Motorcycle Review: 2017 KTM SuperDuke 1290 R

Sorcery: This go-fast orange hooligan is a fair contender for a daily rider.

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If you want to find the true hooligans in the motorcycle market, check out the top contenders in the naked bike category. All competitors have a lot of power, a lot of character, and pack a wallop of fun. Think: Triumph Speed Triple R, Monster 1200 R, or MV Augusta Brutale 1090 RR. But none have more unabashed hooliganism than this KTM SuperDuke 1290 R.

Push the key button under the ignition—thanks, keyless technology—and a very crisp display announces: Ready to Race! Before you hit “start,” you can choose between riding modes, and several other easy-to-navigate options, including heated grips.

The excellent display changes tone when the ambient light is reduced., KTM

When I first picked up the bike, it was raining so hard I welcomed the “Rain mode” that closes the throttle to deliver “only” 100 horsepower. The “Street” and “Sport” mode re-opens that throttle to a category-leading 177 horsepower. It seats a little high for me, at 33 inches, but the ergonomics are natural. The bike’s lightness and forward seating position make it very easy to maneuver it like the world’s most powerful bicycle. The 1,301cc LC8 V-Twin engine is the biggest KTM has ever put on a street bike. (The previous version capped out at 174hp, so KTM added 3 more ponies for good measure.) Even better: the power curve has been smoothed out, and it’s an overall better feel.

Let’s talk about how this beast looks. It’s very much in the KTM spirit, which means very aggressive, with a lot of orange. I happen to love orange. So that works for me. If you don’t, I suppose you can always choose the black version. The frame design, the very angular light casing all contribute to that awesome look.

Big orange., The Drive

The bike sports a set of three Brembo brakes, two in the front and one in the back, that delivers solid, progressive performance.

The SuperDuke carries more than you would expect from a modern bike, which is saying something: ABS, Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC), traction control, various riding modes, cruise control, fuel gauge, keyless fob, and tire pressure monitor—and those heated grips bear repeating.

First gear is smooth enough to stay in while riding around town—knowing how good this bike is on track, it was surprising. While this would be a wildly aggressive choice for a daily rider, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be good at it, and slap you with a grin at least once on every commute.

Snow adventures, The Drive

It’s an exceptional machine. I highly recommend it.

We tested this bike late in the season, without time to take it on the track. What a shame. Perhaps in the Spring ….

Can you say track weapon?, KTM

The gear I used for this test

Shoei RF 1200: my go-to helmet this year. Light, comfortable, and with fantastic airflow and ventilation. Great aerodynamics come in handy on a SuperDuke.


Shoei RF 1200

Rev’it Jacket Sand Urban: A great jacket from Rev’it with an urban feel from the wax coated look. My favorite feature in this season are the two liners you can easily zip in the outside shell. The outer shell offers protectors. The middle shell is a waterproof membrane and the interior liner keeps you warm. I rode in a bad storm and also a day when it started snowing and the jacket kept me dry and warm on both occasion.

Rev’it Jacket Sand Urban, Rev’it