When KTM unveiled the 990 SMT back in 2009 it managed to combine the slightly bonkers underpinnings of the 990 Supermoto with a touring focus – thanks mainly to a small top fairing and some panniers. Of all the markets the bike was sold in, the UK lapped this bike up more than most.
The KTM Super Duke 1290 GT is the latest take on that sporty but touring option, and MCN was able to secure a first ride on a prototype version months ahead of the official launch of the bike.
The 990 SMT was a great bike. I once rode one 900 miles from the Austrian factory to the MCN office in one hit, only stopping for fuel and snacks. It was awesome, but when you compare it to the new 1290 GT it’s like comparing a simple but powerful cannon with the latest drones used by the RAF such has been the march of technology in the past six years.
Underpinning the 1290GT is an updated version of the 1301cc water-cooled V-twin and chassis from the Super Duke R, which was launched last year, with the engine fairly heavily revised in order for the bike to pass stricter Euro4 legislation. The engine changes have entailed a redesigned cylinder head for improved combustion, a new exhaust with a valve to manage noise levels and revised electronics to smooth out the power delivery. It also gets a standard quickshifter.
Oh, and more power and torque too. KTM aren’t saying exactly what power it’s producing yet but we reckon on more than 180bhp.
Chassis changes have centred on increasing the practicality of the bike in the GT role with alterations to the main chassis to allow the mounting of the top fairing, a stronger and longer subframe to cope with the fitment of an integrated luggage rack and panniers, improved pillion comfort and long distance capability. It also gets Pirelli Angel GT sports touring tyres, which are an excellent choice.
This bike has seen far more work than just slapping a top fairing onto a Super Duke R. The fuel tank capacity is increased by five litres to a whopping 23 litres, there’s an adjustable windscreen, the latest WP semi-active suspension has been fitted and it works with ABS, cornering ABS, traction control, multiple riding modes, hill start assist, anti-rear wheel lock up detection, cruise control, lean-angle specific cornering lights. And it has standard heated grips, too.
The bike we are testing is a prototype and has clearly seen some fairly heavy use during testing by KTM development riders. There’s messy wiring, the bodywork is covered in disguise tape and the fit and finish are a bit rough. Sitting on the bike for the first time reveals a rather unusual riding position. The way you sit on the seat and place your feet on the footrests is normal but the handlebars are strangely placed, making my first fleeting impression feel like I’m holding wheelbarrow handles!
Heading out onto the Austrian roads near the sprawling (and endlessly expanding) KTM factory and the friendly, usable, smooth and controllable nature of the newly reconfigured engine is noticeable. The current Super Duke R is already a lovely bike to ride slowly; this new bike only improves on this.
Once the road is clear, I realise the odd riding position has already become normal and comfortable. The steering is as light as the Super Duke R’s and the brakes are as startlingly strong. It’s at this point I opt for a little bit of throttle. Even below 5000rpm the acceleration could be accurately described as potent. At 7000rpm it could be described as ‘brisk’, at least it could if you also describe the surface of the Sun as ‘tepid’.
I’m not immediately sure what the most striking element of the GT’s performance is. Is it how easy it feels to go fast? Is it the level of comfort and protection offered by the adjustable screen? Or the devastating combination of power and torque that makes rapid and smooth miles effortless? I struggle to make up my mind and think it might be all of them.
There are irritations of course. Flicking the sidestand down is hit-and-miss, and if the leaning side lights are as irritating as those on the KTM 1290 Super Adventure then I might soon be searching for a fuse to disable them. And looks aren’t going to be to everyone’s tastes.
The GT is sure to be an expensive purchase but if you liked the 990 SMT then this is probably the development of that bike you have dreamt off. If the thought of a naked bike is too impractical, the idea of a full-on tourer too sensible, and the notion of saying goodbye to sportsbike performance too unsettling, this could be the perfect bike for you. It successfully blends devastating performance with genuine touring ability.
KTM are fast becoming the masters of making bikes that by all rational explanation should be scary, intimidating and downright unpleasant behave like pussycats. The new 1290 Super Duke GT manages to offer a lot of what many people want in a sporty tourer and is a worthy successor to the 990 SMT.
Power, control, comfort
Even more civilised than the Super Duke R
WE DON’T LIKE
Irritating sidestand position
KTM 1290 Super Duke GT (prototype)
Price Approx £16,000
Engine Liquid-cooled 1301cc, V-twin, six gears, chain drive
Power Approx 185bhp
Torque Approx 100ftlb
Kerb weight Approx 210kg
Fuel capacity 23 litres
Pictures KTM and Mark Manning