Video: KTM 790 Duke 'more fun than a Street Triple'

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KTM is set to dethrone the naked middleweight class royalty with their new £8499 790 Duke. Yamaha and Triumph should be worried. 

For years the Yamaha MT-07 has been the go-to choice for riders looking for a simple, fun, affordable roadster and the MT-09 offered more of the same, with extra chillies and sold in its droves. Triumph’s Street Triple didn’t even need an upgrade last year, but it got it anyway, making the 765cc-powered machine even more dominant.  

KTM will upset the applecart when the 790 Duke arrives in dealers next month, because it manages to combine the best bits from all of its rivals. It has the speed and electronic sophistication of the Street Triple R and RS, the joyous punch and simplicity of the (much cheaper) MT-07 and the cheekiness of the MT-09 and MT-09SP…with a dash of crazy 1290 Super Duke R thrown in for good measure. 

Browse KTM Duke bikes for sale.

In many ways the 790 Duke is actually more satisfying than it big bhp super naked brother. It delivers the same wild, slip-sliding mono-wheeling thrills as the 1290 Super Duke R, but its punchy new motor is easier to handle and more involving. It flatters you every inch of the way, instead of looking back at you and saying: ‘is that all you’ve got?’ 

The 790 Duke is cheaper than the £8999 MT-09SP and a £9100 Street Triple R and pricier than the value-tastic £6349 MT-07, £8199 MT-09 and base-model £8200 Street Triple S, but KTM gives you an awful lot for your money.

Standard equipment includes electronics not even standard on some Japanese superbikes, let alone middleweight nakeds: lean-sensitive ABS, traction and engine braking control, an up/down blipper and four riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain, Track). There’s also a colour TFT screen with blue teeth, WP suspension, a steering damper, LED lights, adjustable levers and handlebars and a steering damper. You also get a machine that’s the result of over half a million miles of testing, by 60 orange-shirted engineers and test riders, including former MotoGP legend Jeremy McWilliams. KTM are spoiling us. 

In other areas the 790 is built down to a price: WP forks are non-adjustable and you can only twiddle the shock preload. It has own-brand four-piston radial brake calipers (actually made by Spanish experts J.Juan – as seen on Rea and Syke’s WSB leathers) and Maxxis tyres. 

Don’t let any of that out you off because the 790 Duke is hard to fault and everything works perfectly. There’s a lot more detail in the flesh than pictures, too, from the Testarossa-style air induction strakes buried in the exposed steel subframe, to the ‘inside out’ swingarm detail. 

Of course KTM are no strangers to the warm waters of the mid-weight/price/size/power lagoon. Their current single cylinder 690 Duke is a riot of a machine…in small doses, but you need more than one piston to make a truly special road bike and that’s what they’ve done with the new 790 Duke. 

A new 799cc LC8c (‘c’ for ‘compact’) motor is the Austrian firm’s first parallel twin. It’s pared to the bone and impossibly small. How such a tiny lump of metal, with bits whizzing around inside, can produce such grunt (64ftlb of torque) and free-revving power (105bhp) is astonishing. Crammed with forged this, lightweight that and DLC-coated the other, the racy, but refined motor looks no bigger than a single. 

Unlike a ploddy one-pot, the new engine is as refined and vibe-free as an inline four, but its 75-degree crank offset and 435-degree firing intervals give the twin an added dash of drama. A deep, gurgling V-twin-like growl accompanies you as you whip out of corners and surge through the revs. Off the throttle the KTM gurgles and spits like a race bike. Even with its Euro4 exhaust the 790 Duke makes a wonderful, rhythmic din. 

A new tubular steel dual backbone frame is shrink-wrapped around the new engine, so there’s not an ounce of flab. The 790 Duke is as muscular as a pit-bull and weighing just 169kg dry, weighs about as much as its dinner.

With its narrow hips, small riders will find the KTM easy to get on and plant feet down, even with a 825mm high seat (there’s also a 805mm accessory seat and 780mm lowering kit). There’s loads of legroom for six-footers, too. The bar position is natural in its standard position and its bath time-comfy, even after a day’s riding. But as you’d expect from such an unashamed, exposed naked, wind protection is non-existent and your neck feels every mile an hour. 

As KTM’s nickname for the 790 Duke suggests, you can go nuts on ‘The Scalpel’. It happily slices through tight twists on the road and will hold its own on a small track, like Brands, Cadwell or Mallory. The chassis is balanced, stable, predictable and the brakes consistently strong. A canted forward riding, feet-back riding has a faint streak of wild supermoto about it.

With little to no means of adjusting the forks and shock the suspension will always be a ‘one size fits all’ compromise. It’s on the firm side of push, but even if there were clickers to play with, the set-up is so bang-on for most road conditions and even the track, you probably won’t bother anyway, unless you were particularly heavy, or extremely fussy. 

Cornering ABS lacks a little initial feel, as do most brake-by-wire systems nowadays, but the electronics never intrude unless absolutely needed. The slick autoblipper and quickshifter enhances an already sweet gearbox and you only need to use the light-action slip-assist clutch when you’re pulling away or stopping. 

Happily the KTM is less ‘scalpel’ and more ‘butter knife’ when you just want a normal, predictable, motorcycle, for the times you’re just riding to work, or getting caught in the rain. It never strains at its orange leash, or tuts disappointingly when you’re not surgically dissecting pieces of tarmac. The 790 Duke is as calm, reassuring and easy as the best of the middleweight nakeds. 

Producing enough power to be fun, but not so much it’s taking you for a ride, a mid-size engine like this is the perfect size for a motorcycle. Think Suzuki GSX-R750, 765cc Street Triple, or any one of Ducati’s ‘baby’ superbikes. Now you can add the 790 Duke to that illustrious list. 

Maxxis tyres come standard on most of KTM’s off-roaders and the Duke’s Supermaxx STs, which are specially developed for this machine, work well. The Taiwanese (they’re owned by Cheng Shin) offer the kind of performance you’d expect from sports touring rubber and are better in the wet and dry than most Japanese ‘Original Equipment’ tyres. Front grip is particularly impressive, as is the speed they warm-up time and how they roll sweetly in and out of corners. 

Of course, fitting sportier rubber will always enhance the riding experience, but in any case you don’t really have to worry about rear grip on a bike with such accomplished traction control. It’s set more or less intrusively, depending on the riding mode you’re in and it’s ten-way adjustable (from maximum to ‘off’) in Track mode. 

Opening the throttle on some unexpected gravel during our road rider, the TC one hundred per cent stops me from crashing. Who said electronics are rubbish? They’re worth their weight in orange gold…

KTM maybe late to the multi-cylinder middleweight party, but they’ve made the kind of entrance that’s stopped the music and made everyone gawp in amazement.

KTM's rivals

Triumph lit up an otherwise dull naked middleweight class when it released its Street Triple in 2006. Only Yamaha’s fabulous MT-07 and MT-09 have given riders a reason to look elsewhere since.

KTM is set to change all that with the new 790 Duke. It handles and stops better than both MTs (even the MT-09SP) and is more electronically advanced. The new Street Triple R matches the 790’s rider aids and trumps its suspension. It’s a superb machine and will be the KTM’s closest rival, but lacks the 790’s playfulness. 

Our up-coming middleweight make shootout promises to one of the tests of the year.

MCN VERDICT - Five stars 

KTM have got it so right with its new 790 Duke. Just like the cream of the middleweight naked crop it combines calm practicality with playful excitement. It can be a track tool one day and a commuter the next. Its new LC8c engine is a peach, the chassis predictably balanced and it’s all topped off with superbike-spec electronics. After 24 years of the KTM, why they didn’t think of this before?


Price £8499

Engine 799cc 8v parallel twin

Frame Steel perimeter

Seat height 825mm

Suspension Non-adjustable WP 43mm forks and single rear shock adjustable for preload.

Front brake 2 x 300mm front discs with four-piston radial calipers. 240mm rear disc with twin-piston caliper. ABS

Colours Orange, black

Available April 2018 

Power 105bhp@9000rpm

Torque 64ftlb@8000rpm

Dry weight 169kg

Tank capacity 14-litres

Full specifications of the Austrian machine were announced in December, as we reported on below.

KTM’s bargain 790 Duke

KTM revealed their new 790 Duke will cost £8499 – which looks like excellent value to us. 

The 103bhp, twin gets adjustable WP suspension, cornering ABS, lean-angle suspension, TC and a two-way quickshifter. Form a queue, fast. 

MCN rides the 790 Duke as a prototype

Hot on the heels of MCN’s recent exclusive ride on a prototype 790 Duke, comes the real thing, announced at motorcycle show Eicma in Milan last month.

Touted as the ‘ultimate street weapon’ it’s set to stir up the middleweight naked market, and possibly steal some thunder from the likes of Triumph’s Street Triple. The ultra-compact LC8c parallel-twin is nestled in a completely new frame and styling package. The engine is used as a stressed member to save weight, and at a claimed 169kg dry, it’s certainly not been dodging the salad. 

Find out what Senior Editor made ot the 790 Duke here!

With added launch control, plus KTM ride mode technology with customisable track mode as standard features, the new Duke also includes a KTM TFT dashboard with optional KTM MY RIDE for easy smartphone hook-up.

Welcome to the punch

KTM’s first parallel-twin is a four-stroke DOHC unit with eight valves actuated via DLC-coated finger followers, electronic fuel injection, two balancer shafts, semi dry-sump lubrication with oil cooler and six-speed transmission. Max power is a healthy 103.3bhp @ 9000rpm, while max torque is 63.5ftlb, arriving at 8000rpm. 

This could be KTM’s first mass-market bike in the UK. 

KTM 790 highlights

Engine: 799cc parallel-twin
Power: 103.3bhp @ 9000rpm
Torque: 63.5ftlb @ 8000rpm. 
Seat height: 825mm
Weight: 169kg (dry)

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Michael Neeves

By Michael Neeves

MCN Chief Road Tester, club racer, airmiles millionaire.