Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen (or KTM as it is commonly known) started life in 1934 in Austria when Hans Trunkenpolz opened a repair workshop in Mattinghoffen. The workshop first began supplying motorcycles in the late 1930s and, by 1951, development of their first production model, the R100 had begun.
KTM’s success at producing small-capacity racing bikes through the 1950s, 60s and 70s translated into off-road success in the 70s, winning multiple motocross and enduro championships.
By the nineties, KTM (now known as KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH following bankruptcy of the original company in 1991) was predominantly known for their wide range of off-road motorcycles, but released their first road going motorcycle of the modern era in 1994 with the Duke LC4 620. Released as the ‘fun bike’, the 620 was made with 80% enduro parts, was powered by a single-cylinder engine and weighed 145kg.
The energetic and free-revving singles used in the Duke up to the 690 make for an excellent exhaust note and give the bike a charismatic, charging puppy energy. Lots of low-down grunt has you barrelling out of every corner regardless of the gear you are in or blitzing past traffic in a city centre.
Should I buy a KTM Duke?
Fast forward to present day and there is a Duke for every rider, at every stage of development for you to consider from the 125 learner or commuter, the A2-friendly 390, the big, single-cylinder 690, parallel-twin 790 and all the way up to the ‘Beast’ 1290 Super Duke R or GT.
Dukes are thought of as being ultimate fun machines on the road, with wide, off-road style bars, large rear tyres, sharp suspension and plenty of ground clearance for fun in the corners.
You can comfortably commute on one all week, scratch up your favourite B-road at the weekend or send sportsbike riders home blushing at the right track (or almost any track on a 1290). You can even tour in comfort, two up with luggage on a Super Duke GT!
KTM Duke I and KTM Duke II
The KTM Duke was the first bike KTM produced purely for use on the road. Sharing 80% of its parts with the LC4 620 enduro machine, the Duke produced 50bhp and 42ftlb of torque from its 609cc single, but with shorter-travel suspension and smaller laced wheels.
All of this added up to a package that was raw and exciting to ride, especially given the Duke’s low, 145kg weight.
The 1994 version used a left-hand kickstart, which was made easier to use in 1995 with the addition of automatic decompression before being replaced by an electric start in 1996. The final updates came in 1998 when a new 625cc engine was used before the first-generation Duke made way for the Duke II.
The KTM 640 Duke or Duke II was a completely redesigned motorbike that built on the first Duke’s winning formula. It used the same 625cc engine as the last edition Duke I but added a new, constant pressure carb and dual exhaust.
This version ran until 2003, when a redesigned model was launched with a more powerful, 55bhp engine. At the time of launch, the redesigned Duke II was the most powerful street-legal single-cylinder money could buy (a mantle now taken up by the 74bhp unit in the KTM 690 Enduro R and Husqvarna 701 Svartpilen).
KTM 690 Duke
In 2008, the KTM 690 Duke was introduced, representing the biggest change to the model since its conception. Aside from a drastic restyling, the carb made way for a new injection system, the displacement grew to 654cc, a slipper clutch was added and selectable rider modes were available for the first time.
Despite a new three-way catalyst, power was increased to 65bhp with 50ftlb of torque. The mass was also centralised to keep the handling sharp, and new USD forks and shock supplied by WP suspended the redesigned trellis frame.
In 2010, the KTM 690 Duke R was introduced with an extra 5bhp and half a kilo of weight saving.
The 2012 KTM 690 Duke model, although based on the same engine and chassis layout, used 90% brand-new parts and was the sportiest version yet.
It came very close to achieving 5-stars across the board when MCN first reviewed it (only falling down with a 4-star cost rating) and is perfect for hammering around twisty B-roads.
An impressive new twin spark engine makes almost 70bhp and you got ABS and rider modes included to bring a new level of refinement. The 2012 Duke reverted to a traditional end-can for its underslung exhaust, making it much easier to fit an aftermarket slip-on.
In 2013, KTM launched an R version of the 2012 Duke with taller (150mm instead of 135mm), adjustable suspension and slightly more power.
KTM relaunched the 690 Duke again in 2016 with even more power from its single cylinder engine. A reworked cylinder head and bore/stroke ratio mean 73bhp is squeezed from the same 690cc capacity.
The engine is incredibly free-revving for a thumper too, with peak power coming at 8500rpm, where many singles would be bouncing off their limiter.
KTM 125 Duke and KTM 390 Duke
Many motorbike manufacturers build bike ranges that cater for riders at all stages of their motorbike licence progression, and KTM are no different. The A1 licence-friendly KTM 125 Duke was launched in 2011, followed by the KTM 390 Duke for A2 licence-holders in 2013.
The 15bhp 125 Duke used a brand-new 124.7cc single-cylinder engine, which shared more design features with the Austrian firm’s enduro machines than the rest of the Duke range. Although limited by learner regulations, the little Duke will charge to 40mph pretty quickly on its way to a 78mph top speed.
This zippy little power unit, matched with 43mm USD forks, brakes by Bybre (Brembo’s Indian division) and a smooth gearbox mean the 125 Duke feels solid and grown-up. The 125 Duke brought with it an air of sophistication to the learner-legal bike segment and mounted a serious challenge to the Yamaha YZF-R125’s dominance at the time.
In 2017, and with a new raft of competition in the A1 market, KTM launched a remodelled 125 Duke that took its styling cues from the KTM 1290 Superduke R. The new bike also got a new TFT dash (market-leading for a bike of this type at the time), a bigger tank and improvements to the already strong brakes and suspension.
The finish was also improved in 2017 (there had been stories of questionable build quality on the original bike), and the updated version exuded quality. The big bike feel and high-spec equipment make the KTM a great option for more experienced riders looking for a commuter as well as learners.
KTM’s Duke option for A2 licence holders sits in the middle ground between the 125 and the focused 690 models. The KTM 390 Duke uses its 373cc single to produce 44bhp, and that’s enough for a lively, engaging experience around town.
The bike is also very light (139kg) with a low, 800mm seat height so it is about as unintimidating as a motorbike can be. One thing it is not, is a tourer. There is little to no provision for luggage or a pillion and you’ll be glad of the small tank range after sitting in the seat for 130 miles.
Back in 2013, the 390 Duke had little to no competition, but the market has changed considerably over the years and by 2017 the bike was due an update. The new version got styling based on the KTM 1290 Superduke R, increased fuel tank capacity (from 11 to 13.4-litres), a new two-piece seat, handlebars, adjustable levers, riding modes and ABS.
In 2019 we spotted a new, bigger 390 Duke out testing and it appears to be aimed at a wider range of rider body styles and reflects the fact that it isn’t just young riders on the lookout for low-capacity motorbikes.
KTM 790 Duke
KTM’s formula for the Duke had been simple. Build an agile, sporty bike around a thumping single of varying size and let the smiles commence. But having squeezed every last drop of power they could from the 690cc engine, advancement would mean doing something different.
In 2018, the KTM 790 Duke was released, boasting 105bhp from the manufacturer’s first ever parallel-twin engine. KTM engineers nicknamed the bike ‘The Scalpel’, and it really deserves the mantle.
American racer, Chris Fillmore took the 790 Duke to victory in its first Pikes Peak outing. What’s more, he set a new course record for middleweight bikes and finished just five seconds off the winning heavyweight time.
In the right hands, the 790 would clean up at a track like Cadwell Park with its tight turns and relatively short straights, but it is also a formidable weapon along any twisty B-road.
Combined with the 790’s clearly impressive performance is a spec list that a flagship superbike would be proud of. Lean-sensitive ABS, traction and engine braking control, an up/down blipper and four riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain, Track) all come as standard. There’s also a colour TFT screen with bluetooth, WP suspension, a steering damper, LED lights, adjustable levers and handlebars and a steering damper.
The only obvious place that KTM built the 790 to a price is the non-adjustable fork and pre-load only adjustable shock, but apart from that it is a very impressive package indeed.
KTM Super Duke
As the KTM Duke became increasingly road-biased, it began to run up against a new craze in the bike world for powerful, naked machines based on sportsbikes. This new breed tended to use sportsbikes as their base bikes with the fairings removed and clip-ons swapped for flat bars and they were proving very popular.
KTM went to the drawing board and in 2005 unveiled their answer, the 990 Super Duke. MCN declared at the time, "There is surely nothing more frenetic on two-wheels than the KTM 990 Super Duke short of sticking a nitrous kit, a jet turbine and a flame-thrower into the frame of a fold-up bicycle."
With 120bhp and 73ftlb of torque on tap from its 999cc V-twin engine and staggering handling, the KTM 990 Super Duke moved the naked bike game on a step. It really is a machine designed with fun at the forefront of the riding experience and, as such, there’s little to no pillion or luggage accommodation and it can gulp its way through 17.5 litres of fuel in as little as 80 miles.
KTM 1290 Super Duke R
Despite these incredible performance figures, KTM weren’t satisfied and in 2013 the 1290 Super Duke R was unveiled with 160bhp (originally claimed to be 180bhp) and an astonishing 99ftlb of torque available from its 1301cc V-twin engine.
The 1290 sounds like a terrifying prospect but it’s actually a light and easy to ride naked machine, especially when you consider that it was the most powerful naked bike on the market at the time it was released.
Marketing released before the 1290 was unveiled claimed that the bike would have 180bhp and had been nicknamed ‘The Beast’ by the KTM team developing it. Although the finished bike was certainly very powerful, former MCN Senior Road Tester, Adam Child felt that the electronics package on the bike softened things a little too much.
"I don’t understand the point of a 180bhp ‘Beast’ that’s neutered by its traction control," he said after the launch. "Some riders may never switch it off. Instead they’ll just have a sexy looking naked with class-leading power that’s easy to ride, compliant and functional, and that everyone else will be envious of.
"But if that’s the case, why buy a 180bhp ‘Beast’? Yes, beneath all the electronic neutering there really is a wild bike. But to use it you must pull over, scroll through the menu and switch everything off. I wanted to love this bike. I thought it was going to be Bike of the Year. But it’s not, for me."
The 1290 Super Duke R was upgraded in 2017, and MCN Chief Road Tester, Michael Neeves was looking forward to getting his hands on one at the launch. "The tweaks to the new Super Duke R move it a big leap forward. It’s still ballistic on track and surprisingly civilised on the road, but the new electronics add extra safety and speed to the party, too. The KTM is now ready to take on its rivals."
And take on its rivals it did at the 2017 Pikes Peak hill climb when Chris Fillmore (the same rider who set the middleweight record at the Pikes Peak on a 790 Duke in 2018) who set a two-wheel time of just 9:49:625.
1290 Super Duke GT
With 173bhp on tap, the KTM Super Duke GT is more powerful than you might expect for a bike with an upright riding position and hard panniers. As well as all this power, you also get traction control, cornering ABS and WP semi-active suspension, heated grips, cruise control, quickshifter (up only) and tyre pressure sensors – all as standard.
The GT’s touring credentials are beefed up with a 23-litre fuel tank, which gives the bike a 225-mile range (dependent on your right wrist).
But you’d expect this level of trim from a bike that cost £16,299 when it was new in 2016. And the price got £500 steeper with the release of the 2019 version, which received upgrades to the dash, a modest power increase and lean-angle sensitive traction control and ABS.
MCN loved the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, saying, "It is great because it’s so bonkers. The 170bhp V-twin can back into a corner while exiting on the back wheel one minute, then be ridden two-up with luggage the next. It’s one of the daftest and most brilliant bikes in the sector."
KTM Duke rival motorbikes
The various iterations of Duke throughout its evolution have faced competition from various manufacturers. The Duke I and Duke II sort of ran against bikes in the newly forming adventure market such as the BMW R1100GS, Honda Africa Twin, Yamaha XTZ660 Ténéré, Cagiva Elefant and Triumph Tiger 900, although the KTM’s supermoto influence and smaller-capacity engine meant that it was never a perfect fit.
The Duke 690 faced competition from bikes like the Yamaha XT660X, which ran a similar capacity four-stroke single (but only produced 47bhp) and later the parallel-twin Yamaha MT-07. Later incarnations also had to contend with more focused supermoto offerings like the Ducati Hypermotard and Aprilia Dorsoduro.
It woud also be worth considering the economic and characterful Suzuki SV650. Although the Suzuki is a V-twin naked sportsbike, the power output is similar and it ticks a lot of the same boxes as the Duke.
The 990 and 1290 Super Dukes fall into the super-naked category where the Yamaha MT-10, BMW S1000R and Honda CB1000R ply their trade. It also falls into the sights of sports tourers like the BMW S1000XR, Ducati 1200 Multistrada and Kawasaki Versys 1000, especially in GT spec.
There are plenty of naked 125s on the market to rival the Duke 125, the Yamaha MT-125 is the most obvious, but there are also the Honda CB125R, Kawasaki Z125, Aprilia Tuono 125 and Suzuki GSX-S125.
Likewise, in the A2 licence category, there are plenty of options to choose from. The Yamaha MT-03, Kawasaki Z400, Honda CB300R and BMW G310R are obvious contenders.
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