First Ride: 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Photo: Viktor Radics

You’ve likely heard the old saying, “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” Well, the 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is somewhat akin to bringing a howitzer to a playground skirmish. It’s big, it’s brash and it is completely over the top. But in a good way. KTM transports demo bikes to dealerships across the country throughout the summer so riders can sample their products. There was a gap in the schedule, so they invited some media to check out their current lineup, including what has been dubbed “The Beast 3.0.” For a penny under $20,000, you can get into an Austrian hyper-naked that’s even more menacing than before. In a rare bit of good news for a change in 2020, every aspect of the third-generation Super Duke R has been updated for this year. Last revised in 2017, KTM’s flagship naked bike gets an updated engine, chassis, electronics and standard equipment which add value and make it easier to ride.

Photo: Dustin Woods

Full Beast Mode
The lightweight chrome-molybdenum steel frame utilizes the engine as a stressed member. The new frame is said to be three times stiffer while also weighing 2 kg (4.4 lb) less. The 1,301cc LC8 V-Twin fires up with raucous enthusiasm before settling into a healthy, eager rumble as its claimed 180 hp waits to be unleashed. Rolling back the throttle of the Super Duke is somewhat akin to riding a rabid, ferocious yet agile, animal out of a cage. It wants to go. A gentle right hand is required to modulate street legal speed. If you decide to pour some coal on the fire, you better be damned sure you’ve got plenty of road ahead of you because you’re going to get there post haste. Cruise control helped keep my speed (and license) in check rather than relying on the eagerness of the engine and my right hand.

Never having ridden its predecessors, I understand they weren’t exactly slow ponies, but tasty bits like updated fuel injectors and throttle bodies, titanium intake valves and resonator chambers only elevate the situation. A repositioned ram-air intake improves airflow while revised headers increase exhaust breathing. Thinner engine casings and lighter water and oil cooler mounts add to the reduction in weight by 0.8 kg (1.7 lbs), for a grand total of 6.8 kg (15 lbs).

The 2020 KTM Super Duke R shed 6.8 kg (15 lbs).

Shifting Gears
There’s no shortage of options for those looking for big power that’s free of fairings, so it will take a lot to stand out among the likes of the supercharged Kawasaki Z H2 and Ducati Streetfighter V4. To me, one of the jewels in the Super Duke’s crown is its transmission. The Pankl Gearbox is smooth and precise. Despite the robust construction required to handle the job at hand, it can be operated with a gentle, decisive touch. Quickshifter+ allows for short and light clutch-less shifts both up and down through the range and is among, if not the most, precise system I’ve experienced.

The Super Duke R gets LED headlights and DRL for 2020. Photo: Dustin Woods

We tested out a number of bikes over the course of the day, so the time on each model was unfortunately short lived. It gave us a great overview of the lineup, but made it is tough to fully evaluate each motorcycle’s merits. I certainly would have liked to spend more time the Super Duke’s saddle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to find out how it would hold up on a longer ride and how long it would take to drain the 16 L (4.2 gal) tank. The riding position and ergonomics felt like they would hold up well. Construction materials were of high quality and the entire machine seems well thought out.

Photo Credit: Viktor Radics.

Ride Quality
The 2020 model sees the single-sided swingarm extended and repositioned closer to the sprocket. Lighter 48 mm front forks also get adjustable rebound and compression, in addition to adjustable pre-load for the first time. The newly developed rear shocks also get separate oil and gas reservoirs in a package that’s lighter and more compact. The manual pre-load dial doesn’t require tools to adjust so can quickly be done mid-ride or in between lapping sessions at the track. Despite its imposing stature and capability, the SDR felt stable and planted in turns. The Bridgestone S22 tires were developed specifically for the KTM. I didn’t get to a point where I was testing their grip, but a host of technology is included to keep things from going sideways.

The newly developed rear shocks get separate oil and gas reservoirs in a package that’s lighter and more compact. The manual pre-load dial doesn’t require tools to adjust. Photo: Dustin Woods

New Tech
Behind the new LED headlight and daytime running lights is a multifunctional glare and scratch resistant 5-inch TFT display with paddles on the side for quickly switching modes. In addition to a speedometer and tach, the screen features a low fuel level warning and gear selection display, as well as information on the level of techno-nanny intrusion. KTM MY RIDE comes as standard equipment, which offers smartphone and audio player integration.

The Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC) has multiple stages and is lean angle sensitive, utilizing a six-axis sensor. The Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) with Cornering ABS includes a Supermoto mode. Various ride modes have been remapped to be less intrusive in each setting and the anti-wheelie function is said to be smoother than before. The optional “Track mode” allows you to turn off that function. It also includes launch control and a nine-level spin adjustment.

The multi-functional glare and scratch resistant 5-inch TFT screen has a speedometer and tach, plus a low fuel level warning and gear selection display. Photo: Dustin Woods

What’s the Verdict?
You may prefer the allure of an Italian exotic or become addicted to the fluttering of the Z H2’s supercharger, but if you’re in the market for a hyper-naked then this bike should definitely be on your short list. The 200 hp Z H2 starts at $19,599 while the 208 hp Streetfighter V4 is priced at $23,995, so the SDR rests in between pricewise. It may offer less power, but it brings a lot of value to the table. Having an abundance of choice is certainly not a bad thing. Whether or not the Super Duke R is the bike for you is one thing, but regardless its engineering and performance should be respected and revered.

Photo: Dustin Woods


  1. Awesome bike, I’d love to try one. But unless I win the lottery or something sometime soon, I’d have to say the chances of me spending $20k (+) on something this narrowly focused are about zero. But I have recently been rediscovering the joys of naked bikes, albeit on something a little cheaper, and with about 1/8th the power.

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