Review: KTM 1290 Super Duke GT

KTM launched the 1290 Super Duke GT at EICMA in 2015, taking one of the world’s most powerful and recognizeable naked bikes and turning it into a tourer.

I finally got a chance to throw a leg over the GT when KTM delivered one to my door in late September. After a couple of local rides, I filled the bags and hit the road for Nova Scotia on a late-season tour, giving me a chance to evaluate the bike in its intended role. Read on:

WHAT’S NEW

The GT is a new model, but based heavily on the 1290 Super Duke R.

The changes were made to improve the bike’s touring capability. The suspension is swapped out for a pricey semi-active shock and forks from WP, there’s a new adjustable windshield, and a pair of side bags. Fuel capacity is upped to 25 litres. There’s cruise control and heated grips, and the footpegs are apparently moved around a tad.

Otherwise, you’re pretty much getting a standard Super Duke R for your money. The 1301 cc V-twin engine is unchanged, brakes appear to be the same, you get the same slipper clutch, and the GT has the same leaning ABS (with supermoto mode!), traction control, and other electronic wizardry that helps us lesser mortals keep our superbikes upright in the face of adversity.

The bodywork is definitely more bulbous than the standard naked bike version, but it's still a mean-looking machine.
The bodywork is definitely more bulbous than the standard naked bike version, but it’s still a mean-looking machine.

THE RIDE

Although it has naked bike lineage, the GT is really a sport-touring hybrid. Here’s how it works at that dual role.

First off, the sporty stuff: Within metres of leaving the driveway on the Super Duke GT for the first time, I was giggling. I knew this was a motorcycle I would love. It was immediately obvious the Super Duke GT delivered a different experience than other touring motorcycles I’ve ridden.

‘Wings (of the Silver or Gold variety), baggers, adventure tourers – any bike I’ve ridden with “touring” in the job description has made it pretty clear that, from the moment I get in the saddle, I’m expected to do just that: tour.

That semi-active suspension is key to the GT's success as a sport touring machine.
That semi-active suspension is key to the GT’s success as a sport touring machine.

That’s not a bad thing. However, jumping aboard the GT, I was instead given a different message: Go Have Fun.

The GT’s naked bike heritage is immediately obvious once you’re in the cockpit, even when you’re in wimpy Rain Mode (which, sadly, dominated my time with GT, as most of my riding occurred in monsoon conditions). Put the engine into Street Mode, and the bike positively screams to be hurled into feats of hoonery.

Mid-range revs deliver massive fistfuls of torque, ensuring the capacity for silly speed in any situation. The GT’s power delivery is well suited for eating up twisty, hilly back roads. However, if you want to hit the highway and wind up the engine, you’re able to lay down serious high-speed distance, as the combination of horsepower and killer suspension keep you rolling fast, and planted.

All that horsepower is nice, but it’s useless unless you can control it. This is where the GT really shines. The stock Pirelli tires offer grip like a county fair strongman, and most importantly, the suspension keeps the rubber on the road. With great power comes a great desire to keep everything planted and headed in the right direction, and the WP forks and shock succeed in this role, offering supreme confidence. Handling and stability are superb.

The gauges offer a wealth of information, from tire pressure to fuel range to options for changing suspension settings.
The gauges offer a wealth of information, from tire pressure to fuel range to options for changing suspension settings.

But what about touring duty? Good news: The GT shines at this as well.

The larger tank and windscreen break airflow quite nicely, although I never mastered the windscreen adjustment. The grips pump out enough heat that I spent much of my fall tour riding with mesh offroad gloves and was still warm enough.

The seat is comfortable (not sure about the pillion’s pad, though), and at six feet tall, the pegs and controls felt well placed for me. There’s enough room on the bike to fold yourself into a semi-sporty riding position for curvy roads, or to stretch out for long superslab hours.

The bags easily offer enough room to handle weeks of touring, as long as you aren’t camping.

With a full tank, the GT gives you an estimated range of 300 km. In reality, that range drops dramatically when you pick up speed and use more fuel; however, I feel KTM’s designers struck a good compromise. The bike has range that’s usable for touring, but the gas tank isn’t too bulky.

Overall, it feels like KTM did a good job of adding just enough bits to make this bike all-day comfortable for kilometre after kilometre, without losing its antisocial origins.

Heated grips, adjustable windshield, and hard bags are the bare minimum needed for touring comfort, but stripping the GT to the basics means it retains its naked bike essence.
Heated grips, adjustable windshield, and hard bags are the bare minimum needed for touring comfort, but stripping the GT to the basics means it retains its naked bike essence.

THE NIGGLES

Costa's GT riding was mainly confined to Montreal. Photo: Costa Mozouris
Costa’s GT riding was mainly confined to Montreal. Photo: Costa Mouzouris

Costa’s View
While Zac was riding the 2016 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT around New Brunswick, I had a second test bike that I rode in the construction-laden urban warzone called Montreal.

There’s a lot to like about the Super Duke GT, including its incredibly powerful engine, which would feel as readily at home in a supersport chassis (its origins can be traced to the KTM RC8) as it does in this sport tourer. I resorted to riding the bike through city traffic in Rain mode, which provided the smoothest, most manageable throttle response. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to lift the front wheel, which is tons of fun, but also puts your driver’s licence in peril.
Its chassis, too, is something to be marvelled, leaning heavily toward the sporting side of the sort-touring spectrum. And the saddlebags are roomy and very easy to operate and remove, and when taken off the bike, leave very little evidence that they were on in the first place.
There are some things, however, that I would change to make the GT more to my liking. Some of those things are easy to do, like installing handlebar risers to give it a more relaxed, upright riding position, and swapping out the original windscreen for a taller, wider one for better wind protection.
Some things, however, are more challenging—and costly. The suspension, which really enhances handling on smooth, winding roads, is just too stiff to handle broken pavement comfortably. Even in its softest Comfort setting, the suspension is stiffer than the BMW R1200GS is in its firmest setting when similarly equipped with electrically adjustable suspension.
Pressing on the brake pedal is like stepping on a solid peg; it takes a lot of effort to lock the rear wheel (possible when the ABS is in Super Motard mode), which makes it completely absent of feel, so when the wheel does lock, you barely feel it.
The Euro-style high-beam switch (located on the backside of the left-hand switch pod), sticks out a bit too far, and with heavy cold-weather gloves on it’s easy to trigger it inadvertently. And finally, there’s no reason not to have a dedicated switch for the heated grips. As is it takes five pushes of a button to scroll to the screen menu that controls them, then two more pushes to get back to the main screen.
But probably my biggest gripe is that the Super Duke GT is so much fun to ride. Its nimble, supermoto-like handling and brutish bottom end are almost sure to coax you into a life of urban hooliganism.

My major complaint: It’s too good at what it does.

The machine’s sporty suspension means it’s a dream on well-paved roads, but when the pavement goes from bad to worse, this not a machine you want to be riding – it’s not comfortable then at speed, and the 17-inch front wheel doesn’t roll as well over the bumps. That’s not the bike’s fault; those roads are best handled with an adventure bike, and KTM has plenty to offer in that segment. A sporty bike is always going to have a disadvantage on a bad road.

I did find the locks on the bags a bit sticky, and I also found the seals a bit leaky during my tour through the rain. The KTM employee who dropped the bike off seemed to think the bags were pre-production prototypes, but the media rep thought otherwise. I suspect that, in either case, the 2017 bags will have no problems — if this really is an issue on the production bikes, I’d expect to see it fixed by next year.

The only other issue I had was with the high-beam switch. I found I constantly switched the brights on when using the clutch lever, so eventually, I just left ’em on.

CONCLUSION

This is a bike that really worked for me. The ergos were ideal, the power was intoxicating, and the handling precise and predictable.

It’s not a bike I’d choose to tour most of the Maritimes, but in regions with better pavement, this machine would be a good choice for the rider who wants a bike for local hooligan riding, but also wants a tourer. It’s like a dual-sport bike, but only for the streets.

The SuperDuke GT is a bit of an anomoly, as it has no pretensions of adventure touring — there aren’t many naked bikes with touring aspirations. The Ducati Hyperstrada could arguably be its closest competitor, but it doesn’t have as sophisticated a suspension, and only makes 112 hp (although it’s likely to be significantly more affordable).

The Kawasaki Versys 1000,  BMW S1000XR and Honda VFR1200X all have less horsepower (118 hp, 158 hp and 127 hp respectively), more bodywork, and are marketed as ADV machines, not fire-breathing streetfighters. The Honda Gold Wing, Kawasaki Concours, and Yamaha FJR1300 are all aimed squarely at the street, like the GT, but are bulkier and heavier, as they’re designed for full touring duty.

There are certainly plenty of naked bikes on the market, but most of the pricier ones (Aprilia Tuono, MV Agusta Brutale 1090) are no more powerful and aren’t touring-friendly by any stretch of the imagination. At 228 kg, the GT outweighs these bikes, but that’s to be expected when adding bags and other touring-friendly bits — and that weight is still in the same range as some of the less-powerful naked bikes from Japan.

So really, the GT is in a class of its own. Its success will likely come down to pricing — the 2017 Canadian MSRP is $21,499. That’s a lot of dosh. But for the rider who appreciates the bike for what it is, and has the cash, I can see this bike becoming a very happy purchase.

My only question is, when can we see a similar version of the 690 Duke R?

11 thoughts on “Review: KTM 1290 Super Duke GT”

  1. Nice write up. It’s a bike that I think I’d like too, if I could get past the looks. Hopefully it’ll build up sport touring bikes again. Too bad I’ve never found the opportunity to ride one, KTM demos are more rare than a BMW rider with a personality 😉

  2. I’m very interested in the bike, but had a few questions.

    Any word if a centre stand will be made available? Bit of a glaring error to develop a chain driven touring bike without the easy ability to lube and adjust the chain while touring. There’s one on the Super Adventure so you’d think it could be possible.

    Is a rear rack and top box available?

    What’s the rated carrying capacity? 503 lbs wet weight + ??? for rider, pillion & gear?

    Any comments on how it rides 2-up and passenger comfort?

    1. I’m not sure on the centre stand and rear rack/top box. I’d guess they will both be available if there’s demand, via the aftermarket, but I can’t see KTM providing either — both those accessories detracting from the bike’s purpose.

      For total carrying capacity, not sure, it’s not readily available online. I could go check the headstock with a flashlight if you really want to know…

      Did not get a chance to try two-up, as my wife refuses to ride anymore. Something about having a kid.

      1. As far as I can see, the purpose of the GT is a performance light on-road tourer. It’s closest competition are the S1000XR & the Multistrada. Both have chain final drive, come in with similar weights, features & prices with only slightly less spec sheet performance. The GT has the advantage that you don’t need to carry a step ladder, but both the others offer 3 bags and a centre stand. BMW lists the XR’s payload at 216 kg, 476 lbs, so enough for 2 people & 3 bags. http://www.bmw-motorrad.com/com/en/index.html?content=http://www.bmw-motorrad.com/com/en/bike/adventure/s1000xr/s1000xr_data.html&prm_action=&notrack=1 Can’t find a payload for the Multi, but I have to assume its similar since you can also get it with 3 bags.

        These are the only higher powered road orientated options if you don’t want to go into the land-barge category (Concourse, FJR, etc.) Cheaper less powerful options are the FJ-09, Ninja 1000 & Verseys 1000. The FJ is only rated for 400 lbs with a warning not to mount 3 bags (only tail or sides, but not both) but does offer a centre stand. The Ninja 1000 has the same warning, but doesn’t offer a centre stand. The Verseys offers 3 bags, a centre stand & I recall reading somewhere that the payload is just under 500 lbs, so easily 2-up 3 bag capable. But with a wet weight around 550 lbs, the Verseys is getting into barge territory.

        If the GT had a centre stand, top box & could carry a similar load to the XR, I think it would move to the top of my list. It would just mean waiting an extra year to save up to pay for it!

    1. It reminds me of spy vs. spy. Ugly for sure, but that frame and the components almost make up for it. I could do without the orange too.

  3. Nice bike, great fun to ride (I did try it and I know it’s true)! Interesting concept of taking a sport or super naked to make it into something a more practical for daily use, without removing any of the performance.

    I don’t need that much power however, who does in fact unless you go to the racetrack? Frankly I’m not sure anything above 120-140hp is usable on public roads. What this means is that you’ll be paying a lot of money for stuff that you’ll never use, if fact the bike is so capable that you need all kinds of expensive electronic aids to keep you on the road. Not that I don’t like power, I own a liter bike and I love it, but I also like that I can actually use all 6 gears and the fact that I can ride in the city without the need for a rain mode.

    That’s why I think Ducati hit it straight on the nail with their latest release, the Supersport, usable features and power at a (therefore) more reasonable price, can’t wait to test ride that one. Really wish Triumph would import their Tiger Sport in Canada, it’s derived from the Speed Triple, tamed down but still plenty powerful , very practical, good looking and would likely be much cheaper than the Duke.

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