Ridden: KTM Super Duke 990 R

KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
KTM Super Duke 990 R (image © KTM)
R stands for Race. And that’s exactly what my little heart was doing at the mere thought of riding KTM’s new Super Duke 990 R. After all, the bike’s so darn impressive as standard, the thought of riding a ready-to-race version had me wondering - has KTM been too ambitious? Is this bike going to bite?
The list of extras above the standard Super Duke seems fairly modest at first glance, but KTM boasts this is its fastest ever sports bike, so they took us to Hungary’s Pannonia Ring to prove it. It’s a massive circuit, outstretched and fairly flat, 5km in length with a combination of hairpins, fast sweepers and pretty challenging sections

Click images to enlarge, more below
Turn two is a tricky and tight right-hander. Cock that up and you’ve little choice but to back off a tad for the next left sweeper, rather than keeping it pinned (which, let’s face it, is the good bit!). So, I set myself up carefully for this all-important hairpin. I knocked it down a gear and the bars and footpegs buzzed in response to the rising revs. I leant my body over, pushed on the inside bar and the Duke swung into the corner with more passion than Marilyn Monroe’s hips.
Lively handling

The handling’s not stupidly sharp, but the R tips in with an eagerness the standard version still has (but not to this degree). It feels racier and more defined which undoubtedly has its merits on track. That said, the standard bike’s hardly a slouch! As the day progressed, the Super Duke R’s sharper steering became more and more apparent, as did the slightly twitchier handling. The modification that’s injected this livelier characteristic into the R is simple, and it’s one that’s easy to change on the standard bike.

The WP rear shock’s 6mm longer and the spring’s harder. This alters the bike’s geometry. It raises the seat height slightly and tips the whole bike forward to offer a new steering angle of 67.3 degrees over the standard’s 66.1 and a shorter trail by 6.1mm to 93.9mm. As a result, the R is quicker to turn, but the pay-off is less stability in straight-line blasts or in over-aggressive manoeuvres. Thankfully, KTM has addressed this issue by adding an adjustable WP steering damper, so there should be less danger of threatening but relatively harmless head shakes, reminiscent of the Dukes of old.
Eager engine

New geometry means new forks. Sharpening the bike’s handling increases the weight over the front end, so the R’s fully adjustable WP forks have a different coating which offers less friction while stiffer springs deal with the additional pressure. The punchy engine remains unchanged. It’s the same torquey lump that grumbles away in the standard bike. Of course, you’d expect an athletic twin of this nature to have some characteristic vibes, which is why the Super Duke 990 has rubber mounts between the handlebars and its forged triple clamp, they allow a little movement and absorb some of the vibrations.

But on the R version, the bars are in direct contact with the triple clamp, which is now machined from a higher quality aluminium, offering more rigidity and stiffness. Although theoretically, there should be marginally more vibration transferred to your hands, I really couldn’t feel any significant difference between the two versions in that respect. The other changes are more immediately obvious. The 9kg trellis frame is coated in trademark orange lacquer and all the aluminium has been painted black, exclusively for the Super Duke 990 R. Carbon kick plates and heat protectors for the twin under-seat pipes add to the racer image, as does the new tail unit, which replaces the pillion seat with a thoroughly modern mono.
Verdict

These touches, together with the bike’s new eagerness, make the Super Duke R an impressive motorcycle. Although you could buy most of the R’s special parts in KTM’s Power Parts accessories, it’s only £500 more expensive than the regular model. I reckon it’d cost you a sum far heftier than that to transform your standard Duke to this one, including the paint and carbon fibre. The limited production numbers also reiterate this bike’s exclusivity as KTM plan to make only 600 of them. So if you’re interested, you might need to move pretty fast!

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