Long-term test: KTM 1290 Super Duke R

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My long-term test KTM 1290R Super Duke was returned to its rightful owner (KTM) last week, leaving me to reflect on a year of ups and downs.

I wrote in the paper edition of MCN that its mechanical problems had, on balance, overshadowed its moments of brilliance. Porous crankcases, warped front discs and an engine that repeatedly pumped out its coolant had left me deeply frustrated. If I’d paid almost £14,000 for the bike, I would have been apoplectic.

On a brighter note, it seems that my bike isn’t typical. Only one 1290 R owner contacted MCN during the year to say he was having mechanical problems (coolant), while the forums are hardly alive with complaints about the V-twin’s lack of reliability. KTM themselves were at a loss to explain why my bike’s engine pumped coolant from its expansion tank but did acknowledge that a couple of other 1290s had suffered from leaking crankcases.

In 2010 I had one my great summers on a 990 Super Duke. For 8000 joyful miles it reminded me – a lifelong sportsbike owner – that there is another way. The sheer fun of turning its throttle left me buzzing after every ride. And, despite the gulf in their spec and price, the same experience lies at the heart of the 1290 R. Its electronics, its classy WP suspension, chassis geometry and ergonomics are all about delivering a stupendous buzz when you turn its throttle.  

At times last summer I felt I was riding the best bike ever built. A bike that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that is supremely easy to ride, be it up a country lane or on a hot lap around Cadwell Park.    

I already massively miss that purity of spirit. But I have also to say that my trust in the KTM brand is now lower than it was at the beginning of the 2014.  

I don’t miss the uncertainty, the wondering if it’ll behave itself on an expensive holiday or trackday. Reliability, for me, on a 14-grand motorcycle is non negotiable.

Tim Thompson

By Tim Thompson

Head of Content, former Bike magazine Editor, Nurburgring-lover