First Ride Review
You have to give KTM credit for building bikes its own way. From their signature orange paint and angular, Transformer-inspired styling to “Ready to Race” engines and top-shelf components, KTM’s high-end bikes stand apart from a sea of motorcycles that are built to a price. A perfect example is the 1290 Super Duke R, aka The Beast, a purpose-built, light, naked V-twin sportbike with 180-horsepower that is wicked fast and at the same time upright, comfortable and easy to ride. And precisely because the 1290 SD-R is not as narrowly focused as supersport-based competition like the Aprilia Tuono and BMW S 1000 R, we’ve found that it’s just a screen and pair of saddlebags away from being a capable and exciting sport-touring machine.
KTM went a lot further than that in creating its new 1290 Super Duke GT sport-tourer, however, spending 30-40 man-years on additional development. Far from merely adding a screen and bags, the GT has been entirely rethought for its mission. Up front, the headlight and instrument panel jump from the fork to a new frame-mounted fairing, which has a one-hand adjustable windscreen and is ready to accept an optional GPS unit. The fuel tank has grown from 5 gallons to 6.1, its larger size concealed by the lines of the fairing, which also integrates new LED cornering lights controlled by the lean-angle sensor. Ergonomics are even more relaxed, with lower footpegs, an adjustable handlebar that is 25mm wider and 10mm higher and larger seats that are more heavily padded (which fortunately does not raise the already high rider’s seat from the SD-R’s 32.9 inches). A longer aluminum rear subframe provides more room for both passengers and has an integrated mounting system for the specially designed 30-liter hard saddlebags (standard in the U.S.). Cruise control, tire pressure monitoring, heated grips and self-canceling turn signals are standard as well.
Options abound—you can get heated rider and passenger comfort seats (that raise the rider’s seat height about 15mm), a tinted windscreen, GPS and mount, Akrapovic titanium mufflers and bag liners. Our test bike was also equipped with optional Hill Hold control, which keeps the front brakes engaged after the lever is released for five seconds or until the bike moves forward, whichever comes first. Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) is another option—it augments the assist and slipper clutch by matching engine speed to wheel speed when the throttle is chopped suddenly to prevent tire hop or drifting. The prices for these options should be on the KTM website soon.
If you have ridden a 1290 Super Duke R and thought it a great all-around motorcycle, capable of playful or serious canyon strafing, commuting, long-distances and more, despite an approximately 35-pound weight gain (excluding the bags) the GT is an even better bike in many respects. Engine improvements (new engine mapping, cylinder heads, exhaust and exhaust valve) help the liquid-cooled, 1,301cc 75-degree V-twin meet Euro IV emissions standards and move its 106 lb-ft claimed torque peak down about 1,000 rpm to 6,750 and give it better touring manners, and it still makes 173 horsepower at the crank, says KTM. On the Jett Tuning dyno our last 1290 Super Duke R test bike made 152.2 horsepower at 9,900 rpm and 92.9 lb-ft of torque at 8,200 rpm at the rear wheel. The GT powers out of corners even more smoothly and is easier to manage at lower speeds, yet still roars like a lion when you twist its tail. Clutch lever effort is low thanks to the assist aspect of the assist and slipper clutch, and a standard quickshifter allows clutchless upshifts without rolling off the throttle. The GT wears Pirelli Angel GT tires that offer as much grip as the SD-R’s Dunlops, with better feedback up front and smoother cornering, and the Angels are also supposed to offer more wet grip and longer life.
Naturally all of the SD-R’s rider safety/intervention technology such as Sport, Street and Rain riding modes, lean-angle sensitive traction control and multi-mode ABS are carried over, and the GT adds cornering ABS to the superbike-spec Brembo triple discs with combined front-rear braking. C-ABS even includes a Supermoto mode that allows maximum front slip and rear wheel lockup. As before the riding modes adjust the engine output from quick and abrupt in Sport to 100-horsepower mellow in Rain, with full-power but smooth Street mode a nice compromise for touring and most riding. Each mode changes the level of traction control intervention automatically, or it can be done manually or even switched off like the C-ABS. Everything is easily controlled with the mode switch on the left bar and displayed on the LCD trip computer display, which shares the instrument panel with an analog tachometer and second LCD display for the speedometer, clock, gear indicator, bar graphs for engine temperature and fuel level and indicators for the riding mode and suspension preload.
Perhaps the most useful and interactive feature of the GT is its semi-active suspension, a second generation of the system found on the 1290 Super Adventure. While most of us will only change riding modes occasionally and let the C-ABS and traction control do their thing, during the bike’s launch on the Spanish island of Majorca I frequently adjusted the suspension among the Sport, Street and Comfort settings to suit the conditions. The 48mm WP USD fork houses the rebound and compression damping cartridge in the right leg and the spring and travel sensor in the left. In back a linked WP single shock controls the single-sided swingarm, and both the front and rear suspension travel have been increased. The rider sets rear spring preload at a stop, and while riding the suspension damping is continuously adjusted in milliseconds for the conditions and the set mode by an electronic control unit connected to accelerometers and travel sensors. In the Comfort and Street modes the system tries to keep the bike level for the best ride, while in Sport mode it works to keep the wheels on the ground for the most traction. Hard as I tried I could do nothing to upset it, and despite being warned otherwise I found Sport mode to be plenty comfortable for sport touring as well as eminently capable in the corners. The system also monitors the swingarm angle to automatically compensate for a passenger, and in Sport mode, anti-dive control is switched off to help the bike turn in more quickly on the brakes.
On Majorca the riding consisted largely of twisting seaside roads, narrow village lanes and fast straights through the island’s farmland, with some high-speed highway riding for good measure. The weather was perfect, so we put on about 230 kilometers at a serious pace on the one-day ride. At the end I was seriously distraught that we will have to wait until the fall of 2016 to get this 2017 motorcycle, which will be priced “around $20,000,” said KTM. I noticed some high-rpm vibration that blurs the mirrors and tingles your hands, struggled with the tall seat height at times and wished for less rear brake pedal travel. Otherwise the 1290 Super Duke GT seems nearly flawless, the perfect sport-touring machine for a rider who needs some creature comforts but doesn’t want to give up sportbike levels of engine performance and handling. It’s comfortable for all-day riding, offers decent wind protection, makes enormous power and does indeed handle and stop like a sportbike, with settings for mellow engine and suspension modes that turn it into a touring pussycat. Further judgment will have to wait until we get our hands on a test bike stateside, but for now I can tell you that KTM has outdone itself with the 1290 Super Duke GT. Can’t wait to ride it again.