Test Ride: KTM Super Duke 990

Words: Neil Johnston Photos: As specified
Words: Neil Johnston Photos: As specified

KTM 990 Super Duke – Austrian Super Villain

The Super Duke surveys its Kingdom.Photo: Kevin Miklossy

The 2007 KTM 990 Super Duke has the angular good looks of an Austrian super-villain who, as well as setting his sights on world domination has engaged in a vendetta on your driver’s license. With a light (57 kg/126 lb) and compact 999 cc 75-degree V-twin motor that pumps out a claimed 118 hp @ 9000 rpm and 74lb-ft @ 7000 rpm, there’s a lot of licence points waiting to be lost.

Throw a leg over the Super Duke’s compact chassis, punch the loud button and it instantly growls to bass-baritone life through the twin under-seat exhaust. It feels like a mild all rounder … well, for the first second of riding. I tried to get a 0-100 km/h figure, but the Super Duke would have none of it, opting to wheelie instead.

The response is immediate as the fuel injection feeds the motor through massive 48mm throttle bodies (complete with secondary valve to maintain optimum response) and tractable torque shoots you forward. The engine spins wicked fast, the note transforming from a mild thrum with an underlying sci-fi whir to the fiendish buzz-saw of a twin whipped into fury, gasping with a huge intake honk. Engaging? That’s an understatement.

Wind protection is minimal … especially at 240 !Photo: Kevin Miklossy

The 6-speed transmission is oily-smooth and eats up the gear changes snick-a-snack. By the time you reach third gear you’re into a 150 km/h gale force coming over the miniscule fly-screen that’s lifting your helmet and attempting to rip you off the bike.

At this speed you need to hunker down chest to tank, wrap your legs around the wasp-waist, place your helmet behind the fly-screen, twist the throttle and hold on … tight.

Crossing 7,500 rpm the Duke unleashes another round of push. Fourth sees 240 km/h before crossing the 9,000 rpm “orange” line (red was so last year). This is what an artillery shell must feel like. You still have fifth and sixth gear left to go, but unless you’ve salt flats handy, likely you’ve run out of traffic free road.

The engine is most energetic past 6,000 rpm spinning up effortlessly and hitting the rev-limiter periodically, but despite a counter balancer neatly tucked between the cylinders, the vibe here is intrusive. Thankfully, even as the feverish beat pounds, the pegs and rubber-mounted bars mercifully keep your hands from numbing.

The attitude isn’t just limited to the styling.Photo: Kevin Miklossy

Slide below 5,000 rpm and the Super Duke could cruise smoothly all day. Really though, with a bike this inspiring would you? But the world’s not a perfect place and inevitably you will have the occasion to trundle along in traffic. The heavy clutch becomes more noticeable and there’s a hesitancy and ‘on-and-off’ feel to the throttle though the engine certainly still pulls nicely in the low revs.

It’s times like this that your mind wanders back to thoughts of KTM’s wicked promotional video, that, rather than merely showcase the Super Duke, conducted outright terrorism on every known traffic law. The knowledge of unleashed power eggs you on and the temptation to split the lanes on the rear wheel starts to tease your right hand.


Need to wash off the speed? The twin radial mounted four-piston Brembo calipers grab 320 mm discs out front, requiring only a light touch at the lever and providing progressive action.

Thankfully braking is excellent.Photo: Kevin Miklossy

The system gives you excellent feel through the braided lines allowing you subtle finesse, or sheer two-fingered stopping power well matched to KTM’s claimed waifish 184 kg (406 lbs) weight without fuel. Out back is a single-piston floating caliper with a 240 mm brake disc.

Railing through the “MotoGP” section of British Columbia’s Sea to Sky highway, the firmly sprung high-end WP suspension front and rear offers plenty of feedback regarding what the Dunlop D208 RR’s are up to as they claw into the pavement.

Long sweepers are devoured, but laying into the throttle hard without shifting your weight forward, even in third and fourth gear, sees the front tire skimming the pavement, instilling the desire for a steering-damper.

Suspension on the Super Duke has transformative properties. At first our tester was a bit nervous and twitchy. The key to rideability was adjusting the preload, compression and rebound front and back – ours required easing off the preload and rebound. Even adjusted, the suspension still issues a taut ride.

The payoff, though, is laser-precise handling, light transitions through the leverage of the wide tapered Renthal bars, and stability that inspires unholy acts on public roads. Yes, the Super Duke brought on my season’s first knee dragging photo session!

First knee down of the season for Mr. Johnston.Photo: Kevin Miklossy

Uphill drags on a favorite corner were calculated; the unexpected downhill drag however scared the bejesus out of me. The narrow Super Duke leans far before dragging hard bits, and when it does it they’ll be the ones sticking out the most – namely you.

Even at slower speeds the KTM is good fun. The generous steering lock makes for laughably tight U-turns – roads must be littered with all the dimes this bike turns on. Even two-up, tight U’s are a breeze. Then there’s all that torque …


Riding a bike that wants to wring your adrenal gland like a sponge tends to distract one from practicalities, but the Super Duke has some quirks. The gauges are proof of an Austrian sense of humour, the gas gauge reading anywhere from three-quarters to empty regardless of the actual level.

Monkey’s proboscis?Photo: Kevin Miklossy

Take it easy on the throttle and the 15L tank should take you 300km. In complete opposition the speedo, as calibrated by radar, has a sniper’s accuracy. Assuming a 10% margin on this read-out is a path to traffic court.

The Super Duke obviously hates the droopy antenna look of its mirrors, because it keeps trying to get rid of them. Over three weeks of testing the stalks worked loose three times, and the mirror mounts had to be tightened twice. Periodically they refused to stay put past 150 km/h … and it’s important to see what you’ve passed at that speed – it aids in the gloating. Luckily, when the rear views do stay in position, they are exceptionally effective.

Creating a marvel as compact as the 990 has required some compromises. Need to top up the oil? The filler cap is hidden behind the Super Duke’s upper right fairing, which requires an Allen key, a socket, an extender and 20 minutes to remove.

Compact and tight, even the evap canister has been considered in the compressed design. Stashed in the minimal under-seat storage, its placement is visually preferable to the black tub hanging from the sides of Ducati and Benelli naked engines.

The ergonomics are relaxed and upright. There’s a slight forward cant to the seating position, placing minimal weight on your forearms and little strain on your back. The saddle, despite the angular look of the bike, is broad, well padded and comfortable. The pegs are spot on for the taller rider (my 34 inch in seem fitted perfectly) keeping the bend at the knee relaxed.

Photo: Kevin Miklossy

The brutally sharp and keenly honed look of the KTM is vastly more menacing than that of most other bikes. The only spoiler is a headlight array apparently inspired by a proboscis monkey. Regardless, the draw is as immediate as chaining a naked Bond girl to the pillion seat; twenty-some-things’ heads snap around, aficionados cross the street, and non-riders pause to ask its origin.

It matches the pull of the Benelli’s TNT 1130 Café Racer I rode a couple of weeks ago, and priced at $16,998.00, the KTM 990 Super Duke is a steal by comparison.

Visual villainy, an engine with sound and power, sharp handling, knife-edge cornering, and comfortable ergonomics – the KTM 990 Super Duke is an Austrian star ready to take on the world. Let it shine on a winding mountain road and see the light.

Second View by Larry Tate

KTM are entering the big time.Photo: Kevin Miklossy

I’ve always had kind of a casual relationship with “exotic” manufacturers – those small-volume companies that occasionally made it into Canada. Often liked the ideas, the concepts, looks, components, etc., but never really had the inclination to buy something that didn’t have a local dealer and reasonable parts & service availability.

The last couple of years, KTM has started to make the move from exotic to everyday. Big presence in the U.S., and an expanding presence in Canada. A friend of mine left a “major” and went with KTM as their national sales manager, which got my attention, and when it looked like every experienced veteran on the Canadian enduro circuit was on the bikes, that really grabbed me, too.

Then KTM started moving into streetable bikes. I rode a 950 Adventure and thought it was an absolute giggle – very tall for my 30-inch inseam, but certainly not uncomfortable. Then KTM decided to get even more street-ish, and when I saw a wicked midnight black stealth-fighter-looking Super Duke at the MMIC Toronto show last December I nearly freaked – something I’ve been rather too jaded to do for a long while, I might add.

Actual photo of the moment when love entered Larry’s life once more.Photo: Courtesy of KTM Canada

My recent opportunity to ride a Super Duke on street and track (sadly, for only half a day) only confirmed my initial impression – I need one of these things.

Yes, service and the dealer network may still be a bit of an issue, but not seriously so if you live in the populated bits of Canada. As for the bike …

There is, to my relatively untutored mechanical mind, no way on earth that a huge V-twin engine should be able to spin up as fast as the Super Duke’s does – but it does. Wild acceleration is an obvious result, which is A Good Thing for the fun factor.

More, for a relative short-ass like me, even though the bike is still pretty tall, it’s very narrow and while I was stretching to get the balls of both feet down, it wasn’t really a problem – narrow and light is good.

The suspension is definitely on the firm side – riding in “The County” south of Belleville and at Shannonville presents lots of bumps for analysis – but the damping control is so good it didn’t even strike me as stiff until somebody mentioned it later.

Who’s that fat bastard? Oh, that would be ‘arris …Photo: Courtesy of KTM Canada

For me, firm but well-controlled communication of what the road is all about, without banging your ass up into your ears, is as good as it gets, and the Super Duke did that. And there’s always that blessed acceleration, accompanied by a wonderful intake noise, to take your mind off any quibbles.

On the track, to my surprise, things felt a bit soft right away in spite of the stiffish street feel, even though I wasn’t going that fast (showing somebody around my “home” track for most of my time).

A very competent racer friend (Costa Mouzouris) pronounced the bike I was on as being so far off on good settings it was pathetic; he much preferred another one of the same model that I didn’t have the chance to try. But it’s all set-up, and with top-quality White Power suspension, chances are you’ll be lost in adjustments before you know it.

I still need one. Hey, Madam got a new kitchen this spring … maybe next year. Perhaps she’ll have forgotten about the two new race bikes by then …

Third View by Editor ‘arris

Tall and spacious. Just what I want in a bike on the track.Photo: Courtesy of KTM Canada

Three views for one bike? Yep, but since I was also invited on the KTM half day I thought I might as well throw my track impressions into the ring.

First off, like Neil and Larry, I love this thing. For starters it’s tall and spacious and I found myself instantly at home on the track where there was no need to contort my 6’ 4” frame into one of Japan’s miniature supersports.

Wide bars, a svelte profile, plenty of room & ground clearance and a beautifully torquey & quick revving motor all combine to make the Super Duke a hoot to wring out on anything fast and twisty.

You just want to slingshot the thing out of every corner, which are a breeze to navigate thanks to the wide bars and firm suspension. Then there’s the spaciousness that allowed me to hook up my heels and slide my arse into each corner without the need to unfold and stretch out once back in the pits.

Photo: Courtesy of KTM Canada

A wave of torque eliminated the need to even think about the gearbox, as I could keep it in third gear all the way around the Shannonville circuit. This was good as the clutch is a bit on the heavy side, but KTM show their off-road origins with a box so smooth that the clutch was more an option than a necessity.

Should you get overwhelmed by the antics that the Super Duke inspires, then it’s a relief to discover that hard and predictable braking is only a finger away!

Half a day is too short a time to really sample what this bike has to offer, but it’s enough to know that KTM have hit all the right buttons with their latest entry into the world of asphalt. I only hope that the Austrian firm doesn’t realize that there’s a big market for the shorties and us lankys lose another bike to the squeaky ones.





999 cc

Engine type

V-twin, liquid-cooled

(crank – claimed)

120 hp @ 9000 rpm


74 ftlb @ 7000 rpm
Tank capacity
approx. 15 liters (3.96 gal)


Fuel Injection

Final drive

Siz speed, Chain drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR 17

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR 17

Brakes, front

Dual 320 mm discs with four piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 240 mm disc with single piston caliper

Seat height

855 mm (33.66″)


1438 mm (56.61″)

Dry weight

approx. 184 kg (405.7 lbs) (claimed)


Black, Anthracite, Orange

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