KTM 790 Duke: first-impression review

by MotoGusto Editor

Agility with motorcycles is quite something, but when it’s combined with the 799cc LC8c parallel, which offers the grunt of a twin, could this mid-weight naked pack a punch? Motovlogger, o75 puts one through its paces

I stand back to look at the 2019 KTM 790 Duke and, after experiencing the 799cc LC8c (Liquid-Cooled 8-valve compact) parallel-twin found on the 790 Adventure, I know we’ll be in for a bit of a treat even before I get anywhere close.

Aesthetically, the naked dynamic style is perfect and likely to still look modern in a decade. Its wasp’s head lowering like a bull in readiness to smash up a china shop is accentuated with the heightened tank giving an appealing design without adding to its upper weight. Sitting between its 17″ boots, the engine is open for all to admire; it may look compact but don’t underestimate it. The Austrian-based engineers have been able to do away with the trellis frame by incorporating the engine as a stressed member. However, there is no engine protection from external impact damage. 

The flow of the aluminium swingarm, I feel, is art. I get the impression the sculptured can was created for the simple fact most customers will want to change it for their preference.

As I position my backside on the bike, I immediately feel at home. For me, and my 33-inch inside leg, the 825mm seat height is perfect with feet square on the floor. With an accessory, the seat can be lowered to 805mm (and further still to 780mm with a lowering kit). Overall, I’m just under 6ft and feel surprisingly comfortable with arms naturally relaxed on the handlebar.

As a naked middle-weight sports bike, the front-end looks and works perfectly. There is no keyless technology here. The key turns on the animated monochrome display; it is concise and clear. It’s all that’s needed. I noted the mode switchgear on the left and soon see a variety of modes and options. Although intuitive, I’m gonna need more time to explore Rain and Sport as well as Track where further features, such as ‘launch control’ and ‘anti-wheelie’ follow. For this review, Street mode will be my option.

As I start the bike, the immediate response to its exhaust note is just fulfilling and hits the sweet spot. Maybe I have completely underestimated the stock can? Indeed a sound I would not have expected to hear from a sub-800cc parallel.

As the clutch starts to engage, the bike wants to snatch; I soon reign it in, I felt at one with it.

Plodding along in a 30, it’s happy, intuitive and comfortable — no need to work the engine at low-end speeds. As I ride through the town, hitting our poorly maintained roads, the non-adjustable front shock takes it all in its stride. I try the bi-directional quick-shifter, and, at relatively low speeds, it’s just instant and smooth — I raise one eyebrow followed with a cheeky grin. It’s such a comfortable bike to ride around town, but my anticipation to get it out on the open road makes me impatient.

Opening the throttle, and combining the very slick quick-shifter, we very soon find our speed at the national speed limit. The quick-shifter is merely fantastic — spot on. WOW! Even coming down through the 6-speed gearbox is just as perfect as going up, with the added exhaust bumbling and popping behind. That exhaust note gets even better.

As we turn onto the first of the curvy A-roads, while being able to position with razor-like predictability, it wants to be let off the leash. I can see why it has been dubbed ‘the scalpel’.  Quick-shifting up through the gears the popping from the exhaust is music to my ears — I’m on sensory overload; my face stuck on full grin as teeth catch flies. The wind lightly whistles around me with no ruffles coming from its front-end. As we twist and turn through the bends, the bike feels so precise and planted, and more so as it accelerates boldly out of corners — it starts to inspire confidence. 

Now, I didn’t realise I had one, but a devilish voice in my head made itself known, whispering, ‘you want this 135mph bike, don’t you? Go on, go faster!’ Do I? Every corner, the bike takes in its stride. Flip left, flip right; what a ride and I’ve been on it no more than half an hour.

…a devilish voice in my head made itself known, whispering, ‘you want this 135mph bike, don’t you? Go on, go faster!’ Do I?

 The Spanish-made JJuan brakes do not bear any second thoughts as it responds beautifully to my contracting fingers. The dual front disks are probably overkill but there again you’ll feel assured if you need to come to a quick stop. 

Enjoying myself so much, I did a U-turn at a roundabout to reverse the run uphill. Trees slipping past as fast reflections in glass, I focus on the road ahead. More corners, more grins — that feeling of excitement manifesting in your belly. The mischevious voice in my head returns, ‘if you had the money, what would you spend it on?’ Now hang on, I don’t think my wife would approve it for starters. What am I saying? 

Everything I have experienced is just fantastic for the roads. I remind myself that this well-balanced and very stable bike is only a 799cc parallel twin. Amazing. Top marks KTM.

As I park the bike up I find the first (and only) problem; my trouser leg is caught on the inner foot protector and nearly bring the bike with me as I dismount. It needs to be redesigned. Still, standing back, I find myself in admiration. KTM has pretty much hit the target with this little’un. It would be a great bike to have in any garage, popping out at night in your socks with a cup of tea just to keep it company.

Planting one’s bum on the bike again, I am astonished by the 103hp/77kW compact engine producing some 87Nm of torque as I accelerate to navigate single-track national speed limit B-road. Crikey, I am having so much fun. My ‘other’ voice haunts me once again working out figures in my head to see if I could afford the base £8,799 price tag.

As we slide on to the motorway — well I think you’ll be quite comfortable for many miles in the saddle even with the constant force as you cut your way through the air.

I don’t know about fuel economy, but I know it covers the plus side of 50mpg. Its respectable economy means you only need to fill up the 14-litre tank every 150 miles or so.

It’s practical, playful and dynamically flickable as you put the bike through its paces. I can probably say this is the best of any middle-weight naked bikes. I am not a naked kind of guy, but this bike has converted me but would I buy one? If I had nine bags of sand and space in my garage — absolutely! Actually, in daily life mode, the answer reluctantly is no but I would seriously consider the 17″-wheeled 1000ccc road touring variant last seen with the KTM 990 SMT. 

If you haven’t ridden a KTM, now’s the time to do so. You could be having so much fun that you could also hear that mischevious voice too.

Ride with me now and see how I got on with the 790 Duke: http://bit.ly/KTM-790-Duke-video

Contact: www.onthewheel.co.uk

#ktm #790duke #o75

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