We pit the KTM 790 Duke against the Triumph Street Triple S, Suzuki GSX-S750 and the Ducati Monster 821
The middleclass nakeds are evolving. The supersports are now a rare breed and various nakeds have taken up the slack of offering flexibility of superbike-level performance without compromising on roadster-like practicality. The days of horrendous wind blast are history and now every naked can do speeds in the range of 150kmph without any discomfort. That’s what makes this story a pressing issue. Every manufacturer wants a lion’s share of this pie. We couldn’t include the Kawasaki Z900, MV Agusta Brutale 800 and the Yamaha MT-09 because their respective parents didn’t allow us to babysit. What we have is a heady concoction of two twins (a parallel-twin and an L-twin), a triple and an inline-four. The lineup is pretty impressive. In one corner we have the baby of the group - the Triumph Street Triple S. Triumph has been leading the charts when it comes to the numbers thanks to an irresistible package that blends usability and sporty riding perfectly. Next up is the iconic Ducati Monster 821. The 1200 is limited to the super rich and thus the 821 has had to do the job of going against the bigwigs. It is the most charming of them all but has it started showing its age? Speaking of age, the Suzuki GSX-S750 with its direct implementation of superbike-derived powerplant from 2005, promises the most bang for your buck and of course, Japanese reliability. And amidst this enters the bombshell - the KTM 790 Duke. Since its launch, we have been bombarded with questions on social media questioning its abilities. Our colleagues in the UK suggest that it’s the most potent machine out there with enough flair to take the crown of the best middleweight naked. Are they correct or have they been smoking? To find out, we have ridden the foursome not just round our favourite winding roads but even in city and on highways. Of course, we have also tested all of them on track, but that’s in the past. Let’s dive straight into it then, shall we?
Well, well, well; the Holy Grail of the naked kind, this is where it all began 27 years ago. The M900, as it was originally called, featured a superbike engine with a straight handlebar and a round headlamp. The original recipe hasn’t changed till date but the others have already caught up and added a sprinkle of garam masala to make tastier versions of what is essentially a street fighter. And with the Streetfighter being absent from the horizon and now being upgraded to the hyper-naked category, the Monster has had a varied role to play for Ducati. If nothing, the Monster has been playing the role of a tempting seductress successfully for over two decades. The iconic range has always veered towards form over function and the 821 is no different. The one on this shoot is the pre-2017 variant with Euro-3 spec can and a bulky tank, since the Pune Ducati dealer has downed shutters and we couldn’t get a new bike. But these impressions are based on the Euro-4 spec variant that I rode in Gurgaon a few months ago and the riding impressions are based on the same.
Just like the silhouette, Monster’s ergos haven’t really changed over the years and there’s a lot of foul play here. If you’re someone who rides with toes-on-pegs, you’ll find the exhaust too damn wide and outright annoying. The ’bar is wide and gives a sense of control and also makes it one of the most touring friendly motorcycles in this group. But despite being wide, the ’bar cannot really help you chase the pack because the chassis itself lacks fluidity. It is miles away from the supersport-derived Triumph and the supemoto-ish 790 Duke, but even the Suzuki is further ahead when it comes to the riding dynamics. The initial stroke is soft but the latter part isn’t really capable of filtering the bumps. Well, only if it had more travel... The engine was also found on an old Bologna superbike meant for trackdays and not coffee shop shenanigans. And that is reflected in the manner in which the 821’s motor goes with its business. Below 3,000rpm it feels lumpy and frustrating. The gearbox too feels notchy but Ducati is offering a quickshifter as an option so you will not have to live with the heavy clutch either. The Monster, then, is basically all mouth, no trousers in the engine department. The exhaust note is sweet but lacks the grunt of its rivals. The delivery is flatter than a Flat White and while others will lunge forward with wholesome throttle input, the Ducati barely wheelies, even in first. The mid-range is strong and peaks slightly later than the 790 Duke and you’ll love to rev it for multiple eargasms. The Monster’s keys were last to be picked in this test because it doesn’t deliver anything special except for Italian glam. If ridden in isolation, it might not fare so badly but otherwise it’s only a sight for your eyes.
If you were wondering why we didn’t throw the Kawasaki Z900 in the mix, it is because Kawasaki didn’t have a bike in its fleet and thus, the Suzuki was the only Japanese rep in the end. The GSX-S750 showed a lot of promise when we rode it first at the Buddh International Circuit almost two years ago. Not so promising on the track really, but it did show great signs of being very practical on regular roads and I was looking forward to ride it down our favourite winding roads. Well, it didn’t disappoint for sure. However, after riding the meaty Street Triple and the punchy 790 Duke, the GSX-S750 felt, well, middling in the low range. Fuelled by the hype of its 2005 GSX-R750 motor, my expectations had hit Suzuki GSX-S750 the roof. But the delivery is flatter than a billiards table; unexciting even. But the moment the inline-four motor starts getting its act together, you know that there’s an insatiable hunger for speed. The Suzuki is the heaviest of the lot but then it is also the most stable when you’re doing highway speeds. And that’s where you can exploit its top-end extravagance, and not in the canyons where you’ll be struggling to sift through the ’box. The delivery is smooth though after the initial harshness. The comfortable saddle earns full marks for when you’re clinging on at high speeds when the motor is happy and singing its shrill ’track which is quite popular in this part of the world.
Suzukis are known to be the best road bikes and the GSX-S750 is not really different. Despite its weight, the direction changes are quick and the stability is top class. Unlike on the other bikes you sit quite forward, scouting for a place to grab the recesses (I could never find the sweet spot), but the riding position gives a very trustworthy feeling. The stock setup is just about perfect for everyday usability and the Suzuki’s ride quality is better suited for our conditions when compared with the Europeans. It’s the ideal bike for people who don’t like the idea of a faired superbike yet want something very superbike-y without the dose of added fatigue. Another big miss is the lack of electronics. There’s no ride-by-wire and the traction control system comes with a very low IQ as well. Thankfully, the ABS system is very good and the stopping power is commendable for an inline-four powered Jap. All in all, the Suzuki is very likeable and offers a lot of bang for your buck. It may not look as alluring as the Europeans but if you are looking for an understated machine that can do it all (well, almost) then your search is over. Of course, there’s that inline-four soundtrack that impressed Karan (our intern) who hails from Delhi and also loves all things Apple. If you have friends like him who frequent IBW and love to race their bikes at traffic lights, then nothing beats the Suzuki in this test.
The Triumph Street Triple RS invented a category of its own, the super-mid (just making that up). It isn’t exclusive anymore though with the recently showcased 890 Duke but that KTM is a couple of years away, so we had to make do with the more timid version that is comparable with the other lads in the class. The Street Triple S is amongst the most popular middleclass nakeds in the country today for obvious reasons, starting with that affable triple motor. It is dangerously addictive to trash yet as poised as Mr Obama when required. The ’Triple’s distinction over the others is its relentless, super sport-ish top-end that continues to deliver until the redline, starting at the very bottom. Of course, it isn’t as punchy as the 790 in the mid but then the creamy delivery along with the engine’s characterful nature leaves you feeling like twice the man.
The S variant doesn’t have the RS’ superior springs but in the stock setup, it feels extremely poised and not as firm, which makes it extremely usable. Despite having a dull electronics package, the S can romp the opposition on bendy roads. Well you only have two modes to choose from – Road and Rain. We’d suggest you stick to road mode with TC off for the system is harrowingly indulgent and doesn’t let you uncover the bike’s potential. You don’t really have to learn the ’Triple to go fast though and even a 400cc rider would be able to ride to his own limit within a span of few miles. The nosy front-end stance with those bug-eyes makes it look very aggressive but the Triumph has a typical Brit demeanour – charming and underplayed. The ’Triple knows exactly where it is supposed to put down its feet when you’re doing the salsa with her. She’ll never ever stamp on your toes and you’ll be put to blame if it ever goes downhill. The quality of damping at both ends ensures classy execution too with the ’Triple soaking most of the bumps. With a dry weight of just 166kg, it is the lightest among them all (almost 50kg lighter than the Suzuki!) making it fluid in corners. Direction changes are predictable too without compromising on the stability. My only gripe with the entire Street Triple range is that takes itself really too seriously and doesn’t really have a sense of humour. The clinical method of approach makes it extremely practical but it just doesn’t feel special. You’ll be able to go fast around a track, ride it to office and take that occasional trip to Goa even. But very soon you’ll grow out of it and that’s exactly why it fails to win this test, despite being the most sophisticated piece of machinery. PS: Go for the supermid instead.
Bajaj’s test track at Chakan couldn’t do justice to the 790’s potential and we were left salivating for the last couple of months after the quickie. But finally we spent some quality time with her and slowly the cracks started showing. For starters, the KTM doesn’t feel like an absolute premium package. The swingarm looks like an old girder and the rear pegs seem like a couple of steel pipes welded together. Some of the design elements don’t seem all that pleasing to the eyes. In fact, it looks so similar to the 390 Duke that some rad bikers enquired about the ‘mods’ we had done to our test bike. Well, the 790 is clearly a state of function over form – the neatly chucked in air box under the seat, or the edgy fuel tank, or even the tail pipe that directs the growling exhaust’s angry note towards your ears. Everything on the KTM is there for a reason and when it comes all together, the package suddenly starts to make sense. And if you seek sensorial pleasure, the KTM offers the maximum. Take the dash for example; it’s the best out there and so is the riding position. It’s a very compact package, yet it’s so comfortable that you’d love to take it to Ladakh even. And you can because the ground clearance of 186mm is right in the ADV territory. The first thing that hits you when you open the lovely hottie is that 87Nm of torque. We’d recommend you stick to Sport mode for it to behave like your own lower limbs. The motor is punchier than Mohammad Ali and has enough oomph to hoist the front wheel which is quite important on a bike like this. Make sure you switch off the wheelie control though. The momentum is surreal as the torque hits you right in the balls, and add to it a seamless quickshifter with blipper, and you might even wee in your pants. My only grouse is the short gearing and lack of revs. The parallel-twin picks up revs so fast, you really have to recalibrate your brain before hitting the limiter. The genius in the armoury is the sensual chassis though. The weight balance is magical and the Orange thing mullers around corners with less effort than a shopping cart.
The WPs have been set up for road intentions and despite that there’s no wallowing; not even during the tightest of twisties. The agility is surreal and it might sound like tosh but it's super impressive considering it’s longer than the Triumph by 65mm! It is one of the best naked super bikes I’ve ever ridden when going from side to side. A master of trade; as expected from a KTM. The brakes do not have the posh Brembo badge but the KTM-badged brakes (sourced from J Juan) work surprisingly well. Even the debutants — Maxxis Supermaxx tyres — never threw in the towel. Add to it the class leading electronics package that’ll put even bikes that cost twice as much to shame and you have a bike that feels genuinely potent to take on our conditions. It felt almost perfect on track a couple of months ago. Now we have ridden it on road and we are so impressed with it that we are struggling to not recommend it. The 790 is a perfect tonic for power, agility and most importantly it is outright hilarious and will keep you grinning from ear to ear.
What have we learned so far? The Monster 821 is a typical Italian with a lot of oomph. It comes with a lot of history and one of the largest communities of superbikers in the world. However, in this latest iteration, the 821 feels short of expectations. Its predecessor, the 795, was a helluva machine with a lot of character and that is exactly the link that is missing. Don’t get us wrong, #WeLoveMonster too, but not its price tag. If splashing out is your modus operandi, we’d suggest that you go all out and get a Brutale 800 instead because at `10.99 lakh, the Monster is really overpriced. In fact, it’s almost as expensive as the Street Triple RS which is a much superior machine and in a different class altogether. I’d stick my neck out and say that the 821 is the weakest product in Ducati’s lineup today. And believe me, it’s one of the best lineups out there, arguably. That brings us to the Suzuki. The GSX-S750 is not great but it doesn’t excel in any department other than practicality. Well, in my opinion, if you’re spending big bucks on a superbike, you would always like to make an entrance, wouldn’t you? The Suzuki with its ordinary looks and an even more ordinary low-down grunt makes the others look better than they actually are. But if you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to compromise on peace of mind, the Suzuki is your best bet. That brings us to the top two. It has been a tough call and we literally had to score them on all counts to deduce the winner. Ladies and gentleman, we have a new class topper – the KTM 790 Duke! The Triumph is almost perfect with its raunchy yet linear motor that is also the most refined with genuinely friendly dynamics. It’s the most sophisticated of them all and oozes quality. But the KTM offers a lot more not just in terms of miles/hour but smiles/hour too. Its agility is UFO-like and the LC8c motor is like a missile, making it a hoot on the racetrack. It surprised us with its everyday rideability; owing to a super comfortable rider’s triangle and genuinely top-drawer. You must account for the electronics package too; no other bike in this class offers IMU-based ABS and traction control and Supermoto mode that lets you draw massive rubber paintings on the Tarmac. Add to it KTM’s service network which is 15-20 times more widespread than the rivals and you have one of the best super bikes in the country to own. If that doesn’t convince you, then the additional saving of 50,000 rupees over the Street Triple S would seal the deal for you. Heck, it even challenges the super-mid Street Triple RS on several levels except only for the suspension. The streets are surely expected to be painted Orange.