Following his first ride on the 2017 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT in Spain last spring, EIC Tuttle described it as “nearly flawless, the perfect sport-touring bike for a rider who doesn’t want to give up sportbike levels of engine performance and handling. It’s comfortable for all-day riding, offers decent wind protection, makes enormous power and does indeed handle and stop like a sportbike.” Given his glowing assessment, the Rider staff was eager to get its hands on a test bike. We had to wait until fall to do so, but the upshot is that we were able to do a long-term test of the GT—well, two of them actually.
Last September KTM loaned us a pre-release Super Duke GT. We tested it through the end of the year, racking up 2,000 miles with regular commuting and daylong test rides, falling under the spell of its generous torque, nimble handling and everyday practicality. But it had shortcomings too, like a glitch that caused the LED cornering lights to stop working, an improbably long kickstand tang that snapped off and excessive engine heat—an issue we’ve had with other KTMs powered by the LC8 V-twin.
In January we swapped our pre-release GT for a 2017 production model, and we quickly put 1,500 miles on it, including a multi-day tour. In terms of differences between the first test bike and the second one, KTM says it made minor changes to the tuning of the WP semi-active suspension, the windscreen is now clear instead of tinted and the kickstand tang is now shorter and stronger. As for the engine heat, cold temperatures during winter testing and multiple layers of riding gear have insulated us from the problem, but we doubt it has gone away. And we haven’t had any issues with the cornering lights, which helpfully illuminate the insides of turns when riding after dark.
What’s the 1290 Super Duke GT like to live with on a daily basis? In terms of creature comforts, it has a tall, flat, firm seat, an upright, adjustable handlebar and generous legroom. The small windscreen is easily adjustable with one hand, but raising and lowering it has little effect; airflow is smooth but hits the rider squarely on the upper chest and shoulders. Heated grips are standard, but on cold days they don’t get hot enough. Hard, lockable, removable saddlebags are also standard, and they hold 30 liters each—just enough to fit a medium full-face helmet. The latch mechanisms can be left unlocked for convenience, but they’re rather fiddly to open and close. And when the bags are full, the front of the clamshell lids have a tendency to separate from the main part of the bag, leaving a sizable gap in the leading edge. However, we’ve ridden the GT at speed in steady rain and the bags didn’t leak. Long days in the saddle are no problem thanks to standard cruise control and 6.1 gallons of fuel capacity (good for more than 200 miles of range at our 35.7 mpg average). We also like the self-cancelling turn signals and tire-pressure monitoring system, but a chain-driven sport-touring bike like this one could really use a centerstand.
Honestly, though, if wind protection and comfort (especially for a passenger) are your primary considerations, sport-touring stalwarts such as the BMW R 1200 RT or Yamaha FJR1300 are better choices. The 1290 Super Duke GT is the pointy end of the sport-touring spear, an aggressively-styled, no-compromise bike that puts 150 horsepower and 95 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel (as measured on Jett Tuning’s dyno) and weighs just 524 pounds full of gas. Don’t let the saddlebags fool you; the GT is designed to excite you more than pamper you, though it certainly offers much plusher accommodations than the Super Duke R it’s derived from. It is so ridiculously easy to ride fast that we’re lucky to have completed this test without getting any speeding tickets. In full-power Sport mode, the torque curve resembles a high-elevation plateau—remarkably flat and 80 lb-ft or higher between 3,500 rpm and the 9,500-rpm redline. (Full power is also available in Street mode; Rain mode reduces output to 97 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque.) Quick twists of the throttle make the bike leap forward, the grips, seat and pegs thrusting you into the wind. Few bikes feel so eager, so ready to take your breath away.
But the KTM isn’t just about power; it offers a complete performance package, with a lightweight chassis, top-shelf components and state-of-the-art electronics. The 1,301cc V-twin is mounted within a tubular-steel trellis frame with a short wheelbase and sporty steering geometry. Connected to the engine and frame is a beefy, cast aluminum single-sided swingarm, an upside-down fork and a linked shock, the latter two made by WP and offering semi-active damping with three modes. Lightweight, cast aluminum wheels are shod with grippy Pirelli Angel GT tires and the brakes are by Brembo, with dual floating discs up front gripped by M50 Monobloc radial 4-piston calipers. In addition to the engine and suspension modes, there are multiple modes for traction control and combined ABS, both of which adapt automatically to lean angle and can be turned off. A quickshifter and a steering damper are standard.
Just a few days after the Super Duke GT arrived last fall, I took it on a two-day Arai Helmets press ride here in Southern California, a 400-mile loop on roads we regularly ride and test on. After doing some photo passes, the loosely assembled group started making its way up a mountain road that I know like the back of my hand. I left ahead of the group but right behind Steve Rapp, a longtime road racer who won the Daytona 200 in 2007 and raced in MotoGP for Aprilia in 2012. He was riding an Aprilia RSV4, a 200-horsepower sportbike he owns personally. Steve set a fast pace, over the first pass, through the convoluted valley, over another pass and across desert flatlands to the next gas stop. Yet there I was, loaded saddlebags and all, right on his six, bending the KTM through one familiar curve after another, enjoying the genuine pleasure of riding a highly capable motorcycle at speed on a smoothly paved, sinuous road. Crisp, precise throttle response transmitted every subtle twist of the grip to the rear wheel. Torque catapulted me out of every corner. Semi-active suspension adjusted to every change in speed, orientation and road condition, keeping the chassis stable and the tires firmly in contact with the asphalt. Massive brakes scrubbed off speed effortlessly and electronics provided a reassuring safety net. The KTM did exactly what I wanted it to and nothing that I didn’t, allowing me to ride fast yet feel relaxed, focused and confident. The only downside was that fuel economy dropped to 28 mpg!
Going fast in short bursts is one thing, but we also wanted to know what it was like to spend long days in the GT’s saddle. I mapped out a big, clockwise route around the Mojave Desert in Southern California—across the Antelope Valley to the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada, north on U.S. Route 395 to Lone Pine, south through Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve, and then west toward home. My trip started and ended with rain, but waterproof apparel kept me dry. Temperatures ranged from just above freezing to the upper 50s, but double base layers and a heated jacket liner and gloves kept me warm. Gusting crosswinds were common, but I dodged the worst of them; 80-90 mph winds coming down from the Sierra shut down U.S. 395 and caused a blackout in Lone Pine just a few hours after I passed through.
My solo journey was more of a meander than a marathon—no one to keep up with, no one to keep track of. Being alone gave me the space to let my mind wander, my attention constantly shifting from the road to the instruments to the sensations in my body (a cold draft on the back of my neck, the nagging tendinitis in my elbow) to the scenery and back again. At my cruising pace, the tall-geared KTM purred quietly. The firm seat was supportive, but its square edges dug into my thighs after a while. The intuitive switchgear and menu system made it easy to adjust engine and damping modes on the fly or keep track of trip statistics, though mostly I just left everything alone and enjoyed the ride. With its low windscreen and high seat, I sat on top of the bike rather than down in it, fairly exposed to the elements rather than tucked into a protective bubble. With its powerful, lively engine and naked bike roots, the Super Duke GT provides a visceral riding experience. Not hard-edged or lacking in refinement, but certainly biased in favor of performance.
Living with the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT for the better part of five months has underscored EIC Tuttle’s initial impressions: This is a powerful, sophisticated, exciting sportbike that you can live with day in and day out, not just for short rides or track days. But it also has the seating position, saddlebags, fuel and load capacity, cruise control, heated grips and other features to qualify as a sport tourer, with emphasis on the sport side of the equation. Several thousand miles on all manner of roads in all sorts of weather has revealed some flaws—in addition to those described above, the speedo reads too high and the low-fuel light comes on too early—but none are deal breakers. Here at Rider we love motorcycles that offer exceptional performance and handling, and we’re willing to trade some comfort, wind protection and convenience for the sort of excitement that makes us happy to be alive and traveling on two wheels.
Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro
Jacket: Fly Terra Trek 4
Pants: Aerostich ADI
Boots: iXS Madox
2017 KTM Super Duke GT Specs
Base Price: $19,999
Warranty: 2 yrs., 24,000 miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 75-degree V-twin
Bore x Stroke: 108.0 x 71.0mm
Compression Ratio: 13.2:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 18,600 miles
Fuel Delivery: Keihin EFI w/ 56mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 3.8-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Ignition: Digital electronic
Charging Output: 450 watts max.
Battery: 12V 12AH
Frame: Chrome-moly steel trellis w/ engine as stressed member & cast aluminum single-sided swingarm
Wheelbase: 58.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.9 degrees/4.2 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 48mm USD fork, semi-active w/ 4.9-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, semi-active w/ 6.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers & cornering ABS
Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 2-piston fixed caliper & cornering ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 6.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 524 lbs.
Load Capacity: 481 lbs.
GVWR: 1,005 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gals., last 0.9 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 28.0/35.7/40.9
Estimated Range: 218 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,500
(Via Rider Magazine)