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KTM 790 DUKE (2018-on) Review

Published: 05 March 2018

KTM have got it so right with its new 790 Duke?

KTM 790 DUKE  (2018-on)

KTM have got it so right with its new 790 Duke?

Overall Rating 4 out of 5

KTM have got it so right with its new 790 Duke. Just like the cream of the middleweight naked crop it combines calm practicality with playful excitement. It can be a track tool one day and a commuter the next. Its new LC8c engine is a peach, the chassis predictably balanced and it’s all topped off with superbike-spec electronics. After 24 years of the KTM, why they didn’t think of this before?

Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5

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.

Engine 5 out of 5

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.

Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5

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.

Insurance, running costs & value 4 out of 5

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. 

Equipment 4 out of 5

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. 

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 2018
Year discontinued -
New price £8,499
Used price £7,000 to £9,800
Warranty term Two years
Running costs
Insurance group -
Annual road tax £88
Annual service cost £250
Performance
Max power 105 bhp
Max torque 64 ft-lb
Top speed 135 mph
1/4-mile acceleration -
Average fuel consumption -
Tank range -
Specification
Engine size 799cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 8v, parallel twin
Frame type Tubular steel dual backbone
Fuel capacity 14 litres
Seat height 825mm
Bike weight 169kg
Front suspension WP 43mm non-adjustable USD fork
Rear suspension WP Single rear shock, adjustable for preload
Front brake 2 x 300mm discs with four-piston radial caliper
Rear brake 240mm single disc with single-piston caliper
Front tyre size 120/70 x 17
Rear tyre size 180/55 x 17

History & Versions

Model history

2018: 790 Duke launched, featuring KTM’s first parallel twin cylinder engine and a full suite of electronics.

Other versions

None

Owners' Reviews

4 owners have reviewed their KTM 790 DUKE (2018-on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your KTM 790 DUKE (2018-on)
Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4.5 out of 5
Engine 4.5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
5 out of 5

Best bike under £8501

03 September 2018 by MickMac

This is the best bike I have owned. Had numerous bikes but never been able to exploit their full potential on the road because I am mildly sensible. Not this one, I ride it like a twot and it’s so easy. Smile, smile, smile - the modern RD350 but si much more.

Ride Quality & Brakes
5 out of 5
The brakes work and I ride it without worrying about what setting it’s on because I’m having so much - FUN !
Engine
5 out of 5
A modern classic,game changing,lovely bit of tech ! I have a 1999 R1 which I’m moth balling because the KTM is so good.
Build Quality & Reliability
5 out of 5
Nothings fell off yet !
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
-
Equipment
5 out of 5
Quick shifter and auro blipper work really well, makes a BMW look agricultural. No idea what I’ll do with lean ABS and launch control but got to be worth a go !
Buying experience

Gear4ktm - Paul or Luke are the men. Paul - Waiting for my touring screen to do the Alps and beyond.

5 out of 5

It never fails to put a big cheesy grin on my face

30 August 2018 by Stu Matty

I’ve down sized from the 1290 Super Duke by accident as was given a 790 demo bike while mine was serviced and loved the engine and gearbox from the off. It’s so much fun and I feel like I need to attack each corner and it never fails to put a big cheesy grin on my face.

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
Not the most competent brakes and think it’s because I’ve been spoilt previously with Brembo set ups.
Engine
5 out of 5
Brilliant!!!
Build Quality & Reliability
4 out of 5
I’ve had no problems as yet and only had it 2 months, 1000 miles. So far runs like a dream.
Value & Running Costs
5 out of 5
I still find it drinks a lot but I tend to be in track and sport mode and riding like my hairs on fire so I put the bad fuel economy down to me.
Equipment
5 out of 5
Has all the whistles and bells and I absolutely love it.
5 out of 5

13 August 2018 by Busta

What a bike! Does everything with ease, very confidence inspiring keeps up with any superbike round the twisties.

Ride Quality & Brakes
5 out of 5
Ride quality is superb, the engine is so sweet. No vibration at all. Brakes are sharp.
Engine
4 out of 5
Although it's got less power than my last bike, I love this engine, so much punch! Shame they didn't add like another 2-3 thousand rpms to the rev limit though because it feels so sweet, high revs it just runs out a bit quick.
Build Quality & Reliability
2 out of 5
Couple of small issues, launch control doesn't work.. Paint gone funny on the body around the tank and coolant level keeps going down but currently being fixed under warranty.
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
Parts are fairly expensive, fuel consumption is fantastic though. Only had first service which was about £90 just for parts. That's an expensive oil filter plus oil.
Equipment
5 out of 5
The best parts of the bike are the handling (probably thanks to the super clever traction control and cornering ABS) and quickshifter up and down, the bike literally makes me look like a pro.
1 out of 5

Poor initial reliability

20 May 2018 by Kevin

The bike is really nice, unfortunately I would not recommend the bike due to the fact it developed an electrical fault within 6 hours of riding it away from the dealership.

Ride Quality & Brakes
4 out of 5
Bike rode nicely before it broke down.
Engine
4 out of 5
-
Build Quality & Reliability
1 out of 5
Had to have it recovered before i even got it home due to an electrical fault, I literally had the bike 6 hours. This obviously gives me great concern going forwards.
Value & Running Costs
4 out of 5
Good overall value given the amount of tech on it.
Equipment
5 out of 5
Bags of equipment, mirrors are crap but they are on most new bikes.
Buying experience

Purchased from a dealer, new.

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  • KTM 790 DUKE  (2018-on)
  • KTM 790 DUKE  (2018-on)
  • KTM 790 DUKE  (2018-on)
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