KTM 790 Duke: First Ride Review
Does KTM have another game-changer in the form of the ‘Scalpel’? We really think so
1,11,111 hours. That’s the total amount of time KTM has spent honing its ‘scalpel’. But then, the 790 is a new bike from the ground up and KTM’s methodical approach obviously equates to a time-consuming practice. The 790 Duke, on paper, seems like a terrific prospect with a plethora of electronics unseen in this segment and an all-new parallel-twin motor. But with a price tag of Rs 8.64 lakh (ex-showroom), can it unsettle the likes of the Triumph Street Triple S, Ducati Monster 821, Yamaha MT-09, Suzuki GSX-S750 and the Kawasaki Z900?
KTM has ditched the single-cylinder formula and plonked another chamber into the Duke’s package. The 799cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin has been worked on with precision, with focus on shedding weight and eking out maximum torque. The delightfully designed motor features snazzy components including forged pistons, dual-balancer shafts, precision-controlled cylinder heads and meticulous valve timing. The result is a 103bhp power figure and 86Nm of tractor-pulling torque. That doesn’t take away from the typical baritone soundtrack that we’re in love with. The 790, though, has been given a 75deg crank offset and 435deg firing order so as to mimic its elder sibling - the 1290 Super Duke. Even the exhaust has been angled so that it hits your eardrums at full whammy. That’s not all; gone is the trellis that gives way to the all-new tubular frame featuring the engine as a stressed member. The rear subframe houses the airbox.
Handling is every KTM’s USP and the Austrians have gifted it with high-quality WPs at the front and pre-load adjustable monoshock. There’s also a steering damper sourced from WP to keep you from tankslapping. The surprise package is the inclusion of custom rubber sourced from Maxxis. The Supermaxx ST tyres are meant for sport touring as the abbreviation goes, and being super sticky, they’re perfect for the job.
Even the electronics package has been derived from the Super Duke. You get fully adjustable traction control, power slip assisted clutch, ride-by-wire with four riding modes (Rain, Street, Sport and Track), quickshifter with blipper, launch control and much-needed wheelie control. The Track mode lets you define almost every aspect including engine braking and wheelie control.
The moment you set your eyes on the 790 Duke, you realise how compact this KTM is. It’s not really much bigger than the 390 Duke and even its seat height is lower by 10mm at just 825mm. The weight, at 178kg, is barely 11kg more than the 390 Duke, making it the second lightest mid-weight naked after the Street Triple. The supermoto-ish stance persists but the larger seat and wide tank recesses allow for enough room for a rider even of my physique (almost 6ft tall, heavy built).
We rode the 790 Duke on Bajaj’s R&D track at Chakan, Pune and not on regular streets, mind you. I began the sighting lap in Street mode with all nannies on. As castrated as I’d made it, the motor’s initial throttle pick up still felt incredibly sharp and punchy through the bike’s slick operating ride-by-wire system. What really stood out even in the first lap was how lightweight and well balanced the chassis felt. The easygoing nature made me switch to Track mode right on the second lap and we were finally home!
The motor feels happiest when being ragged and has that typical lumpy-ness below 3,000rpm that we have come to expect from all KTMs. However, the torque is relentless and the motor loves to revved to its limited which comes in at about 10,000rpm. And it gets there very quickly in the first three cogs. The quickshifter is a treat to use and worked like a gem despite the bike not being run-in. And the exhaust sounds very familiar if you’ve heard a Ducati L-twin, yet has a very KTM quality to it.
The maximum speed I managed to document on the GoPro was 222kmph which makes it fairly fast considering how tiny the track actually is. It’ll be interesting to see how the engine performs commuting duties but initial impressions suggest that of a motor nothing short of being termed brilliant.
Handles like a KTM?
If you’re someone who loves going fast around corners, the 790 will prove to be the perfect partner in crime. Not only do the tyres work like a gem but the suspension is absolutely mint. The sublime chassis provides so much feedback you’ll love to push your own limits every single time. The 24deg rake angle surely makes it sharp, but remember that despite being 65mm longer than the Street Triple, it’s still as agile as a baby stroller.
The handling is so impressive that I’d go on to say it’s my pick of the lot in the mid-weight space, only second to the Street Triple RS. But then you’re paying almost three lakh rupees extra for the sophisticated pogos on the Triumph. Nothing else comes close and if you’re someone craving the Thrill of Riding, this is the superbike to upgrade to.
Speaking of which; the 790 Duke makes for a brilliant upgrade for 390 Duke owners. It may not be really fast but the way the power and torque is delivered makes for an addictive machine. The exhaust note is raspy too and sounds super exciting when revved to the limiter.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when KTM announced the prices but to be honest, you cannot really put it into the same class as the Japanese inline fours. Both the GSX-S750 and Z900 are extremely heavy and are great for touring but show them a set of twisties and you’ll clearly know who’s the baap of them all. The handling is the 790 Duke’s USP and it’s so easy and forgiving that noobs will be happy getting their knee down while the pros will love the chassis for its feedback. And then there’s the bouquet of electronics that is second to none. Clearly, KTM has spent its time well and lent the 790 Duke the tag it deserves - the Scalpel.