by Guido Ebert
So you expected to read about an off-road bike from KTM in this issue of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly. Noooope.
Folks familiar with the KTM brand no doubt think of its dominance in the off-road market. However, as you’ll learn in the accompanying article about the KTM factory, the Austrian brand that developed via bicycles, mopeds, scooters and off-road offerings has in the past couple of years experienced sales growth via an expanded line of on-road motorcycles.
KTM’s 2014 1290 Super Duke R looks big, powerful, and like it has a hair-trigger. You’ve read the buff book descriptions, saying the bike “redefines the term hooligan”, is “the ultimate naked streetfighter” and has “street-shredding performance.” After that, one would imagine the Big Duke Version 2.0 would be an almost frightening proposition to a rider more familiar with liter-sized or smaller models.
The thing is, all of those descriptors are half-truths. In fact, there were times on this bike where I had to remind myself I was jockeying a 1301cc powerplant rather than a more, inherently nimble mid-size model.
Swing a leg over the rather tall seat while parked (KTM uses a dual-sport-type kickstand that constantly makes it appear as if the bike is about to fall over) and the feel is surprisingly light. Really light. Kick the side-stand up and, with the WP rear coil smartly adjusted, my 5’9” frame was able to stand on a single flat foot with the other perched on a peg.
Turn the key, flip the power switch and thumb the starter … p-foom … doo, doo, doo, doo, doo … Sitting on the bike, the engine sound is almost louder than the exhaust. Folks next to you will differ in opinion. Goose the throttle in neutral and the big twin sounds slow to wind up.
Don’t let it fool you.
As you’d suspect, there’s plenty of arm-straightening low-end torque to the Super Duke R via a simple blip. It starts early and reaches max power of 106 ft. lb. of torque at 6,500rpm. The numbers come up quick and the red shift light will be
blinking at you every second on a hard launch (at 10,500rpm). Want to impress? There’s not a lot of two-hand play necessary to loft that front end. Just shift weight, tense your arms and legs and goose the throttle.
The thing is, you will have to program the bike to allow that sort of experience. This bike features ride-by-wire technology, and the multi-mode ride settings that harness and release the 1290 Superduke R’s power may serve as it’s defining feature.
Offered via switches for your left thumb are the choice of Sport, Street, Rain – the same as on the 1190 Adventure. Want to shut off ABS and/or traction control? Simply scroll using the Up/Down directional, hold for three seconds, then use the Up/Down directional and Side directional to choose whether that option is on or off. It’s just like ordering a movie via Comcast On-Demand.
In Street mode, with traction control and front and rear ABS on, the bike couldn’t be more pleasant in around-town surface-street commuting. Easy clutch and power delivery; progressive braking.
Want to unicycle? Flip a setting; ABS is independent. Want to unicycle and the ability to roll out the rubber? Flip another setting for the full 180hp traction-free experience. Everything becomes sharper, more precise. Hunker down.
I found the system easier to service than those I’ve experienced on Ducati and Triumph. Still, Aaron Frank of Motorcyclist magazine told me he feels it’s substandard to the BMW system. Different strokes …
Cockpit information configuration is in an easy-to-read layout, with your ride setting LCD on the left side of the info system, an analog tach taking up the middle space, and digital gear indicator, speed, clock, fuel level, engine temp gauge and shift light on the right side of the display.
Every time I’m on one of these Naked models, even the super aggressive types such as this, I’m reminded of how comfortable they are compared to a Supersport bike.
Seating position is straight-backed with legs in a compliant position and arms extended aggressively. Hand and foot levers are fully adjustable to meet your preferred positions. The handlebar is wide and at an excellent, confidence-building height in relation to the remainder of the bike. The drop from handlebar to saddle is noticeable. As for that seat, it’s hard but compliant and didn’t prove an issue during my jaunts. Really, you’re not likely to take this bike on a long tour anyway (which is probably why you see so very few Supermotos with windscreens).
Ultimately, it’s all very reminiscent of an off-road motorcycle on anabolics, with a rider position that makes you feel nearly invincible and power delivery that’ll magnify that “Win on Sunday” attitude.
As for ancillaries: the display sometimes proved too dark in daylight conditions; the front end components come together in a portrait of jumbled lines, a surprise even from designer Kiska; the lights are on 24-7, but you’re able to dim the main and run solely on a couple of lines of super bright LEDs set above the main lamp; the mirrors prove useful only at pedestrian speeds; and, as with Supersport models, the passenger of your choosing will be perched high atop a miniscule stage.
If you like KTM, you like things unique. For bits cloaked in the color orange, or carbon fiber, KTM’s parts, garments and accessories catalog is loaded with items to individualize and further motivate the bike – which is always a benefit. My suggestion: Get the tank protectors. A bit of an endo/wheelie session will mar it quickly.
I was brainstorming the 1290 Super Duke R on my ride to pick it up from Starr Cycle in Mankato. Initially, I thought that there is no reason for this motorcycle to be marketed. It wouldn’t make the best racer, it doesn’t travel well and bolt-on comfort items would be a laugh. After time on the bike, there was only one obvious reason I came up with for its existence: Fun.
KTM claims to be the fastest growing motorcycle brand in the world. In fact, the Austrian OEM in 2013 sold 123,859 two-wheelers worldwide for sales growth of more than 50% in the past decade.
KTM’s street bikes in 2013 accounted for 47.5% of revenue while off-road bikes were responsible for 31.4%, Parts Garments & Accessories accounted for 17.5%, Sportminicycles attained 3.2%, and the X-Bow automobile offered a miniscule 0.3%. This breakout represents a major change in KTM’s business – in 2004, off-road bikes represented the lion’s share of the brand’s sales.
The U.S. and Canada in 2013 represented 16% of KTM’s revenue, Europe accounted for 62.8%, and the remainder of the world – mostly India, Southeast Asia and South America – was responsible for the important 21.2% that signifies the company’s growth in the past couple of years.
Global Product Strategy
The main mind behind KTM is CEO Stefan Pierer, who also happens to be the chairman of CROSS Industries AG. KTM is owned 51% by CROSS Industries, 48% by Bajaj Auto Ltd. of India and is 1% in free-float.
With a history that included scooters and bicycles, a specialty in off-road bikes and, more recently, big displacement street bikes, KTM’s push into highly stylized small displacement street bikes began with Pierer’s call for a global product strategy. As other OEMs have recently done (Harley-Davidson included) the company looked to India for production of a lower-cost product that could serve to create a foothold in “developing” nations.
Now, in addition to its production facility in Mattighofen, Austria, KTM produces a Duke 125, 200 and 390 in India and is pursuing assembly options in Brazil.
While we’re S.O.L. on the 125 and 200, Pierer earlier this year was quoted as saying the Duke 390 would be imported to the U.S. alongside the middleweight Duke 690.
MMM was lucky enough to be allowed a tour of KTM’s production facility in Austria. We were shown around the company’s HQ facilities in Mattighofen and engine plant in nearby Munderfing, met with chief designer Gerald Kiska at his studio near Salzburg, and had the chance to ride a Super Duke and a Supermoto through the surrounding alpine mountain range.
Here is some of what we saw, learned and experienced.
KTM currently employs about 1,850 workers in Austria. The company’s HQ in Mattighofen includes business offices, R&D, production, quality management and a motorsports department.
KTM’s on-premises R&D division, an area teaming with engineers and artists, works in concert with the OEM’s nearby design firm, Kiska Design. Gerald Kiska’s studio has been designing KTM product since 1991. The company works not only on vehicles, but also on ancillary product like PG&A, brochures and advertising.
The bike-building process begins at the Munderfing engine factory, which has doubled its capacity in recent years. Produced entirely in-house, each engine is hand-built before it’s fired up for testing of function, power output and emissions. The engines are then loaded onto trucks and transported just a couple of miles to the Mattighofen production facility.
KTM production in Austria is “just in time”. There are more than 23,000 parts needed to produce the model line-up. Parts not built in-house (like Brembo brakes, WP suspension parts and Excel rims) are delivered as needed, which minimizes warehousing costs and optimizes logistics. More than 800 shipments are received every month.
All “function-defining” parts – such as the engine, frame, swing arm, exhaust system and chassis components – are developed and manufactured in-house. The pre-assembled components then come together at assembly lines capable of producing more than 450 motorcycles a day.
After assembly, every new KTM undergoes a complete functional check-up on the test stand before being prepared for worldwide shipment.
Mounting the big-bore product available, I joined folks from KTM for a quick, oft-undulating tour of multiple hills and valleys near the company’s HQ. Actually, I was just goosing throttle and stabbing rear brake trying to keep up with a few of KTM’s champions serving as chaperones. Full stick around the Mattsee? Evidently not an issue for this group riding Orange. Wheelies past Polizei in downtown Mattighofen? Totally accepted with a wide grin from the patrolman.