KTM 990 Duke

ktm mainNo wonder KTM called its latest variation of the Duke family the Sniper. The Austrian firm has most certainly pointed its gun towards the opposition is this forever-evolving and highly competitive class, hoping to knock down any competitors. And, to be honest, this new 990 Duke is, without doubt, the best naked bike in this middleweight class, for now that is!

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Look, the previous 790, and more importantly the 890 R, were very good but they did have a few issues, mainly regarding stability when pushed hard. Well that’s now a thing of the past because the new 990 Duke is 96% new from the front tyre to the rear number plate holder, now that’s what I call progress!

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Let’s get the stability issue out of way first. A completely new frame whick, KTM says, is a whopping 15% stiffer and we all enjoy a stiffer frame, right? The new Chrome-Moly steel tubes now wrap around the outside of the swing-arm pivot rather than being inside. A new and reshaped fully enclosed swing-arm is also responsible for the improved ride and feedback to rider, generating more flex whilst laying down the power. 

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So the new chassis has transformed the way the 990 rides, but what about this new 990 engine, you may ask? Well for one it’s not a really a 990, it is in fact 947cc, increasing the horsepower to 123hp@9,250rpm and more importantly the torque has risen to 103Nm @7,750rpm, not bad at all for a ‘mere’ parallel twin, eh? Inside the revised DOHC, LC8c power plant are new forged pistons, a new crankshaft and connecting rods, and new camshafts. This new crank has been designed to provide a ‘heavier’ rotating mass in a quest to smooth out the power delivery, which you certainly feel on the road, making this the smoothest parallel twin from KTM to-date. 

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Predictably there are a wealth of new electronics to go with the larger engine. The 990 has three power modes (Sport, Street and Rain), which combine with three power delivery modes, or how aggressive you decide to make the throttle response, in simple terms.  For 2024 KTM install the full Tech Pack on its bikes, which you can choose to keep on during the first service at 1600km, otherwise it’s all taken off. Or you can choose to keep some of them. It will cost around 16k though to keep things like the Track and Performance features you’ve already enjoyed, so it’s best to talk or bribe your local dealer before you decide. A strange way of going about things but at least you get to try everything the bike has to offer when it used to be something you could maybe add later.

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The Track mode changes the 5-inch TFT display into a different style from Sport/Street settings, for track day use. New 2024 graphics create the best display on any bike in this class now, and the new left side switchgear works wonderfully with bigger buttons set in a concave fashion. Track and Performance modes unlock things like a stopwatch function, telemetry, nine levels of traction control (and off), and a new wheelie mode where you select the height the bike interacts. The TFT screen comically shows a little bike at various levels from very high to very low with five levels in between, a very cool and new entertaining feature that. Oh, and the very amusing lean angle feature where it shows in degrees how far you can lean.  For some reason I always went further over on the right than the left, must be the way I hang, if you know what I mean?

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Right, onto the big taking point, the new headlight, what ya think? At first I wasn’t too enthusiastic but after a while the ‘alien-like’ face started to grow on me, and it‘s not just a styling exercise either. The angular LED light not only auto adjusts dependant on ambient light levels but it also stays on (adjustable) when you get off the bike and try to find your keys to get into your home/garage. Now that is a very safe and clever idea and works a treat, besides people shouting, “Oi, yer knob, you’ve left your lights on!”. And after educating them they say; “Oh, my car does that”, yeah whatever…

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I think KTM’s new styling works well particularly in this bright orange (also in black if you’re a Goth), with its new angles and shapes, chiefly at the front end. The 990 Duke is physically bigger than the 890 R but it doesn’t really feel it, possibly due to the thinner 14.8-litre tank between your reproductive bits. With a class-leading 179kg (wet without fuel), it shouldn’t damage them either when you energetically climb aboard the 825mm high seat.

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To say the 990 Duke is agile is an understatement of note, combine this new stiffer chassis with more flex from the rear end and it soon becomes apparent that this is a handling aficionado’s dream. The new WP Apex suspension has a much more refined set-up too with five clicks only to fiddle with on both compression and rebound on the forks, and rebound only on the rear shock. KTM say this makes choosing the settings easier for the rider rather than getting lost in a million irritating permutations, and I agree. The rear shock in particular has a much more plush feel on the road when the old 890R was rather harsh at times, especially on rough road surfaces.

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What is harsh is when you try to pull off in first gear in Track/Performance mode with all the rider aids deactivated. An aggressive twist of the throttle will reward you with an instant connection between your visor and the TFT screen, so be wary if it’s your first time in that zone. However once the wheel is upwards and in second gear you can snick into third and wheelie off towards the horizon – if you’re good enough that is, because this 990 Duke can certainly ‘bite’ you back if you’re not focused. It’s not about pure top end speed either; it’s more about how dramatically you get there, right? While you are ‘getting there’ you’ll enjoy the revised quick-shifter that produces a delightful ‘crack’ between gear changes – tremendous!

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The 990 Duke did make me wonder if you ever need anymore from a naked bike. It’s extremely quick, full of gadgets, looks cool, is well built, has great finishes and excellent handling and, when in the right hands, is an absolute weapon of note! At R265,000 (not forgetting 16k extra for the Tech Pack) it offers an awful lot of exciting motorcycling in a more refined package than ever before. Is it the best middleweight naked bike on the market, at this moment in time?  I’d definitely say so which leaves the big question open: do we now really need the mighty 1390 Super Duke R? Well let’s find out shall we…

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Images: Tiny Ant.

Go www.ktm.com for more technical information and dealer locations.

Also go to www.radktm.co.za to book or test ride in Jo’burg or www.radpaarl.co.za if you live around the Cape. 

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