The Duke who would be king

KTM's 790 Duke is a well-equipped motorbike that is close to being the perfect all-rounder

A new 799cc parallel-twin engine powers the KTM's 790 Duke.
A new 799cc parallel-twin engine powers the KTM's 790 Duke.PHOTO: KTM

The mountain roads in this touristy city offer some of the best riding roads in the world, with sweeping bends and slithering switchbacks.

The new KTM 790 Duke is in its element here. With the bike's lusty engine gunning and lithe body flicking left and right to stay on the tight tarmac, snaking around the hills feels effortless.

Its brakes are thankfully resistant to fade despite repeated application, preventing me from base-jumping into the abyss without a wingsuit more than once.

Even though the front suspension by WP are non-adjustable (the rear WP monoshock adjusts only for pre-load), there is little to complain about its settings.

The bike is powered by a new 799cc parallel-twin engine. A parallel twin is a compact design that is larger than a single cylinder and smaller than a V-twin.

It kicks out 105bhp at 9,000rpm - more than sufficient for its 174kg mass. With a huge spread of its 86Nm available from 3,000rpm, you are never short of grunt for point-and-shoot manoeuvres.

The engine and exhaust notes are often accompanied by pop and crackle on the overrun.

  • SPECS / KTM 790 DUKE

  • Price: $26,500 without COE, insurance

    Engine: 799cc liquid-cooled 4-valve parallel twin

    Transmission: Six-speed manual, chain driven

    Power: 105bhp at 9,000rpm

    Torque: 86Nm at 8,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 3.3 seconds (estimated)

    Top speed: 220kmh (estimated)

    Fuel consumption: 4.4 litres/100 km

    Agent: Dirt Wheel Motor & Credit

The only complaint is the occasional jerky shifting from first to second gear. Otherwise, the whole powertrain is flawlessly smooth.

The 790 Duke's street-fighter profile and Transformer-like headlamp, first seen in the 1290 Super Duke R and 1290 Super Adventure models, will appeal to many.

It is also one of the best equipped bikes in its class, with a full-colour digital instrumentation that stays visible in strong sunlight and a lean-angle sensitive traction control working in tandem with cornering anti-lock braking system.

Also in the goody bag is a quick shifter left pedal for instant gear changes. There is also a slipper clutch which prevents violent jerks from the rear wheel when down-shifting to too low a gear. These are features previously found only in KTM's higher-range bikes.

The 790 Duke has four riding modes - Street, Sport, Rain and Track. Street and Sport produce maximum power, but traction is reduced in Sport. Rain mode reduces power, but traction remains at a maximum. Track allows you to key in your preferred settings.

The bike's 825mm seat height means anyone who is 1.7m or taller can straddle it comfortably at the lights.

If KTM offers a touring version with panniers and a front screen, the 790 Duke would make the perfect all-rounder. After all, the bike is already shod with sport touring tyres. It may yet be a sign of things to come from Europe's largest motorcycle manufacturer.

The Austrian company, which has won 17 consecutive Dakar Rally races and entered MotoGP as a factory team last year, is certainly a bike-maker to watch.

• The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'The Duke who would be king'. Subscribe