2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT: The Jack of All Trades

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: KTM

In German, there’s a word that 
describes an animal that lays eggs, has the meat of a pig, and provides milk and wool. In short: something that’s good for everything. Nature knows that this is difficult to achieve. That’s why she created such a wide variety of species. Translated into 
motorcycle language, we find cruisers, 
dual-sport bikes, touring bikes, and sport machines. KTM combines the latter two into one motorcycle and calls it a sports tourer, a ride too fat for ultimate sporting fun but not as comfortable as a real touring 
machine—a compromise. That’s what I thought when I went to the 1290 Super Duke GT global 
press launch on the Spanish island of 
Mallorca. I was soon proven wrong.

Under the Fairing

According to Thomas Kuttruf, KTM’s PR Manager, the goal when developing the GT was to keep the character of the 1290 Super Duke R—which KTM calls “The Beast,” as it is known as a non-compromising sport machine that’s a lot of fun on a racecourse or twisty road—and just add comfort and travel ability. To achieve this metamorphosis, they didn’t just hang a pair of panniers onto the Super Duke, they more or less changed the whole bike. 

Engine-wise, low-end torque is improved via new heads and different mapping without touching the 173 hp peak output of the 1,301cc engine. For long-distance touring, the tank volume increased from 4.75 to 6.1 gallons. A small front fairing keeps the rider out of the wind, and the windshield is easily adjustable with one hand while riding. For the passenger’s seating space, the rear subframe is extended. It carries integrated and well-hidden mounts for the optional panniers. Another big change is the now semi-active suspension from WP. Heated grips are standard, and heated seats are an option for both rider and pillion. Hill Hold Control (HHC) and Motor Slip Regulation (MSR), which prevents the rear wheel from losing grip when downshifting too hard, are also optional. LED cornering lights, self-canceling (after 500 feet or 10 seconds) LED indicators, a tire pressure monitoring system, and an electronic cruise control complete the stock package. So much for the hardware, which is abundant. More importantly—how does the bike feel?

Ride Modes

The morning sun is warming up the crisp spring air as beautiful Mallorca waits to be explored. But we have to be patient before heading out on a 150-mile test loop around the island. These days it is not that simple anymore to jump on a bike, turn the key, and start. When you get on a new bike for the first time, you have to do the computer work and adjust the personal settings. For now, I set traction control on Street. Sport is for ultimate throttle response, Rain for smooth power delivery and 100 hp max, and Off for those that don’t want interference. Spring preload is set to One Person. The damping is put on Street (Sport and Comfort are the other options). Combined ABS is switched on, which means that when applying the front brake, some amount of brake pressure is also applied on the rear to minimize a total loss of control when fully braking. A Supermoto setting allows the rear wheel to lock up. The ABS can also be switched off completely.

On the Road

With a deep but not too loud growl from the stainless steel exhaust, the engine comes alive. After the first couple hundred yards through several roundabouts, it becomes obvious: This bike is easy to handle at 20 mph. Low-end revs come very smooth, and enjoyable cruising would be an option. But believe me, this option will hardly be taken—maybe only by a Buddhist monk on tranquillizers. Dawdling is not what the Super Duke GT is made for. As soon as we get out of the suburban area, the time to open the throttle has come. 

It is hard to describe what happens now: an explosion, a storm and demonstration of pure power. This V-twin is just insane. Like a hyperactive mustang, it runs into the red flashing light of the rev counter. A short push on the lever and the quick shifter (it only works shifting into higher gear) engages the next gear, hardly interrupting the power delivery. After a few seconds it’s time for the Brembos. The two front four-piston radially-mounted calipers are easily modulated with two fingers. The bike builds up my confidence very quickly. Later I shall even “get the chance” to test the cornering ABS, when I find a sheep waiting behind a blind right-hand corner. The sheep survives unscathed and doesn’t even notice, while I elicit a short and still “thank you” to modern technology. In some areas the Spanish asphalt is in rather poor condition. On a sportbike you would have to watch your teeth. On the GT you just switch the suspension to Comfort and save yourself the dentist bill. The electronics really work.

Focus

The road through the mountains along the north coast snakes like a racecourse, offering spectacular views of the slopes. The “bad” thing: we don’t have time for them. Road and bike require full attention. Our guides (and the bike) call for a sporty ride. The engine lusts for throttle action; there is no Tourist mode in the menu or in the genes of the GT. This means accelerating and braking at the highest level every couple of seconds for a whole day. If this wasn’t enough fun—I switch off the traction control for a short while. The bike now wants to wheelie in any gear up to third at any time. Without it, I’m aware how often traction control must have taken over via a hardly perceptible intervention at the throttle valves. Only a lunch break interrupts the adrenaline rush.

Is there something to complain about with this captivating machine? Being rather old fashioned and electronically handicapped, I would have liked a simpler and easier to use mode-changing menu. Another minor issue could be the panniers. Fortunately, we didn’t get to test their waterproofness. But there seemed to be a tolerance looseness at the front end of the lid that might cause sealing problems.

To Sum It Up

So is this KTM the multitool “sports tourer” would imply? Yes! But forget everything you have heard about the category! This motorcycle is made for addictive sporty riding, but with a comfortable seating position, luggage and pillion space, and the maximum amount of safety features engineers were able to pack into a modern bike. Without surprise, the 1290 Super Duke GT would make a very good companion on the racetrack. At the same time, it is well suited for extensive touring as long as you prefer Cannonball-style riding to casual cruising. This is a sharp motorcycle, not a diluted character. At KTM they don’t do compromise.