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KTM 1290 Super Duke R (2020) in the driving report

The Beast 3.0 can now also run undercarriage

Tea same heart in new peripherals for a sustainably sharpened, but still extremely sovereign driving experience – this could be the short formula for the rather comprehensive 2020 update of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R. We drove the new one in Portugal.

After the 2014 presented 1290 Super Duke R received a minor facelift in 2017, the changes to the "Beast 3.0" for the 2020 vintage are more substantial: A completely new tubular space frame with aluminum / composite rear section, new WP chassis, new wheels, new ergonomics and electronics, new brake calipers – only the engine itself remained mechanically unchanged in principle, although of course detailed modifications were made to make it possible in connection with the new, powerful exhaust Euro 5 system.

Driver sits sportier

Initially, the seating position is now sportier. The four-way adjustable handlebars (KTM puts a lot of emphasis on modular ergonomics) is generally lower, is still nice and wide, the seat is still high despite the spring travel reduced to normal. The new machine looks wonderfully compact to the front thanks to the reduced tank volume, there is little in the driver’s field of vision except for the low-mounted, high-contrast TFT, the knee joint fits – the author and its 1.73 meters – perfectly . Nobody should expect an excessive level of comfort, but the 1290 R ignition is really good for it.

V2 with powerful torque

The 1,300 V-Twin with a 75 degree cylinder angle thuds calmly, warmly and softly. If you didn’t know, you hardly suspected the immense thrust that this engine generates in view of the extremely sophisticated idling. This combination of fine smooth running – for a 75-degree V – fine throttle response, bassy, ​​subtle tone and tractor-like torque is unparalleled in the motorcycle world. That doesn’t change anything, and the three horsepower more peak performance that KTM states are more of an academic nature. With the exception of the long start-finish straight in Portimao, where the driving presentation took place and where brave pilots with strong neck muscles can see the speedometer 270, there was little reason – or opportunity – to go full throttle. Rather, the enormous elasticity of the engine in the form of relaxed, yet super-fast torque surfing its way onto the road. Switching lazy milling as a super-duke parade discipline. Was so, stay that way, that’s good. The hydraulically operated clutch still needs a bit of perk, but the shiftability of the transmission has noticeably improved. The Quickshifter, which unfortunately has to be paid for, works very well. Throttle response and load change behavior remain absolutely flawless thanks to the various driving modes and in all speed ranges. By the way, we like the softer street mapping best, especially on the racetrack. Then, however, the engine braking torque is surprisingly low. Incidentally, the 2020 vintage is still homologated to Euro 4, but on the hardware side, according to KTM, completely Euro 5 ready.


Improved handling, improved suspension

In any case, the chassis is more exciting than the well-known ingenious engine, where far more has happened than you might think at first glance. The new, very clean-looking main frame integrates the engine significantly higher up in the chassis in a fully supporting manner, which shifts the overall center of gravity of the vehicle upwards with the aim of more agile handling. Noticeable? Yes, absolutely. Whereby it is not entirely trivial to sort the proportions of the individual modifications in the now much more pleasing, harmonious and more targeted handling. While the Super Duke R has always seemed a bit wooden and trying, as if the whole budget had gone into the engine, the 2020 model takes a decisive step here. The handling is more pleasing, more agile, the turning is quicker, the stability is still high. The redirection on the shock absorber is particularly good for the motorcycle here, significantly improving responsiveness and driving comfort. The improved frame stiffness, the new swing arm, and the shorter spring travel certainly contribute to this. Above all, however, the first tires, Bridgestone’s famous S22 (rear in special specification) amazed us once again: Not only does the tire build up smacking-sticky grip, it conveys enormous confidence, it also takes a few turns on the racetrack with absolutely no complaints and without acute signs of overheating. A real cream tire that suits the new Super Duke R extremely well. Incidentally, the braking system (radial pump and Stylema monoblocs from Brembo) was not in the least impressed by the racetrack braking, and it remained absolutely stable turn by turn.

Electronics convey security

Finally, a word on electronics: the improved traction control meets track day requirements, and the numerous setting options include the right one for every level of driving. In the tamer modes, the lean angle sensors are still clearly noticeable and only release performance with decreasing lean angle, which is certainly not a bad decision in view of the enormous torque. If the protective screen only intervenes in the sharper modes with a loss of traction, this happens a little more abruptly with the V2 of the Super Duke R than with a four-cylinder, for example. As far as the ABS is concerned, no disruptive control interventions were found in Portimao in supermoto mode. Fine!


With the update, KTM has now lifted the Super Duke R to the same level in terms of chassis that the engine has always had. While basically everything remains the same as it was sensationally old, the chassis looks significantly upgraded overall. Whether that’s enough to catch up with the rest of the Hypernaked competition in this regard – it will be a feast for us to pull this out.

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