KTM’s little 790 Duke will leave you feeling sunny side up featured image

KTM’s little 790 Duke will leave you feeling sunny side up

4 Sep 2018
It only takes 100 miles on the road to put a dirty great big orange grin on your chops

Thank the lord for KTM.

In a world where everyone else is aiming for middle-aged motorcyclists like me, the men in orange keep on releasing bikes that attract a new generation.

That’s a new generation that many would have us believe doesn’t exist. But it does, and bikes like KTM’s new 790 Duke are a thoroughly modern way of appealing to them with something that’s within their reach.

I managed to swindle a 100-mile spin last weekend on Austria’s newest naked sensation, which has been collecting rave reviews from many folks in the bike press.

And it left me ever so slightly open-mouthed at the sheer raw sensation it delivers. Parallel twins will never be the same after riding the 790 Duke, which takes the most humble and frugal engine configuration and sticks red horns on it.

It might pack ‘only’ 799cc but it snorts faster than a Yamaha Super Tenere with an extra 400cc inside its parallel twin (not the most obvious comparison, but my mate Paul happened to be reclining on a Super Ten while I was clinging to the Duke).

Photography: KTM Press

Yup, the KTM beats a Super Ten all ends up for power-to-weight ratio – my maths estimate* the Duke makes 0.55bhp for each of its kilos while the lardy Yam is down at 0.4bhp/kg. But it still feels wrong that the dinky Duke should be hard on the heels of a far bigger bike.

The Duke packs an impressive 87nm of torque and 103bhp and it delivers it with a real thump, especially when it’s in Sport mode. I left it in that mode through all bar one of my 100 miles.

The other mile was spent in rain mode as my mate wanted me to splash back and forth through a ford while he took endless photos (find a copy of November 2018’s issue of Bike if you really want to know).

Sport mode was so lively and engaging that I didn’t once feel the need to try Track mode. Most of my summer has been spent on my low-powered Yamaha XJ600 Diversion or more touring-focused machines. After that, the 790 Duke was like a direct shot of adrenaline to the heart.

Pull the throttle back, hold tight and wait for the rev counter to hit 7000rpm and the diminutive naked to really start to rip. The engine note cuts through the air, creating a cacophony to delight the rider and dismay all but the most petrol-headed neighbour.

The engine is the star of the Duke’s show and, like the best leading lights, has its foibles. Low-revs fuelling is awkward and smoothly maintaining 30mph in Sport mode is a challenge. But anyone who demands 30mph excellence from this bike needs to find another tree to bark up.

If the engine is the headlight act, the supporting cast just about keep up. The suspension is a little on the crude side, but the brakes are strong.

KTM’s codename for the 790 Duke is the scalpel. I’d be nervous if a surgeon appeared brandishing one of these. I think of it more as a machete than a delicate incisor.

But it’s exactly that lack of utter precision that I find so endearing. The 790 Duke is just pure fun and its lively attitude is part of that allure.

"The practical brigade have plenty of bikes to choose from. The KTM is for those who just wanna have fun"

Practicalities like wind protection are out of the window. The Duke is small – so small it appeared more like a 390 than a 790 at first glance – and windblast hits everything from the ribs up. What the actual tuck?

Fuel economy is somewhere between 12 and 90mpg. Frankly, who cares? Anyone who gives a stuff about such matters when choosing a motorcycle definitely needs to look elsewhere.

While the practical brigade (and I’ll happily admit to being a member when it comes to choosing a bike to actually own) have plenty of choice, the KTM brings something for those who just wanna have fun.

At £8499 the 790 Duke is £100 dearer than a base Yamaha MT-09 and finding another £700 on top of the Duke’s list price would pull in a fancier-suspended MT-09 SP.

If it’s all-out competence you’re after then head to a Yamaha dealer. If, however, what you want is a raw, unfiltered, noisy, edgy, seat-of-the-pants, smile-on-your-chops ride then beg a go on a 790 Duke. You’ll soon know if it’s for you. I did.

* My power-to-weight calculation has to be an estimate as KTM give a dry weight for the Duke, while Yam give the Super Ten’s wet weight. My figures are based on adding 15kg to the Duke’s dry weight (10.5 for 14 litres of unleaded, three kilos for engine oil and another kilo or two for odds and ends. If it’s wrong, shoot me (with a water pistol, please).