KTM dubs its entire line as "ready to race," and that would appear to be the case with even the street-oriented Super Duke. With speed and aggression, the tires and suspension absorb more bumps and give even better feedback than at a more sedate pace. The radial-mount Brembo calipers and radial-pump master cylinder add up to strong progressive brakes, although front-end dive can be a bit excessive. And overall the chassis feels plenty sturdy for track use.
In a straight line, the engine feels easily as powerful as a Tuono's, with a strong, linear pull right to the 9750-rpm redline. The spread is plenty wide enough that I never felt caught between gears, and the gearbox ratios are spaced such that only three gears were needed to make a decent lap of the Streets course-including the ultratight hairpin turns we don't normally include in our testing. I did miss a few shifts throughout the day, which may have been due to the stiff, new boots I was sporting, but otherwise the tranny is crisp and precise.
My only previous KTM experience has been with the big singles, including the Duke II and one of the Supermoto models. Both those bikes had a hammering vibration, and at mid-rpm, the Super Duke's 75-degree layout also generates some shaking despite the balance shaft. We'll need some more time on a test bike here at the office to determine if that detracts from the otherwise user-friendly mill on the street. In any event, it's the only real complaint I had with the otherwise excellent engine.
As with any bike with a proper handlebar, the Super Duke's steering is ultralight and responsive. All that leverage lets you get away with plenty of shenanigans, but the trade-off when the pace gets seriously hot is a light front end and lack of feel. Certainly the components are there-the hardware is more than up to the task of what you'd expect from a standard-and I'd rank it as one of the best-handling naked bikes I've ridden on the track.
The wait was definitely worth it when it comes to the 990 Super Duke; it's a pile of fun to ride, which is exactly what the company intended, and it's sure to do well in the naked-bike comparison we have planned for later this year. Now all we have to do is wait some more for the RC8 to arrive. Then the fun will really begin.
KTM's past dates back to 1934, when Hans Trunkenpolz (the T in KTM) opened a repair shop in Mattighofen (the M), Austria. Several years later, the company began selling DKW motorcycles and in 1951, built its first motorcycle, the R100. In 1953, Ernst Kronreif (the K) became a shareholder, and the company name officially became known as Kronreif, Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen. KTM's first motorcycles were streetbikes, and through the '50s, the company entered various roadraces as well as the International Six Days Trial.
It wasn't until 1970 that KTM began manufacturing its own engines and 1978 that it established a U.S. office. Development and production was concentrated on two-stroke motocross bikes, radiators and scooters through the middle of the century, but in 1987, KTM produced the 560cc four-stroke engine. Shortly after, the company filed for bankruptcy and the various divisions were split up. The motorcycle division, KTM Sportmotorcycle GmbH, carried on almost uninterrupted with new designs and a focus on enduro bikes, with the street-oriented Duke series beginning production in 1994.
Since we don't have much experience with KTM, we asked the staff at our sister magazine Dirt Rider for a synopsis of the company's strengths. They report that the company is aggressive and innovative on the dirt side, with an amazing run of race successes and market penetration in the last 10 to 15 years. The most notable point in their favor is an ability to seek out parts of the market that aren't being addressed, and exploit them-in a good way-by keeping one step ahead of the competition.
The company is doing likewise in the street market, with the 950 Supermoto filling an otherwise empty niche. As well, the sporty RC8 is set to be introduced as early as '08, at a time when the Japanese have largely given up on V-twin sportbikes. In MotoGP, the company has entered a Junior team in the 125cc championship to cultivate new riders, and is also sponsoring the Red Bull Rookies Cup for '07; riders will compete on identically prepared KTM 125s in that series.