2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke R: Track Edition

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Apologies for the lack of content recently. You should, by now, have realised we’ve been submersed in trackday organisation, our exclusive Summer Holiday festival at Parcmotor where we entertained 40 lucky bastards in glorious Spanish sunshine. More on the event itself another time…

Baron was hell-bent on spanking his R1M at Parcmotor, which meant only one bike to blag from the press hordes. With Superleggeras, RGV500s and a raft of other exotica being ridden, it needed to be fresh – something new for 2017 and something we’ve yet to test – and above all else, it needed to damn right ballistic: a steed befitting for hosting such an event. So when KTM offered us a 2017 Super Duke R with the entire Power Parts catalogue thrown at it, we duly obliged.

It looks utterly badass. Stripping much of the road attire lends the Beast 2.0 even more of a beastly presence – and sheds 10kg in this particular guise. Look past the smorgasbord of anodised orange and cosmetic goodies, and you’ll find genuine go-faster goodies that are designed to bust the stopwatch. Much of the attention was drawn to the Akrapovič titanium system, resplendent in its expended blue state and sexy, intricate welds – no wonder mechaphilia is so prevalent these days. And this was before we’d even started it.

 

 

Ah, yes. Starting it. Keyless ignition is, fundamentally, a grand idea 99% of the time. Not particularly bright at trackdays, especially if sharing a bike or instructing when stopping and starting. If you a) have a pocket to transport the key, or b) aren’t morbidly obese and have room for the key inside your leathers, then you won’t agonise much. Making sure the bike was in range of the key for refuelling was only a minor pain in the botty.

Aside from the aforementioned snazzy orange bolt-ons and the racing seat (we’ll get to that later), everything’s all very Super Dukey in the cockpit. 2017’s riding position is a smidgen more aggressive and there’s a gorgeous new TFT dash to drool over. As well as this season’s upgrade in electronics, this bike also had the ‘Track’ and ‘Performance’ packs, which basically means a quickshifter/blipper, Motor Slip Regulation (electronic engine braking), and an additional ‘Track’ mode – with launch control, the ability to disable anti-wheelie and finer traction control adjustment. Why most of these gizmos don’t come as standard is health and safety gone barmy.

 

Not surprisingly, it’s only when spankings commence do the changes truly become tangible. It’s loud, sadistically loud, the sort of loud that does funny things to one’s gusset region; lusciously loud for European trackdays and racing, but naughtily loud for UK sorties. And, bugger me, this thing is fast when released from Euro4 captivity – even if KTM claims another 4bhp as standard for 2017, the Akra’ gets those gases flowing. Fast enough to play tail gunner to a feast of superbikes at Parcmotor until speeds of 150mph+, a complete lack of wind protection and that magical few superbikey horsepower leaves it lacking towards the end of the straights, but it’s that intrinsic midrange punch that’s so rewarding.

Regardless of Power Parts and pimping, there’s a touch of elegance over the previous model – despite KTM making the Super Duke R even more hardcore for 2017. It’s still a mildly belligerent bastard when the throttle is pinned, purely because of the grunt on tap, although the ride-by-wire is another level of refinement and sophistication, seamless during closed-to-open throttles and generally fuelling with superiority. Bragging a quickshifter and blipper also masks the KTM’s weakest link – the gearbox. It’s not as fluid as other mechanical systems and you certainly know when a gear is selected, but the whole shift action is dramatically improved with electronic assistance.

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With an IMU and enough electronics to open a high street store, there’s a gratifying element of handholding throughout the lap. Those of you who bemoan wheelie control on supernakeds obviously haven’t ridden a Super Duke R on track. While endless wheelies are fun, and saving a few quid on front tyres can be construed as a positive trait, getting black-flagged at your own trackday due to excessive wheelies isn’t clever. Much. Ok, it is clever, but given the midrange frenzy, it’s almost impossible to ride fast without the electronic intervention assisting your throttle inputs. The intrusion is so measured, you barely notice it. AND you can toggle through setting on the fly.

Talking of control, power is nothing without it, and this bike’s USP has to be its suspension – I guess it should be for nearly £2,500. The stock arrangement is soft at the best of times and has a tendency to wallow in protest during track activity, regardless of set-up. A WP (what else?) competition cartridge kit and race-spec shock transform the 1290 from bucking ballbag to composed track scalpel. There’s none of this waiting for the bike to settle before committing to a corner and the aftermarket goodies only add to the telepathic steering. In general, it’s far more stable in every department.

Lapping without a care in the world, I was taking superbike liberties with the front-end and delving deep into Parcmotor’s challenging apexes, assuming lap records were being broken in the process. The speed, the sound, the sheer involvement of wringing the 1290’s throttle is enough to make anyone feel like a factory racer, and there ain’t an area that you’d wish for improvement: the brakes offer ample power and feel, corner entry is stable and precise, mid-corner feels like a poised superbike and the racier TC proved a real ally as grip diminished. I’d been involved in a few skirmishes but nothing that worried the SD-R. Well, until playtime with Baron (which sounds like a kids’ storybook) and his R1M.

I swore that the day Baron was faster than me was the day I’d quit riding bikes. However, it’s perfectly acceptable for a £25k carbon-clad superbike to have an advantage over a less focussed supernaked, and I just didn’t have an answer for the bastard son of Ivan Lendl and Nigel Mansell. The KTM simply couldn’t join the dots with the consummate ease of the Yamaha, so I blamed arm-pump and pulled in…

While naked bike are inherently more comfortable and ergonomically friendlier than superbikes, the ‘Race’ seat ensured my botty suffered during long stints in the saddle. There’s no doubt it provides sublime feeling on corner exit and far superior grip, but I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re actually competing – or you relish numb botty syndrome.

It may have suffered against the stopwatch and lacked top speed against more dedicated track steeds, but I sure as fuck was having more smiles per hour aboard the Super Duke R. And several sessions spent riding the 2017 bike have done little to quash Baron’s desire to buy one. Video dropping soon…

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