AFTER a month of successfully dodging KTM’s calls and emails, they finally caught up with me and just as quickly as the 690 Duke thumped its way into my life, it’s now gone.
When I rode back to KTM HQ at Silverstone for the final time, I imagined there’d be some sort of ceremony for when I handed the key back – maybe a black carpet out the front and a lectern from which to deliver a poignant eulogy, but no, although the cup of tea did help the grieving process.
You see, the 690 and I formed a close bond over track days and trips to the office, cross-country expeditions to visit friends and family and of course, countless fast weekend blasts.
For the most part this bike has been a proper laugh and managed to turn even the dreariest of commutes into a smile-inducing experience.
Although good for shits and giggles on the daily grind (it’s very good in traffic thanks to its low weight and supreme manoeuvrability), the 690 Duke’s not made for crossing the capital - it’s a fun lovin’ scaplel made for slicing up the twistiest pieces of tarmac and it does that with aplomb. Blasting down a meandering back road is where the 690 Duke really feels at home, where the combination of lightness, agility and the punch from the 690cc singe-cylinder engine gets a chance to really shine.
As a bike for unadulterated fun, it’s the dog’s danglies. At the weekend, the rituals of putting my kit on and removing the locks and chains from the KTM took place against the background anticipation of the fun that lay ahead, and that never diminished during the nine months I had the Duke in my care. An exciting and punchy engine, assured and precise handling from well-damped WP suspension and a firm chassis, plus strong brakes and a class-leading set of electronics ensured that the KTM 690 Duke never failed to deliver come playtime.
Although that playtime definitely took place on my favourite twisty road, the 690 Duke still rewarded me in lots of different situations. I was more than content with the fact that it delivered thrills at the weekend and, thanks to its mischievous charm, had enough in reserve to elicit a grin from me come the Monday morning commute into central London.
It lapped up track days too. On a twisty circuit, it’s more than capable of showing up much more powerful machinery because it’s really exploitable and has a chassis that I really got on with, which made me feel like I knew precisely what I could get away with. The excellent traction control helped with that too. Carefully selecting circuits is a must though: Brands Hatch Indy, Cadwell and Mallory Park – Yes. Silverstone and Snetterton – No because it’ll feel slow and breathless.
The 690’s weaknesses were consistently highlighted on any lengthy motorway or A-road journey, which often got tiresome thanks to a hard seat and lack of wind protection. Long journeys aren’t off the cards, but whenever I was going to ride from London to, say, Wales, I’d avoid the motorway in favour of the most interesting looking back route.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the torquey 690cc single-cylinder engine. It’s punchy and playful, and demands your attention because it needs to be ridden how it wants to be ridden, otherwise it’ll protest at slow speed or be reluctant to give you what you want. And that’s fine by me because the engagement it requires is what provides such some of its roguish charm. Well, that and the wallop of torque that’s always available. At 148kg, the 690 Duke is light too, so the 74hp and 55lb/ft makes for an excitable character and a bike that’s got a hooligan streak running through it.
I reckon you can see that – it looks as uncompromising as it is, with angular styling and posture that tells you this is no beige middleweight naked. After all this time with it, I still don’t think it’s a particularly good-looking bike. It’s OK, but it’s more appropriate to describe it as looking right because the Duke’s aesthetic conveys so much of what’s in store once you’ve turned the key, done a burnout and wheelied off down the road (terribly, if you’re me).
During the time I had the 690, I whacked on a new Akrapovic exhaust to get it booming, popping and banging like it should. I also got the got the Track Pack added (which gives it riding modes) and added LED indicators, a tail tidy and a tank protector. It’s not major stuff, but it all made a difference to me in terms of performance (track pack), sound and aesthetics.
Less pleasurable trips back to KTM involved the two times the gorgeous colour LCD instrument display screen developed a minor fault and needed replacing.
So, the million pound question – would I buy one with my own monies? In short, yes but that’s because I live near a city and have an urban commute, have some ace roads not too far from me and don’t do a huge amount of running up and down the country – meaning this bike is perfect for me. If I had to spend a lot of time on the motorway and dual carriageways, I’d be looking for something more sensible.
Except I don’t want something more sensible, I’ve got plenty of time to be sensible, like when I’m retired. Or dead. I like bikes that that have a bit charm, character and performance and the KTM 690 Duke has all three in a package that delivers a pure riding experience and doesn’t make concessions to the dull stuff. It’s not the most powerful, best specced or sexiest looking bike I’ve ever ridden, but it’s definitely one of the most fun and for that reason it’ll be a tough act to follow.
5 - New rubber