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2016 KTM 690 Duke prototype ridden

Published: 03 September 2015

Updated: 03 September 2015

KTM have long been associated with large capacity singles, but the company knows that for many potential customers the thudding power-delivery of their big thumpers can be a turn-off.

Anyone who has ever ridden the original KTM 620 Duke models – of either first or second generations – will recall how serious the fun factor is, but also how much the vibration impinges on less than fully committed rides. KTM went a long way down the refinement path with the 2008 690 Duke, but it lost none of its aggressive overtones. For 2012 the 690 Duke was given more extensive makeover with comfort, engine refinement and new technology top of the priority list. But for 2016 the Austrian firm are going even further to broaden the Duke’s appeal. 

MCN secured a world exclusive ride on a prototype of the new bike, which KTM hopes will be more of a match for parallel and V-twin engines in terms of performance, but more importantly, smoothness. 

While the 690 really was a prototype (rather than a pre-production unit from the manufacturing run), complete with rough wiring, unfinished bodywork, and permanently illuminated warning lights due to deactivated systems and sensors – the core of the bike is production ready. Sadly, like most prototypes, this very machine will be consigned to the crusher in a matter of weeks.

At the heart of the 2016 Duke is a new, more powerful and more torquey engine that revs 1000rpm higher than the current model, and is the largest single-cylinder engine KTM have ever produced. It’s also the first KTM to be built to Euro4 emissions regulations. It’s still a single, but now boasts an extra balancer shaft inside the cylinder head to help reduce engine vibration. Other changes include new electronics with three riding modes, traction control, a new Thin Film Transistor (TFT) full colour dash, a new exhaust, new triple clamps with revised steering offset, and a new rider and pillion seat for better comfort.

We only got to ride the standard 690 Duke prototype, but there will also be a higher-spec 690 Duke R model available, which will have more power, upgraded suspension and brakes (WP and Brembo respectively) and spoked wheels. It will also get cornering ABS and an orange-painted frame.

The 2016 model looks largely similar to the bike it will replace, but that belies the amount of work which has gone into this bike, all of it intended to widen its appeal. KTM had already done a lot of development with the previous 690 Duke motor in this regard, but below 3000rpm it still had that characteristic piston slap and clatter which made urban riding more of a challenge than on a multi-cylinder bike. The new engine drops that rev-related clatter to just 2500rpm which, while still a bit of a bind in slow-moving town traffic, is something that’s fairly easily avoided by increasing the revs a little and slipping the clutch when needed.

The payoff is an extra 1000rpm of engine revs to play with which, combined with the 7% increase in power and 6% increase in torque, ensures this large capacity single-cylinder motor doles out a decent wallop of grunt throughout the rev range. KTM won’t confirm exact technical details on the bike until its press launch later this year but we estimate it’s developing around 72bhp, which puts it into the same ballpark as the Yamaha MT-07, Ducati Scrambler, Kawasaki ER6 and Suzuki Gladius.

Heading out of the small Austrian town of Mattighofen, and the 690 Duke’s massive 104mm bore single is soon showing us what it can do. The extra power and torque are noticeable compared with the current bike, but it’s the way the new motor likes to rev that’s the biggest difference.

The throttle action is light and precise, as is the clutch. Flicking through the rider modes is easy, and the new dashboard works very well – except for the glare that reflects off it in bright conditions. Add in the grippy Metzeler M7RR rubber (combined with KTM’s continued choice of a nimble 160/60/17 rear tyre) and the increased trail and reduced offset of the front wheel, and the new Duke is even better handling while retaining its stability.

OK, so it remains on the nuttier side of the fence than bikes such as the unthreatening MT-07, but it has moved closer to the middle ground and it will definitely appeal to a broader range of riders. The technology is ground-breaking for such a cost-conscious bike and the changes made for the sake of Euro4 have not only led to weight savings, but also resulted in a boost in power. Those who love the old loony Duke have got more bhp than ever, so they should be kept happy too. And the best news? KTM is hoping to keep the price for the 690 Duke almost the same as the current model’s £7199.

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