2016 KTM Duke 690

First Ride Review

KTM practically invented the street supermoto class way back in 1994 when it launched its first production street bike, the 620 Duke. Light, nimble and elemental, with a penchant for tight corners and hooligan antics, that bike eventually led to an entire line of naked singles from KTM. Here in the U.S. we get the 390, 690 and Super Duke 1290 R, while the 125 and 200 are reserved for other markets. For 2016 the 690 Duke single gets a big refresh, which KTM chose to show off on Gran Canaria off the southern coast of Morocco. The bulk of the street riding mimicked a Tour de France mountain stage, while the track riding took place at Maspalomas, a tight race circuit.

At the heart of the 690 is KTM’s lively LC4 engine, which has been reworked for more power across a wider powerband, less vibration and better throttle response. Major changes include a new cylinder head with a secondary balancer shaft and a new crankshaft, piston and lighter con rod. Bore was increased by 3mm and stroke was decreased by 4.5mm, and the intake valves are actuated directly by the camshaft while the exhaust valves are controlled via rocker arms. This contributes to more accurate valve timing at high rpm and a 1,000-rpm broader power spread, as well as a higher redline of 9,500 rpm.

The stock electronics package includes switchable ABS and Street mode. Adding the Track Pack for about $325 brings Sport and Rain modes, traction control, Supermoto ABS and Motor Slip Regulation (MSR). The amount of traction control intervention is determined by the riding mode engaged, and if you really butcher a downshift, MSR increases engine speed to avoid lockup. An all-new color TFT tablet-style meter changes backgrounds at night and prominently displays speed, rpm and selected gear as well as other important information. The main info was easy to read, but the secondary data was harder to see on the fly.

Compact and lightweight, the new Duke’s seat height is a lofty 32.9 inches, though its riding position is strangely relaxed, even for a six-footer. You sit comfortably upright with a slight forward lean, and the redesigned two-piece seat is narrower, yet roomier and less restricting than the outgoing seat. Both levers are adjustable, and the bike’s slick shifting and one-finger clutch pull should make rush hour commuting a breeze. The Euro 4 compliant exhaust won’t raise an eyebrow, and our group easily slipped through the cracks in Gran Canaria’s urban congestion. The lack of vibration at higher freeway speeds was a pleasant surprise—this time it was the windblast at high speed that turned out to be the enemy.

Up front, the Duke’s 43mm WP USD fork is non-adjustable, and the rear WP Monoshock offers spring preload adjustment and utilizes a Pro-Lever linkage. Suspension travel is a generous 5.3 inches at both ends. The stock suspension is excellent for spirited riding as well as commuting; although it’s not plush over rough pavement, it never lost its composure with my 180 pounds on board.

A Brembo radially-mounted 4-piston caliper with a single floating 320mm disc does the stopping up front, while rear braking is handled by a 240mm disc with a 1-piston floating caliper. Both work well, though on a few occasions I would have appreciated a stronger initial bite, especially when riding on the edge of a mountain with a 300-foot drop.

The 690’s powerband is incredibly versatile, with beginner-friendly response down low and plenty of punch up top to make an experienced rider laugh in his helmet. The reduced vibration makes you wonder if you are on a twin-cylinder motorcycle, and it’s amazing how little physical effort it takes to hustle through the switchbacks—the 690 Duke is one of the most agile street bikes I have ever ridden. On the right road, the fun factor is through the roof. Imagine a full size Honda Grom with 8.5 times the horsepower.

KTM also launched an R version of the Duke 690 in Gran Canaria, but inexplicably it’s not coming to the States. The Duke 690 R is immediately distinguishable by its orange frame and wheels. It also gets lean angle sensitivity with Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC), cornering ABS, an aluminum Brembo M-50 Monoblock front caliper, titanium Akrapovic silencer, adjustable WP suspension with 15mm more travel and raised footpegs.

As a total package, the Duke 690 is impressive from top to bottom, even without the R version goodies. I’m willing to bet there are more variations to come—how about an ADV 690 or RC 690?