think I'm going to give up – for two days now
I've been trying to categorize the KTM Super Duke, but I can't.
I've been trying to decide whether it is a normal naked bike
with a touch of Super Moto, or if it's a Super Moto with a
whopping engine. But let's not focus on my dilemma too much
and track back how this story all started.
The morning was misty in the hills... No scratch that. It
was an early morning, but it was at the very unromantic NEC
and the event was the bike show. As usual KTM has got a huge
stand and the “orangeness” is overwhelming. Amongst
their barking mad off-roaders there's something even more
barking mad than usual; the KTM 990 Super Duke. This bike
has stolen the KTM 950 Adventure's V-twin engine, bored it
out and put fuel injection on it. Then the bike grew a chassis
that is meant for the road. And now it dribbling and drooling
and after blood.
At the show I had a quick poke at the bike, took some nice
snaps of it and headed off; I knew that riding that bike would
be a very difficult dream to fulfill as I can't remember the
last time we had a KTM for a test ride. On the other hand,
I have experienced KTM's generosity in the form of a very
nice session at Mallory Park. I had the pleasure of riding
the KTM 625 SMC Super Moto around the track. This bike left
a very distinct impression. It felt very exact, very robust.
I pointed in a direction and it complied immediately. It also
felt a bit large, in other words not as much as a motocross
bike, but a bit more mature than that. My only real complaint
was, as with all Super Motos so far, the lack of top end power.
My mechanical sympathy squirms a bit when going down the straight
at full smiles. The single cylinder engine just can't muster
enough power on a normal track or even the roads.
is where Nick steps into the picture. This Nick fella
is a bit of character, you see his hobby seems to revolve
around four distinct points; buy a bike, ride the bike, personalise
the bike, sell the bike. Thanks to this pattern, Nick has
owned over a hundred bikes (yes, one-zero-zero), the bike
he owned the longest was about 18 months. So when I heard
that one of the bikes in Nick's garage was the KTM Super Duke
I immediately felt sorry for him and I turned into some form
of Mr Hyde as I started pestering him for a test ride. I never
thought he'd actually budge, but I kept on “asking politely”
at every chance I got. After several months he started to
soften up and I placed another killing question: “Nick,
does this mean I can take the Super Duke out for a spin..?”.
I never expected the answer: “Sure”. Said and
We meet up and I'm greeted by the mean orange looks of the
Super Duke. This bike looks like it means business. When I
look at it I can't stop thinking that this bike consists of
no more than engine, frame and front brakes. The rest is just
"stuff that has to be there" As little as possible;
but still looking very good. I take a good while to admire
the details. Unlike some bikes, especially italian ones, the
KTM lacks that "extra prettiness" in its parts.
The KTM is sculpted more like a race bike. Things have a mechanical
purpose rather than an aesthetic one, and that's something
that speaks a lot to me. I'm very much for "Form follows
function" and the Super Duke is exactly that. The only
thing that really bugs me is the design of the tail end. Or
should I rather say the aftermath of the legal requirements
of the tail. You know, all that stuff that doesn't enhance
performance at all, such as lights, indicators and a number
plate. But I guess they have to be there. Luckily I won't
be looking at them when riding the bike.
Eyeballing the whole, it strikes me that the engine is mounted
very low in the frame and that the front wheel has brakes
that wouldn't be out of place on a bike with 50kg more weight
and 50bhp more power. I'm now itching to ride it.
the engine up and you're greeted with precise vibrations.
Not sloppy ones you might find "characteristic"
on certain American produced cast-iron products, but exact
and mechanical V-Twin vibrations. I sense that the engineers
have put minimal effort into silencing the nature of the engine.
This one is built with a purpose, and it ain't "feeling".
At this point I'm expecting a race engine, but to my surprise
the engine settles into a calm idle and when I play with the
throttle it picks up with an eager kind of "can we get
going already..?!" Not as barking mad as I thought. Climb
aboard and the bike just disappears from underneath you, crikey
this one is small. Even the clocks almost disappear from your
view. Pulling away in first gear the bike behaves like most
well mannered bike. No jerkiness, no hiccups, just straight
forward easy to control power. The gearbox is what I expected;
precise and exact but no match to Japanese perfection.
I increase the speed and the revs, and again to my surprise
the engine behaves in a very different manner; I was expecting
a moody-race-like V-Twin. Instead I'm served with an engine
which doesn't really accept the mechanical fact of only having
two cylinders. The engine delivers linear power and revs happily.
Very nice. The vibrations are there at all times, they tell
me exactly what the engine is doing, but not in a way that
takes my focus way from the road. More the opposite; The suspension
provides information about the road, and the vibrations about
what the engine is up to.
Another thing that I immediately feel is a total Deja Vu
from the bike I rode at Mallory Park. The way the chassis
behaves is exactly the same. I could tell in an instant that
these two bikes came from the same shop. It feels very rigid,
quite substantial, but very agile at the same time. The suspension
seems very compliant and gives ample feedback. I quickly realize
that I won't have a faintest chance to test this bike to its
limits on the road. I'd need a proper track and several hours
to get close to the limit. But back to the roads; The Super
Duke tackles roundabouts with ease and we both dream about
provoking the rear wheel into a slide, but it's not my bike
so we play nice. Overtaking is a breeze with the big engine,
as are speeds in well excess of a ton. Pull away from stand
still with a bit of eager-throttle the bike calmly lifts the
front wheel up. There's power if you want it. This engine
really is a peach and it suits this bike to a tee.
ridden many bikes with Brembo brakes before, it's no surprise
to me that these brakes are up there with the best brakes
I've ever felt on a standard bike. There's something special
with the Brembos; Just put your fingers on the brake lever
and the brakes immediately tells you "Don't worry - I'm
here, we'll slow down. I promise". They inspire so much
confidence that it's a true pleasure to use them. I bet this
might be one of the easiest bikes to do stoppies on.
Sadly my ride ends too quickly and I'm left pondering what
exactly I've been riding. In some situations the Super Duke
feels like a "normal bike" that has been stripped
off its excess, such as fairings. On the other hand the Super
Duke feels very similar to the "smaller" KTM Super
Motos. I've been trying to figure this out for a few days
now, and I think I'll give up. The fact remains: This
is a fantastic bike to ride. It handles well, you
can take liberties you wouldn't take on a fully faired sports
bike. It's got plenty of power to keep up with your friends
on sports bikes. The brakes are fantastic and the whole bike
just begs to be ridden enthusiastically. Sure I could complain
about the vibrations on long journeys and the lack of luggage
and pillion space - but if I did that, I would have completely
forgotten what this bike is all about. You don't buy this
bike to riding across Europe, or chauffeur you girlfriend
around. No, no, you buy this bike go out there hunting for
Super Bike prey on your favourite twisty roads. And trust
me, catching them won't be difficult. Considering this it
doesn't really matter what category the bike fits in.
A huge thanks to Nick for letting me ride his bike. In fact,
his bike is for sale at Hughenden M40. Why's he selling you
ask? The reason he gave "I need to clear some space in
the garage". Here's your chance own a wonderfully different