KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R | Head to head test


KTM’s 790 DUKE finally hit dealerships last month – almost a year after we first saw it and with some massive hype to live up to. Does the KTM do the job? First impressions after the press launch were ‘hell yeah’. But where does it fit in the ‘hooligan middleweight’ queue at the checkout? We put it up against its nearest rival… Straight Outta Hinckley comes the Triumph Street Triple R, the more road-focussed and slightly less hyper version of the triple cylinder 765cc naked, the RS.

The Street Triple is the benchmark in this class. A simple formula of performance, attitude and good value meant Triumph has sold thousands (although, as the years go by it seems value is a word missing from much of modern motorcycling).

The R is the mid-spec bike in the three-bike 765cc Street Triple range introduced at the beginning of 2017, sandwiched between the ‘S’ and the top spec ‘RS’. Don’t think that the ‘mid-spec’ tag means mediocre performance though; the R is all go. In fact, my colleague, Simon ‘Toad’ Hancocks, believes in some ways it’s better than the range topping RS. But is it still better than KTM’s new kid on the block?

While Toad rode the British entry in our two-bike showdown, I took the orange (and grey) Austrian. And here’s how we got on…



Head-to-head test | KTM 790 Duke Vs Triumph Street Triple R
BikeSocial puts the KTM 790 Duke and the Triumph Street Triple R to the test at Bruntingthorpe




At £8,499, the 790 DUKE slots into the KTM naked (DUKE) range between the single-cylinder 690 which is just £500 cheaper at £7,999 and the monstrous 175bhp 1290 SuperDuke R at £14,299. That’s pretty much the same as Yamaha’s MT-09 and £800 more than Suzuki’s GSX750S

 With a £1996 deposit, 5000 miles a year over 36 months would cost £99 per month at 5.9% APR.



Priced at £9,200 OTR the R is £1000 less than the RS and £900 more than the S model. It’s also £700 more than the KTM.

With a £1996 deposit, 5000 miles a year over 37 months would cost £93 per month at 6.9% APR.



KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review


Engine, gearbox and exhaust


The liquid-cooled dohc eight-valve parallel twin cylinder engine has offset crankpins and 435-degree firing intervals giving the grumble of a V-Twin that pops and crackles from its high sided, seat-level exhaust on the over-run.

Twin counter-balancers remove any unwanted vibes while the smooth revving twin offers a wonderful slug of fast-delivered torque from 5-8,000rpm. There’s loads of top-end power and what feels like a boost at 7,000rpm, so please for the love of motorcycling; use plenty of revs! Because when you do the engine and the Duke’s sweet, slick-shifting gearbox will reward your riding experience even further. Minimal ankle movement is required on the well set-up quickshifter when throwing more gears at this fast-revving naked, yet it has a reassuring resistance with a neat little ‘clunk’ letting you know when the gear has been selected. Down the ‘box and the autoblipper and slipper clutch work in harmony. It’s quite non-KTM, thankfully.

The throttle action is particularly smooth and satisfying when in Sport mode and getting your fight on in the twisty bits, though the fuelling is a little erratic in the low revs while in Sport mode, so use the rider modes (a couple of buttons to press and a quick close of the throttle) when you come into town.

It’s such an easy bike to ride. Exciting, entertaining and punchier in the mid-range than the three-cylindered Triumph. If you’d have asked me before riding both, I wouldn’t have been giving the KTM much of a second look but boy does this thing impress.

Oh, and an A2 licence friendly version is also available.



KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review



At the heart of the bike is a silky-smooth liquid cooled, DOHC, 12v, inline triple with a fly-by-wire throttle that’s the best I’ve used. The engine is reigned in with four riding modes, Rain, Road, Sport and Rider. Only Rain limits bhp and the others optimise fuelling and throttle response. ‘Rider’ is a rider configurable mode that allows you to set the bike up to your own taste choosing elements of the pre-programmed settings. I didn’t dabble with it, simply be cause I find the two road settings to be more than adequate. The rain mode dulls the throttle too much (even in heavy rain)and the traction control was too eager - cutting in on half throttle in fourth gear in the wet...in a straight line. That’s too obtrusive for my liking, but some newer riders may prefer that level of intervention.

The gearbox on the R is definitely a case of less is more. Where the RS’ quickshifter was like ordering food with your Italian waiter, in Japanese – you never really know what you were going to get. The R does away with that and goes back to a standard shift. And, in my mind, it’s all the better for it. The gear box is great; light to use, well-spaced gears and with a short throw. If you clutch-less shift you can still hustle the bike up to motorway speeds and beyond with eye watering urgency.

The exhaust on the R is a three-into-one system with a low-level silencer on the right-hand side of the bike. The whole system is neat and compact and helps keep the bikes mass as central as possible adding to the machine’s pin-point handling. One of my favourite things about any of the 765cc Street Triples is the noise. The howl you get above 3500rpm is intoxicating. It comes as much from the centrally mounted air-intake sitting under your chin as the exhaust. I can’t wait for 2019, when a grid of race spec Moto2 bikes will be shrieking their way to a race track near you, using this same engine!


KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R test data


KTM Duke 790

Triumph Speed Triple R





0 - 10 mph

0.62 sec

0 - 10 mph

0.42 sec

0 - 20 mph

1.06 sec

0 - 20 mph

0.66 sec

0 - 30 mph

1.53 sec

0 - 30 mph

1 sec

0 - 40 mph

2 sec

0 - 40 mph

1.78 sec

0 - 50 mph

2.54 sec

0 - 50 mph

2.32 sec

0 - 60 mph

3.11 sec

0 - 60 mph

3.07 sec

0 - 70 mph

3.83 sec

0 - 70 mph

3.54 sec

0 - 80 mph

4.62 sec

0 - 80 mph

4.23 sec

0 - 90 mph

5.61 sec

0 - 90 mph

5.13 sec

0 - 100 mph

6.83 sec

0 - 100 mph

6.28 sec

0 - 110 mph

8.5 sec

0 - 110 mph

7.29 sec

0 - 120 mph

10.59 sec

0 - 120 mph

8.67 sec

0 - 130 mph

14.42 sec

0 - 130 mph

11.25 sec

0 - 137.03 mph

18.16 sec

0 - 140 mph

13.74 sec

0 - 147.09 mph

16.92 sec



Power and Torque


With peak power (105bhp) coming at just 9000rpm compared to the Triumph’s (116bhp) 12,000rpm and a lot more torque peaking at lower revs too, on paper the KTM has a fatter mid-range but less peak performance. In reality, annihilating your newly-discovered favourite b-roads the fundamental power deficit is barely recognisable. The fast action gearbox and fast-revving, even faster fuelling engine give the KTM its usability, but you’ll get through a lot more gearchanges than the Street Triple on the way. The Triumph has a broader spread of power and can roll-on in the same gear, while the KTM needs quick-tapping toes to keep it sweet.

It’s more controlled and less scary than its sibling, the 1290 Super Duke R for instance, and that makes it a very friendly motorcycle for the UK’s roads offering all our hooligan fantasies without being feral.


KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review



The R makes a claimed 116bhp at a heady 12,000rpm and 77Nm of torque at 9,400rpm. Having ridden the RS – which makes a claimed 121bhp – prior to the R you really don’t notice the missing ponies. The R is just as fast and just as furious as it’s racier sounding stablemate. The R’s peak torque is also lower down the rev range making it more useable as an everyday bike. I found the bike tractable and easy to ride in any gear and any situation. The torque curve is flat and the bike just pull in whatever gear you happen to be in and at any speed.

Speed testing showed the KTM reaching 137mph, although this was trumped by the Triumph which got to 147mph. A 15bhp difference shouldn’t be enough to add 10mph at these speeds with no aerodynamics, which suggests the two bikes are geared differently. The KTM sacrifices big numbers for acceleration, while the Triumph goes for taller gearing in the higher ratios for easier cruising and a few more mpg. The British bike is faster through all our test parameters, just. A 0-60 time of 3.07s edged out the KTM by just 0.04s while 0-100mph saw a Street Triple victory by 0.55s.

And to emphasise the KTM’s mid-range power compared to the Triumph’s overall bhp advantage, the 40-120mph roll on test in top gear saw a gap of just 0.23s.

At the pumps, the Triumph returned 49mpg where the KTM was a little thirstier at just 42mpg.


KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review


Handling, suspension, chassis and weight


The compact parallel twin engine brings the 790 DUKE many benefits, one of which is a compact chassis which in turn brings a light and lithe motorcycle that handles extremely well. The ace up the KTM’s sleeve is the way it performs as a package . All that accessible torquey power in a tiny, basic chassis brings fantasies of carving through corners, Lorenzo-style with all the finesse a small bike brings. The reality, courtesy of suspension that’s good enough…but only just, is more akin to Marc Marquez when the red mist comes down, hacking through field from the back of the grid.

KTM’s very own WP suspension plus some budget Maxxis Supermax tyres are a mixed bag. Yes, the bike handles well. Really well in fact, but think of how good it could be on a decent set of rubber and a set of higher-spec, adjustable forks. They may well be included on an ‘R’ version that will surely make its way into production in the future.

The suspension, both front and rear, has plenty of travel for this class and does a tidy job for many roads and many riders, even though it’s not adjustable. The rear shock is a little firm and the whole package gets lively enough to say ‘thank you steering damper’ at high speeds on bumpy back roads but that’s just nit-picking. The tyres that are lacking in the wet, a few too many slides from the rear knocks confidence.

The bike steers quickly and predictably and the aforementioned steering damper keeps the wheel pointing forwards, if not always downwards. Having absolutely no wind protection puts the pressure on your shoulders after a few motorway miles at motorway speeds.



Up font we have 41mm Showa USD Big Piston Forks with 115mm of travel, adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and preload. All the Street Triples are supremely flick-able bikes, with front end stability that’s difficult to beat. The Street Triple R does not let the side down. If you were on the lookout for a bike that would be comfortable for everyday riding but still fancy a play on track now and again, it’s an ideal candidate.

The rear shock is a Showa unit with a piggyback reservoir, adjustable compression damping, rebound and preload. It is noticeably less plush than the Ohlins unit fitted to the RS model, but still a decent spec. The only time I ever felt the bike getting tied in knots was when pushing on in the wet when direction and elevation changed at the same time. The back end of the bike would float about a bit as the tyre searched for grip.

I’d never had this on the RS but can’t decide if it’s the suspension, lower spec tyres or the increase in midrange torque – or a combination of all three. At no point did I think the bike was going to let go, it was more of a warning sign, which in one way is a good thing.

In the dry the R is fast turning, late braking and confidence inspiring. I spent around 700 miles on board riding every type of road imaginable and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable bike.






Even though the budget brakes from Spanish firm J Juan aren’t theoretically on the same scale as the bad-ass Brembo’s fitted to the Triumph, the stats from our datalogger show the KTM being able to stop from 70mph in just 3.74s which is only 0.05s slower than the Triumph. In distance terms this is just 37cm (55.19m vs. 54.82m). If you’re a brand connoisseur then they could be an issue but there was no questioning their ability in stopping this featherweight, even with a cruiserweight at the controls. Add in the KTM’s standard-fit cornering ABS and we’d say the orange corner wins this one.



The R has a pair of Brembo M4, monobloc, four piston calipers and 310mm floating discs. Combine that with a Brembo radial master cylinder and braided hoses and you have a formidable set of brakes on the 166kg (dry) machine. With switchable ABS the brakes have plenty of feel if a slightly long throw on the lever when the brakes get hot. For most of the time I found that a couple of fingers on the brake were enough to haul the bike up even when braking from 140mph at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground.







A seat height of 825mm is average for a naked bike, in fact it matches the Triumph. However, because the KTM’s chassis and engine are so narrow, the seat shape is great for the shorter rider (so says the diminutive Toad Hancocks). At 6 feet tall I thought it might be a little cramped but the low, rearset, peg position still gave plenty of ground clearance, the well-shaped seat and leant-forward bar position made the KTM very comfortable. After the first mile I realised the initial ironing board-like hardness became a comfortable riding position. The bars and levers are all adjustable and the seat can be lowered to 805mm. In fact, a chassis lowering kit is available to take the seat down to 785mm.

The one distraction are those crappy rear-view mirrors which just flop about at any kind of speed. Easy to adjust but rubbish at staying there and not particularly pleasing on the eye. Then again, KTM offer plenty of ‘Power Parts’.



The ergonomics of the bike for this 5’7” rider are spot on. An easy reach to the bars, comfortable peg position and it’s surprisingly light on your wrists. The seat is a little on the firm side for long distance but when ridden hard on twisty roads provides enough support to stop you sliding about. If I was going to ride track days regularly on a Street Triple, the addition of some tank-side gripper pads would be a bonus.







A comprehensive TFT display that’s both easy-to-read and easy-to-use is the tip of the electronic goody bag. Operational from the left-bar, the four-way up, down, back and select buttons are basic in their looks but a doddle to operate through the various screens.

The Duke also has the same bells and whistle you’d expect on bikes costing twice the price. IMU-controlled cornering ABS and traction control plus wheelie control (which might actually be useful on this bike, packed with midrange and potentially bought by newish riders) and a two-way quick shifter with autoblipper plus not-at-all-important launch control and four riding modes – Sport, Street, Rain and Track. This is the clever part, whereby throttle commands are electronically translated into throttle valve positions suited to the riding conditions. So, Sport, for example turns relatively small throttle openings into much bigger actual throttle openings in the injectors. And with lightweight engine internals capable of picking up revs so quickly, it makes 100bhp feel like 150 when you open the throttle and the bike leaps forward. The downside is a little snatchiness at low revs around town, but you can switch to other modes for that. Track offers a smooth throttle, less traction control and the anti-wheelie control to be turned off.

Launch Control is a funny option for a 106bhp middleweight. Like many similar systems it can only be used three times in a row before the clutch needs to lie down and rest… but on a test at KTM’s Austrian facility I clocked a faster speed by 5kph from a standing start without launch control activated than I did with it turned on. Probably down to the head-mess that releasing the clutch with the throttle to the stop does!



The R features switchable ABS and traction control, a 5” full-colour TFT dash that’s clear and easy to read. The dash is also angle adjustable which is handy, and can be moved on the fly with just one hand. As mentioned it has four riding modes Sport, Road, Rain and Rider. An on-board computer to display journey time, average speed, average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, range (which seemed fairly accurate), two trips and ambient temperature.

The dash is controlled by a menu button on the left handle bar and a 5-way joystick which is a little fiddly to use if you are wearing bulky gloves. The joystick has to be pressed in when you want to select a riding mode for instance. If you hit a ripple in the road while trying to press select, I found it too easy to inadvertently flick the lever to the right or left, cancelling the thing you wanted to select.

The R also features Triumph’s funky looking DRL (Daytime Riding Lights) and self-cancelling indicators. The latter of which I turned off. Because, I’m better at cancelling indicators than that computer is!


KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review


790 Duke vs Street Triple R verdict

The KTM has more hooligan tendencies and by comparison to the Triumph, feels like a teenager full of raging hormones; excitable, lively and literally ‘ready to race’ in agreement with KTM’s mantra. Whereas the marginally more sedate Oxford grad Street Triple is calmer, more refined (certainly with its build quality and smart LCD instrument panel) and would be my choice IF I wanted a bike on which I can relax on when necessary yet still has all the get-up-and-go when needed. On the Duke, I’d forever be getting places faster because it’d be rude not wring its neck – that’s what it cries out for.

The finer detail on the Triumph such as adjustable suspension and better tyres and brakes come at a cost. £9200 is a big sum when fighting with the KTM and Yamaha’s MT-09 (and SP) for example. And it doesn’t have the quickshifter either – a must on all modern motorcycles in my opinion.

KTM have built a middleweight sensation with a strong, useable, peaky motor coupled with a fine gearbox and chassis combo. If the price began with a 7 instead of an 8 then I’m sure they’d sell by the bucket load. It’s got swag, it’s got character and it’s got my vote.



KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review


Three things I loved about the 2018 KTM 790 Duke…

• Easy to ride

• Useable torque and power

• Gearbox and chassis – smooth and slick


Three things that I didn’t…

• Budget ‘sport-touring’ tyres

• Rear non-adjustable suspension

• Floppy mirrors



Three things I loved about the 2017 Triumph Street Triple R…

• Mid-range torque

• Front end stability

• The 'howl'


Three things that I didn’t…

• Intrusive traction control in rain mode

• Self cancelling indicators

• A long brake lever after hard riding


KTM 790 Duke vs Triumph Street Triple R road test review


KTM 790 DUKE and Triumph Street Triple R specification





Engine Type

Liquid-cooled parallel twin, DOHC, 8 valves

Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line 3-cylinder

Engine Displacement



Max. Power Output

105bhp @ 9000rpm

116bhp @ 12000rpm

Max. Torque

87Nm @ 8000rpm

77Nm @ 9400rpm

Brakes Front

2, four-piston J Juan radial calipers, 300mm discs with cornering ABS and supermoto mode

Twin 310 mm floating discs, Brembo M4.32 4-piston radial monobloc calipers

Brakes Rear

Twin-piston caliper, 240mm disc with cornering ABS

Single 220 mm fixed disc, Brembo single piston sliding caliper

Suspension Front

43mm WP upside-down telescopic fork, 140mm travel

Showa 41 mm upside down separate function big piston forks (SF-BPF), 115 mm front wheel travel. Adjustable compression damping, rebound damping and preload.

Suspension Rear

WP single shock, 150mm spring travel, adjustment for preload

Showa piggyback reservoir monoshock, 134 mm rear wheel travel. Adjustable spring preload (lock-rings), compression damping and rebound damping

Wheels/Tyres Front

3.50" x 17" cast aluminium, 120/70 x 17 Maxxis Supermaxx ST

3.5" x 17" cast aluminium, 120/70 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa

Wheels/Tyres Rear

5.50" x 17" cast aluminium, 180/55 x 17 Maxxis Supermaxx ST

5.5” x 17” cast aluminium, 180/55 ZR17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa

Frame type

CroMo steel with engine as a strees member and aluminium subframe

Front - Aluminium beam twin-spar.Rear - two-piece high pressure die cast

Fuel Tank Capacity (Litres)

14 litres

17.4 litres

Kerb Weight (kg)

169kg (dry)

166kg (dry)

Seat Height (mm)



Trail (mm)



Wheelbase (mm)







To insure these bikes, click here

Thanks to KTM and Triumph for the loan of the bikes, Garath Harford for the images and Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground.