KTM have taken the popular
790 Duke and made it even
more sportier.
KTM have taken the popular 790 Duke and made it even more sportier.|KTM 890 Duke R
First Rides

KTM 890 Duke R : First Ride Review

The 890 Duke R gives the 1290 Super Duke R, a serious run for its money as the best bike in the KTM range

Team Fast Bikes

KTM has had a smash hit with the 790 Duke, its first ever paralleltwin model launched sometime ago powered by the LC8c (as in, liquidcooled eight-valve compact) engine. Dubbed The Scalpel for its focused design and pared-to-the-minimum weight and bulk, it has provided KTM with a unique contender in the middleweight marketplace. It has been doing well for KTM, thanks to being competitively priced and super fun to ride. With its highly distinctive sharp-edged styling by Kiska Design, the 790 Duke has filled the pretty big void that the 390 Duke owners felt as we don’t have the 1290 Super Duke V-twins on sale in the country. In doing so, it has brought an entirely new level of electronic sophistication to the mid-size sector, with features that some Japanese one-litre sportbikes don’t even have.

Covering new ground

Now KTM has gone one step further – make that several steps – with the debut at this year’s EICMA Milan Show of the 890 Duke R. Lighter, more powerful and even more purposeful than its kid sister, this is clearly aimed at topping the middleweight sector in terms of outright performance and razor edge handling, once again at an affordable price. “We’re focusing here on the hardcore KTM naked rider, with a bike that’s developed for very aggressive street and track riding,” says Dutchman Adriaan Sinke, KTM’s Head of Product Management. “We wanted to create the ultimate mid-class sports naked that’s also a serious option for riders of bigger bikes who are looking for something more agile, but still powerful, and exciting to ride.”

In fact, the 890 project dates back to 2012 when KTM engineers first began work on creating the LC8c parallel-twin motor. “We always intended to develop a 790 Duke R, which was in our planning from the start,” states Sinke. “But then during the development programme it got to the point that we weren’t happy withour prototype of this – it wasn’t enough R, not enough KTM. So we decided to produce just the 790 Duke to start with, and then go full attack on the R, and make it what we believe a KTM Duke R should be, if necessary with a bigger engine. So we basically tore up the spec sheet of the original, and went back to the drawing board to figure out how far we could take that engine and that chassis – and the 890 Duke R is the result.”

And what a result it is. By dint of increasing both bore and stroke of the LC8c motor from 88 x 65.7mm to 90.7 x 68.8mm, to deliver a 90cc increase in displacement, KTM has achieved a significant increase in performance from the new engine, which delivers 99Nm of torque at 7 ,750rpm, 13Nm more than the 790 Duke, itself until now the classleading middleweight package, and 119bhp at 9 ,250rpm, so 14bhp more power. Yet despite this, they’ve actually raised the revlimiter on this bigger-cubed motor by 500rpm to 10,500 revs, while at the same time reducing dry weight of the complete motorcycle by 3.3kg to 166kg, a saving mainly obtained by swapping to Brembo brakes from the J.Juans on the 790.

New Michelins are super-sticky.
New Michelins are super-sticky. KTM 890 Duke R

More, more, more

More power and torque , yet with reduced weight , sounds like motorcycle R&D nirvana, and after being honoured to be chosen as the first person outside the company and its suppliers to ride the new bike in pre-production prototype form, it took about 10km out of the 180km I covered that day to realise how special this new KTM hotrod really is. Another of the many apparent paradoxes on what is a remarkable new motorcycle by any standards is that KTM has achieved this weight-saving while actually increasing the rotational mass of the forged one-piece three-bearing crankshaft by 20 per cent which, of course, makes it heavier overall. This carries forged pistons via a sophisticated cracked conrod design,lowering the piston weight and reducing reciprocating mass. The crankpins are offset by 75º (versus the more common 180º or 270º crank throws) with 435º firing intervals to replicate the gritty sound of a KTM V-twin’s irregular firing order. That heavier crank is to deliver a sense of momentum as the engine spins up, says Sinke, as well as greater stability in turns thanks to the gyroscopic function of the engine. This, in turn, has necessitated redesigning the twin counterbalancers that the engine is fitted with to eliminatevibration – one at the front of the engine and one in the cylinder head, between the camshafts. Compression ratio has been raised from 12.7:1 to 13.5:1, thanks to a knock sensor now added to obviate detonation, and this in turn helps deliver improved acceleration. There are 1mm bigger steel valves (same material as the 790) all round, with the 790’s paired 36mm inlets increased to 37mm, and the 29mm exhausts to 30mm, operated via all-new camshafts with a higher lift and more aggressive timing, while the exhaust headers are now wider for better breathing.

Those cams are chain-driven up the right of the cylinders, while the optional Quickshifter+ powershifter on my test bike allowed clutchless shifting both up and down the well-chosen (and unchanged) ratios of the six-speed gearbox, matched to a PASC/oil-bath slipper clutch, which is cable operated for ease of maintenance, and to save weight. As on the 790, the open deck Nikasil-lined cylinders (thus saving the weight of cast-iron liners) are integrated into the upper half of the high-pressure diecast aluminium crankcases. KTM has also shortened the engine considerably by stacking the gearbox shafts vertically oneatop another, and they’re surmounted by the shifter mechanism right beneath the unchanged 42mm Dell’Orto throttle bodies, which are fed cool air from an airbox under the seat, itself breathing via twin intakes either side of your hips. And in what Sinke says is a significant step in optimising performance, each of the two cylinders is now mapped separately one from the other, delivering a more refined power delivery.

The result is a package that’s more intuitive still to ride than the already super-friendly, yet fast, 790 Duke. The engine is even more of a gem than its forebear, pulling hard and strong from just 2,000rpm on part-throttle, or wide open in sixth gear from 4000 revs up with no transmission snatch. Because power keeps building all through the rev range you do have an inducement to flirt with that 500rpm higher rev-limiter, but if you do hit it there’s a soft-action cutout, thanks to the RBW digital throttle. Yet the harder you rev it paradoxically, the smoother the engine becomes – those counterbalancers really do their job, and it’s a smooth operator at all times as it carves corners through the Austrian countryside. Butthanks to that extra dose of torque it’s happy to be short-shifted to let you ride the torque curve through a series of bends interspersed with short straights, and here the really well set up optional two-way powershifter really worked well, letting you zap clutchlessly up and down the gearbox’s well-chosen ratios to surf that meaty torque curve.

Sportier than ever.
Sportier than ever. KTM 890 Duke R

As hard as you like

Just as the first time round with the 790 Duke, the new 890 R feels small, slim, short and sporty, with a close-coupled riding stance that has your chin seemingly over the front wheel. It’s a responsive, eager-revving bike that’s not only thoroughly practical, but also hugely entertaining, and totally straightforward to ride as hard as you like on. It’s one of those bikes where you feel a part of it from the very moment you hop aboard – this could make riding to work a lot of fun, but maybe not half as much as taking the long way home on it!

The 890 Duke R, like all other KTMs is a lot of bike for the money. Ok, it’s at the upper end of the middleweight category, but it’s well priced against the 1000ccbikes it competes with on performance. “We think this bike is for an intelligent rider who doesn’t have the biggest ego, who realises that power to weight is more important than throwing down 180 horsepower on the bar at night,” says Adriaan Sinke. “This is someone who’s a very enthusiastic motorcycle rider, who really understands where the gains can be made. For this reason I’m convinced that the 1290 Super Duke is not at risk because of the 890 R, so we won’t be selling against ourselves. It has 60bhp more, the styling is completely different, it’s much more aggressive, it’s much more in your face, and as good as the Super Duke is, they’re different beasts - one is a 180bhp monster, and the other is a 120bhp Super Scalpel – we call it the Evil Twin! This is a very serious, very compact, very evil little motorcycle, and I think it’s such a different kind of animal, that I don’t see the customer to be the same as the Super Duke, because for a KTM it’s a very accessible motorcycle. Ok, it’s incredibly sporty and extremely agile, but it’s also easy to get along with and very well balanced. So compared to a 790 Duke it’s a different animal.”

Evil is as evil does, and the key to the 890 Duke R’s significant dose of extra performance isn’t just the various engine mods KTM has concocted to stay ahead of its rivals, but its lighter weight which, besides improving acceleration, alsomakes the bike so much fun to ride hard on in twisty stretches of road. The KTM switches direction almost on autopilot – its handling is so precise and intuitive it seems you need only think about making a turn, and the 890 Duke R has gone and done it for you. The overall ride height has been increased by 15mm, and this improves the anti-squat behaviour, because the swingarm is more in line with the drive-chain, so the bike doesn’t squat down as much as before at the rear under hard acceleration. It also means the riding position has been subtly altered so you’re now sitting 15mm higher at 834mm, and thanks to the new flatter handlebar, you’re leaning further forward in what is a sportier riding position than on the 790, with the footrests also moved back a little. This isn’t any more tiring than before, just definitely more sporty-seeming – you feel even more involved with the bike physically, and that’s one reason for the intuitive riding style I mentioned earlier. And even at speeds of 200km/h with the tacho showing 7,500rpm you don’t get too blown about, thanks to the slightly more aerodynamic stance.

KTM 890 Duke R

On the map

I started out using Street mode out of the four available via the RBW digital throttle, before switching to the sharper, but still controllable Sport map – there’s also a Rain mode capped at 100bhp with a smoother pick up, and an optional Track mode for track days, with launch control, MTC slip adjust, revised mapping and throttle response, and the anti-wheelie turned off. But I ended up using Street for most of the day as better for real world road riding in traffic and on tight, twisting Austrian mountain roads, switching to Sport when the road opened up so I could be more aggressive on the throttle. It really pays to surf that flat, but meaty torque curve, so short-shifting wide open at 7,500rpm gave me plenty of acceleration en route to 100mph in top gear with 5800rpm showing on the good-looking, light-sensitive, full-colour TFT dash.

That compact engine format and the sharper sense of purpose you get riding this bike compared to the 790 makes it feel like a single in the way it steers, but like a maxi-twin in terms of power and torque. The 890 Duke R comes close to being the best of both worlds dynamically: it’s light and agile, responsive to rider input – but with added power and torque compared to the smaller capacity version of the same model. And those magnificent brakes, which deliver so much feel andgreat bite without being snatchy, are just the icing on the cake.

The 890 runs on the new Michelin Power Cup II tyres which, according to Sinke, are much lighter than any comparable previous tyre from the French manufacturer, so benefit handling via reduced unsprung weight – previously a preserve of Pirelli and Dunlop. These tyres were truly impressive in the way they gripped, and I also double-checked how quickly they warmed up from cold, previously a weak point of Michelin street rubber. Not any more!

The 890 Duke R’s steering geometry is quite aggressive, with 24.3º of rake and 98mm of trail, delivering a 1482mm wheelbase. But its agile, super-responsive handling is the payoff for that, coupled with total stability on fast third or fourth gear turns – it feels planted to the Tarmac, yet the great leverage from the wide, tapersection aluminium handlebar lets you carve corners and especially switch direction from side to side really easily. Intuitive, see... That handlebar can be adjusted almost infinitely in search of your preferred riding position – in addition to four different clamping positions offered by the upper tripleclamp’s design, you canalso rotate the ’bar through three different angles to get comfortable with it. Thanks to the narrow seat where it meets the fuel tank, at 5’10” I could also put both feet flat on the ground at rest, in turn adding to the sense of being at one with the bike.

Makes you rethink mid-weights.
Makes you rethink mid-weights. KTM 890 Duke R

Verdict

KTM’s engineers have done it again – they’ve successfully tackled the hardest task in two-wheeled development, and made the best better still by improving on what was already a market-leading motorcycle. No less an authority than Jeremy McWilliams, who’s been one ofthe test riders involved with the project from the start, and was responsible for the final mapping. We were racing against each other at the Goodwood Revival a couple of weeks before I flew to Austria to ride the 890 Duke R. “You’ve got a treat in store,” said Jezza as we sat together waiting for the pre-race Riders Meeting to start. “It’s nearly everything you could look for in a real world road bike – it’s light, slim and fast, plus it feels very refined. We put a lot of time into getting the engine characteristics just right, and I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it, because in my opinion it gives the 1290 Super Duke R a serious run for its money as the best bike in the KTM range and a candidate for being the best real world performance bike money can buy. Have fun!”. Know what? He’s right!

Words :- Alan Cathcart

Images:- Heiko Mandl

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