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:
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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?