Even parked and resting on its kickstand, the 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is a vicious machine. It barely leans over at all, looking visibly upset by the lack of movement. Like a caged mechanical pit bull that’s been poked and prodded, the flagship Duke is taut, muscular, angry and simply biding its time. On a lesser machine, the sharply angled plastics, purposefully low-slung headlight and single-sided swing arm that create its overtly aggressive stance would translate to mere posturing. But that’s just not the case here. Not at all. The 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R is now the yardstick by which all naked bikes shall be measured.
It all begins with the engine. Where every other naked motorcycle on the market enlists a detuned version of what’s usually found powering a fully faired race replica, the Super Duke’s bored-and-stroked 1,301cc, 75-degree, LC8 V-twin engine is larger, lighter and more powerful than KTM’s track-only RC8. 180 horsepower is on tap, along with 106 lb-ft of torque — enough to point the front wheel skywards. In fourth. With ease. KTM figures that’s enough to have the Duke top 124 mph in less time than it takes most bulls to buck a cowboy (7.2 seconds). Credit that explosive acceleration to the fact that the LC8 mill makes 70 percent (74 lb-ft) of peak torque available at a mere 2,500 rpm. But it’s not all gut punch — at least not all of the time.
The Duke’s fury is unleashed with algorithmic precision. The electronics behind the Keihin ride-by-wire MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) system offer four riding modes (rain, street, sport and plus) to match the rider’s ability or bravado. With any of the preset systems engaged, traction control and ABS morph to match conditions. Switchable modes are nothing new, but no other system works so imperceptibly well; designed to kick in only when needed, the MTC system is seamless in its delegation of power. There are even lean-angle sensors that measure your levels of commitment in a corner to modify output and ensure that the rear wheel doesn’t go all smoky after the apex, or that too much speed isn’t scrubbed off by trail-braking mid-corner. It saves your bacon when you need it most, but it also gives you a taste of your mistakes, encouraging you to explore your limits with confidence and become a better rider. And if you’re feeling heroic, it can be turned off entirely.
Like a mechanical pit bull that’s been poked and prodded from beyond its cage, the flagship Duke is taut, muscular, angry and simply biding its time.
Of course, the magic of that engine and its management system would be lost were the chassis, suspension and brakes not up to the task. They are, of course, all equally sublime. The frame is comprised of a chromium, molybdenum and steel mix, making it incredibly rigid and remarkably light. The suspension is a fully adjustable WP setup, both up front and in the rear, delivering steady and predictable handling in a myriad of environments. With minor tweaks to the right-front fork, rebound can be reined in while a similar dial on the left tackles compression. Keeping that gorgeous single-sided swing arm planted, the mono-shock can also be fine-tuned to deliver optimal damping, depending on your setting. Braking was left to the capable hands at Brembo, and the M50 monobloc calipers sitting astride the front rim are strong enough to halt a charging hippo. Working in conjunction with the all-new Bosch 9M+ ABS system, the braking bias can even be set to SuperMoto mode, which eliminates computer interference to the rear tire while keeping attention focused on the front, keeping riders from locking up completely — which is nothing short of amazing for riders with a penchant for going slideways.
The 2014 KTM Super Duke R is quite simply an epic achievement. It is a motorcycle that shouldn’t exist — a bike at least three generations ahead of its time. And yet it’s here for us to celebrate. A mechanical melding of lunacy, comfort and capabilities, it doles out fun in gobs, all from a safe and controlled environment. The Super Duke R doesn’t just raise the bar for motorcycles of its ilk; it puts everything on two wheels on notice.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, 1,301cc spark-ignition engine, 75-degree V arrangement
Fuel capacity: 4.7 gallons
Horsepower: 180 hp
Torque: 106 ft-lb
Weight: 417 pounds (without fuel)