2007 KTM 990 Super Duke Road Review – The Austrian Super Villain

img_5992Born under a sinister star the 2007 KTM 990 Super Duke has the angular good looks of an Austrian super-villain, who, rather than set his sights on world domination has engaged in a vendetta on your driver’s license and the cannons of traffic law.  No common street fighting thug, the Super Duke is out to turn you to his will.  That shouldn’t be much of a battle; the joy of villainy breaking taboos and the Super Duke eagerly aids your on-road corruption.

Need to feel instantly nasty, throw a leg over the Super Duke’s compact chassis and punch the loud button.  It instantly growls to bass-baritone life and sits idling with Wagnerian overtones through the twin under-seat exhaust.  Weighing in at 126lbs the light and compact 999.9cc 75-degree V-twin pumps out a claimed 118hp/88kW@9000 rpm and 74lb-ft/100Nm@7000 rpm, proving potent evil can be squeezed into diminutive packages.  It feels like a mild all rounder… for the first second of riding.

We tried to get a 0-100kph figure, but the Super Duke would have none of it, opting to wheelie instead.  Shifting with the clutch letting the oily smooth 6-speed transmission eats up the changes all snick-a-snack, or toeing up or down through the ratios clutch-lessly with the dirt bike-style claw set-up and a slight lurch, you could choose gearing to avoid raising the Super Duke’s front tire… or not.

You could also trundle along in traffic; the engine certainly pulls “nicely” in the low RPMs, but sub-4000RPM the lean surge really just eggs you on – tempting you into more throttle.  Given the hesitant, hard on-and-off low down response and heavy clutch, traffic riding on the KTM is like using an assault riffle to open a can of tuna – it’s the wrong tool for the job, until you snap.

Twist the throttle, feel the quick response as the fuel injection feeds the twin through massive 48mm throttle bodies (complete with secondary valve to maintain optimum response) and tractable torque shoots you forwards.  Legal or not the Super Duke is a lane splitting hellion.  It’s behavior borne of a KTM promotional video, that, rather than merely showcase the Super Duke, conducted outright terrorism on every piece of road law, save failure to yield the passing lane to faster moving traffic.

By third gear you’re into a 150kph gale force that’s lifting your helmet and attempting to strip you off the Super Duke.  To paraphrase Oppenheimer witnessing 1945’s premier nuclear test, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of bugs”… or at least my chest has.  Clover’s stylish Loop jacket may never be the same given the entomological shotgun blast coming over the miniscule fly-screen and instrument cluster.  Beyond this speed you need the neck muscles of another bad-acting Austrian export – the Govern-ator.  The Super Duke is great fun for the sprint, but not for the marathon.

Want to get more out of your Super Duke? Super Bike more?  Hunker down chest to tank bringing your weight forward, wrap your legs around the wasp-waist, place your helmet behind the fly-screen, twist the throttle and hold on…  tight.

You do not accelerate, you are launched… and crossing 7,500RPM the Duke unleashes another round of push.  Fourth sees 240kph before crossing the 9,000RPM “orange” line – red was so last year.  This is what an artillery shell feels 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 6000RPMs, spinning up effortlessly and hitting the rev-limiter-periodically, but the vibe is intrusive, despite a counter balancer neatly tucked between the cylinders.  Even as the feverish beat pounds through the pegs and rubber-mounted bars keep your hands from numbing.  Slide below 5000RPM and the Super Duke could cruise smoothly all day.  Really though, with a bike this inspiring would you?

Not likely, it’s too rewarding to rolling off the throttle from high RPMs thanks to a sonorous popping overrun burbling from the pipes – a sound that’s an inconvenient truth of extra fuel being burned off, or the Devil smoothly beguiling you.  Rolling-on 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 inwards with a huge intake honk.  Engaging?  That’s an understatement.

Need to wash off the speed?  The twin radial mounted four-piston Brembo calipers grabbing 320mm disks out front brakes require only a light touch of the lever and provide progressive action without any traitorous initial bite unlike the Ducati S4Rs’s binders.  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 waif-ish 184 kg (405.7 lbs) weight without fuel.  Balancing out the front binders is a single-piston floating caliper out back with a 240mm 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 shredding out traction.  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.  On receipt our tester was a bit nervous, recalcitrant and twitchy.  The key to ridability was adjusting the preload, compression and rebound front and back – ours required easing off the preload and rebound.  Even adjusted, the suspension, in combination with the Chromium-molybdenum trellis chassis, issues a concussively taunt ride.

The payoff, though, is laser precise handling, light transitions though the leverage of the wide tapered Renthal bars, and stability that inspires unholy acts on public roads.  Yes, the Super Duke brought on the season’s the first knee dragging photo session.  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.  In the public’s eyes that could make you a hero… or sociopath.

Even at slower speeds the KTM is good fun.  The steering lock makes for laughably tight U-turns, roads must be littered with all the dimes this bike turns on.  Even two up, tight Us are a competent breeze.  Then there’s all that torque… that wouldn’t be good for a wheel up ever.  What would the establishment do?  In Britain I believe it’s called an Anti-Social Behavior Order.

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 is out to get you reading anywhere from three-quarters to empty regardless of the actual level.  Take it easy on the throttle, unlikely to happen, 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 leading to traffic court – if you can see the flashing blue and reds behind you.

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 150kph… 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 – not so some of the other design elements.

Creating a marvel as compact as the 990 has required some compromises to make everything fit.  Need to top up the refined dino?  The oil 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 the sides of Ducati and Benelli naked engines – but for smuggling I’d suggest a can-ectomy.  Still, despite the concessions to compactness the Duke’s ergos are brilliant as Brainiac.

Crave comfort while petrifying the local villagers into submission with your henchmen? Then you need a fleet of Super Dukes.  The ergonomics are relaxed and upright, and as you know a comfortable henchman is less likely to turn on you.  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.  Henchmen, of course, tend to run in the big and tall set, and the pegs are spot on for those with a 34-inch inseam keeping the bend at the knee relaxed.  Given that broad torque spread you could probably just leave the bike in 2nd gear and have a hand free to operate a machine gun.

The brutally sharp and keenly honed look of the KTM is vastly more menacing than the other bikes likely to be parked out front the local SPECTRE office. 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 Benelli’s TNT 1130 Café Racer pull, and priced at $16,998 CDN, the KTM 990 Super Duke is a steal by comparison. You’re front company can easily deduct it as a recruitment tool.

Visual villainy, an engine with the sound and power that ups the apocalypse to 118 horsemen, sharp handling, cornering accurate as a knife’s edge, and wrapped in comfortable ergonomics – the KTM 990 Super Duke could corrupt Mother Theresa.  All you’ll need to do is make sure that your citadel is at the top of a winding mountain road, the more treacherous the better, the Super Duke is not one for boring straights.

KTM 990 Super Duke:
MSRP: $16,998 CDN
More Info & Full Specifications


One Comment Add yours

  1. Jake says:

    Best review of this bike ever. I got the ’08 “R” model and explaining this bike to all those gawkers is difficult at best without resorting to childish expletives and crazy body gesticulations. Well Said, Sir.


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