First Ride Review
KTM’s 1290 Super Duke GT is a sport tourer that checks all the right boxes. It has a powerful, torque-rich, visceral V-twin, high-tech yet easy-to-use electronics, transcendent semi-active suspension, 30-liter locking saddlebags and enough comfort and wind protection for long-haul days, all in a svelte, lightweight package. Acceleration is addictive. Handling is sublime.
When the GT debuted for 2017, we gushed. EIC Tuttle described it as “nearly flawless, the perfect sport-touring bike for a rider who doesn’t want to give up sportbike levels of engine performance and handling.” The superlatives continued following our six-month, 3,500 mile test: “the GT is designed to excite you more than pamper you…few bikes feel so eager, so ready to take your breath away” (also in Rider, April 2017). No surprise, then, that it was on our short list for 2017 Motorcycle of the Year.
Updates for 2019 gave us an excuse to request a new 1290 Super Duke GT for our indulgence…er, I mean, testing purposes. Its liquid-cooled, 1,301cc LC8 V-twin has new lightweight titanium inlet valves and intake resonator chambers for smoother low to midrange torque delivery. Its WP semi-active suspension, which has three modes (Sport, Street and Comfort), has been revised. Other newfangled newness includes an LED headlight, hand guards, cruise control switches moved to the left handlebar, a reshaped windscreen with a manual height adjuster, a redesigned front fairing and the 6.5-inch, full-color TFT display with KTM My Ride navigation we’ve seen on other models. As before, the GT has riding modes, multi-mode cornering ABS and traction control, an up/down quickshifter, keyless ignition and fuel filler cap, heated grips, tire-pressure monitoring and a 6.1-gallon fuel tank.
Even though it’s gained a few pounds (our 2019 tipped the scales at 533 pounds, up from 524), the GT’s on-road performance is every bit as thrilling as it was before; it goes fast, turns fast and stops fast with a level of precision and control that’s hard to beat. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the 2019 GT cranked out 157 horsepower at 10,100 rpm and 92 lb-ft of torque at 7,400 rpm at its rear Pirelli Angel GT sport-touring radial. Being tall of gear, the 1290 chugs along at 60 mph in top gear at just 3,200 rpm. Set the cruise control and leave your worries behind. Or exit the highway, find a sinuous road and watch the TC light flash as it tames the torque that easily lifts the front wheel on every brisk corner exit.
Issues we raised in earlier tests — a speedo that reads too high, a low-fuel warning that comes on too early and excessive engine heat on warm days — have yet to be resolved. The first two are easy to live with; the engine heat can be a real drag when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in August, but such may be the price for having such a potent engine right between one’s knees. To my eye, the 2019 styling refresh was a step backwards. All of the sharp angles and surfaces on Kiska-designed KTMs have always been fine by me, but the GT’s new proboscis is too disconnected from the windscreen above it. I’ve always been more of a function-over-form guy, so all it takes is a twist of the throttle to make me forget about aesthetics. Bring on the blurred scenery!