REVIEW: KTM 1290 SUPER DUKE GT
By Simon Hargreaves
- High tech
- Fun factor
- No centre-stand
- Wind protection
Photography: Marco Campelli & Sebas Romero
What is it?
The KTM 1290 Super Duke GT makes a good case for being the world’s fastest, most sophisticated sports tourer. It uses an almost identical 170bhp, 1301cc V-twin engine and steel tube trellis frame from KTM’s 1290 Super Duke R naked streetbike, but with the added long-range practicality of a half fairing, larger tank and better ergonomics. Plus the GT has semi-active WP suspension, lean-angle-based traction control, engine modes, cornering ABS, cornering headlights, cruise control and a quickshifter.
The result is a top-spec, hellishly rapid, sporty-handling sports tourer that KTM say is at home in the corners as it is on the straights (but if you asked KTM’s engineers, they’d probably smile and say they prefer corners. The company motto is, after all, ‘Ready To Race’, not ‘Ready To Bore’).
What are its rivals? The 1290 GT isn’t a souped-up adventure bike with long travel suspension and tall seat height. So although it looks a rival to BMW’s S1000XR and Ducati’s 1200 S Multistrada (semi-active suspension, similar engine performance, similar price), the sportier KTM will give those two a hard time on a twisty road, or a track. It’s more sports than adventure, and with flat bars, low seat and upright riding position, the 1290 GT is closer in riding dynamic to Kawasaki’s Z1000SX and Suzuki’s GSX-S1000FA – but neither of them get anywhere near the KTM’s level of spec or performance. Or price, come to that.
So the 1290 GT, really, is in a class of one. There’s nothing else that offers this level of high performance, sports handling and long-range convenience. At least, that’s KTM’s plan.
What’s it like in town?
At low speed it’s easy to manage with a slim body (though not as slender between the knees as expected), agile steering, low seat height and good balance. The engine smoothly thuds along without the lumpy ‘chugging’ of other big V-twins, so it’s civilised for a power plant making 170bhp. The dinky hydraulic clutch is light, quickshifter gearbox beyond reproach, and throttle response nicely blended from closed to open so there’s no snatch. All very laid back, and the low seat mans you sit ‘in’ the bike rather then perch on top of it, so it hasn’t got the domineering feel of an adventure bike. And beware when filtering; the panniers – £650 extra, hold a full face lid in each – are the widest part of the bike.
What’s it like on twisty roads? Out on bendy mountain roads at higher speeds, the KTM utterly nails it. With so much power – and it’s a lot; it goes wide-eyed berserk if you pin it – the 1290 GT is insanely fast, belting off into the wild blue yonder dishing out top end horsepower like a fruit machine jackpot. Midrange overtaking punch is also colossal, but you want to be in the right gear to make the best of it. The GT runs the same gearing as the Super Duke, but that uses fairly long ratios (possibly to help control the rampant output). So the GT comes geared for cruise as much as for abuse.
In terms of sports handling, the GT is poised and even, WP semi-active suspension controlling fork dive (apart from Sport mode where it’s given some to help plug the front end into turns). There’s none of the dramatic weight transfer you can sometimes coax from BMW’s barging S1000XR or Ducati’s gangly Multistrada when you’re really pushing on.
The GT’s semi-active springs work best in Sport mode where the feeling is most natural – Comfort is just bouncy, not comfortable. But KTM don’t supply roll or yaw data to the damping control ECU, relying on pitch. I think this is a mistake because the GT’s suspension can have a slightly remote feeling as you come off the brakes into a corner, especially in the wet. It feels similar to the first generation semi-active Multistrada, which was also a bit vague at the front as you turned in, as if it was still stiffening the forks for braking rather than softening it off for cornering grip.
And, as the GT slithered around on semi-wet Spanish roads on the launch in Mallorca, I found myself wondering if I’d prefer the feedback from a well set-up pair of conventional forks. Having said that, I didn’t crash despite hanging onto the back of ex-GP star Jeremy McWilliams for 10 miles along a twisty, slippery mountain road. Honestly, modern electronics let mere mortals get away with murder.
The three engine modes – Sport, Street and Rain – tailor engine output to conditions and in the wet, Rain mode reduces throttle sharpness and power to 100bhp. It makes the GT much easier to charge about on, but KTM’s traction control is set up to be less intrusive than other manufacturers’ systems – so even in Rain mode you can still tap the gas on and find yourself out of the seat if you’re too giddy.
But in the dry – oh my god, the GT is fast, with abundant grip from the Pirelli Angel GT tyres and massive scope for hooning about at high speed. It’s not immediately obvious why you wouldn’t feel completely comfortable chucking the GT around a track – there’s plenty of ground clearance, the brakes are astounding and even the panniers don’t influence the handling (presumably you’d take them off on a track day). Compared to the oil tanker steering of Kawasaki’s Z1000SX and Triumph’s Sprint GT, the KTM 1290 GT feels like a Grand Prix 250.
What’s it like on the motorway?
Not so sure about this because the launch was a day on a small island in the Mediterranean. There was a straight long enough to work out the GT is almost on tickover at legal cruising speed in top gear: 80mph is 4800rpm and 100mph is still shy of 6000rpm. Vibes are not going to be a problem.
The GT’s seat is low and flat and feels quite hard – which I happen to like from a touring seat. KTM’s optional heated seat adds 13mm height and more padding, so it’s a good touring choice. The GT’s riding position – with adjustable bars for height and reach – is perfectly fine, natural and ache-free. Leg room is on the sporty side; which, again, I prefer. The screen is adjustable but the mechanism is one of the GT’s few crudities; it’s a push-pull thing, feels cheap. And the screen works best for 6ft me on its lower setting, where it basically keeps the wind off my chest but doesn’t buffet my head. BMW’s XR and Ducati’s Multistrada have more weather protection and higher quality operation.
But it’s better than nothing and the GT feels as if it’d be perfectly capable of delivering a day in the saddle along a motorway with no problem. The range from the 23 litre tank is around 170 miles (fuel consumption varied from 30mpg in the mountains to 40-odd when not trying), and there are some nice touches: heated grips are standard (but look aftermarket), the cornering headlights are a good idea, lighting up in three stages as the GT leans into a bend, mirrors are wide and clear, standard issue cruise control is easy to set and adjust, and tyre pressure monitors also come as standard. But there’s no centrestand and no option for one either. Bit of an oversight, especially on a bike with a single sided swingarm.
One of the things KTM does really well is manage the interface between rider and electronic gizmos. You don’t need to memorise a lengthy manual to work the bike; a four-way set of buttons on the left bar access the menus in a logical system of pages, making adjustments on the move easy. You can’t turn the traction control off on the move, which is a pain if you like wheelies. But switching engine modes, suspension modes, resetting the trip etc – all simple to figure out. The clocks aren’t flat-screen, multi-colour like the Ducati Multristrada’s – and there’s a simplicity to the KTM’s cockpit that veers dangerously close to basic if you’re used to the Multistrada’s Bluetooth integration with a mobile phone, back-lit switchgear, or the way the BMW S1000XR communicates via a thumbwheel with a Garmin sat nav. The KTM’s switchgear feels a little more sturdy than previous KTM superbikes, but it’s still a teeny bit Michael Mouse on a £15,999 machine.
Ah yes, the price. It’s hard to compare bike prices sometimes these days because they come with so many extras and gadgets – but, broadly speaking, the KTM 1290 GT in base trim (with all the stuff mentioned above bar the panniers) is £725 quid more expensive than the equivalent-spec Multistrada at £15,275 and £1400 more than a spec’d-up BMW S1000XR at £14,600. It stuffs the Kawasaki Z1000SX and Suzuki GSX-S1000FA into a cocked hat in terms of performance and spec, but costs £6000 more than either of them. And the Kwak comes with panniers too.
In the old days, sports tourers were often an excuse to flog more sales from an obsolete sportsbike motor by re-purposing it. But over the last decade conventional sports tourers with semi-sporty riding positions – like Honda’s VFR800F and Triumph’s Sprint ST – have given way to adventure bikes, which essentially do the same job but with longer suspension to give better ride quality, an upright riding position for old blokes, and a big tank for more range. And with advances in suspension technology and running on pure road tyres, they’ve ended up being good at going round corners too.
But by steering clear of that class (KTM already make flagship adventure bikes, the 1190 Adventure and the 1290 Super Adventure, plus the ‘budget’ 1050 Adventure), KTM put the GT in a place no-one else is occupying – that of the premium spec and premium performance sports tourer. Which is a unique proposition. Will it work? Early signs are good; KTM UK say 2016 production is limited to around 400 bikes assigned for the UK, of which so many have been secured with deposits there’s no requirement for KTM dealers to run demo bikes. Basically, they think they’ll sell all they can make this year.
KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
|Price||£15,999 (base model)|
|Engine||8-valve DOHC 75° V-twin|
|Bore x stroke||108 x 71mm|
|Power||173bhp @ 9500rpm (clmd)|
|Torque||106 lb.ft @ 6750rpm (clmd)|
|Frame||steel tube trellis|
|Front suspension||48mm WP usd fork, semi-active damping|
|Rear suspension||WP monoshock, semi-active damping, automatic preload|
|Brakes (f/r)||2 x 320mm discs, 4-pot calipers/240mm disc, 2-pot caliper|
|Wet weight||228kg (clmd)|
|Tank size||23 litres|
|Economy||32.4mpg/160 miles (tested)|
|Top speed||165mph (est)|
|Electronics||traction control, three engine & three semi-active suspension modes, cornering ABS, cornering headlights, cruise control, hill-hold start, quickshifter, tyre pressure sensors|
|Colours||orange/silver or grey/silver|
|Availability||now (good luck with a demo ride)|
Biog: Simon Hargreaves