KTM 690 Duke Track first ride

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Hook sixth gear, crouch down as small as possible and focus on the small strip of white paint at the side of the track. Wait, wait, wait… Sit up, brake, down three gears, let clutch out, as possible while looking for the next braking marker.

Behind the dark visor I’ve got a grin the size of a half moon across my face - it may only be a 79bhp 690cc single, but the last five laps of Cartagena circuit in Spain have been the most enjoyable track miles I’ve had in a long time.

The European Junior Cup (EJC) aims to provide a stepping stone for young riders wanting to showcase their talents to the world. Running alongside the World Superbike Championship at nine selected rounds the format is simple - all the bikes are identical, riders are aged between 14 and 19-years old and may the best man (boy) win.

After using Kawasaki Ninja 250s last year, 2012 sees the introduction of the new KTM 690 Duke as the EJC control bike and MCN was on hand to test the first prototype race bikes.

Sportsbike riders may snigger at the thought of a 79bhp single, but the Duke is a total track weapon that focuses every sense in your body and makes you incredibly precise in your riding.

Usually when I ride on track I’m not that concerned about braking markers, I rely on feel and the noise of the engine to know when to brake.

With the Duke every last centimeter of track is crucial and you find yourself looking out for that marker like a hawk searching down its prey. Hit it and you quickly start to appreciate the chassis of the Duke.

The upgraded Brembo brake may only be a single disc set-up, but the Duke weighs just 140kg and as soon as you grab the lever it pins the front Pirelli into the ground, stopping you with true ferocity while transmitting loads of feeling from the front end.

You can pile into a corner hard on the brakes and the little Duke just responds, flicking on its side with minimal effort and firing through the bend with such speed that you exit cursing your lack of bravery and making a mental note to leave the braking a few more meters next time…

In standard road trim the Duke is the most powerful single on the market with 70bhp. As you would expect KTM are unwilling to compromise its reliability so the tune on the Cup bike is relatively mild.

With an added 9bhp the single has a good solid spread of torque that means as long as the rev counter is above 5,000rom you can drive out of corners without having to worry too much about where you are on the rev range.

There is a slight boost in the grunt at 6,500rpm before the 8,000rpm redline stops play but unlike a 125GP bike the Duke’s motor is remarkably forgiving with a beautiful throttle connection.

Read the full test in the current issue of MCN.

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