Test Ride: KTM 1290 Super Duke GT

Austrian bike maker KTM has a different idea of what a touring bike should be. The company’s logo is “Ready to Race,” so it’s no surprise that the 1290 Super Duke GT has a heavy emphasis on sport.

Although near-freezing temperatures might not have been conducive to an enjoyable ride, the GT compensated by making it both fun and pleasurable.

The GT is based on KTM’s Super Duke R, but features a few touring amenities, like a frame-mounted fairing with adjustable windshield, cruise control, easily removable 30 L side cases, and a seat with a larger passenger section. The side cases are roomy and very easy to operate and remove, and when taken off the bike, leave very little evidence that they were on in the first place.

But the GT is still a Super Duke R at heart, so it’s powered by the same 1,301 cc liquid-cooled, 75-degree V-twin that cranks out 173 horsepower and a whopping 106 lb-ft of peak torque, 10 lb-ft more than the torque-heavy Ducati Diavel.

My time aboard the GT was spent at the tail end of the riding season, and although near-freezing temperatures might not have been conducive to an enjoyable ride, the GT compensated by making it both fun and pleasurable.

The GT has a slightly aggressive riding position, something I’d remedy by installing handlebar risers to provide a more relaxed reach to the grips. The foot pegs are on the high side, but this doesn’t hinder long-term comfort, especially since the flat, wide seat proved remarkably comfortable over time. The bike is well equipped for cold weather, with standard heated grips and a 12 volt power socket conveniently located in the fairing bracket, just below the instruments, into which I plugged my electric vest.

I cranked up the grip heat to maximum, but unfortunately there’s no dedicated button to operate them, so it takes five button pushes to scroll to the screen menu that controls the grips, and then two more pushes to get back to the main screen. For added weather protection, I’d add some hand guards, and a taller aftermarket windshield.

One minor annoyance within the handlebar controls was the high-beam switch. It’s a European-style lever located on the backside of the switch assembly, and it protrudes enough that it’s easily triggered when wearing thick gloves.

Since the cold weather reduced traction, while in the city I left the bike in Rain mode, which provides the softest throttle response of the three ride modes (including Street and Sport), and cranks up the traction control. I think that even in warmer weather this would become my default city mode, since it really softens the GT’s otherwise heavy-handed power delivery. The rest of the day was spent in Street mode, since the brutish Sport mode proves to be on the Mr. Hyde side of sane – use discretion in this mode: the front wheel makes frequent trips skyward.

On the highway, the smooth-running engine belies its superbike-worthy output, droning along vibration-free at just a touch less than 4,000 rpm at 110 km/h. I’d recommend using the cruise control on long stretches, because speed can creep up unexpectedly on this beast.

The GT’s fairing provides good wind protection on the highway, especially with the screen at its highest position. Working the screen is a bit awkward, since you must first push it forward to free its locating tab from its mount, then lift or drop the screen, and pull it back to lock it in place.

The real fun begins on bumpy, tight and twisty roads that leave little time to take a breather between turns. This is the GT’s playground, and its chassis is something to be marvelled, allowing the bike to lean confidently into turns and transition quickly from side to side with little effort.

The adjustable, semi-active suspension is on the firm side, even in the softest Comfort setting, exemplifying the bike’s European heritage; this is a sport tourer designed primarily for smooth European roads. It manages most bumps handily but throws me into the air over larger frost heaves. On wider, open roads it flows through sweepers with unwavering stability.

The GT’s six-speed gearbox is light, and is assisted by a quick shifter, allowing clutch-less shifting, but I alternate between using it and not because I find it has too much of a delay when cutting the ignition, making gear changes sometimes clunky. The brakes, of course, are supersport strong, though the rear displays an unusual lack of feel and requires high effort before slowing the bike. ABS is standard, and it includes a Super Moto mode that allows the rear wheel to lock if “backing it in” is your thing.

There’s a lot to like about the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, including its incredibly powerful yet smooth engine, which would feel as readily at home in a supersport chassis as it does in this sport tourer (its origins can be traced to the KTM RC8, after all). Its supermoto-like handling combines with daylong comfort to make it a great back-road companion with which you can readily cross the country.

I averaged 6.7L/100 km during my time with the bike, which included a fair amount of city riding, allowing me to cover about 340 km before needing to fill the 23 L fuel tank. It makes a great sport tourer that is lighter (205 kg dry) and more nimble than other bikes in its class, and although it’s somewhat pricey at $21,499, that’s about on par with an equally equipped BMW R1200RS, but with 50 more horsepower.

But be warned: Its brutish power and razor-sharp handling will almost surely to coax you into a life of urban hooliganism.

Sporty touring 1/18/2017 6:28:00 AM