Narrowly focused hyper-sportbikes just aren’t my thing anymore. Used to love ’em, but now the ol’ bod protests against low clip-on handlebars, high rearset footpegs and peaky powerbands that demand the motorcycle be ridden like you stole it, or it will buck and complain as if you’re lugging an old truck. Some V-twin sportbikes in particular don’t smooth out until you’re well north of legal speed in anything above second gear. That sort of unbroken-thoroughbred behavior is fine for track days, I suppose, but if it’s your only bike, most of us want something more versatile.
While the performance potential of such sportbikes is attractive, to get my full attention comfortable seating is mandatory, with a wide, tallish one-piece handlebar that adjusts, and further adjustability in reasonably located footpegs, levers and pedal is desirable as well. At its heart a V-twin would have to be a model of civility at lower engine speeds, whether by nature or electronic riding mode, so that it can be ridden around town or on a commute without feeling the need to wear racing leathers. And in addition to the expected screaming top-end, it would require a ton of midrange power to make it easy to ride briskly without a lot of shifting, with all of the braking and electronic rider aids aboard to rein the beast in from full throttle and protect me from myself.
Did someone say “beast”? Reread my description above—there is a V-twin sportbike that fits it, one not so ironically nicknamed The Beast by its creators at KTM. Since its introduction for 2014, the 1290 Super Duke R has mixed comfort with track-level handling, and strong, usable lowspeed and midrange power with explosive top end. For 2020 the 1290 SDR has become ever more the all-purpose sportbike—although so much has been changed that it’s essentially an all-new machine, Super Duke R fans will appreciate that the basic versatile formula is retained and improved.
Along with new top-feeder fuel injectors and 56mm throttle bodies, the 1290 SDR’s liquid-cooled, 1,301cc LC8 75-degree V-twin gets a new ram-air intake and larger exhaust headers, all of which contribute to its claimed 180 horsepower (up 3) at 9,500 rpm (redline is 10,100) at the crankshaft and 103 lb-ft of torque at 8,000. Engine cases are thinner to save weight, and new cast-in engine mounts allowed the pivot for the longer swingarm to be raised 5mm for improved stability. The bike has always shifted well, yet the Pankl gearbox has also been refined for quicker shifts and shorter action—shifting is racebike quality now, and the throw can be fine-tuned to two positions.
The engine refinements are immediately noticeable from the moment you fire up the 1290. Power delivery is smoother throughout the powerband yet no less hell-for-strong, with an urge that builds without any bucking from low-speed to afterburners, and a ripping- velvet feel and throaty exhaust note. The most obvious improvement is to the bike’s handling and stability, which comes chiefly from the stiffer, lighter new chrome-moly steel frame and composite subframe in place of the former trellis. New lighter CAD-designed wheels mounted with specially designed Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S22 tires increase stability and grip in corners, too, and together with a .5-gallon smaller fuel tank the bike has shaved about 15 pounds wet overall.
In the electronics department, as you might imagine on a bike that makes this much power, there is a setting for just about anything you can imagine, and a bushel-basket full of rider interventions that redline our acronym meter. MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control) with cornering and Supermoto mode ABS; Rain, Street and Sport ride modes and multi-stage, lean-angle sensitive Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) are standard. The MTC uses a 6-axis lean angle sensor and two different controllers to keep things in check. A wheel-slip controller regulates the amount of spin at the rear wheel, and a pitch angle controller identifies and regulates abrupt changes in front wheel lift. For track days or racing, an optional Track Pack adds Track and Performance modes with launch control, a 9-level spin adjuster, a track ride mode and anti-wheelie off function. Performance mode has the basic settings of Track mode, but is for the street and allows Cruise Control and KTM My Ride (a Bluetooth connection with the rider’s smartphone) to function. A dealer-installed $750 Tech Pack includes the Track Pack, Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) and KTM’s excellent up/down Quickshifter+. I especially like the new rotatable 5-inch TFT display, updated display menu and paddle switches, and keyless ignition, steering lock and gas cap.
Throwing a leg over the 1290 SDR, it can’t be emphasized enough how friendly it is ergonomically compared to most sportbikes in this class, with the exception for shorter riders of the high seat. With my 29-inch inseam I can easily plant one foot on the ground at stops, but only the balls of both feet. Still, the bike is so light that it’s easily pushed and paddled around, and once underway offers a relaxed but sporty riding position that is comfortable enough for longer rides but allows the rider to attack corners aggressively.
Updated and lighter fully adjustable front and rear WP Apex suspension can be quickly changed from commuter comfortable and controlled to track-day ready thanks to damping thumbscrews atop the fork legs and a remote rear preload adjuster. Brakes with new Brembo Stylema radial-mount calipers and a radialpump lever up front inspire bags of confidence that you can rein in all of the bike’s power. Between the suspension and new frame the bike feels much more controlled and stable when it’s really pushed, particularly on a bumpy road.
As a rider who typically only sees racetracks on TV, the KTM 1290 Super Duke R makes way more power than I would ever need—were I to invest in one of its naked sport bikes, it would probably be a 790 or 890 Duke. But it’s hard to ignore the 1290’s combination of comfort, convenience and breathtaking performance, all of which there is more of for 2020.
2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R SPECS
Base Price: $18,699
Price as Tested: $19,449 (Tech Pack)
Warranty: 2 yrs., 24,000 miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, 75-degree V-twin
Bore x Stroke: 108.0 x 71.0mm
Compression Ratio: 13.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 18,600 miles
Fuel Delivery: Keihin EFI, 56mm throttle body x 2
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 3.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Ignition: Keihin EMS w/ Ride-by-Wire, Dual Ignition
Charging Output: 450 watts max.
Battery: 12V 12AH
Frame: Chrome-moly steel trellis & cast aluminum single-sided swingarm
Wheelbase: 58.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.2 degrees/NA
Seat Height: 32.8 in.
Suspension, Front: WP Apex USD 48mm fork, fully adj. w/ 4.9-in. travel
Rear: WP Apex reservoir single shock, fully adj. w/ 5.5- in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial monoblock calipers & ABS Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ opposed 2-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 6.0 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 463 lbs. (as tested)
Load Capacity: 474 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 937 lbs.
Horsepower: 166.3 horsepower @ 10,100 rpm (as tested)
Torque: 94.1 lb-ft @ 8,300 rpm (as tested)
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals., last .9 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON Min (avg) 38.0
Estimated Range: 160 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,000