KTM 890 Duke R – The Ultimate Road Bike?Armani Moffatt
KTM has built some mental bikes over the years. The Austrian engineers have forged a reputation for building uncompromising bikes with striking styling and aggressive performance. The ‘R’ versions of their bikes have traditionally been pretty extreme – track-biased to the point of being a touch harsh for regular road use, but awesome all the same. So when the 890 Duke R was launched with the moniker “Super Scalpel”, all signs pointed to a sharp, precise track weapon, designed to wear out knee sliders and frazzle tyres. On paper it does its best to confirm that suspicion – sports-bike-sharp geometry, trackday-spec tyres in the form of Michelin’s Power Cup 2 and no pillion seat. 121bhp and a dry weight of just 166kg make the perfect recipe for a lightweight, punchy sports bike.
So we spent a good few tanks of fuel putting this razor-sharp, angry track weapon to use on the road, ready to have fun, but ultimately expecting to highlight just how compromised a track-focused bike is. We were wrong.
We have to get one thing straight – the 890 Duke R is no touring bike, no comfy commuter. It has sod-all wind protection, the 14-litre fuel tank has you looking for a garage after 120 miles and the seat is not designed with two-hour motorway stints in mind. Look on the KTM website and every action shot of the 890 shows someone on a racetrack wearing holes through the elbows of their leathers. They gave it a silly name like ‘Super Scalpel’ and as standard it comes with tyres that look like a racing slick with a few token tread cuts. But even before you get to bumpy back lanes and corners, the medium Duke belies its hardcore image as soon as you pull away. Instead of the heavy, snappy clutch and hyperactive throttle that looney bikes are normally lumbered with, the 890 is actually nice to ride slowly. There’s decent steering lock, the clutch is light and has plenty of feel and the engine is happy rumbling along just above idle as you pick your way through what ever obstacles park themselves between home and the good roads you’re heading for. And while that isn’t the most exciting thing about any bike, what it does mean is that you feel confident and happy on the Duke from the moment you set off, in turn making the rest of your ride better, happier and more relaxed. When you do make it to some good winding roads, boy are you in for a treat. The 890 Duke R is one of the sweetest road bike chassis money can buy; that’s a bold claim, but try one and we’re sure you’ll agree. It strikes a great balance of being agile, without shaking its bars over every bump, it makes enough power to fire out of bends and past cars, without you having to spend the entire ride glancing nervously at the speedometer. The riding position is flexible enough for you to move from corner-attacking mode, to sitting up and looking over the roof of the car in front mode, to cruising home exhausted and happy mode.
Determined to find some flaws, we took the Duke out of its comfort zone, away from smooth tarmac and onto some rough, bumpy back roads, littered with potholes, gravel and poo. But this is where the 890 plays its trump card – longer travel suspension than is conventional for a sports bike, means it can soak up all but the roughest roads, and still put a smile on your face as you fire between gravelly apexes.
If you’re looking for a bike to make the most out of riding great roads, then the 890 genuinely is hard to beat. It wouldn’t be our first choice for riding across Europe neither would it be our first pick as a trackday toy. But in the realm of finding sheer riding enjoyment on winding roads, it is right at the top of our list. It’s one of those bikes that even after the honeymoon period is over, you’ll still be looking for every excuse and opportunity to get out for a ride, whatever the weather.
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