A year of mixed emotions on the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

1 of 20

As a fan of one-piece leathers, going fast, and trackdays, a year with the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo should’ve been all my Christmases coming at once.

A jagged-edged, muscular brute housing a 177bhp V-twin motor inside a taut trellis chassis, it has pantomime and punch in equal measure. Unfortunately, reality was unable to match the dream and whilst the SDR Evo was unbelievably good, a string of reliability issues put a sizeable dent in our love affair.

New bike, old tricks

I spent 2020 with the 1290 Super Duke GT and loved it. The power and practicality were addictive, but the TFT dash had to be replaced following water ingress – with other warning lights and key fob headaches also coming into play.

I was hopeful that KTM would have sorted the problems, but in my circa 6000 miles with the Evo I’ve experienced oil and coolant leaks, problems with the clutch, had the switchgear replaced, and more. You can read more about that further down this review.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo switchgear

Power and poise

For all of the headaches, the Evo is an astounding bike when everything’s running smoothly. It might thrust forwards like a superbike and throw its front wheel into the air at any opportunity, but it also handles like the smaller 890 Duke – flicking from one bend to the next with the smallest input

It’s also nice as pie around town. I’m only 5ft6in, but it’s an easy reach to the ground and the turning circle is decent. The clutch lever is light, with a nice progressive feeling from the Brembo brakes. I’ve never owned a bike that’s been so capable of easy-going commuting miles, whilst also being stark-raving mad when you flick it into a racy throttle map. It’s two bikes in one.

Cornering on the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Snetterton bound

To let the Evo off the leash without going to prison, I took the bike to a scorching Snetterton wearing a set of 2000-mile old Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV Corsa tyres. These being some of the best sporty road rubber I’ve sampled, the bike demonstrated just how fast it could go in a straight line – stripping lengths out of 600s and hugging the back wheel of some analogue superbikes.

It was also able to show off its fantastic front end feel and powerful, lean-sensitive brakes, with the semi-active suspension requiring some extra preload at the rear to stop the bars shaking in the lower gears and gently weaving at speed. Overall, a great fun day.

Going the distance

It’s not all about going fast though and it also carried me to the TT. I arrived with no aches or pains, never noticing the additional KTM luggage – thanks to tweaks to the electronic preload. I almost covered the entire 180-mile ride to the ferry on one tank, too.

Would I buy one?

The very fact that I have to say it’s a great bike when it’s working is enough to put me off buying one. A fabulous engine, demonic looks, and superb handling are all wonderful to have, but they count for nothing if you can’t fully trust it.

KTM Super Duke R Evo optional extras

The KTM’s PowerParts catalogue is a tempting feast, here is our total from the year…

  • Plastic fly screen – £89.70
  • Plastic brake lever guard – £68.04
  • 9-litre tank bag – £180.36
  • Side bag set – £452.16 (fitting kit included)
  • Single-sided rear paddock stand – £180.36
  • Tech Pack (electronics) – £1131.68
  • Heated grips – £180.36
  • Total – £2282.66

Exploring the expensive electronic add-ons of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Published: 20.01.22

A static shot of the 2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

The KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo sits at the premium end of the super-naked class. At £17,899 (2023 pricing) it’s £1399 more than Yamaha’s MT-10 SP and over £5300 more than a base spec BMW S1000R.

It’s a beautifully finished indulgence, which stands with aggressive hunched shoulders and streaks of glossy orange that glimmer in the sunlight. Taut, composed, and incredibly quick, it’s true capability cannot be recognised until you dig further into your pocket.

Our test bike has been equipped with the Tech Pack, which costs (at the time of writing) £1059.18 and includes an up/down quickshifter, Suspension Pro, a Track Pack including launch control, anti-wheelie, track riding modes and more advanced throttle and traction adjustments, plus Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) to stop the rear wheel locking up during intense downshifts. The excellent heated grips then set you back a further £180.36.

All of this brings the price up to £19,138.54 – just a few hundred quid less than the 207bhp BMW M1000R naked, which arrives for 2023 at £19,480.

What’s worth having?

For starters, a bike that starts at almost 18 grand should come with a quickshifter/blipper and heated grips as standard. These aren’t new technologies and it feels salty that you’re charged extra for them.

That said, they are both worth the investment, providing fuss-free gear changes at any revs and keeping your hands warmer than almost any other official fitment grips I have sampled. Outside of that, the Suspension Pro shines through as a must have if you can afford it. Available separately for £252.79, it unlocks the anti-dive front forks and an ‘Auto’ setting for both sets of springs.

As you might expect, the anti-dive feature reduces the transfer of energy under braking and keeps the front end composed without sacrificing comfort. The Auto setting also changes the damping according to your inputs on the go – getting harder or softer depending on how you’re riding.

I’ve used both on a daily basis and would recommend the investment. Elsewhere, the track-focused elements were useful during a day out at Snetterton last summer – especially the anti-wheelie and advanced modes – but they go largely unnoticed on the road. I have never used the launch control and can’t think of a scenario when I would ever really want to (other than to show off, of course).

Clutch ache

The hydraulic clutch has been a bit of a pain during my time with the bike. Twice the biting point at the lever has come back to the handlebar grip – pulling you forwards slowly in traffic and leaving you unable to select neutral at a standstill.

Previously re-bled to remove air from the system, it was investigated more thoroughly when the problem surfaced again a few thousand miles later. KTM investigated the issue again and said: “After an initial inspection of the clutch mechanism we bled a very small amount of air from the system to return the clutch function to normal.

“To understand where this air came from we carried out a further investigation and found a very small score on a seal which was too small to leak clutch fluid but we are linking to be the source for the very small amount of air that we initially bled out. We have replaced the seal and this appears to have rectified the issue. This inspection and remedying work would be performed under warranty on a customer’s machine.”

A year of commuting highlights the versatility of KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Published: 07.12.22

Cornering on the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo on a UK country road

I am in the incredibly privileged position of being able to sample many different motorcycles, and I would rank KTM’s ballistic 1290 Super Duke R Evo amongst the best of them for my 50-mile commute to the office.

It may have a claimed 177bhp, offer bugger-all wind protection and feature enough jagged edges to put a porcupine to shame, but the Austrian super-naked offers a delicious blend of performance and plushness to turn even the dullest of days into an event.

And I’m not just talking about getting you there as fast as possible either. You see, this performance machine can be incredibly gentle when you need it to be – taking frugal sips from its 16-litre fuel tank for a tested 53.4mpg. Not bad for a bike with a 1.3-litre engine.

With so much power and torque on tap, the liquid-cooled twin is barely breaching tick over on the long, straight 60mph Lincolnshire roads separating me from MCN Towers.

Popping on the cruise control through the colour TFT dash, it’s smooth and easy going – allowing me to trundle in comfort and focus on dodging bleary eyed drivers and relentless tractor blockades.

With the semi-active suspension switched to ‘Auto’, it soaks up the bumps with ease – getting harder or softer dependant on rider input. This is particularly welcome in the flatlands of the Fens, which seem to be a hotspot for road subsidence and potholes.

Being a twin, the bike also feels narrow between your legs, with the weight held low in the chassis, an easy reach to the bars and a reasonable seat height of 835mm. I may only be 5ft 6in, but I can ride the SDR at low speed with real confidence, making slow manoeuvres and filtering a simple and unintimidating task.

In fact, the only thing that has hindered this over the past 6700 miles is the hydraulic clutch, which had to be re-bled around 3000 miles ago for air in the system – causing the biting point to slowly move back towards the bar until it was still grabbing with the lever pulled in.

This issue has re-emerged recently and leads me to believe there is another underlying issue at play. What this then also means is the bike wants to pull you forwards at every traffic light and there’s an inability to snick into neutral with the engine running.

The other gripe is more down to my own laziness and relates to the glossy orange paint on the rear wheel. When it’s clean, it looks wonderful, but keeping it spotless is a full-time job.

Video: Dan reflects on a year with the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Published: 03.11.22

Having taken the keys to KTM’s 1290 Super Duke Evo R back in February, News Editor Dan reveals his top 10 best bits and 10 worst bits of living with the bike. You can watch the full video below and read past updates further down this page.

On the right track: Taking the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo for a hot date at Snetterton

Published: 26.10.22

The past 5000 miles with the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo have been a lesson in restraint. Packing a claimed 177bhp between the luminous orange beams of its taut trellis frame, it is effortlessly fast and will grunt its way past lines of traffic faster than you can say ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’.

Away from the prying eyes and endless dashcams of main road Britain, it turns the giggle factor up to 11 – holding a line as well as any sportsbike and thrusting out of bends with all the shove of a high-speed train.

To discover how good it is when ridden in anger, I headed to a sunny Snetterton 300 with MSV for a play – and to test my 2000-mile-old Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV Corsa tyres.

Despite it being the only road bike in the fast group, what is immediately evident is just how fast the KTM goes in a straight line. It would happily stick with some older superbikes and strip lengths out of track-ready 600s.

Although impressive, the semi-active suspension did require some extra preload at the rear to stop the bars shaking in the lower gears and gently weaving at speed, even though it was already in its raciest setting.

Despite the lack of bodywork, the dash is reading well into the 150mph range by the end of the epic Bentley Straight. Stopping my head from separating from my body is an £80.70 tinted fly screen, which bolts in behind the TFT dash to neaten up the gap down to the LED headlight.

Although small, it has made such a difference to daily road riding, and contributed to a more enjoyable trackday, too.

Another thing that boosted my day was the Pirellis, which replaced a set of OE Bridgestone Battlax S22s. There was nothing wrong with those, but the Diablos are a cut above in the wet and dry and provided plenty of cornering confidence and stability during my day.

However, by the afternoon, they were showing significant wear, so I was hesitant to push on any further at lean.

The only thing that let the bike down was a small oil weep from beneath the filler cap, which began to seep out in droplets during the afternoon sessions.

Watch a video of the day below:

The naked truth: What’s hot and what’s not on the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Published: 01.08.22

A side view of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the keys to KTM’s £17,899 Super Duke R Evo since the early onset of spring. In that time, we’ve battled heavy rain, some of the hottest days on record, thousands of commuting miles, a trip to the Isle of Man TT and a hot date at Snetterton on an MSV Trackday (more on that at a later date).

I’ve come to know the Austrian beast very well and experienced it’s best and worst traits first hand. I’ve also dipped into the optional extras catalogue and begun experimenting with fresh tyres. But what’s been good, and what’s flopped? Read on to find out…

Electronic suspension HIT

The Super Duke R Evo builds on the standard R model with electronic WP suspension. It might be £1550 more (2022 prices), but it’s all the better for it. The standard bike has quality, fully adjustable kit, but the ability to make changes at the touch of a button is so worth it. I also love the anti-dive option on the forks, which make the front end feel so incredibly composed under hard braking. The bike cuts through corners with crisp composure and makes the big 1290 brute feel more like a dainty 890 Duke.

Fuel gauge MISS

This might sound like something petty to bring up, but the digital fuel gauge on the colour TFT dash can be infuriating when you get to the reserve. Get to 50 miles and you’re greeted with a warning pop-up that looks more like a breakdown alert than a reminder to fill up with fuel. And then there’s the accuracy – sometimes it’s bang on and other times can feel like 50 miles actually means half of that. I left work one evening with ’50 miles’ in the tank. Less than 10 miles later, it said I had 10 left.

Comfort HIT

A big, angry super naked has no right to be this comfortable. A thick padded seat, roomy pegs, and an easy reach to the bars make it so easy to live with daily, as well as covering big miles. Recently, I installed the £80.70 tinted fly screen and this has taken usability to a whole other level. For something only slightly taller than the clocks, it does a remarkable job of keeping the wind off your shoulders and head. It’s a worthwhile add-on for any SDR owner. It also neatens up the area between the headlight and clock brackets, which looks like a design oversight as standard.

V-twin engine HIT

The electronic suspension is very nice, but the roaring 1301cc V-twin remains the party piece of the Super Duke R Evo. Wind up your right wrist and it is savagely fast – forever egging you on to go quicker. It’s also an overtaking god – surfing on a fat wedge of torque to effortlessly blast past lines of cars. But it’s also gentle and easy when needed and will filter through town traffic as easily as an A2-compliant naked. It’s a very flexible unit.

It’s also a bloody hot unit and around town and at slow speeds in the peak summer heat, it has become uncomfortably warm between my legs. In fact, on one occasion, I had to hastily move it from a parking space in a field, when it began burning through the surrounding long grass. A heart in mouth moment!    

Indicators MISS

The KTM has self-cancelling indicators. I don’t particularly like these at the best of times, but the Super Duke design takes the biscuit. They simply don’t stay on long enough – failing to last the length of a motorway slip road, or a brief build-up of traffic before entering a roundabout. Either make them last longer or put a bit more faith back into rider to cancel their own indicators.

KTM clutch causes problems

Anyone who’s followed my time with the SDR Evo so far will know it’s not been without fault, with electrical headaches, new switchgear, and a new key fob battery all occurring. Sadly, I must report another issue. This time with the clutch.

I noticed the biting point getting closer to the handlebar. I wound out the span and kept an eye on it, but soon enough it was biting with it squeezed tightly against the grip – pulling me forwards slowly at a standstill and preventing the bike from going into neutral when running. Not wanting to do any internal damage, I popped in to see the nice people at Gear4 Motorcycles in Market Deeping, who fixed the issue in 10 minutes.

Air had made its way into the hydraulic clutch system and with the issue fixed, I spoke to KTM UK, who said: “Air obviously shouldn’t get in the system. In this instance, it’s likely that a small amount of air has always been there but hasn’t been noticeable in lower ambient temperatures.

“As we’ve got into a warmer time of the year, the air in the system has expanded and caused the issue to be noticed, hence the need to bleed the system. This would be covered under warranty.”

Nice to know it’s covered under warranty, but it’s the latest in a line of issues that are becoming inexcusable.

The KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo is ready to (road) race

Published: 22.04.22

After a three-year absence, the TT was the number one touring destination I wanted to visit on the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo this year.

I love the event, the people, and the island and when the opportunity to visit arose, I hastily packed up my KTM tank bag (£180.36) and hard panniers (£452.16) and headed off.

I’d never ridden to the TT before and had to catch a ferry midway through practice week. A dull as dishwater Wednesday morning motorway slog up and across the country, it was the perfect test to see how the Evo copes with long stints at high speed.

Given the inclusion of semi- active springs and a surprisingly friendly V-twin, I was quietly confident – but I wasn’t expecting it to do quite as well as it did. Snicking into top gear and settling into the long haul, the 1301cc motor cruises along at little more than tickover.

With a thick padded seat and room to move around, I arrived with no aches and pains, never noticing the additional luggage – thanks to tweaks to the electronic preload. I almost covered the entire circa 180-mile ride on one tank of juice, too.

The KTM was right at home on the Isle of Man. Upright and comfortable, it was great for nipping from one viewing point to the next, as well as filtering through traffic. There were also heated grips for those chilly early morning starts and the rumbling twin-pot turned heads wherever we went.

That said, it did start to get quite hot in traffic and the fuelling right at the bottom of the revs can be jerky when you’re on and off the throttle.

Now the fun stuff

I couldn’t go all the way to the TT and not let the Super Duke off its leash a little.

With a claimed 177bhp on tap, trips over the famous Mountain were a must, with the optional performance settings allowing me to make more of the one-way route and lack of speed limits.

Finally, I popped into Ramsey for the run-what-ya-brung sprint. A chance for visitors to lay down their fastest 1/8-mile time on their road bikes along the sea front, I managed to just dip under eight seconds at a top speed of 107mph. That’ll do!

Getting to know the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo a little better

Published: 22.04.25

When I first reported on my time with the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo in the May 4 issue of MCN, I was around 1600 miles and two months into my time with the Austrian brute and still trying to establish a sense of companionship with it.

A glance at the spec sheet suggested it would be love at first sight for a performance bike nut like me, but we struggled to bond in the early stages, due to a few electrical gremlins in the key and rear shock (more on that below).

However, now I’ve had time to put more leisure miles on the bike, our relationship has blossomed and I get out for a raucous rip along my favourite backroads whenever I have time to slip out.

It may have sophisticated electronic suspension to tackle both spirited and sedate riding, but this is a bike that rewards aggression – coming alive when you start to push the envelope and let that thudding V-twin off the leash. I’m really starting to fall for its thuggish charm, but there have still been moments that have tested my affections.

Oh, not again…

Following the previous electrical issues outlined in update one below, the bike was returned to KTM HQ in late April for a once-over. Upon return, I nipped out to the local petrol station to fill up ahead of a big ride only to discover the engine would cut out whenever I turned the bars left, the TFT claiming that the kill switch had been activated. So it was loaded back into a van to go back to KTM, who replaced the switchgear to resolve the problem.

“The wires from the switchgear seemed a little tight compared to other models, so we can only assume that over time the wires have been stretched and caused the fault,” KTM’s representative said.

“We’ve given a little more slack to the wiring,” they continued. “If this were a customer experiencing the issue, our mobility service would have collected the bike and taken it to the local dealer, who would have fixed the bike and provided the parts under warranty.”

These disappointing challenges that have tested my ability to trust it for long distance rides. But things are on the up now and since then it’s been good as gold. I’ve not even had to adjust the chain, despite it dealing with all that power and torque.

It’s also stood up well to all-weather use with no furring bolts, but the fat orange rear wheel is a bloody pain to keep clean and the rear tyre is noticeably squaring after around 2500 miles.

Have some of that!

I’ve crammed in as many leisure miles as possible recently, motivated even more this year by a long-time friend returning to road bikes after a stint away racing.

Living in Lincolnshire, I’m blessed with some stonking roads on my doorstep and the SDR Evo is proving to be excellent wherever there’s room to use its 177bhp motor, while tight and fast corners give the electronic suspension and trellis chassis a good workout.

So composed, it rewards hard riding and switches direction like a smaller KTM 890 Duke. I can’t get enough of it, with the comfy bars and pegs meaning I’m not in agony come the next idyllic Lincs village.

Update two: Electrical woes taint first impressions of our long-term test KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Published: 22.04.25

The KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo builds on the already incredibly capable Super Duke R with electronic semi-active WP Apex suspension, meaning less time twiddling adjusters and more time winding your right wrist.

I am forever blown away by the standard SDR’s ability to be so incredibly gentle around town, with the power to pull your arms clean out their sockets when you twist the throttle. It’s a real Jekyll and Hyde motorcycle and after 1600 miles I can confidently report life on the Evo is just the same.

But not everything on the KTM has been good. Just 290 miles into our time together, the engine cut out, the dash threw up a preload error and the rear shock extended itself – forcing me to tiptoe the bike to a halt and switch it off and on again.

The message has appeared again since but without the spring issues. It’s also claimed the keyless fob was out of range during a ride – despite it being in my bag – and then at around 1600 miles the bike stopped responding to the key altogether.

Unable to start the motorcycle, I disconnected and reattached the battery – something I’d watched the RAC do when my long-term 1290 Super Duke GT developed the same problem two years ago. It then booted up straight away, but developed the same problem again less than an hour later.

A trip back to KTM HQ revealed the key fob was low on power and the battery has now been replaced. They also stated the issue with the rear ride height was caused by one of several ECUs on the bike and that “in the event of a stall, the motorcycle should be allowed to go through its usual start up procedure where all ECUs carry out the necessary checks before the ignition button is pushed.

“In this case we can see the ignition was pushed during the ECU checking stage. This has resulted in battery power being diverted to the starter system and has caused one or more of the ECUs to display a failure and ultimately affect the rear ride height. If this happens again, switch the motorcycle off, and start it again in the normal way.”

These electrical niggles are such a shame because it’s an otherwise cracking piece of kit. It’s been a brilliant commuter and it eats B-roads for breakfast, but the fear of faults is always lurking in the back of my mind. Here’s hoping this is the last of it.

Update one: Introducing the KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo

Published: 22.04.25

KTM 1290 Super Duke Evo R

Contact: dan.sutherland@motorcyclenews.com

I will subject the bike to commuting, trackdays, bike nights, and a days away. I spent 2019 on the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT which I loved riding but it’ll be interesting to see if KTM have fixed the quality niggles I ran into before…