By Steve Tiedman
KTM – READY TO RACE. This is the dashboard statement that greets the rider of the 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT. It should be a warning to you.
Moon Motorsports in Monticello, MN, had set us up with this sample from Austrian motorcycle-maker KTM, calling the 1290 Super Duke GT a “sports tourer”. (Yet they use the initials “GT”, from the Italian term Gran Turismo, i.e. Grand Tourer. Perhaps “ST” would be more accurate.) Now, I own what is considered to be a traditional sport tourer. It’s portly in comparison, has a big in-line 4-cylinder engine, spacious storage capacity, and it will run all day long like a (portly) gazelle across the plains of the Serengeti. The 1290 Super Duke GT? It’s a lean, muscular cheetah. And it wants to eat my gazelle.
Approaching the bike, I wasn’t thinking sport tourer. I got the sense that it is equal parts “sport bike”, mild “adventure sport”, and “sport tourer”, always with an emphasis on “sport”. The engine was donated from the KTM Super Duke R naked sport bike, with new cylinder heads and crankshaft. The ergonomics are similar to some adventure sport bikes, meaning you sit a bit taller and upright, your legs are fairly relaxed, and the seating is good. For touring, KTM gives you almost 500 pounds of people/gear capacity, modestly-sized saddle cases, and optional rear shelf and tail box. Hmmm, this seems like a nice combination. And it is. If KTM is trying to change the definition of “sport tourer”, they may be on to something.
Hyperbole aside, what it is not is a Super Duke R with luggage. At about 500 pounds wet (140 lighter than mine!), KTM refined the chrome-moly steel tube chassis for additional duties by creating a cockpit made for all-day 2-up riding. (As a reminder, my dimensions are 6’ tall, 30” inseam, 215 pounds.) The seat height comes in a tad under 33”, with a reasonable kick-over height, yet in the “Comfort” mode the electronically adjusted suspension gave me the ability to be just about flat footed on the ground. From KTM’s website- “The innovative WP semi-active suspension system introduces a new level of comfort and safety in motorcycle riding. The rider can select three spectrums of use: ‘Comfort’, ‘Street’ and ‘Sport’, while the SCU (Suspension Control Unit) adapts the damping rates in real-time to the riding surface and rider, based on the information provided by a set of stroke sensors and accelerometers. It also reads the vehicle load, making the suspension suited to different weights.”
Yeah, well, all I know is that the suspension works very well. In Comfort mode, all-day touring suspension is provided. I was deliberately hitting small potholes and sunken manhole covers and the suspension made it feel like those dips were filled with feather pillows, without ever feeling wishy-washy. Frost-heave lumps went from spinal disk compressing whacks (my sport tourer) to soft thuds that were quickly forgotten. High speed straight lines and twisty, curvy, broken surfaces were all handled smoothly, assuredly, and without drama. Sport mode, on the other hand, is best left for the race track. On public roads, it will wear you out. I didn’t try Street mode (because I thought Comfort mode was perfect for real world riding), but I’d go to Street mode if I was canyon carving on good pavement.
Ergonomics- the aforementioned seat is probably one of the best stock seats I’ve ever had the pleasure of planting my rear end upon. KTM gets it. Wide, flat, and level, yes. Firm, yes. Supportive, yes. Room to move around, yes. Good ground reach, yes. My limited time with the seat gave me no issues at all, and I’ll admit that only an all-day ride would prove its tourer worthiness, but thus far, the factory seat gave me no reason to suggest planning for a rebuild or replacement.
In terms of other human contact points, the handlebar is adjustable to four different positions (in addition to rotating the bar within the clamps) to allow fine-tuning of reach and wrist angle. Sweet. No need yet to order riser kits, just grab a Torx driver to try different positions. The brake, clutch, and gear shift levers are all multi-position as well, to suit your finger reach and foot size. Even the toe nubbins on the foot levers can be relocated. (Hmmm, I wish my bike had all of this adjustability.)
The windshield is manually adjusted over a two-inch range, fast and tool-free. I tend to like a larger windshield, but this bikini fairing-sized windshield, along with the shapes of the fairing panels and gas tank, did a fine job of moving clean air around me at every height setting. The highest setting delivered the bulk of the air stream at about shoulder height, but the lowest setting was my favorite. On high-speed roads, the lowest setting brought the air stream down to mid-torso, and the air flow was so smooth that the wind was acting as a cushion against my upper body, relieving body weight from my hands on the bars. Minor buffeting was had only in heavy, high-speed traffic, when hitting turbulent air mainly from large trucks. (Yep, it performs better than my sport tourer and its large aftermarket windshield.)
The 1290 Super Duke GT has a water cooled, 1301cc, 75-degree V-twin engine putting out a whopping 173hp and 106 ft-lb of torque. It’s connected to the 6-speed transmission with a hydraulic slipper clutch, and it all works beautifully. The transmission, with just a small tap of the foot lever, clicks into gear smoothly every time. Neutral was easy to find. The slipper clutch engagement was good, clutch pull wasn’t heavy, and from my first launch I never had an issue with getting underway. But the engine… the term “beast” is found on KTM’s own website in regard to this engine. It will buck a little bit if lugging under 2000rpm, but once beyond that point, watch out. I averaged 39mpg on 91 octane.
On the road, I couldn’t give a rip about quarter-mile race track stats, or claimed power output. Instead, my “butt dyno” confirms that this engine is all business. There seems to be little flywheel effect, and it wants to rev. Of the engine management drive modes, “rain mode” kept the acceleration well controlled and makes for sensible fuel delivery in everyday/commuting situations. Acceleration is fast in “street mode”, again, best left to riding in lightly populated environments on the open road. Unleashing 173hp in “sport mode…” like the corresponding suspension setting, it would be best reserved for closed circuits. Leave the luggage at home (or in the hotel room in the town you traveled to) and go for a nice track day!
On the open road, the high revving engine was happiest and smoothest in the low 5000rpm range. This related nicely to 4th gear/65mph, 5th gear/75mph, 6th gear/ticket. But the engine easily revved way beyond the 5000rpm range. Honestly, with this incredible power and its fast delivery, it was challenging to keep this motorcycle at posted speeds. You’ve been warned.
Fortunately, the big, interlocked Brembo brakes have no problem bringing this beast under control. Grabbing them hard can give you the feeling that the bike will instantly stop but you will keep going. The bike is loaded with all kinds of safety features such as anti-lock brakes and programmable traction control and stability control.
Is there anything I want to change? Yes, 2 things. #1- give the saddle cases the interior volume their outer lids purport to provide, the sculpted boxes rob valuable touring space; and #2, a shorter reach to the turn signal button. I wear a large size glove, but I had to partly release my grip to reach the turn signal button. Lastly, you’ll need KTM’s front and rear “lifting gear” (wheel stands) to tend to chain and tire maintenance; there is no center stand.
There is so much more to share about this wonderful motorcycle (the comprehensive owner’s manual, heated grips, and cruise control for starters), but for that I’ll direct you to the KTM website, or better yet, visit your KTM dealer and get all the information you need. If you seek a pure-bred performance bike that can take you and your gear across the state in comfort, the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT may satisfy your needs and wants. Thanks to Kyle, Joel, and Amber at Moon Motorsports.
By David Soderholm
Let’s look at a little KTM history. The founding began in 1934 when Hans Trunkenpolz opened a “fitters and car workshop” in Mattighofen Austria. The KTM name itself first appeared in 1953, and in 1954 three KTM R125 tourist motorcycles raced the “Arlberg-Express” train from Paris to Vienna. This was a distance of 1300 kilometers and the KTM’s won by over 2 hours. KTM was on the map. In 1992 Stefan Pierson and Cross industries took possession of and revived KTM. Looking at their rich winning race history he coined the term “READY TO RACE”. In 1994 someone in the KTM shop chopped up an LC4 powered 620 enduro with an angle grinder, fitted street tires to it and the first pure asphalt KTM – the 620 duke was born. The bike quickly established the aggressive attitude that KTM would bring to the street and “READY TO RACE” street bikes were born.
Twenty three years later, that message still appears on the digital display of KTM’s when you turn on the key. That message appeared on the 2017 1290 Super Duke GT when I turned it on in the Moon Motorsports parking lot. After riding the Super Duke less than 5 miles, I knew KTM takes that phrase seriously. It’s not just a marketing slogan. Sports Tour my ass. This thing is a thrilling top notch race bike with an amazing suite of riding aids and ergonomics built in to make it work. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a perfectly livable daily sport touring bike, but that little devil in the KTM helmet sitting on your shoulder will never let you treat it that way. He’ll want you to set it in Sport mode (Engine and Suspension) and the throttle hammered WFO. That’ll leave you breathless to the tune of 173 hp and the world thrown in a fast forward blur.
Let’s talk about that engine first. KTM lifted the engine from the naked 1290 Super Duke R. It is nicknamed “the beast”. It’s a 1301 cc liquid cooled v 75° twin that cranks out 173 hp @ 9500 rpm and 106.2 pound-feet of torque at 6,750 rpm. That’s a lotta go power. It’s loaded with torque all over the place. The engine revs quick and pulls like a freight train. All the while sounding like a motogp wannabe. It has traction control (MTC) and three different riding modes to play with. The amount of traction control varies according to the riding mode used. Having it in sport and running around some of my favorite Wright county backroads allowed some darkies to be laid on corner exits. I’ve never felt confident enough to do that on the street on any bike, but was with this GT. Some of that confidence is from the brilliant chassis, but this MTC is extremely well dialed in and no doubt contributed in a big way.
As far as the throttle response in the modes themselves, rain mode calms the engine down quite a bit and would work well as a city mode also. Street gives it full ponies, just softening the power hit as you twist the throttle. Sport is as you would think. Sharp response and wheel lofting at will in the first three gears. Response in sport mode is thrilling, but street is probably the best daily compromise.
Attached to that engine is a fantastic 6 speed gearbox. It snicks through the gears like the proverbial bolt action on a high quality rifle. The transmission comes equipped with a quick shifter. I actually found it amazingly smooth and useful on the street running up through the gears. On downshifts it’s also a smooth operator with the slipper clutch and Motor Slip Regulation (MSR), a system that monitors the back torque of the engine and blips the throttle to quickly match engine speed to wheel speed. This avoids tire hop or drifting at corner entry. The clutch itself is smooth and amazingly light in operation considering the ferocious engine that’s attached to it.
The chassis and suspension easily keep up with that beast of an engine. It’s equipped from the factory with race spec quality WP Semi-Active suspension. It monitors the suspension as you are riding and actively adapts the damping rates in real time according to the data collected through the suspension. It also reads the load on the suspension and makes automatic adjustment according to the weight on board. WOW. If that’s not enough – It also has three modes (Comfort / Street / Sport). It’s noticeably plusher in comfort and stiffer in sport (still quite yielding on bumps) but regardless of the setting, it always feels taught, athletic and buttoned down in a way that only high quality suspension can. All bumps are smothered and rounded off while keeping the chassis sharp, accurate and on track. It’s fantastic, and I would have no problem adapting this GT from street to track by just changing the suspension dash setting.
Did I mention the brakes?? They are only radially mounted Brembo M50 four-piston Monoblock calipers. The best Brembo makes. They have a radial brake pump for massive feel and grip 320 mm discs up front. The M50’s come equipped with a racing ABS system attached to them…..state of the art…..and once again – brilliant. The racing ABS allows heavy braking, even when leaned waaaay over. I’m running out of superlatives for them.
The crazy thing with this amazing collection of race quality parts is the equally amazing set of parts that make the 1290 a great street bike. Fantastic ergonomics and saddle allow long enough riding stints to drain the 6.08 gallon tank in comfort. The multi adjustable windscreen provides just the right amount of buffet free air. The high quality bars and switch gear include comfort features like heated grips and cruise control. The GT also comes with a nicely finished, easily removed and robust feeling set of hard bags that look great on the bike. Granted, they aren’t the absolute capacity kings, but still hold plenty for a weekend getaway. It’s got all the goods to make a great daily bike.
At the end of the day when you pull this SPORT touring predator into the garage, you will slowly get off and linger. Beholding the fantastic specimen of bike porn you just got off of. You’ll revel in the quality of the welds on the trellis frame, the finish of the engine, the architecture of the single sided swing-arm, while caressing the edges on the stealth fighter body work. Then you’ll thank KTM for granting the wish you never knew you had. And remember……It’s READY TO RACE anytime you are.
MMM would like to extend a huge thanks to Kyle and Joel Erickson at Moon Motorsports for providing us with this GT. They have an amazing collection of Motorcycles (Honda / Yamaha / Ducati / KTM / BMW / Triumph / BRP / Motus / Polaris) to choose from! Well worth your short drive up 94…….