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KTM 1290 Super Duke R (2020) Review – Road & Track Test

By Luke Brackenbury

Former PR, Brand & Events manager at Bennetts, Luke has been riding bikes for 25 years – including seven years as a bike journo – he has competed on a variety of two-wheel disciplines and owns an eclectic bike collection.



The third coming of KTM’s bonkers hyper naked, the 1290 SUPER DUKE R, promises more power, less weight and triple the chassis stiffness.
The third coming of KTM’s bonkers hyper naked, the 1290 SUPER DUKE R, promises more power, less weight and triple the chassis stiffness.
The third coming of KTM’s bonkers hyper naked, the 1290 SUPER DUKE R, promises more power, less weight and triple the chassis stiffness.



Shoei X-Spirit III (official KTM PowerWear version 2019) - from £599 (plain colours)


Alpinestars custom suit, based on GP Pro V2 - £974.31


Alpinestars Supertech R - £398.99


Alpinestasrs GP Tech - £199

"If you’ve wanted a Beast for some time, then now is the time to buy as the 2020 version of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is better than its predecessor, particularly in the amount of front end feel you get on road and track when tramping on."


  • Engine – it just delivers at any revs in any gear

  • Electronics – so many options to get the most from the bike in all situations

  • Adjustability – some really nice touches to allow riders to tweak the riding position

  • Price – it’s more expensive and surrounded by tough competition

  • Electronic extras – why aren’t these just activated on a premium bike?!

  • Indicator switch – it has all the precision and feel of a wobbly tooth. Urgh.

On paper, the third coming of KTM’s bonkers hyper naked, the 1290 SUPER DUKE R, promises more power, less weight and triple the chassis stiffness. But has the Ready to Race company gone too track focussed with The Beast version 3.0? We headed to the winding roads of Portimao, Portugal, along with its terrific tarmac roller coaster circuit to find out.

The Beast. KTM’s expression of what a Super Naked should be. Not a sports bike with the fairing taken off and some high bars added, but a bespoke machine with the capabilities to do everything on the road, madder and badder than anything else and with a chassis and performance that can also embarrass dedicated track tackle on occasion.

When the prototype of KTM’s poster boy bike arrived in 2013 bursting out of tyre smoke on one wheel, it appeared as if the original 990 model had gone into hiding and got seriously pumped on steroids like an early ninety’s pro wrestler. This is a bike about big attitude, big engine performance and bigger wheelies. It makes no sense whatsoever. And that’s its appeal.

Cards on the table time. Until summer 2019, I’d spend the previous eight years working for KTM. In that time, I had the chance to ride that original prototype and then every single version in every conceivable PowerPart specification on roads and tracks around Europe (and even Thailand). And this is my third press launch for the 1290 SUPER DUKE R.

While you can be forgiven for thinking I might be bias, I kinda am. You see, I’ve ‘owned’ a couple of Beasts, most memorably a 2018 model I called SanDra that I took from zero miles on the clock and rode straight from the factory to Peterborough (England) via Brussels to run it in. I love these bikes. I’ve watched them grow up. So, my fear was that this new version would take away what made it such an infectious street bike in the pursuit of track ability. I needed to find out…

KTM claim the new model is 90% new. 90%! And that figure wasn’t shouted about during the press conference, just mentioned quite casually. The engine is the biggest part of carried over stock, but that’s had a good internal overhaul to help make it Euro5 compliant while adding power and shaving some weight off the internals. Elsewhere, bodywork, tank, wheels, suspension, chassis, subframe, switchgear, TFT display and exhaust are all new. Looks to me like the only parts carried over is that distinctive LED headlight face, along with the mirrors, fuel cap and some bolts!


KTM 1290 Super Duke R review - from the press launch

Our very own Brand & PR Manager, and KTM expert, Luke Brackenbury, rides the version 3.0 of KTM's 1290 Super Duke R at the press launch in Portimao - on track and surrounding roads but does the Beast return with more goodness?


2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R Price

At £15,699 KTM certainly aren’t giving this bike away and there’s a £700 increase over the previous model. It’s also cheaper than the Ducati Streetfighter V4 and Aprilia’s V4 Tuono 1100RR, but £400 more expensive than Kawasaki’s supercharged novelty, the Z H2. But we are also living in the era of the super naked, with almost every manufacturer offering multiple options for a wide variety of budgets. Yamaha MT-10, anyone?

With the amount of changes on the Austrian machine along with the performance and the specification on offer, you can almost forgive that. But…there’s still a lot of electronic trickery trinkets that cost extra (see below). And when there’s no physical change for fitting these upgrades, part of my brain doesn’t factor in all the development costs involved because this is something that can’t be held in your hands or bolted on.

Two colours are available – Orange (and blue) and black. Black gets the thumbs up from us in the flesh, orange looks better in pictures.




Tech Pack (all of the below):


Adaptive brake light:






Track Pack:



Power and torque

The familiar 75-degree LC8 engine just keeps on giving, and then some. KTM have managed to get it Euro5 ready and still increase the power – up 3hp over the previous model to 180 hp @ 9500rpm - but with peak torque arriving a whole 1 Nm and 1000rpm later than last year’s bike, at 140 Nm @ 8.000 rpm.

Interestingly, when compared to the original (2014-16) model, the action happened a lot lower in the rev range - 180 HP @ 8870 rpm and 144 Nm @ 6500 rpm. Lighter internals and more stringent emissions test most likely explaining the shift in the LC8’s character.



Engine, gearbox and exhaust

Engine wise there’s over a kilogram lost by a host of changes, including a new oil routing chamber that’s both optimized for efficiency and now made from aluminium, a new water pump, slimmer cases and linkage mount, which is now in the engine casing itself. Forced right between those LED eyes is now ram air to feed the new airbox with new topfeeder injectors assisting the 56mm throttle bodies that claim to produce a better fuel/air mix right through the rev range.

In reality, the engine feels much lighter – it spins up quicker and the engine breaking feels less severe, but that could be partially helped by changes to the Motor Slip Regulation (MSR) and the new clutch discs with rotated pads for improved disengagement. It wasn’t wanting for more in the last model, but the smooth yet ferocious delivery is more addictive than ever.

KTM claim the gearbox has been improved due to a machined splined shaft and new bronze and copper coating on the shift forks for a ‘shorter and lighter (quick) shifting action’. I hit one false neutral all day (unfortunately, mid-wheelie) and didn’t ever suffer the usual fourth to fifth gear chasm as suffered by a lot of LC8 engines under heavy load. Now that is progress!



2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R Economy

Economy probably wasn’t high on the ‘to do’ list at KTM R&D, with it not mentioned in the press conference or press kit. The opportunity to test this figure was also not possible on our two-hour street ride and six session track thrash.

I’d experienced 170 mile tanks on the previous model, but with two litres less capacity on the new version (to make way for a larger airbox fed with ram air and new top feed injectors) you’re still going to be able to cover plenty of ground before needing to stretch your neck and legs.



Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

The chassis is three times stiffer than the previous model - THREE TIMES! I mean, just look at those scaffold poles of a frame and now the engine is providing is a stressed member of this set-up and helping toward a 2kg weight drop.

The steel subframe is gone (along with 1.5kg and it did look dated) and in its place a rather handsome two-piece bit of engineering with the aluminium riders’ section supported with a composite passenger section that is claimed to weigh 900g but can support 1000kg. Crazy. But there’s also allocation for a soft bag mounting system, pointing towards a new maturity in the Beast.

The new WP Apex suspension has split forks to split compression (left leg) and rebound (right leg, obvs) and now features preload adjustment. The rear shock now uses a linkage system which means less travel is needed without sacrificing the response. Better still, it also gets a remote rear preload adjuster, which is just amazing for those who will go from two-up touring to track work.

Other changes include a new swingarm with a 15% increase in stiffness over the previous model and the pivot point raised by 5mm for better anti-squat behaviour. Geometry changes see a 3mm increased offset, with trail reduced slightly and the wheelbase increased. The 19mm of extra ground clearance is also welcomed.

KTM wanted more front end ‘feel’ and precision with the new model and by far this is the biggest difference between this and its predecessor – especially when tramping on. And they tested a lot of combinations of stiffness and geometry to get the handling so crisp with lots of mechanical grip, I’d say they have smashed their target out of the park. Still a beast to hold on to but ride this bike back-to-back with the original model and you’d be staggered by the progress made in just seven years.

The good thing about these changes is that they don’t steer (see what I did there?) the bike more towards being a track-only weapon. This was my big fear for the new model and in line with the company’s READY TO RACE approach of giving everything (even the adventure bikes) track prowess. The Super Duke is now more precise and potent than ever on the road. And, after all, this is where it will spend most of its life. You have to work hard to hold on it to it on track, and that’s mainly due to a lack of fairing and all that torque.

The Bridgestone S22 tyres replace Metzeler M7RR and are another step forward. The street ride started in cold, dew covered roads that were also damp in places. Not a single issue, even with some enthusiastic riding. The tyres also did 12 x 20 minute rounds on track (6 session per press group) on the day we rode and only in the very final session, they were toast. At KTM’s request, Bridgestone developed a special version of the S22 rear (called SDR) in a 190 and 200 section. KTM voted for the 200 section due to the footprint at lean and the first time the Beast has worn this width.



2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R Brakes

KTM have put the latest Brembo billet fashion accessory on the front end and fitted the new Stylema calipers, replacing the previous M40, and saving 90g of unsprung weight per side and biting down on the dual 320mm discs like an, erm, Beast.

There’s no shortage of stopping power on road or track, the feel at the Brembo radial master cylinder requiring just a couple of digits at best. The Bosch ABS system with cornering functionality is a life saver on the road but too intrusive on track, so switch it to Supermoto ABS to slide the rear and have conventional ABS on the front. Or switch it off.


Comfort over distance and touring

I’ve ridden a 400-mile day on the 2017-2019 model without much discomfort at all, but I’m also not the tallest guy. With this new bike, KTM say they worked really hard on the bodywork so that the drag on the rider is the same at 30mph as it as 125mph (well, they said 50 and 200kmh). I can tell you that at 165mph on track I couldn’t see straight due to the amount of buffeting.

But hey - it’s a super naked with a gesture of a deflection screen. If you want a comfort Beast, there’s the GT. We’ll have to wait until we put some serious miles up and down the M6 before we can tell you more about ‘real world’ performance of the ergonomics. But the seat does feel a lot plusher.



Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

The bikes we rode in Portugal featured the Tech Pack (£830.80), which is a way of getting all the additional rider aids together for £120 cheaper. If you ride on track, you want the Quickshifter+ (£349.28) and the Track Pack (£305.56), which allows you to personalise the traction control levels on the fly, change the throttle response, open up the ability to turn Anti-Wheelie mode ‘off’, unlocks the launch control.

As part of this, you get the ‘Performance’ mode which offers up all the functionality of the Track Pack, but allows access to KTM My Ride – providing smartphone connectivity to the bike – accepting/rejecting phone calls, toggling through music playlists - and providing on screen, turn-by-turn directions as well as audio prompts via a separately available app.

MSR weighs in at £127.09 and acts like an electronic stability control. If the bikes’ superlight, power-assisted slipper clutch uses the friction of mechanical grip to reduce chatter on downshifts, MSR keeps the wheels in line when there is little grip by activating secondary butterflies when sensing danger to restore traction.

The Adaptive brake light (£174.24) flashes like crazy when you’re braking hard. Which is weird when follow several other bikes on road and track also doing the same. But you take notice, which is the point…

And like with all KTMs, there’s a plethora of PowerParts goodies to allow further tailoring and tarting to your personal preference. For us the highlights are the Akrapovic Slip-on Line (£1,137.24), Pillion Cover (£174.24), Crash bar kit (£174.24) and Ergo seat (£148.02).



2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R verdict

If you’ve wanted a Beast for some time, then now is the time to buy as the 2020 version of the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R is better than its predecessor, particularly in the amount of front end feel you get on road and track when tramping on.

Importantly, it’s lost none of its ‘Beast’ appeal – an absolute pointless motorcycle with performance figures only the best of the best can hope to tame. Its pointlessness is exactly the point – this is a bike bought with the heart and not the head. You want it because you want IT. How it makes you feel onboard and when you look back after parking up or opening the garage door. You’re probably not looking at other super nakeds and if you were being sensible(ish), you’d get the KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE GT.

But if you own the 2017-2019 model – don’t rush in replacing. Most of the time, the feeling behind the bars is of the previous generation and the new looks aren’t a million miles away. So, while it’s a great thing KTM haven’t reinvented this bike and added some lovely new (and, dare we say, sensible) upgrades, you won’t feel and be left behind on your Version 2.0.


2020 KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R spec

New price

From £15,699 (£16,529 as tested)



Bore x Stroke

108/71 mm

Engine layout


Engine details

Liquid-coold, four-stroke, 8-valve, DOHC


180 hp (132 kW) @ 9.500 rpm


103 lb-ft (140 Nm) @ 8.000 rpm


6-speed, chain

Average fuel consumption


Tank size

16 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)


Reserve capacity

3.5 litres

Rider aids

5” colour TFT screen, 6-axis IMU, Keyless ignition,

Five riding modes (Rain, Street, Sport, Track, Performance),

ABS with cornering and Supermoto function, Quickshifter+ (optional),

Launch control (part of Track pack), Motor Slip Regulation (optional),

Multi-level traction control with lean angle sensitivity


Chromium-Molybdenum-Steel trellis frame, powder coated

Subframe: Cast aluminium / Composite

Front suspension

WP APEX 48mm

Front suspension adjustment

Preload, compression and rebound damping (manual)

Rear suspension

WP APEX Monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload, compression and rebound damping (manual)

Front brake

2 x 320mm disc, Brembo Stylema 4-piston radial monobloc

Rear brake

240 mm disc, Brembo two piston, fixed caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR 17 Bridgestone S22

Rear tyre

200/55 ZR 17 Bridgestone S22 (1290 SDR


64,8°/106 mm


1,497mm ± 15 mm

Ground clearance


Seat height


Kerb weight

198kg (without fuel)


Unlimited miles / 2 years



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KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE R (2020) on board lap: Portimao

Join us on board for a lap of the Portimao circuit direct from the press launch of the 2020 KTM 1290 Super Duke R!