Forbidden Fruit – KTM Super Duke 990

Photo: F. Montero
Photo: F. Montero

It seems that when it comes to motorcycles, the Euros always get the special stuff. Lots of exotica that we never see. Makes sense I guess since they seem to be more interested in styles and models of motorcycles other than soundalike cruisers. You know, sound effects masquerading as a motorcycle! (oops…did I say that? Did I show my bias? Excuse my friend he has no manners) …you can’t help be envious of the Euros at times. Such is the case of the Super Duke.

There was never much doubt about the powerplant, a class leading V-Twin that not only set new standards for weight but also for size. It had shown its mettle in the Dakar Rally and the Adventure 950; powerful, smooth and torquey as it should be. But with the beefed up displacement placed in a new very lightweight lattice frame with new geometry, would it be the right package for your naked bike crowd? Can it compete with a Tuono, a Speed Triple, a Brutale, a Hornet et al? Also, could a dirt bike company execute on a streetbike? Consensus so far is absolutely yes. So I wanted a taste of this very rare orange delicacy.

I headed off to Europe this summer for a tour through the Alps and I was focused on finding out for myself what this little piece of exotic hardware was all about. I am writing this while listening to the same playlist I had blasting on my iPod  when riding the passes, just to help me  remember the full experience and get into the mood. I was very familiar with the basis of the motor thru my Adventure 950 and I am also a fan of V-Twins thru my 996 SPS.

The Super Duke is considered quite rare in Europe. It was put into limited production with apparently only 75 units being shipped into Germany in 2005. Demand has far outstripping supply apparently.

The morsel I got to play with was nicely broken in at about 2000 kms (all put on it from the shop owner in Zug, Switzerland). The tangerine had lovely fresh Pirelli Diablos on it…num, num. And the first thing I noticed was how small and compact it is. It was very similar in dimensional feel to my 996, which is a good thing. It may be a 1000 cc but it sits and looks like a quite smallish 600. The tank is relatively narrow and the bike itself is positively skinny. The ergonomics felt perfect…just enough forward to break the wind some, and yet upright enough to spread the weight between hands and seat. Bars were wide-ish but still street oriented and the seat was soft enough for all day riding but felt easy to move around on when hanging it out. I felt instantly at home on it, which is not typical for me on a lot of bikes.

Quality and detailing seemed very well done throughout with typical KTM quality. Both the plastic gas tank and the vent panels on the sides are nicely done. A very nice touch was the metal flake in the orange paint. From a distance it looks…well…orange. But get up closer and the flecks really stand out in the sunshine and make it more sexy than your average piece of fruit. Everything on the bike from the tailpipes to the front instruments is designed to be tight and compact…nothing hanging out or hanging off. Dirt rider school of design I think, “that which hangs out it will soon hang off”. Besides…sticky-outy bits look stupid.

The adrenaline started rising just walking up to it. My first 30 minutes were spent blasting down a freeway as fast as I dared, given the Swiss laws on speeding…they START with a fine of several hundred dollars for just a little bit over…move that to 30 kms or more and you better have a Swiss bank account to bail yourself out! The bike pulled very strongly in all gears from way down low. It is rated at 120 HP claimed and 73.8 Ft lbs of torque. Not quite the same grunt as the Ducati I am used to, but significantly more than the 950 Adv. This bike is very fast…and deceptively so. There are those who go claim that the bike will go from 0-100 in a mere 3.8 seconds…  faster if you could keep the front wheel on the ground.  Others say it sprints past the pack in 80-120kph rollons…  I’ve no reason to disbelieve these wild ramblings.

The difference in motor feel is the way in which this bike spins up. With such lightweight internals and reciprocating mass as well as perfect fueling, this motor reacts instantly to throttle input and it revs up with a feel and character unlike any other bike I have ridden. I read one tester saying the connection between throttle and back tire was “telepathic”. I have to agree, precise perhaps to a fault for some heavier handed riders. By the end of 6 days of 20 plus mountain passes, I felt so perfectly in sync with the bike, it had become mine.

This incredibly light mass and feel also contribute to the razor sharp handling; it feels like it has a very low center of gravity. For example, the battery is below and in front of the motor, this combined with a very narrow size of engine and spot on geometry, and this bike changes direction with even a very simple weighting of pegs….just think about turning and the bike will turn. There is that term “telepathic” again. It has the uncanny quickness of a track weapon yet feels totally planted mid turn regardless of speed or need to change or adjust line. Clearly the WP suspension has been very, very well stroked. It proved to be the perfect weapon for the alpine passes making every turn a religious experience that had me grinning and smiling like a preacher with a new church.

The gearbox was butter smooth and precise. It is a better gearbox than my 950, at least in feel. Geared reasonably tall overall, not sure about top speed, I got it up to 240 kph on the speedo and that was pretty much all she wrote, but I was at 5000ft elevation so might have been wheezing a bit.

Brakes are superb and better than any brakes on any bike I have ever ridden. Better than RC 51, better than my R1, better than my 996SPS, better than anything…perfect modulation and one finger power when dropping down from a 160 kph to 10 for that scary switchback with the 200 meter drop on the other side. Total confidence with minimal dive in the front end. Track worthy for sure, you will be diving up the inside of most everyone with this bike.

Cockpit comfort was decent in that I never had a sore butt even after 10 hours of hard riding; a first for a KTM as their designers tend to be literally “hard assed” dirt riders who cannot for the life of them understand why comfort is a good thing.

The only fly in my ointment of praise is the poor gas mileage. The tank is 15l but I had the warning light come on as early as 80kms! Lots of false readings with the warning light as well especially when you are really mixing it up on a severely winding road. I got my best range at 168 kms, warning light had been on for over 47 kms and I was getting a wee bit nervous. Gas mileage depending on how much twist in your wrist varied between 24 mpg and as high as 37 mpg.

Soul – some bikes have it, some don’t. The added charisma inherent just by being what they are, the total package being much more than the sum of their parts. This KTM has been able to capture that little bit of magic that eludes so many of the Japanese bikes, despite their superb engineering and efficiency. This bike rocks in every way. It is very, very fast, especially when the turns start happening, it tours no problem, it is a hooliganfest waiting to happen. It is rare, it is unique, and most importantly it works at a gut level, making you smile every time you get on it and wishing you didn’t have to be anywhere that day other than riding it.

It really is too bad they are not available here until 2007 but if you are considering a bike of this type, you like smaller not bigger, you like versatility, you like something that isn’t average and you like corners…do yourself a favour and wait until they are available here in North America, it will be worth the wait.

“Oh Sweetheart?… I don’t WANT to add one to the quiver…I NEED one to add to the quiver.”

 – Jayson Faulkner




999cc liquid-cooled longitudinal dohc 16-valve V-twin; 88kW at 9000rpm, 100Nm at 7000rpm


6-speed, chain drive


Front – White Power 48mm USD fully adjustable forks; Rear – White Power monoshock, fully adjustable


Front – 2x320mm discs with four-piston calipers; single 240mm disc with single piston caliper


Front – 120/70ZR17; Rear – 180/55ZR18.  Pirelli Diablo


Front- single 300mm disc with twin-piston caliper; Rear- Drum



Seat height:




Claimed dry weight:


Fuel capacity:


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