Raptor, Benelli TNT and the Buell XB12R and it leaves
them all trailing in its exhaust gases on the road! However,
it lacks the name on the street compared to say MV, but that
is surely going to change in a very short time!
So, is KTM’s claim about becoming the
leading European motorcycle manufacturer just an arrogant
boast or a prophesy of things to come? Well, the history books
show the capability has always been there and if the Superduke
is anything to go by, I would say the latter option is the
choice of the wise!