One short year after the 790 Duke’s release, the 2020 KTM 890 Duke R took everyone by surprise when it was unveiled at the EICMA show. The Austrian firm promised that the 890 Duke R would remedy a few performance shortcomings in the original “Scalpel’s” non-adjustable WP suspension and J-Juan brakes. The verdict: it does, and it does so in spades.
Dubbed the “Super Scalpel” by KTM, the 890 Duke R is the sharpest tool in the middleweight naked sportbike shed, thanks to its impressive agility, raucously fun powerplant, quality components and top-spec electronics package.
Based on the 790 powerplant, the 889cc DOHC parallel-twin engine has gone under the knife and come out ready for the limelight. Bore and stroke grow to 90.7 x 68.8mm, creating a 90cc displacement increase along with a significantly higher 13.5:1 compression ratio. A new cylinder head accommodates one-millimeter larger intake and exhaust valves, paired with a more aggressive camshaft profile to increase lift. The 890’s mill also gets lightened forged pistons and connecting rods, which decrease rotating mass. In contrast, a 20-percent heavier crank is employed to improve low-rev manners. Of course, the redline is raised by 1,000 rpm for good measure.
All of these changes add up to more power at the rear wheel, and on the Jett Tuning dyno, the 890 Duke R put out 111.0 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and 67.0 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm at the rear wheel. For those keeping score, that’s 13.1 more ponies and 9 lb-ft of torque over the 790, but the real takeaway is that the 890 makes more power across the entire rev range.
From the moment you hit the starter and hear the 75-degree offset with a 475-degree firing interval’s bass-laden bark, you know you’re in for a good time. The 889cc engine spools up with more urgency than its predecessor, delivering stellar low-end grunt, which feeds directly into power-wheelie-inducing mid-range that kicks off at 6,200 rpm. And, it pulls hard to 9,500 rpm, where things trail off. All of that is delivered tractably, which will surely be appreciated by riders anywhere on the spectrum of skill. Thanks to the redesigned dual counterbalancers, the engine is noticeably smoother than before, too.
The Duke R hits the sweet spot in performance, offering an experience that seasoned pilots will revel in and something that newer riders can wrap their heads around — unlike many of the Super Naked bikes of today. Most importantly, it’s power that can be used on the street.
What is undeniably clear is the 20-percent heavier crank, which has removed some lugginess that the 790 expressed when cruising at low speed, also gives it a more brawny feel, making the 890 more adaptable to a casual urban riding or when opening it up in the canyons.
The sporty gearbox also received some TLC this year. It now features a shorter lever-throw and lighter detent spring, making shifting that much sportier. At lower revs and in the first three gears, specifically, shifting is a tad notchy. It’s all the more reason to pick up the optional up/down Quickshifter+ ($399.99), so you can blast through the gears on the gas. You’ll also have a high-quality PASC slipper clutch that alleviates wheel-hop when aggressively downshifting.
It’s tough to say whether the beefier crank and new ECU tuning is responsible for the linear throttle response; perhaps it’s both. The throttle-by-wire response is vastly improved in every ride mode, especially Track.
Helping you and the 890 perform your best is a top-shelf electronics package derived from the mighty 1290 Super Duke R. A 6-axis Bosch IMU supports cornering ABS, lean-angle-detecting traction control and wheelie control. Cruise control is a $249.99 option.
Three standard ride modes are available (Rain, Street and Sport), which have predetermined intervention settings and work well. However, to adjust your rider aids, you’ll need KTM’s optional Tech Pack ($739.99; includes Track Pack, Motor Slip Regulation, and up/down Quickshifter+). Everything in the Tech Pack is standard on the 790, but strangely not on the 890.
Track mode allows you to use any throttle map, dial in the nine-level traction control on the fly, disable wheelie control, enable launch control or go into Supermoto ABS (disabling ABS in the rear only). For spirited or track riding, Track mode is a must — choose your throttle map, turn off wheelie control, lower the TC a bit and put those sticky Michelin Power Cup 2 tires to work.
Despite its non-adjustable suspension, the 790 Duke’s chassis proved to be incredibly agile and communicative but showed signs of weakness when pushed hard. To help manage the 890’s higher horsepower, KTM upgraded the 43mm WP Apex fork with compression and rebound damping adjustment and a fully adjustable WP shock. Now the weak link is the monkey sitting behind the handlebars.
The uprated suspension only highlights the positive attributes of the chassis we noted on the previous model, as the 890 Duke R’s suspenders keep the bike planted in the corners, boasting loads of confidence-boosting chassis-generated grip when riding aggressively. Our 890 weighed in at mere 405 pounds wet, so the Duke R not only feels light and nimble when flicking side to side — it is. Sure, static rate springs and firmer damping trade off some comfort on harsh roads, but it’s a trade I’ll make all day in the name of handling prowess like this.
The wide, adjustable handlebar is lowered and pushed forward to encourage more weight over the front end. At the same time, the rearsets are scooted rearward, giving this bike a marginally sportier rider triangle. One can sit bolt upright or throw their elbows out and get low. The narrow chassis helps my 32-inch inseam reach the ground, despite the bike’s slightly taller 32.8-inch seat height. Better yet, I have plenty of legroom, though the muffler still awkwardly kicks your heel out and takes up precious real estate on the right footpeg.
Superbike-spec dual Brembo Stylema calipers and larger 320mm rotors take care of braking duties up front, while a single Brembo caliper clamps onto a 240mm rotor in the rear. Stopping power and feel is impeccable, even when trailing into corners. The Brembo MCS lever is seriously trick. It features ratio adjustment settings, letting you dial in brake feel, not just distance from the grip; keep it sharp for the track or soften it up for the street.
The KTM 890 Duke R has set a new gold err…orange standard in the middleweight class, and mechanically, the list of complaints are virtually non-existent. My grumbling is squarely aimed at costly options that should be factored into the price and were once standard features. Otherwise KTM has delivered a true “R” model, with a stellar engine, brilliant handling, awesome brakes and an excellent electronics package, all of which add up to a serious all-around sport machine.
2020 KTM 890 Duke R Specs:
Base Price: $11,699
Price as Tested: $12,439 (Tech Pack)
Warranty: 1 yr., 12,000 miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin
Bore x Stroke: 90.7 x 68.8mm
Compression Ratio: 13.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Adj. Interval: 18,600 mi.
Fuel Delivery: EFI, DKK Dell’Orto 46mm
Lubrication System: Pressure lubrication w/ 2 oil pumps, 3.0 qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated PASCH assist-slipper clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Ignition: Bosch EMS w/ RBW
Charging Output: 400 watts max
Battery: 12V 10AH
Frame: Tubular-steel dual backbone w/ engine as stressed member, cast aluminum subframe & swingarm
Wheelbase: 58.3 ± 0.6 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.3 degrees/3.9 in.
Seat Height: 32.8 in.
Suspension, Front: WP 43mm USD, adj. for rebound & compression damping, 5.5 in. travel
Rear: WP single shock, fully adj., 5.9 in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ radial-mount opposed 4-piston calipers, radial-pump master cylinder & Bosch 9.1MP 2-channel ABS
Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper & Bosch 9.1MP 2-channel ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 405 lbs.
Load Capacity: 543 lbs.
GVWR: 948 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals, last 0.9 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI Min (low/avg/high) 44.2/41.5/38.9
Estimated Range: 153 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3800