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The Duke 790: KTM's power package in SA

2018-06-04 12:00

Dries van der Walt

KTM recently launched their Duke 790 at an unusual event: an evening ride around Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, followed by a ride through Joburg’s night-time streets. The Duke 790 isn’t a replacement of its smaller sibling, but fits into the KTM line-up between the Duke 690 and the 1290 Super Duke R.

The Austrian company says their main goal for the 790 Duke is to combine real-world practicality with maximum street performance and create a bike that will deliver all the thrill a rider can expect from a naked mid-sizer.

Packing the power

The bike depends on attributes like low weight, a good power-to-weight ratio and great agility to deliver those thrills.

The Duke is built around the brand new LC8c DOHC 799 cm³ parallel twin. It is the first time the Mattighofen manufacturer uses an engine as a stressed member, and resultant vibrations are tamed with the use of two balancer shafts.

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The mill provides ample power and a great response, with 78kW peak power rated at 9 000rpm and 87Nm of torque at 8 000rpm. This, says KTM, is in no small part due to the electronically controlled DKK Dell’Orto fuel injection system with a 42mm throttle body diameter, as well as an advanced Bosch engine management system with ride by wire.

 Image: Dries van der Walt

At the launch event, I found the power of the bike surprising. Although my confidence didn’t allow me to ride it hard on the almost-dark race track, there was enough light down the main straight that I was willing to pin the throttle.

A recipe for fun

On the first lap I was taken aback by the amount of punch the engine packed, and on subsequent laps I repeated the recipe for the fun of it.

It was only later, on the better-lit surface streets, that I could begin to appreciate what KTM claims to be the most comprehensive electronics and rider assistance systems in its segment –ride mode technology, lean angle sensitive traction control and cornering ABS.

Image: Dries van der Walt

Engine braking is controlled by KTM’s motor slip regulation (MSR) and the Quickshifter+ provides clutchless shifting both up and down the gearbox. 

On the streets, the bike proved to be extremely agile, with sharp and precise handling and loads of feedback. Weighing in at a mere 169 kg dry, the Duke is specifically developed for aggressive street riding without sacrificing all-round appeal: it offers easy access to a variety of riders with very different physiques.

Ideal for track and street

The 825mm seat height is easily lowered to 805 mm using an accessory seat, and can be reduced further by using the optional chassis lowering kit, while the narrow tank area offers great support without constricting taller riders. 

The Duke is equipped with LED lights throughout. The taillight and rear turn signals are integrated into the license plate holder, which is easily removed for track-day use or to further customize the bike by swapping out the complete component.

Image: Dries van der Walt

The instrument panel is the familiar KTM full-color TFT display with illuminated menu switch, while the ergonomics department benefits from adjustable handlebar levers. The standard equipment can be expanded with the option of smartphone integration.

All in all, the Duke 790 is a worthy step up from the 690 and set to play well in the hotly-contested mid-size naked category. It won’t quite fill the huge chasm between the Duke 690 and the 1290 Super Duke, being much closer in performance to the former than the latter, but as a sporty naked in its own right, it will easily hold its own within its category.

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