First Ride: 2016 KTM 690 Duke

Published: 29 November 2015

KTM have won more Moto3 races than any other manufacturer, and have already won seven world titles this year using a single cylinder engine. So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the Austrians are leading the way in single cylinder production engines, and this new 690 is the most powerful production single cylinder engine they’ve ever built.

Very little of the old 690 engine remains untouched. The bore has increased by 3mm but the stroke has been reduced accordingly, to keep the same displacement. The cylinderhead has been significantly improved which has increased power, up 7% to 73bhp, while torque has increased by 6% to 54.48ftlb. The new motor also revs higher by 1000rpm to 9000rpm; peak power is actually at 8500rpm which is astonishing for a single.

Between 3000rpm and the 9000rpm redline nine out of ten riders wouldn’t guess this was a single. It will pull gracefully through low gears using the friendly torque, ideal for inexperienced riders. Equally it will cruise along the motorway at around 80-85mph comfortably; I’ve experienced worst vibrations on some twins.

It’s not all about the impressive motor though. As soon as you flick the Duke off its sidestand you instantly notice the lack of weight, which makes town work a doddle and means the Duke will turn on a dime. Once you’re out of the mild lumpiness below 2,750rpm it’s incredibly user-friendly and forgiving.

Less mass means better handling and more fun. The 690 is toy like, like a BMX with an engine. It will turn with very little effort and will drop to toe scraping angles of lean with ease. You don’t really need to hang off or manhandle it, simply look where you want to be and you’re there. KTM cleverly launched the bike in Gran Canaria, on some of the tightest, twistiest roads you could ever imagine, and the Duke was in its element around the endless hairpins.

The WP suspension isn’t adjustable on the standard model, but even when ridden hard it was difficult to fault, even on track. However, we did have the added security of the ‘track pack’ which includes three rider modes; Sport, Street and Rain. Each rider modes changes the throttle response and power characteristics working in partnership with the traction control. Included in the ‘track pack’ is MSR (motor slip regulation), which prevents the rear wheel locking up on heavy downshifts, by increasing the rpm of the motor respectively. Additionally there’s optional Supermoto braking; where the ABS only works on the front, the rear is down to the rider.

It’s a shame you have to add the ‘track pack’ and it doesn’t come as standard as it makes a real difference. While it is only an extra £248, I believe rider modes and traction control should come as standard on a £7699 bike.

It’s a fun middleweight street bike which can punch well above its weight and will change the way you think about single cylinder motorcycles. But can it take on strong competition from the considerably cheaper Kawasaki’s ER-6N (£5799) and Yamaha’s MT-07 (£5349)? The Duke has a big challenge ahead.

See the full launch report in this week's MCN – on sale December 2.

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