KTM 890 DUKE R Review - 2020

Luke Brackenbury
By Luke Brackenbury

LukeBrackenbury is the PR, Brand & Events manager at Bennetts. 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.

Overview

KTM 890 DUKE R; that must make it 100 times better than the 790 DUKE, eh? And y’know what, it’s not far off that…

The Scalpel, as KTM called the 790 DUKE on its 2018 release, claimed to be ‘devastatingly accurate’ with ‘the agility you'd expect from a single, blended with the meaty punch of a twin’ and that it ‘carves corners’. It is an absolute weapon of a bike for those rising through the power and capacity ranks, working their cornering craft and looking for a bit of Mattighofen madness.

It was also fast and capable enough to amuse hardened riders, looking for hoonery without huge horsepower. Anyone who says otherwise are simply telling lies. So, a good bike indeed but Ready to Race it was not; under braked, under suspended and under rubbered for those who really like to ‘make progress’. Open it wide and it did not say ‘R…’.

And for those very reasons, KTM decided to provide an alternative choice. Enter, the 890 DUKE R! Bigger engine by 91 cm3 that delivers more power, more toque and housed in a chassis tuned for even bigger corner kicks: fully adjustable suspension, exotic superbike braking components and an orange frame…

 

For and against
  • Handling
  • Brakes
  • Handling (so good we had to put it twice)
  • TFT dash – doesn’t have the quality feel of the 1290 KTMs
  • That high-level exhaust
  • The fact the electronics options don’t come as standard

 

2020 KTM 890 DUKE R Price

So, for £10,399 what do you get? You get a bike that’s clearly aimed at the Triumph Street Triple RS (£10,300). But these are both base model prices with options to upgrade, particularly when it comes to the electronics.

Strangely, the 790 DUKE (£8999) comes straight from the showroom with all the electronic bells and whistles KTM and Bosch can throw at it. But the 1290 SUPER DUKE R and 890 DUKE R do not. Despite being more performance orientated models.

When quizzed on this topic, a KTM spokesperson said, “The decision was made to include them (the electronic rider aids) with the 790 DUKE on launch, and this situation has not been retracted. On the 890 DUKE R (and the 1290 SUPER DUKE R) the decision was made to offer them as a software enhancement to offer the customer the choice to equip their bike to their own level while maintaining a competitive price.”

In short, KTM’s reasons are if you don’t want it, you don’t have to pay for it. But still doesn’t make sense to me they come standard on a £1400 cheaper model…

Anyway, moving on. The bike we had on test had the addition of the Tech Pack (£655.70) that amalgamates Track Pack (£305.56), Quickshifter+ (£349.28) and MSR (£127.09). Which when considering these options in the showroom may seem like a hefty additional premium, these are well worth having. We will go into more detail on those later.

And for the price increase over the 790 DUKE, you are getting more engine performance, braking power, suspension capability, an orange frame and the letter R. And that last point means a lot…

 

Power and torque

An extra 91cc of bore and stroke gains 18 extra horsepower and 12 Nm of torque over its little brother. In a package that weighs so little (166kg dry), the difference is big; power wheelies in the first three gears (on track, naturally) but with a delivery that is very linear compared to the 790, which is a little bit aggressive with a more pronounced top end. The 890 is almost less, how can I say, exciting, until you glance at the digital display – this bike is deceptively quick, and the engine spins up fast. It just does it in an efficient way, like a Honda parallel twin…

On paper, the KTM makes more torque then both the Triumph Street Triple RS and Yamaha MT-09, but the Hinckley three cylinder manages to fool you into thinking it delivers more. Must just be the sound. And nobody ever complains about the Yamaha’s engine, just the chassis.

KTM 790 DUKE – Power 103hp @ 9,500 rpm. Torque 87 Nm @ 8,000rpm

KTM 890 DUKE R – Power 121hp @ 9,250 rpm Torque 99 Nm @ 7,750 rpm

 

 

Engine, gearbox and exhaust

In the extremely compact LC8c parallel twin engine, the 790’s bore has been increased from 88 to 90.7 mm and the stroke lengthened from 65.7 to 68.8 mm with compression changing from 12,7:1 to 13,5:1. There are alterations as well to valve sizes and camshaft profiles but the big change that helps to pronounce the character difference is a crankshaft that’s designed to generate 20% more rotational mass. It works; the delivery is smoother, progressive, predictable. But not boring. Noooo. But possibly KTM’s most sedate.  

Our test bike started in our custody with less than 600 miles on the clock and the shift wasn’t the smoothest – no missed gears, just not super slick. Things did improve as our test wore on. The Quickshifter+ is a must have addition to this bike, not just full-throttle openings but for the satisfying popping when short-shifting through towns. On track - and more than a few times – there was a long ignition cut when shifting at full throttle. I can’t rule out my foot position being slightly more aggressive and primed ready for the shift, but I’m thinking that the development covered the sensitivity…

Argh – the exhaust. That exhaust. I think it looks good (subjective, I know) and carries over from the 790 DUKE. But the high mounting, hmm… It does position the twin-cylinder soundtrack closer to your ears (I do like the popping from the shifter, did I mention that??), but that’s where it ends (for me) at least. You need a high mount on an adventure bike…

Anyway, to carry all my vanity products, snacks, clear visor, waterproofs to Cadwell Park for what should have been a joyous evening of track-based tomfoolery, I put a tailpack on the back – not touching the exhaust, not even what I’d consider close – and just seven miles later, dear Michael Mann is flagging me down to say that I’m jettisoning luggage. A quick U-turn (the bike is so well balanced and excellent at these) and I’m greeted by the site of an Insta360 One R camera on the floor. Melted. Too hot to even pick up (still worked though, check out the review here). Not good. I loved that bag: it had outlasted all of my relationships. The best advice can only be to use only the official KTM PowerParts luggage. There’s a side case set (nooo…) and a Rear Bag, that expands to from 24 to 36 litres. But guessing this needs to be used with the pillion seat and not the (slippery) single seat, like we had fitted on test.

 

 

Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

Handling. This is where this bike really excels. The 890 DUKE R is based on ‘The Scalpel’, so adding top drawer, fully-adjustable WP suspension with chassis tweaks developed with former MotoGP rider, Jeremy McWilliams, only takes the precision to a cut above the rest.

The trademark KTM steel tubular trellis frame carries over from the 790 (along with the multi-tasking, excellently engineered aluminium subframe) but now wears orange paint (it’s a KTM ‘R’ model, after all) and rides 15mm higher with a seat height 9mm up. Aside from being on my tippy toes when not moving, the taller riding position places more weight over the front with lower set bars and, when rolling, the new larger surface area footpegs continue the racey theme by being higher and further back. At 5’8”, I didn’t find this cramped when not in a Ready to Race mood. 

But those wide bars, with that agile chassis; I’ve not ridden a bike that’s so desperate to be leant over – it’s a corner addict always looking for its next fix. The Michelin Powercup II tyres look like MotoGP cut slicks but actually perform way better than expected on the road (admittedly, we rode the bike in the summer) and inspired confidence to turn in later and harder on your favourite bends without fluster when do finally overstep the mark (I did, more than once. But it encouraged me…). This isn’t a jeans and jacket bike – you’ll want full riding kit on every time.

The 790 DUKE’s unadjustable suspension is good enough for most rides and riders, but when you turn up the tempo it quickly skips a beat. And then forgets the dance moves. The R on the other hand is what more performance orientated riders were crying out for; fully adjustable (well, not front preload) WP Apex suspension is not far off what the latest 1290 SUPER DUKE R wears. And much like its bigger brother, the 890 proves that racy suspension – with the same travel as the 790 - doesn’t just have a one-track mind; it more than works on the road. Handily, KTM even had three different suspension setting suggestions under the seat – perfect for when we took to the track (more of that, below).

What I like is that there’s a lot of feel to what’s going on at the wheels. And yes, that’s subjective and depends on your experience as a rider. But if you are considering this bike, you’re more likely to be the sort of person who enjoys pushing on a bit. If you don’t and you’re honest with yourself, save some money and be happy with the 790 DUKE. Honestly.

But something KTM do very well is create bikes that create a lot of mechanical grip (e.g. the RC8 R didn’t have any electronic aids and is a sublime road bike, shame nobody really bought it…) and that are also light. And the 890 DUKE R is one of the lightest bikes of 2020 and enjoys a weight loss of 3.3kg over the 790 DUKE, helped largely by the removal of a the pillion footrests and seat. It might not have ‘super’ in the name, but it feels supermodel slim.

Saying that, Triumph claim the same dry weight (166kg) for the Street Triple RS, but that has a bigger fuel tank (17.4 compared with 14 litres) while the Yamaha MT-09 SP (14 litre tank again) claims to be 193 kg fully fuelled and oiled. Take 14 litres of fuel at its heaviest and that’s 10.85 kg. Chuck in some oil, water, brake fluid, maybe even the battery juice and the KTM and Triumph will come in a good few bags of sugar lighter than the Yamaha. But who buys bikes based on this sort of reasoning?!

 

 

On Track

It’s from the READY TO RACE company, so obviously this bike was more than happy to be on track and a pretty good challenger to a supersport 600 when ridden in similar company; it doesn’t have the legs in terms of outright speed, but agility, braking, lightweight – it’s all there to be exploited.

We rode the 890 at Cadwell Park for four rounds – sorry, sessions – of a track evening. With the tyre pressures dropped, it didn’t take long for the standard ‘Road’ settings to be exposed as simply being for that; long corners like Chris Curve or Charlies got the rear Michelin slithering for grip and became frustrating when you want to annoy those 1000cc sports bikes by riding around the outside.

Being the considerate bunch that KTM are, they handily include some recommend suspension presets under the seat for Comfort, Standard and Sport riding. The improvement in rear grip by switching to Sport (made easy with the comprehensive underseat toolkit) was a revelation and helped stop the rear tyre getting destroyed.

 

2020 KTM 890 DUKE R Brakes

KTM development rider and former MotoGP rider, Jeremy McWilliams told me before I rode this bike that he thinks it might be ‘over braked’. I disagree – these are the best brakes on a road bike. Ever. Yes, they’re powerful, but the feel and control at the lever is amazing. On track, we sent no less than three sportsbike riders to the outside kerb or off track. Not on purpose, mind, but simply because they dismissed this high and wide barred, numberplate-sporting machine and the riders figured they could simply just brake after the DUKE’s red light came on. Together with its handling, the brakes are the joint highlight of this bike.

The Brembo master cylinder is ratio (dial in 20, 19 or 18mm) and span adjustable, so if you can’t find a setting that works for you then you never will. Brembo four-piston Stylema calipers were exclusive to the Ducati Panigale V4 when it first came out two years ago. These are serious stoppers, but they’re not overly aggressive for everyday road riding.

KTM offer cornering ABS as part of the package which is possibly the best rider safety aid invented since normal ABS got figured out. For dry track use, switch it to Supermoto ABS or ‘off’ otherwise you’ll find the cornering ABS system interrupting too much if you like to trail brake to the apex.

 

 

Comfort over distance and touring

Well, touring and distance is possible on absolutely ANY motorcycle if the mind is willing. But, the more aggressive riding position over its 790 stablemate on top of the exposed rider doesn’t make for a great combination over miles. This is a bike about slaying corners, not intended for carrying plenty of luggage. Fancy riding the NC500 but live on the south coast? Rent a van, put this in the back, drive up there, arrive fresh and thrash those turns.

 

Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

The 890 DUKE is clever machine as standard, but you’ll need to pay more to unlock its full potential…

Any modern, performance bike now has to have sensors measuring as many axis as possible and KTM have armed the 890 with a new 6D sensor for side-to-side, forwards and backwards pitch as well its drift positioning. Two independent sensors are for the wheelspin controller and a pitch angle controller to deliver an improved version of its Motorcycle Traction Control (MTC). I saw the light flashing a few times on the TFT display on the road but with no feeling of interference. PlayStation motorcycling. Kind of.

As ‘showroom’ standard, the bike comes with three, easily accessible ride modes; ‘Sport’, ‘Street’ and ‘Rain’. Simply toggle through the menu using the mode switch on the left bar, shut the throttle and the ride mode is selected. This in turn alters the level of traction control, power delivery, anti-wheelie. But it doesn’t come with the Track Pack (£305.56), Quickshifter+ (£349.28) and MSR (£127.09) which can all be amalgamated into the Tech Pack (£655.70). And we had all these on our test bike. 

As mentioned earlier, these electronic features are included with the 790 but KTM must have realised they gave too much away with that bike and could hardly back pedal. If you’ve bought the 890 DUKE because you want a medium Beast with all the performance and technology, you’ll want these features. Best lump them in with the purchase price otherwise you’ll only be doing that at first service time.

Unlocking TRACK – the fourth ride mode – gives you the freedom to customise your ride mode; you can dial in the nine levels of traction control you want on the fly – perfect if rain comes on the road or the grip level starts to drop on the track – choose the throttle response you want and deactivate ‘Anti-wheelie mode’. Track also opens up the launch control function after the first service. I rode around in Track most of the time, but with Street throttle and toggling the amount of traction control depending on the road and temperature.

MSR is Motor Slip Regulation and is a bit like an electronic slipper clutch; adding a bit of revs to avoid locking the rear wheel in a situation when there is insufficient traction to operate the mechanical slipper clutch. I’ve felt it work on other KTMs on a situation where there were loose stones on the outside of a corner, I’d run a bit deep into. Strange sensation at first, but one of those electronic rider aids that bails you out without making a big fuss.

Quickshifter+ provides up and down clutchless shifting and we covered the gripes we had with the gearbox earlier. I’ve never had an issue with this system on a 790 DUKE (I’ve done a fair few miles road and track on them…), but best to get the shifter height set perfectly to your boots and where you like to position them.

KTM provided us with a list of their most popular accessories for this machine:

 

KTM 890 DUKE R – the scalpel got sharper but is it the new middleweight champion of the world?

 

2020 KTM 890 DUKE R verdict

If you like naked bikes that can stop, handle, outperform supersport 600s without power levels to intimidate and the ability to always bring a smile to your face that is packaged up without a price tag that makes you consider selling a vital organ, you’ve come to the right place. Most riders choose a KTM because they’re dialled into the ‘Ready to Race’ mentality and design, but there’s also a lot of competition out there in this ‘middleweight naked’ segment: a test ride on the Yamaha MT-09 SP or Triumph Street Triple RS could cause further headaches as to what to buy.

Keeping it inhouse, the 890 DUKE lacks the premium feel and finish of a 1290 SUPER DUKE R (£15,699) as well as the prestige of riding ‘the flagship’ Beast, but at £5300 less there’s a lot more pleasure per pound to be had. If you don’t really need top drawer suspension and brakes, save yourself some cash and get the 790 DUKE but change the standard tyres immediately…

 

2020 KTM 890 DUKE R spec

New price

From £10,399 (£11,055 as tested)

Capacity

890cc

Bore x Stroke

90.7 mm / 68.8 mm

Engine layout

Parallel twin

Engine details

2 cylinder, 4 stroke, DOHC

Power

121 hp @ 9,250 rpm

Torque

73 ft-lbs (99 Nm) @ 7,750 rpm

Top speed

n/a

Transmission

6 speed, chain

Average fuel consumption

53.85 mpg tested (road)

Tank size

14 litres

Rider aids

Track pack (as tested)

Frame

Steel tubular trellis

Front suspension

WP APEX 43

Front suspension adjustment

compression, rebound

Rear suspension

WP APEX Monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Compression (high and low speed), rebound, hydraulic preload

Front brake

2 x 320mm disc, Brembo Stylema four piston, radially mounted caliper

Rear brake

240mm disc, Brembo single piston floating caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR 17 Michelin Powercup II

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR 17 Michelin Powercup II

Rake/Trail

65.7°/ 99.7 mm

Wheelbase

1,482 mm ± 15 mm

Ground clearance

206mm

Seat height

834mm

Dry weight

166kg (claimed)

Warranty

Unlimited miles / 2 years

MCIA Secure Rating

Not yet rated

Website

www.ktm.com

 

Looking for motorcycle insurance? Get a quote for this motorbike with Bennetts bike insurance

 

What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible. 

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here.

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars, based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

  • A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard
  • An ignition immobiliser system
  • A vehicle marking system
  • An alarm system
  • A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has, and compare it to other machines on your shortlist. 

  

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