A new tubular steel dual backbone frame is shrink-wrapped around the new engine, so there’s not an ounce of flab. The 790 Duke is as muscular as a pit-bull and weighing just 169kg dry, weighs about as much as its dinner.
With its narrow hips, small riders will find the KTM easy to get on and plant feet down, even with a 825mm high seat (there’s also a 805mm accessory seat and 780mm lowering kit). There’s loads of legroom for six-footers, too. The bar position is natural in its standard position and its bath time-comfy, even after a day’s riding. But as you’d expect from such an unashamed, exposed naked, wind protection is non-existent and your neck feels every mile an hour.
As KTM’s nickname for the 790 Duke suggests, you can go nuts on ‘The Scalpel’. It happily slices through tight twists on the road and will hold its own on a small track, like Brands, Cadwell or Mallory. The chassis is balanced, stable, predictable and the brakes consistently strong. A canted forward riding, feet-back riding has a faint streak of wild supermoto about it.
With little to no means of adjusting the forks and shock the suspension will always be a ‘one size fits all’ compromise. It’s on the firm side of push, but even if there were clickers to play with, the set-up is so bang-on for most road conditions and even the track, you probably won’t bother anyway, unless you were particularly heavy, or extremely fussy.
Cornering ABS lacks a little initial feel, as do most brake-by-wire systems nowadays, but the electronics never intrude unless absolutely needed. The slick autoblipper and quickshifter enhances an already sweet gearbox and you only need to use the light-action slip-assist clutch when you’re pulling away or stopping.
Happily the KTM is less ‘scalpel’ and more ‘butter knife’ when you just want a normal, predictable, motorcycle, for the times you’re just riding to work, or getting caught in the rain. It never strains at its orange leash, or tuts disappointingly when you’re not surgically dissecting pieces of tarmac. The 790 Duke is as calm, reassuring and easy as the best of the middleweight nakeds.
A new 799cc LC8c (‘c’ for ‘compact’) motor is the Austrian firm’s first parallel twin. It’s pared to the bone and impossibly small. How such a tiny lump of metal, with bits whizzing around inside, can produce such grunt (64ftlb of torque) and free-revving power (105bhp) is astonishing. Crammed with forged this, lightweight that and DLC-coated the other, the racy, but refined motor looks no bigger than a single.
Unlike a ploddy one-pot, the new engine is as refined and vibe-free as an inline four, but its 75-degree crank offset and 435-degree firing intervals give the twin an added dash of drama. A deep, gurgling V-twin-like growl accompanies you as you whip out of corners and surge through the revs. Off the throttle the KTM gurgles and spits like a race bike. Even with its Euro4 exhaust the 790 Duke makes a wonderful, rhythmic din.
It’s too early to say how the 790 Duke will be years down the line, but its rolling chassis is made from tried and tested components and the motor has been subject to over half a million miles-worth of testing.
The 790 Duke is cheaper than the MT-09SP and a Street Triple R and pricier than the value-tastic MT-07, MT-09 and base-model Street Triple S, but KTM gives you an awful lot of bang for your buck.
Standard equipment includes electronics not even standard on some Japanese superbikes, let alone middleweight nakeds: lean-sensitive ABS, traction and engine braking control, an up/down blipper and four riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain, Track). There’s also a colour TFT screen with blue tooth, WP suspension, a steering damper, LED lights, adjustable levers and handlebars and a steering damper. You also get a machine that’s the result of over half a million miles of testing, by 60 orange-shirted engineers and test riders, including former MotoGP legend Jeremy McWilliams. KTM are spoiling us.
In other areas the 790 is built down to a price: WP forks are non-adjustable and you can only twiddle the shock preload. It has own-brand four-piston radial brake calipers (actually made by Spanish experts J.Juan – as seen on Rea and Syke’s WSB leathers) and Maxxis tyres.