For the first time ever KTM have opted for a parallel-twin configuration with their new Duke 790. But the engine isn’t the highlight of this motorcycle as Jared finds out.
In 2012, KTM entered the Indian market with a locally produced Duke 390. This motorcycle revolutionized everything about performance bikes in the country. With an affordable price tag, the masses could now afford to experience what it was like to own a high-performance machine. Fitted with its small 375cc, single-cylinder engine, that also packed explosive power, enthusiasts welcomed the Duke with open arms and a cult like following soon began for KTM in India.
Many iterations of the bike came in over the years but no model exceeded the 390 in terms of power and size. Things are all set to change though, as KTM have now brought in a bigger and more powerful Duke with the 790. The Duke 790 will enter a middle-weight segment that is already full of some spectacular motorcycles such as the Z900, Street Triple and the Monster. So, where exactly will this bike fit in? We got our hands on the bike for a short track experience at Bajaj’s test facility in Chakan, and here’s what we have come to find out about the new flagship KTM motorcycle in India.
Simplistic in nature
When the bike was launched globally, I wasn’t quite sure it looked very appealing. When I saw it again, this time in the flesh, I still wasn’t exactly smitten with its design. It doesn’t demand attention like an Italian, and its road presence isn’t the best, yet its simplicity is what makes it nice. The headlight is still the sharp diamond design as the other dukes, and its body is super slim and narrow. The fuel tank looks small and the overall quality levels aren’t that great as you will notice in the switch gear, but it does have some very nice elements like the wheels, and the frame. The instrument cluster is also super cool and something that is not available on most other bikes in the segment. When you sit on the bike though, it begins to feel very nice. There is significantly more leg room compared to the 390, and I was very happy with that because although the 390 is a great machine I could never enjoy riding it because of the cramped space. The 790 is a breath of fresh air in terms of ergonomics and riding posture for tall riders.
Packed with technology
Turning heads might not be what this bike was designed to do, instead it is meant to be a pure riding machine and ti comes packed with all sorts of high-tech wizardry to make sure you are comfortable and confident all the time. It gets ABS, cornering ABS, different levels of traction control, and it also gets wheelie control, launch control, a slipper clutch and a quick shifter. ‘Ready to Race’ has always been the tag line for KTM and that is what this bike is ready to do all the time. You get four different riding modes and you can adjust the ABS, traction, throttle, and power as to your liking. You can also connect your phone to the bike as an extra goodie. In terms of technology offered, no other bike in this segment comes with such a wide range of enhanced technology features.
Light and Quick
The 799cc engine gets a parallel-twin setup for the first time ever on a KTM motorcycle. This engine produces 105bhp and 87Nm of torque, which is really great once you consider that the bike weighs only 168kg when dry. The engine is very well refined for a p-twin, and whats really impressive is how the power is delivered. The engine is mated to a 6-speed transmission and the ratios are pretty short, but still you can hold gears really long without the engine begging you to switch. Low-end power is fantastic, especially when you are in Track or Sport mode. The mid-range is also very enjoyable and the engine spins-up very fast. In my opinion though, it seems that this engine is not aimed towards new riders. KTM allowed the 390 to be the bridge that connected newbies to high performance. The throttle response is deceptively quick in the 790 and the bike is wickedly fast.
Scalpel like precision
KTM has labelled the Duke 790 as ‘the scalpel’, and that’s because of its razor-sharp handling. As I said earlier the bike is very narrow and it allows you to grip the bike tightly, and then because of its light weight you can easily manage the motorcycle. It also gets nice steering damping so that the front-end feels smooth and allows for effortless turning. Making the riding experience even more enjoyable is the 43mm WP front forks, the same found in the 390. At the rear you get WP shock which can only be adjusted for pre-load. The sporty steering geometry combined with the low weight of the bike make it a super fun motorcycle to ride. You could ride it on an everyday basis through all traffic conditions and never not have fun with it. On the track, I was simply blown away by the precision handling and how effortlessly it changes direction. All I had to do was just look in the direction I wanted to go and the bike just followed.
Let’s look at the competition. The GSX750 from Suzuki is by far the most affordable in the segment and it is also a wonderful bike with a super smooth engine, great road presence and exceptional handling. But it gets no tech whatsoever. Next up the ladder in terms of price is the Z900, which in my opinion, offers the best value for money because it has the best engine, great handling and comfort. However, it also gets zero tech features. The KTM Duke 790 comes up at Rs 8.7 lakh (ex-showroom), just above the Z900. As you move higher in price you get to the Street Triple S, and this machine is perhaps one of the best all-rounders in the segment, and if you want to take it up a notch then the RS version is one of the best motorcycles on the planet, period! The most expensive are the Italians, such as the Monster and the Brutale. Both are beautiful and offer incredibly awesome performance. The advantage that KTM has over all of these bikes though again is its technology. Yes, its engine is super mighty and the handling is at the top of the segment but, it’s the tech in this bike that stands out. Its price tag therefore, is very competitive and if you are a KTM fanboy then this motorcycle will certainly not disappoint you one bit. Even if you are not fond of KTM, I can still tell you that this bike is one of the most fun motorcycles to ride in the segment.