Bumped into BaronVonGrumble on his Super Duke R test bike!

I OFTEN listen to riders go about describing the traits of a good motorcycle engine; ‘It has power everywhere’ they say. However, I’ve come to the realisation that what they’re really trying to say is: there isn’t a LACK of power anywhere.

But perhaps that’s because I recently spent several days in France riding an unfaired missile and it redefined what having power everywhere really means.

Naked bikes have been around for ages, so have V-twin engines, and a production motorcycle that makes 180hp is no longer particularly impressive. However, tie those all together and you have something a little bit mad, a little bit different, and quite a bit special. In fact, what you have is a KTM 1290 Super Duke R.

Some people will say what’s the point? It’s too much power; you’ll never use it all and the bike is far better than you’ll ever be.

Ever slept with a pornstar? No, me neither. I probably wouldn’t do the job much justice but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still have fun.

Riding it is still massively enjoyable and unique. I’m talking about the KTM again, by the way.

Let’s talk wheelies too. A bike’s ability to do one is by no means important and has little to no bearing on the outcome of a bike review (this is a lie). But if one useful thing can be said for them, other than being potentially the most fun thing you can do on a motorcycle, if not in the world (this is not a lie), it’s their ability to expose power, or lack of it.

Fortunately for KTM, that 1,301cc V-twin has it covered. Want to lift the front end at over 100mph on an inline-four litrebike? You’ll bounce off the limiter in second gear and a stock thousand doesn’t have enough torque to lift the front in fourth, even if an internet forum super-poster says it will. So you’ll want third gear, a large crest, the engine wound up, and a handful of throttle and slipped clutch. That’s a lot of prerequisites just to show-off.

Want to do the same on the Super Duke R? Choose third or fourth gear, slip the clutch slightly and give the bike some throttle. And that’s it. It doesn’t matter if the engine is just above idle or sat near its 10,500rpm redline, the front will come up. It’s as easy as paint-by-numbers, just more dangerous.

And yet in spite of its hooligan capabilities, it’s one of the most well-mannered bikes that I’ve ever ridden. There’s no lumpiness to the engine and the fuelling is nigh on perfect. I was expecting disobedience and unwieldiness but instead got a tractable all-rounder that just happens to be extremely fast.

It’s comfortable too. There’s no neck-straining windblast below 100mph and the 18L tank sees 150 miles between fill-ups. Surprisingly, it all makes a strong case for the touring-spec version. An 180hp naked touring bike suddenly doesn’t seem so silly after all…

There are loads of things the KTM does right, but it has its weaknesses too. With such fierce acceleration and torque on offer the front wheel spends much of its time skimming across the asphalt. With that in mind you want a bike that’s sure-footed and stable when making good progress – traits that could be improved upon on the Super Duke R.

Up the pace like this over a dodgy surface and the bike can start shaking its head. The non-adjustable WP steering damper does relatively little to intervene.

And that’s about the only thing I didn’t like. Actually, I tell a lie. Lowsiding down the road at 70mph watching sparks fly off the swingarm hadn’t been on my road-test agenda, but that came down to my cack-handedness and poor planning more anything else. Looking across my shoulder whilst joining a French main road I momentarily lost the front end having not spotted a patch of gravel. The tyre slipped to the left, then re-gripped, darted right, and then back to the left again. That process continued for a good 20 metres down the road until my relationship with the bike had reduced from rider to ragdoll.

The end results were: Tankslapper – 1 : Luke – 0, a fair amount of damage to the left-hand side of the bike and a hurty finger. You live and you learn – or maybe that should be ‘you learn so you live’ when bikes are concerned? I certainly know my gravel detector is on higher alert now.

Crashing aside…what about those annoying electronics that journos keep talking about? Yes the electronics package does reset everytime you turn off the ignition, and yes that does get slightly irritating if you’re regularly playing with settings, but in reality it becomes nothing more than part of the start-up routine. Turning off the traction control takes under five seconds and it’s not as though the 1290 doesn’t have enough power to make up for that lost time. Just don’t use that reasoning to get out of a speeding ticket.

At £14,000 the KTM is certainly expensive and has most likely lead potential customers veering towards other offerings. Other super nakeds like BMW’s S1000R and the new Kawasaki Z1000 come in at under £10,000, that’s over 30% cheaper. And is the KTM worth 30% more in parts? I doubt it. It’s also probably not as quick around a race track as the new Aprilia Tuono or as likely to win hearts as the Ducati Monster 1200. But why does that matter? The world would be a boring place if everyone played spec sheet Top Trumps.

Put simply, riding the 1290 Super Duke R was far and away the most fun I’ve had on a bike, ever. It’s lunacy and refinement combined and makes for nothing short of a brilliant road bike. Test ride one at your peril – you may find you’ve left the showroom with a £14,000 dent in your wallet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.