2019 KTM Super Duke GT review

Steve Rose
By Steve Rose

BikeSocial Publisher. Has been riding since before Frankie said ‘Relax’, owned more than 100 bikes and has written for, edited or published most of the UK’s best known bike magazines. Strangely attracted to riding high miles in all weathers, finds track days ‘confusing’ and describes the secret to better riding as ‘being invincible’. 

 

The problem with a bike that handles this well...in the wet...in temperatures not that far above freezing, is that you get cocky. I’m thinking a less-cultured version of this as I approach the blind, bumpy left-hander that appears to be doubling back on itself. Braking as hard as I dare and still seeing a ‘seven’ at the front of the big number on the bright TFT speedo is not what a ‘professional rider, under controlled conditions’ should be doing, but hey, I’m invincible…it’ll all turn out right in the end.

KTM’s 2019 Super Duke GT makes light work of the curves and bends on Northamptonshire’s wet, bumpy B roads, in a way that few other big bikes manage. The problem comes when those curves turn into corners. The same thing happened about three miles back, but history taught me long ago that learning by your mistakes is something other people do better than me.

Thankfully, KTM spend a lot more money on their suspension, brakes and electronics team than they do on the styling and sidestand length analysts. The grumpy gearbox works a lot better on downshifts than it does going up and Super-duck uses all that tech to shed the necessary speed while only taking me marginally across the white line without bothering the cornering-ABS. it almost looks like I meant it.

 

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke Review

New TFT display is easy to navigate and controls multiple electronic functions

 

So, is the 2019 KTM Super Duke GT really a sports tourer?

This KTM is certainly very good at being a Super Duke; huge amounts of accessible power, handling that belies its 235 kg fully fuelled weight and all the brash and brittle ‘this-ain’t-no-Honda’ feelings that Austria’s most mischievous company do so well. But what about the GT bit? Does fitting a taller screen, pannier mounts and extra gallon of fuel capacity really turn ‘The Beast’ (you have to say it in a Hollywood voiceover accent, it’s the law) into a sports tourer?

The simple answer is no, of course not. In the same way that putting a roof on a crocodile doesn’t make it a caravan. You can do pillions and sensible touring-type stuff on a Super Duke GT in the same way you can probably shave a lion with a Bic disposable razor. It’s just that there are better tools for the job.

If sports-tourer is stretching it, then how about we call the GT a proper 21st century sports bike? High performance lunacy for middle-aged, former hooligans who can’t or won’t stretch themselves into ‘that sportsbike position’ any longer. All the KTM’s numbers, attitude and equipment say sports bike, it’s only the handlebars that are different.

KTM’s latest fuel system and ignition mapping does a superb job of making its 175bhp, V-twin rocket launchers usable at low revs, easy to ride through town and economical too. The first tank on new cylinder bores averaged 38mpg, the second one did 45mpg and last year’s 1290 Adventure R averaged 50+mpg once run-in. That should mean a range of 200+ miles from a tank. One of my fellow BikeSocial testers returned from a ride having seen a top speed that included the numbers eight, six and one (he wouldn’t tell me in which order) and I suspect he was getting slightly fewer mpg because he also forgot to fill it up with petrol (again).

That tiny (by touring standards) screen and the GT’s broad plastic flanks ahead of my knees do a surprisingly good job of keeping the wind off at high speed. The screen raises and lowers manually in seconds and the hand guards plus heated grips (warm, but no ‘nuclear’ setting like BMW’s) keep the chill off my fingers. After 120 miles my pillion reported that the seat and footpegs were comfortable, windblast was tolerable and the rear-mounted grab-rail was more than up to the acceleration, braking and many missed gearchanges.

 

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke Review

1301cc, 175bhp V-twin should be lumpy and grumpy at low revs but smart fuelling and ignition maps make it civilised

 

2019 KTM Super Duke GT power, torque, engine and transmission

KTM’s 1301cc LC8 motor claims 175bhp in the GT (two less than the Super Duke R and two bhp more than the previous GT) thanks to the new titanium inlet valves adding 500 extra rpm. Torque remains the same at 103lb-ft.  

On the road in ‘Street’ mode it pulls hard between 4000-7000rpm, but just when you expect it to tuck in its trousers and go loopy, the torque curve flattens off and the speed at which it builds revs slows slightly. Try the same thing in ‘Sport’ mode and you get the full sharpest throttle response and a whole lot more exciting experience as the TFT display lights up like a cartoon explosion of red against white – and not always because you’ve hit another false neutral.

Use the clutch and the gearchange is ok, if a little stiff. Use the quickshifter, which is definitely a good idea on a bike meant for pillions and it feels heavy, inaccurate and embarrassingly easy to find neutrals all over the place. Quickshifters are mostly designed for flat-out riding, shaving a few nanos off each gearchange to gain a tenth of a second a lap. On a tourer they should replace the closed throttle lurching and headbanging, which needs a different set-up, but many manufacturers (BMW’s system is no better) don’t seem to get this. Use the KTM system on part throttle – like you do when touring – and it gets confused, turning relaxed, reformed middle-aged wannabee tourers back into the clumsy, aggressive idiot they used to be because the KTM only really works when ridden (Hollywood voice…) Like. A. Beast.

Which is fine for a while, until you remember that you bought the GT because these days you ride as a couple and your lovely partner, freed from the shackles of kids and dullsville daily life, has agreed that you’ll do biking together to help relight your respective fires. And they are currently being flung around like a rag doll on the surprisingly comfortable pillion seat as you miss another gear on the sopping-wet B660.

 

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke Review

Handling in the wet is sublime, but don’t forget to check how fast you are approaching that wet corner.

 

How much does the 2019 KTM Super Duke GT cost?

First, let’s talk about the goodies. If you’ve read this far and are still thinking ‘This is clearly the bike for me’ then you should know that for 2019 the Super Duke GT gets a beautiful new TFT dash with Bluetooth connectivity, heated grips, KTM’s latest semi-active WP suspension, up-and-down quickshifter, LED lights and cornering lights too. The dash works superbly and setting-up pretty much anything is simple and intuitive because someone has thought very carefully about the user-experience.

Look closer and you’ll see the twin pockets in the fairing, a 12v socket behind the headlight, cornering ABS and lean-sensitive traction control plus tyre pressure monitors, keyless ignition and fuel filler. Yours for £16,799. Which is where the decision to buy one becomes slightly harder.

There are a lot of good bikes for that kind of money and all of them are considerably less ugly than the Super Duke GT. And that matters. ‘I just couldn’t take my eyes off that beautiful styling that only the Austrians do so well,’ said no one ever. Ever. Some bikes get the styling right and everyone agrees. Others divide opinion and take a little longer to accept, while some are just plain ugly. KTM’s early road bikes, up to and including the RC8 were distinctive and attractive too and the original Super Duke family was lovely. Their Husqvarna subsidiary has made an absolutely beautiful 21st century take on the café racer, which demonstrates that there is some significant talent in KTM’s design facility.

But KTM’s current big-bike family appears to have been designed by an 11 year-old demonically-possessed psychopath who’s eaten all the crayons except the orange and black ones and has an unhealthy obsession with the backsides of primates. Sorry KTM but I can only assume that in a bizarre ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ scenario that no one has dared to mention this. So please, allow me to be the one.

‘Your styling is hideous, the bikes are ugly in a way that makes every other ugly bike in the history of motorcycling (we’re looking at you Morbidelli V8, original Ducati Multistrada, BMW R1200ST and R1200CL) look almost desirable and you need to address it...now.’

There, that should do it.

 

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke Review

Austria; famous for mountains, leather shorts and definitely not motorcycle styling.

 

KTM Super Duke chassis and handling

KTMs always handle well – it’s in their DNA. Very different to anything else – put a blindfolded rider on a KTM and, once he’s crashed into the nearest tree you’ll realise the blindfold was a mistake. But they’ll still know it was a KTM they crashed on. There’s something about the way that the chassis feels taut and responsive, with that special ‘KTM-flex’ if you ask too much. Not afraid to waggle a front wheel and always with enough in reserve to get you out of trouble. The spirit of the whole flipping company is somehow welded into every KTM frame tube.

It’s been 15 years now since the first electronically-adjusted suspension systems arrived and they are definitely improving. I’m not so sure about the words ‘semi-active’. In my world, semi-active is another word for ‘not-as-active-as-I’d-like-it-to-be’, which, if describing my dog would also come under the heading ‘lethargic’ and that seems a weird concept to hang your marketing on.

‘Reactive’ would be a better way to describe it because that’s exactly what the system does – it measures the movement it detects and adjusts the damping accordingly. On most roads the change in settings happens without you noticing. Only when you hit a really bumpy stretch do the limitations appear. I took the GT down my regular cratered test road three times in each direction and there was no noticeable change in the WP system’s damping characteristics on the last run from the first one.

It might be that, as on other lethargic suspension systems the range of damping in each mode isn’t that great (on the Ohlins’ system you have a broader spread in ‘user’ mode, but then you don’t get the automatic adjustment when the surface changes) but I was expecting to feel some difference.

 

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke Review

Latest WP semi-active suspension is faster-reacting and less intrusive than earlier versions

 

2019 KTM Super Duke verdict

The Super Duke GT has become KTM’s signature bike. If BMW owns adventure (and that must really hurt KTM), Triumph own the super-naked thing and Ducati are kings of the luxury sports bike, then KTM’s barmy upright road warrior for the arthritic ‘Ooligans deserves its place at the top table.

Judged on solo riding, the Super Duke GT is a blast. The engine is more than fast enough, easy to use in town and has the low-down flexibility and sense-of-fun that Ducati’s 1260 Multistrada is missing. The handling is sharp and dependable, the gizmos and gadgets are easy to use (and access) because someone thought hard about the menus and switchgear and it has all the required rider aids for a £17k bike in 2019.

Load on a pillion and the experience changes. The gearchange is awful, the handling gets a bit light at the front and it feels very top heavy at a standstill.

Styling aside, the biggest issue I have with the GT is that a 1301cc, 175bhp, chain-driven tourer costing almost £17k really should have a centrestand (and a sidestand that doesn’t sit the bike as upright as this one does, making it a little precarious on some cambers). Let’s reserve judgement on the gearbox until we have a few more miles showing.

And if anyone knows how to fix the electronic steering lock so it works consistently can you please tell me? It engages first time, every time, but can take up to 20 attempts to release, even after the KTM technician showed me the approved technique. On one occasion it took almost five minutes to release it.

You might counter the above by reminding me just how much high-tech you’re getting for your money (and that the switchgear is backlit too, unlike many other bikes) and you’d probably be right. It’s early days with our long-term test KTM Super Duke GT and first impressions are that we’re going to have a lot of fun together.

 

Three things we love about the KTM Super Duke GT

  • The handling
  • The engine performance and economy
  • The electronics package

 

Three things we’re not yet sure about

  • The styling
  • The gearbox and steering lock operation
  • No centrestand and sidestand is a tad too long

 

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT Specs

Engine type

Liquid-cooled 75-degree V-twin

Valve arrangement

DOHC, 8 valves

Displacement

1301cc

Bore x stroke

108 x 71mm

Compression ratio

13.2:1

Fuelling

Keihin digital fuel-injection

Clutch

Wet multiplate slipper

Transmission

6-speed

Maximum power

175bhp @ 10,000rpm

Maximum torque

144Nm @ 6750rpm

Front suspension

48mm WP upside-down telescopic fork, 125mm travel, semi-active damping

Rear suspension

WP single shock, 156mm travel, semi-active damping

Front brake

2, four-piston Brembo radial Monobloc calipers, 320mm discs with ABS

Rear brake

Twin-piston Brembo caliper, 240mm disc with ABS

Front wheel

3.50 cast aluminium rim

Rear wheel

6.00 cast aluminium rim

Front tyre

120/70 x 17in Pirelli Angel GT

Rear tyre

190/55 x 17in Pirelli Angel GT

Rake/trail

24.9 degrees/107mm

Wheelbase

1482mm

Seat height

835mm

Fuel capacity

23 litres

Weight

209kg dry

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